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CS3 and CS4 can happily coexist on the same machine. Problems only arise when CS3 is removed. That requires a new installation of CS4.
However, the constant crashing with CS4 is abnormal. The fact that it happens on two completely different machines seems to indicate that it is not hardware, but software on both machines that causes these crashes. If you want to figure is out, the first step is to supply all data as requested in the link here and all included links: Some suggestions
Be sure to answer all questions at the end of the Wiki article and to attach the screenshots and files requested in the second link.
Thanks for your answer re CS3 - that's very helpful.
How likely do you think it is that the updates might help me?
Of course it is perfectly understandable that nobody can really help without full details of crashes and when they happen etc., but I just don't have the time to spend hours providing that kind of detail. I am working and I need quick answers and it seems that for CS4 there is no such thing.
Certainly on the laptop, the presence of Quicktime resulted in AEX crashing immediately every single time I used it. When I removed Quicktime, AEX then worked reasonably well and only crashed every half hour or so. The presence of Quicktime on the desktop PC was not a particular problem.
QuickTime has often caused problems. That is why I prefer the name QuiRckTime.
I have just installed the long awaited 4.2 update and will be trying it out. In general I believe that every update has done much to improve stability and reduce memory leaks and things like that. The 4.2 update is 175 MB, so there must be many improvements under the hood. Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised if you try it. Just remember that you can import CS3 projects into CS4, but there is no way back, so be careful with your current projects.