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. 14 13 years ago

    Why you have to search often ?
    Manage your files in Harddrive in directories.

    In case you want to search it takes not too long

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  2. JE 13 years ago

    This helped me tremendously - thanks for the tips. My system was slowing to a crawl with windows search running and now it's a marked difference with it disabled. I've switched to google desktop search as well 🙂

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  3. Lars Rasmussen 13 years ago

    Thanks for the suggestion to disable search via services.msc - the decrease in hard drive thrashing was audible as soon as I stopped the service. My drive is much quieter now. I prefer to drink the Google Desktop Search Kool-Aid.

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  4. moese 13 years ago

    I Rarely search for files... what ever happened to filing into organized directorys?

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  5. Lars Rasmussen 13 years ago

    Who's talking about files? I'm mostly referring to Outlook emails from last year or several months ago at work. I have little need for Google Desktop at home where I thankfully run XP - not Vista.Since files were mentioned though, I'll bite. Try a substring search using Vista in some heavily populated directories on a local drive or a network share - not very fast unless the files are already indexed. There is definite a need to index files, but Vista's search is still lacking.What happened to WinFS? Wasn't Vista supposed to eliminate this problem at launch?

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  6. Dirk Bailey 13 years ago

    I'm using Windows Desktop Search (retrofit) for XP and have experienced very slow performance while indexing is going on - well after the installation and initial indexing. IOW, every day after a reboot I have to wait 10 minutes or longer for the indexing to complete - otherwise I experience tremendous thrashing delay in opening applications like Outlook, Word, you-name-it. Also the indexed total stays around 20,200 items although the new items to index number fluctuates and actually grows as it progresses - until finally, for this day, it is finished and I can actually get some work done. I like the results - I just do not like the process of getting there. Un-intrusive? BS.

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  7. dogsofwar 13 years ago

    I think you are all dogging vista like the typical windows snobs always do, and oh how the snobs loves to knock the new, I shut down the indexing, turned off indexing for all drives and shut down every service not required by me and do you know what happened to me...nothing, except the system is faster, more stable and does what I want it to do, I think vista is the mutts nutz and kicks the crap out of xp all day long, just plug in a piece of hard ware and bang vista finds it and installs the right driver, I have had no problems with hardware and as for software, the likes of adobe have known about vista for years so if they are to cheap to keep up with the fast changes in computing perhaps you should look at other far better products that are compliant with vista. The advice here is very good and totally works, of course the ones that say it does not work are of course experts in their field of knowing very little about anything...

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  8. FrustratedVistaUser 13 years ago

    "just plug in a piece of hardware and bang..."

    I did this and had to buy a new printer (HP will not support my printer on Vista) new router, can't get wireless working. Won't let me install software...Can not conutinue because Run as administer... or something like that. I keep getting pop ups asking for permission to open a procees I jsut clicked on! I have been frustrated since the day I bought this computer. I a thinking of runnung out to buy XP and start over.

    As far as indexing and searching, I use Google desktop on my computer all the time and loce beeing abe to find a file in a pinch by typing a few words that I remember as unigue. I am not sure yet about windows search but based on all my troubles with Vist I may never find out. Give me back my XP!

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  9. flogee 13 years ago

    Wow, thanks! before i found this article, i thought my new computer (just bought 10/2007)has serious hardware problems, or came with a virus out of the box. but then it was just some stupid vista "functionality". disabling this service increased performance alot! windows now acts much snappier than before.

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  10. Dave M 13 years ago

    My old XP/Pro computer crashed (6 years old and accidentally overheated in the summer when a fan went out!), so I panicked, and bought a new computer with Vista Home Premium. What a nightmare!!!

    Anyway, as to the automatic building of indexes by Vista, what ticked me off most of all was that it was building indexes on my 2 large backup drives - drives I almost NEVER search. And I couldn't unplug them and move them or redo the cable routing without rebooting because "Safely Remove Hardware" said that there was a program using those drives, and I must end my program before disconnecting the hardware... Baloney. It was that infernal Vista index builder - not one of my programs or open Explorer windows...

