Indexing, While Helpful as a Search Tool, Puts a Drag on a Computer


Q: My two partners and I use the same make and style of computer, the same XP operating system and pretty much the same application software, plus we maintain the computers with the same antivirus, junk-cleaning and performance-enhancing software. Yet one partner’s computer runs significantly faster than the other two. Any ideas what he’s doing right or what we’re doing wrong?


A: You’ve raised a question whose answer contains several important threads. Let’s start with some background.


Whether you’re running XP, Vista or Windows 7, the speed differences could be caused by many things, but since you all are using identical hardware, software and maintenance, I would guess the culprit is likely indexing, which is the underlying process that builds the database for Windows’ Search capability.


The Search function, while useful, has a significant downside: To stay current with all the data in a computer, the indexing function works diligently, demanding a significant share of random access memory and CPU power. In fact, the indexing process often continues to labor when the computer is otherwise idle. In that way it can catch up on any data you added or changed—including all your e-mail.


The solution? If you can live without Windows Search, I would suggest disabling it (see below for instructions). But after you disable it, if you discover that indexing is not the culprit, you can easily—without loss of data—enable it again. We’ll get back to that do-it-yourself process later.


Now we come to the next thread. While useful, the XP Search tool is not a top-notch data hunter. But if you really must have it and you can live with the drain on computer speed, consider upgrading it with a free copy of Windows Search 4.0 from the Windows Web site. It’s much faster, and it does more. It doesn’t just regurgitate the “hits” on the screen; it sorts them in convenient categories: e-mails, documents, photos, etc. However, it still drags down the computer’s speed.


The Vista and Windows 7 editions also are search tool winners. They dig deep and fast because Microsoft has souped up its search algorithm. But they, too, slow the machine. In addition, enabling and disabling indexing in Vista and Windows 7 is somewhat more complicated than in XP—and we’ll get to that later, too.


If it turns out that zapping indexing solves your speed problems and you disable it, but you still want a search engine, you have at least two options. One is to run indexing for an hour or so, say, daily or once a week, to refresh the database. The other option is to use the Google Desktop search tool instead. It’s comparable in power to Search, but because its indexing process is more efficient, it puts less drain on a computer’s operation. Plus it launches the index only when the computer has been idle for at least an hour.


Bonus: When you download the Google Desktop (at, you can select several different ways to access Google’s Search: by clicking on an icon that you can position anywhere on your screen (see screenshot left), by tapping on an icon in your toolbar (see screenshot right) or by pressing Ctrl twice (see below).


If the Google indexing still puts a drag on your computer, you can pause indexing for one hour by clicking on the Desktop icon in the taskbar, clicking on Indexing and then on Pause (see screenshot at left). Or turn off Desktop by clicking on Exit (it will start up automatically when you reboot).


Now, to disable indexing in XP, open Explorer and select which hard drive you want to disable and right-click on it to open its Properties screen. Go to the General tab and unselect Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching (see screenshot below), and click OK. The removal may take a few minutes. Repeat the steps for each drive on which you want to disable indexing.


If you want to completely disable indexing on all your computer’s drives, open Control Panel, select Administrative Tools and Services, scroll down to Indexing Service (see screenshot below) and double-click on it. If the status shows Running, click on Stop and under Startup type, select Disabled and click OK.


In Vista, go to Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Services and cursor down to Windows Search Properties (see screenshot below).




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