How to disable Vista’s desktop search indexing (Windows Search)

This article describes 3 ways how to disable indexing in Vista: Indexing options in the Control Panel, folder properties and disable Windows Search service.

Update: I have written a new article about turning off indexing in Windows 7 and Vista, which I recommend to read first. If you installed Vista SP1, there are other ways to disable indexing.

Vista comes with a new indexing service which improves desktop search. It not only makes search faster, but also adds some nice features. The one I like most is that it allows you to search very fast for mails in Outlook. There are, however, cases where you might want to disable Vista's search indexing.

Good desktop search tools index your hard disk only whenever the PC is idle. This seems to be different with Vista. I often saw the corresponding processes (SearchProtocolHost, SearchFilterHost, SearchIndexer) active even though my computer was quite busy with other tasks. This can decrease the overall performance tremendously.

Another reason why you might want to disable Vista search indexing is, if you are using another desktop search solution. Or perhaps you only rarely search for files on your PC. If it is not the reduced performance, then it could be the constant activity of your hard disk, whenever indexing starts, that might get on your nerves. And if you install Vista in a virtual environment, for example, VMware Workstation or Virtual PC, I recommend disabling it anyway since it will slow down your VM significantly.

I know of three ways to turn off Vista's search indexing:

  1. Navigate to Control Panel, choose "Uninstall a Program" under "Programs" and then click on "Turn Windows features on or off". There you can disable the Indexing Service Navigate to Control Panel/System and Maintenance/Indexing Options. There you can remove all locations or only those you use rarely.
  2. It is also possible to disable indexing for a certain drive or enable it only for selected folders. You can do this by changing the Properties of a drive or folder (right click on drive letter in Windows Explorer).Windows Search service
  3. The fasted way is to simply disable the Windows Search service. Run Services (just type "Services" at the Start Search bar), right click on the Windows Search service and select "Properties". Then choose "Disabled" for the start type. Afterwards, you have to stop this service by right clicking on it and selecting "Stop".

The first option is the one you will quite often find on the Web. But I found out that Windows Search remains active after disabling it this way. The second option works, however, it takes quite long time until all files in all subfolders have been excluded from indexing. Thus, the third option is the best one. You don't have to reboot, as with the first option, and if your want to enable it again later, it will cost you just a couple of mouse clicks.


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92 Comments
  1. Paul Tubbs 14 years ago

    Thanks for the great tip. Once you stop (disable) the Windows Search Service, is there any way to delete the index files it already created before you disabled it, in order to free up space on your drive? Or is this pushing it? Thanks.

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  2. Good question. I would like to know the answer, too. If Vista is smart enough, it will delete the index files when you uninstall the Indexing Service. I googled a little about this, but didn’t find anything interesting. Please, let us know if you find it out.

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  3. Bryan 13 years ago

    Yeah! This served me well. So was the index files deleted?

    But with this disable ... can we still search for files?

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  4. carl 13 years ago

    this article is totally WRONG, because Windows Search doesn't affect the system performances.

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  5. carl 13 years ago

    and also this article is totally WRONG, because the Indexing Service listed in "turn windows features on/off" is DISABLED by default because that's NOT Windows Search

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  6. Bryan 13 years ago

    Erm, but there are three processes running that takes up 15K. Besides it is really not necessary.

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  7. mike 13 years ago

    this article is wrong, because "Indexing Service" is disabled by default in "Turn Windows features on or off", because it's the old windows xp service if you want

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  8. Carl/mike, you’re right; the indexing service under “Windows features? is not for Windows Search. It is just an optional feature for backward compatibility. I corrected the article. Thanks for the hint!

    Carl, I don’t agree with your second statement, though. Windows Search can slow down your system, especially when Vista builds the index for the first time. Of course, it depends on the amount of data that Vista has to include in the index.

    Paul, Bryan, it seems the index files are stored under C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Search. This is just a guess. The ProgramData folder is hidden. To make it visible, press “Alt? in Windows Explorer. Then navigate to Tools, Folder Options, Views and select “Show hidden files and folders?.

