Leo's Answers #201 – October 20, 2009

A Weekly Newsletter From
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Leo Notenboom


Do you have a question for me? Don’t hit reply! Head instead for the Ask Leo! home page and search the site first – seriously, around half the questions people ask are already answered there. You can also browse the archives, past newsletters and more. If you still can’t find the answer you’re looking for then by all means ask your question here (it’s the fastest way).

*** New Articles

Can you have too much RAM? Is 64bit just a marketing ploy?

You recently answered a question about “Why does my computer crash after adding RAM?” That got me thinking about 64 bit systems which are being offered more and more by manufacturers. As I understand it, Vista 64 bit is supposed to accommodate quite a bit more RAM than 32 bit systems (ie: Vista Basic = 8GB, Home Premium = 16GB, Business/Enterprise/Ultimate = 128+GB according to Microsoft.) And I’m guessing that Windows 7 in 64 bit will probably follow suit.

So… if someone buys a new computer (either laptop or desktop) with a 64 bit system, will the comp have a motherboard/BIOS that will accommodate the larger RAM or is this another marketing ploy to get people to spend money for something that won’t live up to its potential? From a practical standpoint, can one have too much RAM? In other words, based on existing games, software, programs, etc is there really a need for 16GB or (gulp!) 128GB RAM? If one does maximize RAM would that eliminate the need for a page file? And finally, some packaged versions of Vista came with both a 32 and 64 bit install disk. If someone decides to install the 64 bit system what negative effects, if any, could occur to graphics cards, optical drives, etc?


I certainly don’t see any marketing ploys designed in here, but as with anything, a salesman can twist it in several different ways.

What we need to look at are the differences between hardware capabilities, software capabilities, and as you say, understanding just what’s really needed.

Continue reading: Can you have too much RAM? Is 64bit just a marketing ploy?

* * *

The volume indicator has disappeared from my system tray, how do I get it back?

My sound icon has disappeared. How can I find where to make it show back up on my tray at the bottom of my computer screen?


Not to be confused with an on-screen volume indicator, what we’re discussing here is a small icon that sits in the system tray, typically on the right hand side of the screen from which you can adjust the sound output volume.

The good news is that it’s typically a simple system setting to display it or not.

Continue reading: The volume indicator has disappeared from my system tray, how do I get it back?

* * *

Is it safe to buy software on EBay?

I’d like to purchase another legal copy of Windows XP at a discount. Looking at EBay seems a good idea but how do I know if they are actual Genuine ones? Do I just have to take their word for it?

My question is…is it safe to purchase via Ebay and would you recommend it or not?


It is possible to safely purchase software on EBay. I’ve done it.

It’s also possible to end up with unusable or illegal software, or simply get scammed out of your money.

In exchange for the money you’re saving, you need to invest a little time.

Continue reading: Is it safe to buy software on EBay?

* * *

Why is my “generic volume in use” when removing my external hard drive?

I bought a new 1TB external hard drive the other day and installed it on my laptop right away, everything was working fine until I tried to safely remove it. Whenever I click safely remove it says “Windows cant stop your generic volume device because it is in use”. I checked everything and I didn’t have a single program running. I don’t want to shut it off manually because I have hundreds of important files on it and I don’t want to lose them. can you help?


Oh, just because you don’t have a program running, doesn’t mean that there aren’t other programs running. Heck, that’s all Windows itself is: a computer program.

What we have is a situation very much like How can I find out who is using a “file in use”? – except that we don’t know the name of the file, or whatever else might be “in use”.

I’ll show you my technique, which looks very similar to the file in use scenario, as well as cover an easily overlooked common cause or two.

Continue reading: Why is my “generic volume in use” when removing my external hard drive?

* * *

How do I reformat and reinstall Windows?

In many of your answers you talk about “reformat and reinstalling Windows”. What is that? How do I do that, exactly?


“Reformat and reinstall” is the computer’s equivalent of erasing the chalkboard and starting over.

And I do want to emphasize the “erasing” part.

It’s conceptually very easy, but also somewhat time consuming.

And if not done with the proper preparation, you could lose absolutely everything on your computer.

Continue reading: How do I reformat and reinstall Windows?

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*** Comments

A sampling of some of the comments that have been posted recently on Ask Leo!

* * *

If phishers had a clue…

Bill writes:

I find it hard to believe that most spam or phishing works but the social engineering can work well on people who would never open up spam or a money scam. A friend realized (right after she clicked) that the “package cannot be delivered” message was suspicious. She was waiting for a package that was a little slow.

My bank has a second page that will display a picture that you have chosen and text that you create, that you have to go through before signing in. My mother and siblings probably wouldn’t guess the correct picture or the text that I attached with it. They are the only ones who would say “that makes sense”.