    Taking the least extreme path, I set both drives to "Don't do indexed searches" via My Computer, drive properties. It took about 30-60 minutes for Vista to change all those properties bits on the drives - and it didn't even work! One of them continued to build indexes (yes, I'm sure)!

    So I went to control Panel, Indexing Options, and tried to turn off indexing at the drive level using that method, but the drive that was still indexing was permanently marked as indexable and grayed out!! WHAT IS GOING ON???

    Finally, I went to Services, Windows Search, and disabled the annoying service. IMMEDIATELY, the noise and blinking lights from the indexing backup drive finally ceased after running for about 3 days. Also, my computer's internal hard drive activity light finally stop blinking at the same time.

    I had looked briefly in Services, but was looking for the wrong name. And besides, the Vista doc from HELP says that indexing cannot be turned off, so I didn't look very hard. The doc was wrong.

    I might have let the service run if it were only indexing a couple of small drives, but the problems I encountered gave me little choice but to terminate the service completely.

    Thank you, Michael, for this information! Much appreciated.

    Dave M

    PS: Those who say that that index building uses small or negligible resources - on a fairly large system - don't know what they're talking about, since they're ignoring disk drive life, annoyance (consuming my patience), arm stealing (disk access arm) with performance penalties when running other programs, heat generation, restriction of unplugging and moving without rebooting (operational constraints), and probably several other things I'm not thinking of. The CPU time is the only resource that is consumed in a small quantity.

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  11. Nicole Simon 13 years ago

    Thanks. The trick is to start services.msc from the command line (the given directions did not work in a German vista).

    I see a reason for having a good search on the desktop, but years of experience brought me to know where files are by order or rely on search based on the filename. And quite frankly, vista sucks at this - it is actually one thing why I consider going back to XP as this worked fine over there.

    I neither need mail nor for my code - I use superior Gmail search as well as the regexp based search for code of my editor.

    I would not mind turning it off if not for the ANNOYING hard disk sounds which drive me crazy.

    Killed the service, happy camper. 🙂
    Nicole

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  13. Stalker 13 years ago

    I also killed windows search service with lots of trash services. First of all, Aero sucks, vista consumes lots of system resources with or without aero and desktop search. I was very happy with NT4, win200 and maybe with XP searches but Vista has no good 🙁 In NT, searching was so simple and elegant, in 2000 you had to know what you are seeking for, in XP, microsoft decided to make it non-handy service and now windows search is a real headache :(( I have disabled 20+ service, stopped sidebar, even physically deleted winmail, some gista is adgets and etc; still Vista consumes a huge disk space and system power. Only Winsxs folder takes 4Gb of space, just for backwards compability. system32 takes 3.5Gb, hyberfil (hybernation system file) is 2 Gb (its size changes according to RAM), page file concumes 5GB... Lets sum all of them; 4+3.5+2+5=14.5Gb is allocated just for trash by Vista; Ohh by the way, and also there is an EISA partition about 1.5 Gb, so 16Gb space is consumed just for nothing 🙁 A clean Vista installation needs 20Gb of free space.
    Please do not buy Vista until microsoft makes it better, or you will regret upgrading from XP. Actually changing XP with Vista is a total downgrading.

