Force Windows Index to run faster

You can make Windows Search index your computer faster – here’s how.

Windows Search in Vista doesn’t have an ‘Index now’ option though some versions of Windows Search (ie for Windows Server 2003) do have the option.

There’s no button on the Control Panel | Indexing Options that can do it — there’s ‘Pause’ to make it stop but nothing to make it go faster.

Microsoft has provided a way to make indexing go faster – but it’s not easy.

In short you have to change a registry key called:

Windows SearchGathering ManagerDisableBackoff

to a value of 1

but before you rush off to do that there are some important steps before and after.

If you don’t know how to edit the Windows registry, this probably isn’t a tip for you. As with any registry changes, take care and make a registry backup before you begin.

  1. Open Regedit (Start menu | Run | Regedit) and go to:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows SearchGathering ManagerDisableBackoff
    and try modifying the registry value from 0 (the default) to 1 .
    If you can, great, but chances are you’ll get this error:
    Cannot Edit DisableBackoff: Error writing the value’s new contents.
    if so, you’ll need step 2
  2. To get write access to the registry key, open regedit by right-clicking on the start menu item and choose ‘Run as Administrator’. Go back to the registry entry mentioned in step 1, right-click on the ‘Gathering Manager’ item in the registry tree and choose ‘Permissions’ then the ‘Advanced’ button and the ‘Owner’ tab.
    On the Owner tab change the owner to Administrator and click OK.
    Back on the Permissions | Security dialog make sure the Administrator has Full Control then click OK.
    Now you should be able to edit the DisableBackOff key in step 1. If not, check the permissions and owner carefully.
  3. Once you’ve changed DisableBackOff to 1:
    Go to Control Panel | Administrative Tools | Services, scroll down the list to Windows Search and restart the service.
    The registry changes don’t take effect until the search services has restarted.
  4. Go to Control Panel | Indexing Options to monitor the indexing.
    The DisableBackOff = 1 option makes the indexing go faster than the default value but perhaps not as fast as you might like. The changed option doesn’t make indexing happen at a very high priority, just higher than usual. Even when the indexing status is showing ‘Indexing speed is reduced due to user activity’, indexing is still happening.
    On our test machine indexing of 180,000 items took about 5 hours with the changed registry setting instead of over 12 hours with the default – hardly speedy but better than nothing I suppose.
    Of course, the higher priority indexing will make other work on your computer a bit slower, which brings us to the important final step.
  5. Once the index has caught up with the entire contents of your computer, Outlook etc you probably don’t want the indexing service hogging precious CPU resources. Go back to the registry, change the DisableBackOff key back to 0 and restart the Windows Search service.

There are other tempting entries in the Windows Search part of the registry, well, tempting to nerds anyway. Resist that impulse with every fibre of your geeky frame. You don’t want to go messing with indexing unknowns.

Having a messy registry setting change and service restart to make indexing go faster is hardly an elegant or sufficient solution. There are legitimate reasons for Vista users to expedite indexing and that option should be immediately available from a dialog box. In addition there should be an option to index at an even higher priority (perhaps with a dialog to advise that it is happening).

Windows Search 4 now allows access to shared indexes on a network, and I expect some network admins will want to index new shared resources immediately and not at the sluggish pace dictated by Microsoft. Desktop users will simply want Windows Search to ‘catch up’ so they can get on with their lives. A fast index option would also benefit Microsoft with fewer unhappy customers and support calls arising from Windows Search appearing to ‘overlook’ items in a search

There’s a big opening for ‘softies to make a Powertoy or external tool to expose some of the apparent power of Windows Search (but why bother? just update the Vista version). It seems that the technology could be much better than Microsoft is letting on – why make it harder for people to use?

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