Mar 192010

Indexing[1] I wanted to take a moment and talk about this feature Windows added awhile back.  I know quite a few people who when ‘optimizing’ a computer will go through a ritual of setting certain things up, and removing other processes/programs. I have a ritual like this, and I’ll admit some of it might be voo-doo or superstition. One of these often targeted programs is Windows Search, and I don’t think it necessarily deserves to have its service disabled as a setup measure.

Windows Search 4.0 has a purpose, and it can be pretty handy, depending on how you use your computer. First, it only indexes a few common places (Desktop, My Docs/Pics/etc, Email). What does it mean to index vs. plain old search?  When you search your hard drive with Search Companion, your computer is taking the time to look at each file, determine if it meets your criteria, and moving on. With Indexing, it searches beforehand (this is the thing people complain is slowing their computers), and places all the relevant data into a database. When you perform a search with Indexing, it can sort the database, and find your answer MUCH faster. The key is to limit how much work it is to maintain that database.

Configure it! Windows Search’s job is to work to make finding things on your computer easier without robbing you of performance so that your computer can sit and think about itself.  So think: ‘What do I look for when I search?’. If you were to enable Windows search for your entire computer and all of its drives, you would likely see the performance hit immediately. Hint: Don’t do that!

The answer for me is Email.  I’m an Outlook user, and when Windows Search indexes your inbox, search time goes from minutes to seconds to find old emails, even if all you have is a couple key words. The answer for you might be just your MyDocs folder and nothing else. Go to Control Panel—>Indexing Options, and look at where the Indexer is looking. Only index the places that you need to search quickly.  Use Search companion for finding obscure system files, or other things that don’t happen very often.

Once you have it set up, give it a few hours to run. Maybe overnight.  Temporarily change your power options to disable timed sleep/hibernation events.  The indexer needs to build its index, and can’t finish its job if the computer is sleeping! If you hibernate your laptop every time you walk away, and use it constantly when it is on, the indexer will either never run, or constantly turn on and off when it thinks it sees an opportunity to rebuild the index. That will cause a performance hit.

Once the Indexer has had a few hours to run, hover your mouse over the hourglass icon. it will say “Indexing Complete.” Go ahead and set your power options back to normal, and use your computer normally.  Any changes to your computer’s search index should be small and incremental from here on out, and cause little to no performance hit.  The indexer knows which folders it is watching for changes, and will sit idle until a change is made.

I hope this article helps some people understand Windows Search.  It’s NOT a ‘memory hog that need to be killed ASAP’. It is a service that needs to be configured, and given a chance to get started. Once you do those two things, you’ll find your computer is better behaved, and your searches are faster than ever.

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