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  14. Cory Clark 13 years ago

    Thanks for the tip. Vista's search brought me painfully close to returning a new ThinkPad for one with XP, which would have been fine hadn't I spent the better part of a week getting applications installed and setup to my liking. Not to mention the time wasted that first week waiting 10 minutes for the morning logon and AV scan to finish; waiting on new applications taking twice as long as normal to install (I suspect because Vista was trying to index files as soon as they were installed); waiting on normal processes to finish execution day-in and day-out. All simply because I listened to the conventional advice to "just wait for Vista to complete its indexing…". After one week, it was still indexing a file system that didn’t even have my 50 to 60 Gigs worth of files moved over to it yet!
    I could not believe the increase in performance after disabling the Indexing service. Each one of my installed apps now run as quickly as they do on my XP desktop (they should run much faster considering the Laptop is a Duo core with 2GB RAM and the desktop is a 2.4 G Celeron with 1G of RAM. I was able to turn other non-essential Vista services back on and have what I now consider to be a productive machine instead of a boat anchor.
    I run Outlook with a number of large .pst files that Vista indexing would churn on so hard that Outlook was unusable with a 15 to 30 character type-ahead delay.
    If you happen to be running the Vista Business version (standard on the ThinkPads) you might want to kill the SQL-server if you don’t need it, it eats almost 500 MB of RAM at idle.
    I also found that Yahoo Messenger was causing a three minute shutdown delay I never had under XP, so its gone too. Now if I can only figure out why Vista keeps blue-screening when I try to hibernate…

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  15. Steve Meek 13 years ago

    I made a ton of changes fixes and other things to get Outlook 2007 to work on on new Vista laptop.

    I still periodically had lock ups where a review of Outlook.exe in taskmgr showed that process at 40-50% CPU util. Outlook would not respond even after leaving it to run for a day. Stopping the Indexing Services seems to help prevent the process from locking. If I checked CONTROL PANEL and INDEXING SERVICE, the only thing getting indexed was outlook folders and archives, even after removing them prior.

    We'll see how well this works.

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  16. somebody 13 years ago

    Yes. Yes. Yes!

    I tried method #3. Finally! My hard drive finally stopped chattering as if it was strolling naked in the Siberian winter!

    Thought it was some, eh, in-built permanent 'feature'.

    Now to see if Photoshop CS3 is still lagging.

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  17. [...] built-in search indexing feature. Trust me, I’ve tested it myself. I strongly suggest you disable Vista’s built-in search indexing feature and use Google Desktop instead.   Tags: Automation, Google-Desktop, productivity, search, [...]

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  18. [...] Search is recommended; to avoid any data loss/file-system corruption due to higher disk activity! https://4sysops.com/archives/how-to-disable-vista%E2%80%99s-desktop-search-indexing-windows-search/ explains how to do [...]

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  19. kk 13 years ago

    I turned off Windows Search in the Services panel and my PassMark rating went from 180 to 510. Windows Search was killing my computer.

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  20. Brian 13 years ago

    My 64bit vista business was crawling along, after monitoring Hard drive activity, it was Miscrosoft search running.

    I have google desktop which is a far better search rescource for my business.

    Used the 3rd instruction and turn off the search, HD acivity went back down, and the pc is running fine again.

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  22. Micke 12 years ago

    Hi there,

    I have disabled the "Windows Search" service and the indexing now says it is off.

    But the disk reads/writes a lot when in idle mode. I don't know why.

    I just rebooted my computer and the didk went working and working for 5 minutes after logging in but without me doing anything with the comuter. So I checked the Resource Monitor and found the following for the disk usage. I did not touch or do anything with thoose files that are listed there before or when the screen shot was taken: http://mickej.se/stuff/res.png

    What the hell is this?

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  23. Micke 12 years ago

    Hi again,

    I just found out that automatic defragmentation is scheduled every wednesday night at 1 am. Of course this makes the disks go crazy. But last night was not wednesday night..... So?

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  24. kumkie 12 years ago

    Something is eating up a 1Gb of my hard drive a day I suspect it's this indexing nonsense. Did anyone figure out how to recover the space back after you switch it off?

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  25. Stalker 12 years ago

    It is EISA partition 🙁 there is no way delete this partition from windows :(( Somewhat Vista decides that it needs some kind of secret space to survive 😛 You can get rid of that partition via high level partition managers or you can simply upgrade to XP again 😉

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