It’s actually scary how many people do purchase from or fall for spam/scam emails. Enough to make spamming a very lucrative, if illegal, business.

The “show me a picture I’ll recognize” security measures are somewhat laughable as they can be hijacked, in a sense, by what’s called a “man in the middle” attack.



What’s a safe web site?

Ken B writes:

I recommend Site Advisor as one step in checking out an unknown website. But, as you point out, the automated tools are not always accurate, so I always recommend reading the user comments as well. Often, SA gives a green status on a site which has dozens of “how can you call this green” comments. And, it is sometimes deluged with fake “this site is great” comments.

It even had our site “red” for a while, which actually turned out to be sort of legitimate. We had an ancient MS-DOS copy of PKWare’s free unzip utility, which was apparently bundled with what today would be called “adware”. Of course, that one “bad” download caused our entire site to be flagged red. I removed that file from our site, and used SA’s “website owner comment” to note what happened. Unfortunately, it took several months before our site went green again.

I hadn’t heard of “Web of Trust” before now. I’ll keep an eye on it.


What Security Software do you Recommend?

Howiem writes:

After looking through all the comments, I was surprised that Sandboxie was only mentioned once. This program should be a must have for 1) protecting the operating system from web threats 2) testing new programs, which, if they do not work well, confines the problems to the sandbox, which can easily be deleted. 3) Especially good for online banking, since a separate sandbox can be set up for each bank. Conduct your transactions (don’t visit other web sites in the same sandbox, log out, close the browser and delete the contents of the sandbox after each banking session.

I do plan to review Sandboxie in the future. I’ve heard good things.


*** Leo Recommends

Create PDFs from any application that can print.

About 6 months ago, perhaps more, I decided to go as paperless as I could. My prior recommendation of the ScanSnap document scanner was a big part of that and allowed me to empty three drawers of my four-drawer file cabinet, saving documents digitally instead.

Once you’re in the habit of creating PDFs from paper documents, the ease with which PDFs can be used, saved and perhaps most importantly – backed up – becomes readily apparent.

As a result I’ve also cut down on the amount of actual printing I do by changing my default printer to the free PDF Creator virtual printer.

It’s not at all uncommon to want to save something, say a sales receipt from an on-line purchase, by printing it. But it’s rare that you actually need to save it on paper. Instead, I print to the PDF Creator printer which creates a PDF of the printed output that I save on my computer. If I need to actually print it to paper, either now or sometime in the future, I can simply load up that PDF in a viewer such as Acrobat or Foxit, and print to my real printer from there.

Continue reading…
PDFCreator – Create PDFs from any application that can print.


Each week I recommend a specific product or resource that I’ve found valuable and that I think you may as well. What does my recommendation mean?

*** Popular Articles

The digital equivalent of snake oil, it seems not a day goes by when we don’t see an ad or a promotion for some kind of software package that will magically make all your Windows problems disappear. As you might imagine, I’m skeptical.

Do “Fix All Your Windows Problems” utilities work?

I have a number of knotty problems with error messages at present and there are several programs on the net which “guarantee” to fix them. When the offered free scan is invited, they always come up with lots of faults which they will only fix if you subscribe. My usual reaction is that it’s all a con to get subscribers but is this true in all cases or are there some programs which really are the cure-alls they claim to be?

I’m sure that there are good programs out there, but like you, I’m very skeptical. I definitely believe that “if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.”

As a result, I’ve never actually purchased such a program – instead, I’ve either tackled my problems head-on, lived with them, or if things are bad enough and unsolvable I’ve reformatted and re-installed.

But there are some ways to at least stack the deck in your favor if you do want to try one or more of these types of tools.

Continue reading…
Do “Fix All Your Windows Problems” utilities work?

*** Thoughts and Comments

What happens in Albuquerque stays in Albuquerque.

Though I will say that my old MacBook Pro served me well on the road. I transferred my Thunderbird based email to it before I left, and ran Windows XP in a virtual machine when needed, and all went well.

But my replacement Dell laptop should arrive this week, with Windows 7 not far behind it.

Yes, I’ll be installing Windows 7 on my new laptop as soon as I can. I don’t have any special back channel to get it any earlier than anyone else. I do have it on pre-order, and I hope I’ll get it by the end of the week so I can play over the weekend. Assuming the laptop goes well I expect to put it on my desktop machine as well.

And then the acid test: my wife’s computer. Smile

I’ll keep you posted.

’till next time…

Leo A. Notenboom

Thank you very much for the step by step instructions … Your directions are clear, detailed and easy.
– Oksana

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Posted: October 20, 2009 in: 2009
Shortlink: https://newsletter.askleo.com/3900
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