How to Survive the Worst PC Disasters

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Problem: No PCs show on the network.

Likely Cause: Windows is probably at fault, but the source could be hardware. An easy way to check which it is: If you can access the Internet, chances are the problem is not your hardware or drivers.

In Video: How to Find Other PCs on Your Network

The Fix: If the problem is not hardware, start by going through the various Windows settings to see which has gone bad.

  1. If you've never been able to see other computers on the network, check that they're all part of the same workgroup. (Windows Vista changes the default workgroup name.) Select Start, Run, type sysdm.cpl, and press <Enter>. Click the Computer Name tab and then the Change button, and look at the Workgroup field.
  2. Next, look for duplicate IP address assignments, another common problem. Windows will usually pop up a warning about one PC being assigned an IP address that's already in use on the network. A router and/or PC reboot will often solve this; but also check that manually assigned, static IP addresses haven't been set on some systems in the same area the router uses to assign automatic IP addresses (check each PC individually by clicking Start, Run, then typing cmd /k ipconfig and pressing <Enter>).
  3. Running Windows Update on all systems could solve this problem, too, particularly on XP machines. As always, check cabling and Wi-Fi settings. (Also, is the PC you want to reach actually on?)
  4. Finally, make sure the printers or folders you are trying to access are shared and have the appropriate permissions for clients to read; you'll need to log in as an administrator to do this. For folders, go to Windows Explorer, right-click the folder you want to share, and select Share. For printers, go to Start, Printers and Faxes (Printers In Vista), right-click the printer you want, and choose Sharing. Remember, sharing in Vista is quite different than in XP: Make sure network discovery and file and/or printer sharing are turned on in the Network and Sharing Center.

How to Avoid It Next Time: Once these issues are remedied, the problem should not crop up again. If it does resurface, a few reboots ought to take care of it.

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