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What CoDecs, framerates and resolutions are the footage items? Does the crash still occur, when you try to replace the source from a fixed drive? I suspect it's an issue with the media cache due to eitehr the performance of the external drives being poor or some more generic driver issues that cause mayhem with them.
Thanks for the insight. "Performance of the external drives" was pretty close, I think.
I believe it was due to the fact that when I created the project, the files were located on an external drive "F". My new system designated drive "F" as one of the built-in card reader slots. AE did not want to replace the source from the card reader unless 1) there was a card in the slot and 2) the original file (or one with the same name at least) was on the card. I wasn't about to go through all that heartache and discontent (I was missing about 30 files, and the 1GB card was nowhere close to big enough to hold the 9GB of data), so I used the Disk Management utility to reassign the drive letters. Luckily I have a couple of external drives - one to assign to the source "F" drive and another to be the new target "M". There was some creative shuffling that had to happen to get the connections right, but it made AE happy.