At what point does a domain suit a network better than a workgroup?

Is there a threshold below which a domain is simply too much work for benefits gained?

Is there a point after which a workgroup is too hard to manage and a domain is more practical?

What criteria do you use to make this decision?

3 Answers 3


I don't think you can pin down a single "point" where it suddenly becomes better to use a domain vs. a workgroup.

That said, I generally consider around 5 computers to be the max size for a workgroup. Any larger than that, and domains start to have some attractive advantages that make it worth the effort.

Some criteria that might suggest a domain is the right choice:

  • You need a central location for sharing files/enforcing permissions
  • You have users that change passwords or even users that come and go (e.g., new employees)
  • You have users that aren't good at "managing" their own computers (i.e., they don't install updates, don't know not to run suspicious attachments, etc.) and so need the "structure" and security that you can get from a domain
  • Windows Update Services is really nice once you get it up & running, and ensures that computers are up-to-date.
  • You need (or want) to use some of the features that a domain's Group Policy can give you

There are some factors that make a domain impossible of course:

  • You have a bunch of "home" type computers (e.g., running "Home" versions of Windows and therefore can't join a domain). (You could replace the OS of course, but I'm assuming that if you're using "home" machines, you might not have access to or the budget for the "pro" versions of the OS)
  • You don't have a server
  • The computers aren't yours (you don't have permission to join them to a domain; as in say people who bring in their own laptops and don't want to join a domain that they won't be able to access while at home)

Like so many things, the choice of whether to set up a simple workgroup or a domain is a very personal, subjective one... anyway, these are some of the things that guide my decision when I have to make that choice. Hopefully they will help you as well.


Somewhere between five and ten users.

If you want to change your password in a workgroup, you have to change it on every computer. That's a pain in the [expletive deleted].

Domains solve this. Small Business Server is pretty cheap for what it is, and that starts at five users, which is where I came in.

SBS is fantastic if you've got 5-75 Windows desktops. Really. Get it.


If you need to centrally manage the network - set up a domain based network.

If you intend to let each user be the master and controller of his machine, go for a wourkgroup based network.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .