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I have read that SharePoint absolutely requires a quad core processor, but the options here are very limited. This is what I would like to do: buy a laptop, install VirtualBox, install SharePoint 2010 (not even with SQL Server, but with SQL Express), and test with one user only in a single instance setup. Nothing fancy, just install, have look, try out configuration settings, etc. Is Dual Core enough for this? How much RAM should I give to the VM image? I have read differing opinions on this subject, so would appreciate an answer based on my above requirements. Is Intel Core i5xxx, 16gb enough? Thanks in advance

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I am running SharePoint 2013, I have intel i5 processor with 16gb ram. I can assure you it will work without any issue. I have install SharePoint Designer and visual Studio Ultimate too. So don't worry :)

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you can definitely run as single user environment, as per my experience event i ran 2010 in i3 with 4 gb ram with out a VM. i am sure there shouldnt be any problem with 16 gb with dual core. try to allocate atleast 8 gb ram to vm which will make it stable. also see if you can stop the unwanted sharepoint services which you may not need for better performance.

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