    Bryan, it is possible to search for files if you disable the Windows Search service. It will be slower if you search for files without index.

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  9. mike 13 years ago

    the indexing works in low I/O priority and so it doesn't affect the system performances! And by default, only a small amount of folders are indexed: start menu, documents, user profile and emails.
    In a few seconds or minutes the indexing is finished!

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  10. Bryan 13 years ago

    Alright thank you so much 🙂

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  11. mike, it depends on how many files you have in your documents folders. But don’t get me wrong. I didn’t recommend disabling indexing in general. There are cases, however, where you might want to turn it off. For example, I often test Vista in a virtual environment. If you are running several virtual Vista machines on one physical machine, it does certainly affect performance.

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  12. Paul Tubbs 13 years ago

    I am the original poster. carl and mike, I don't know what you are talking about. My hard drive was spinning continually and slowing down performance for the first 2 weeks after I got my new computer (2GB RAM, fastest currently available Duocore mobile processor, 7200RPM HDD) running on Vista. After I disabled Windows Search utilizing Michael's suggestions, this stopped and performance improved.

    Maybe you're commenting on the generally dismal performance of Vista. This is no better than XP on my former slower machine, not to mention the fact that Vista is not yet fully compatible with many programs, peripherals, is overly intrusive actually making you a sub-administrator where Microsoft is the de facto administrator of your computer, etc.

    I guess you might be saying "this article is totally WRONG, because Windows Search doesn’t affect the system performances"...as compared with the normal dismal performance of Vista with or without Windows Search enabled.

    Here's one commentator's view of Vista as of this date in time, which I am beginning to agree with after weeks of hard knocks with Vista:

    QUOTE

    It looks like you made the fatal mistake of not reading any PC magazine articles or searching the Internet for information on Windows Vista before opting for it? We ask because it is virtually impossible to not run into the seemingly endless barrage of error reports. On the plus side, there is improved security [is this real enhanced security or only more intrusiveness of Microsoft??] and smarter networking but it seems like barely half of existing software/hardware is Vista ready and the operating system runs notably slower than Windows XP. Don't get us wrong, Windows Vista is going to be a fantastic operating system in 6 months to a year when the new Vista exclusive hybrid hard drives are released, specialized motherboards and specialized cache but none of that technology currently exists. Adobe recently announced that their software product line will not be Vista compliant for another year. The rule of thumb is ALWAYS wait 6 months to a year or optionally wait for the first of his release patch when upgrading to a newer operating system.

    UNQUOTE

    Probably true enough. We have the battle scars to prove it.

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  13. Melvin Ganik 13 years ago

    Thanks for this excellent post! WOW! A big difference in performance, no more background running of the search engine, and THANKFULLY more security. As I mount encrypted drives routinely, I was surprised ... no shocked ... to see the file names of private information being displayed in the "Searches\Recent Documents" location. I did both steps 2 and 3, and I'm happy to report that "Searches\Recent Documents" folder is now empty. So hopefully this answers the question from Paul Tubbs and Michael.

    Before I found this post, I was in the process of manually deleting these "shortcuts" in the Searches folders, and that also seems possible, but I would test this more thoroughly before blindly deleting the contents of these folders. My fear is that some files in these folders do not appear to be shortcuts ... hence would manually deleting these entries delete an actual file that you want to keep? Hopefully there is no danger in deleting these files, but I can't tell you since I'm already Vista Index free!

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  14. RBL 13 years ago

    I don't like Windows Search because it violates the law of the least astonishment. It rarely finds the files I'm looking for, when Google Desktop does. It tells me a folder isn't indexed when, in fact, all of Drive C: is indexed. It also has a zillion config options when you drill down. All I want is ALL files indexed, and the search engine to find them when I search. WinSearch doesn't do this. It's "too advanced." It's a mess.

    Interestingly, disabling Windows Search using MSCONFIG does not work. It will show up as disabled in MSCONFIG, yet still launch and run. As the article correctly states, you have to go into SERVICES and disable it.

    As far as the index goes, here's how to zap it. Start the WinSearch service. Then hit Control Panel | Indexing Options | Advanced, and tell WinSearch to reinitialize the index (you can also see and change where it's stored here). That zaps it. Then, immediately disable the WinSearch service.

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  15. DavidC 13 years ago

    Excellent information, thank you. Always surprised by how personally some folks get involved with these things, you would think suggesting turning off search is tantamount to unplugging life support for a loved one...

    There is no doubt that the built-in search function was seriously degrading my system's performance. Granted, I don't have a bleeding edge processor, but with 2gb ram, a decent graphics card and a 7200 rpm hard drive I expected that it would at least be similar in response to XP. Not even close, I had to start disabling some processes and features or I simply could not work efficiently. I watched which processes where absorbing cpu time, and I was really surprised to see the search index stealing cpu from other processes that I thought were more important (obviously Vista saw it differently).

    Right now there are just other search indexes that work better and have better features. I don't need two, so the built in one had to go. Thanks again for the informative post.

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  16. andy 13 years ago

    OMG, disable it

    GOOGLE

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  17. andy 13 years ago

    in the "indexing options" control panel, it now says

    "Indexing is not running."

    i feel like the dude at the end of the andromeda strain.

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  18. tnr 13 years ago

    Yeah, but what about those nags.... whenever I do use the search function now, I get an info bar say "searches may be slow, indexing is not running"

    I know it's not, I want to sit there and search through every directory, EVERY time. Searching google doesn't help.. everything relating to information bars, is about INTERNET explorer instances of the bar.. nothing about windows explorer.

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  19. [...] people who are only too happy to tell you how to turn Vista desktop search off. In particular, the folks at 4sysops.com list three different ways, including turning it off in the drive properties which is exactly the same way you turn off the [...]

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  20. [...] the click of the mouse. There are currently a few methods in which this can be accomplished (see 4Sysops for the details), but most less tech savvy end users will probably not find these instructions easy [...]

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  21. [...] and one that would certainly be cause for concern if it weren’t so … questionable. Microsoft’s desktop-search software can be disabled–in a number of ways. In fact, Google could probably turn it off as part of the Google Desktop [...]

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  22. [...] at the University of Munich, posted instructions as far back as February that detail how to scale back or turn off Vista’s indexer . “There are cases where you might want to disable Vista’s search indexing,” such [...]

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  23. Joe Smetona 13 years ago

    Turn it off (if you can) and just use Agent Ransack. (free) It's fantastic, simple and it can be stopped and un-installed if needed. I can't believe some of these posts.

    http://www.mythicsoft.com/agentransack/Page.aspx?page=download

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  24. Dane Pestano 13 years ago

    Hi all

    It is possible to delay the start-up of the indexer by delving into the Registry at:
    HKLM/software/microsoft/windows search/gather/windows/systemindex

    Here you can change StartupIndexingDelayInterval which appears to change the time at which the indexer starts after windows has loaded. The default of 60 appears to be seconds so I set mine at 1200 which does delay it for about 20 mins.

    The other setting is StartupIndexingDelayThreshold but not sure yet how this affects it. The default here is 300.

    The other thing to do is change the priority of the indexer via task manager. It is usually set to normal. Changing it to low helps.

    You can also change it's affinity and choose how many cores/CPU's to assign to it, again thats in Task Manager. Restricting it to perhaps only one core or two might help. I run a quad so will experiment and see. At least the others corers are then freed up to process what you are working on.

    Regards
    Dane

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  25. Nadeem 13 years ago

    I wanted to turn off the lousy windows indexer & this article was a saver. BTW, if anyone out there is like me, & is only interested in having a speedy file search, then i would highly recommend you download the free "Locate32", it is just a wonderful utility. For non index based file searches, use the free "Agent Ransack". Hope this helps. Thanks.

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