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We have a small office with 8 computers. They are mostly running Windows 7, with 2 running XP and one on Vista. They are all connected via a 16 port gigabit ethernet switch, which is in turn connected to an ADSL router. Also connected to the router are two network printers. I'm not a sysadmin, but it's my job to keep these things up and running.

Projects live on each computer, and the project folders are shared over the network so we can access them.

Occasionally we have problems with computers seemingly randomly disappearing from the network. I wonder if we've reached the limit of feasible peer-to-peer networking under Windows (with 8 computers and two printers) or if there's just a problem with our setup.

Is there a better way we should be running things?

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3 Answers

The limit for non-server versions of Windows is 10 simultaneous connections, and that hasn't changed since Windows 2000 (if not earlier). Though as I understand it, such systems should still be browseable just not able to be connected to.

I haven't spent much time with peer-to-peer Windows installations, though I do recall that machine visibility does vary quite a bit. Without an always on system to act as the browse-master, every time the browse-master gets rebooted (and the browse-master role can move depending on time of day, which machines started first, and such like) the visibility list it maintains will get reset until everyone registers again.

You're running close to the line where doing something else is a good idea. If you're also using those workstations as print-servers for shared printers, such machines may hit the connection limit faster than ones with projects that only a few people need. Getting a NAS device is a good idea to centralize access in one spot, and to make sure that files are available when machines are shut down. Also, some of them can act as a master-browser to help stabilize your network visibility list.

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When you say that computers randomly dissapear from the network, I'll assume you mean they don't show up in Network Neighborhood or My Network Places. If that's the case then the problem is with the network browse list. In a workgroup with no WINS server, the network browse list is maintained by a single machine that's elected as the Master Browser for the network segment. Building and maintaining the browse list is facilitated via NetBIOS. It's not uncommon for the network browse list to be incomplete as any number of things can cause any of the computers to not show up (NetBIOS over TCP disabled, computer shut down, Computer Browser service stopped, File and Printer Sharing disabled, Master Browser and backup browser unavailable, etc.).

That being said, it's not required that a computer be visible in the browse list in order to connect to shared resources on that computer. If you know the computer name you can view it's shared resources by simply typing net view \\computername from a command prompt or from Windows Explorer. My suggestion would be to find another method for accessing shared resources on the computers, such as drive mappings, a central file server, etc. or give everyone a list of computers and the shared resources on them so that they can easily access them via the UNC path in Windows Explorer without having to rely on the network browse list.

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You haven't reached any kind of limit but in peer to peer you will just see whatever happens to respond in a timely fashion. The problem with a free for all is that people do things on their pcs, restart them, etc which is going to affect availability.

If you have 8 users then you easily have enough people to benefit from a central fileserver/domain controller and/or a nas.

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