Prevent system slowdowns by tweaking Vista's indexing options

Keep the OS's built-in file indexer from stealing processor cycles from other applications running on your system.

Operating Systems

After I compared three popular desktop-search programs a couple of weeks ago, the folks at Google contacted me about a couple of inaccuracies in that post. I had thought that because local files are listed above Web sites when you use Google to search in your browser, the ads that appear on the results page are related to the content of the local files. In fact, Google keeps an index of your local files on its servers only when you enable the Search Across Computers feature, which is off by default. And even then, the index disappears once the search results are delivered. Otherwise the index of your local files resides only on your machine.

The post also stated that Google Desktop Search slows down your PC as it creates and maintains its index of local files. That may be true on Windows XP systems, though the impact is greatest when you install the program and it creates its initial index, but on Vista the search tool uses the OS's own Indexing Service. I use Google Desktop Search on my four-year-old XP machine, and when I uninstalled the program as part of my testing, it appeared to me that the system ran faster, though I didn't perform any precise measurements.

The upshot is that after the initial index, Google Desktop Search affects system performance about the same as any other always-on application (most of which are represented by icons in your system tray). Nor does it pose more or less of a security risk than the other desktop programs you use. (I still prefer Copernic Desktop Search for its easy customization options and clear interface.)

Boost performance by tweaking Vista's indexing options
Just because the Vista version Google's desktop-search tool uses the same indexer as the OS doesn't mean you can't improve its performance by deciding for yourself what file locations it should include in its index. Click Start > Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Indexing Options. Choose Modify > Show All Locations, and uncheck the folders and storage devices you want to exclude. When you're done, click OK to return to the Indexing Options dialog box.

Windows Vista's Indexed Locations dialog box
Uncheck the locations you want to exclude from Vista's index of local files. Microsoft

You can also exclude specific file types from the index by clicking Advanced > File Types, and unchecking the entries you want the index to skip.

Windows Vista's Advanced Indexing Options dialog box
Tell Vista's indexer to exclude file types by unchecking their entry in the Advanced Indexing Options dialog. Microsoft

Entries under the Index Settings tab let you index encrypted files, move your index to another location, rebuild it, or restore its default settings. After you click OK, you may be warned that "Indexing speed is reduced due to user activity."

Windows Vista's Advanced Indexing Options dialog box
Change the location of your index file and make other index tweaks via Vista's Advanced Indexing Options dialog box. Microsoft

Another way to disable indexing of a particular drive is to right-click it in Windows Explorer or other folder window, choose Properties, and uncheck "Index this drive for faster searching." The fastest way to disable Vista's built-in search entirely is to press the Windows key, type services, arrow down to Services, and press Enter. Double-click Windows Search, choose Disabled in the Startup type drop-down menu, click OK, and close the Services window.

Vista's Windows Search Properties dialog box
Disable Vista's automatic search service by choosing Disabled under Startup type in its Properties dialog box. Microsoft

Monday: use Google Docs to create and manage your NCAA basketball tournament pool.

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