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Help with wired network

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Hi everybody, just joined so this is my first post. I have a feeling I'll be asking more questions than answering so thanks in advance.
I have an HP laptop (vista) that I use and an older desktop (xp) that I use less. I've decided to use the old machine to store files on and connect to it via an ethernet crossover cable hoping that this would be faster than transferring large (500mb) image files over my wireless network. I got a cable and plugged it in and all seemed great, I could see the desktop in the network area of windows explorer and it seemed fast and convenient. But sometimes the laptop won't see the desktop and sometimes it will. Do I just have a bad cable or might there be something else I should do to get more consistent results? Thanks for any help,,,,,,,,
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