Supercharging Windows Search

Man and woman look at laptop on desk.

Back in the summer of 2018, a small group of Windows Insiders did something that we don’t typically recommend. They quietly turned off the Windows Search indexer on their PCs. Luckily for us, they also took us up on our request to explain why. The feedback they provided led to some of the most significant improvements we’ve made recently to the Windows Search experience.

In this article, we’ll go through those updates and bring you up to speed on the latest developments. We’ve also added a few tips and tricks to help you use search to find more of what you need on your device, faster.

So how has Windows Search gotten to where it’s at now, and how are Windows Insiders helping us determine what’s next? Let’s take a look!

Making sense of Search

Think of the indexer, or the Windows Search service, as the engine behind Windows Search. It goes through your device, cataloging information from all your files, such as words and metadata. This process is what lets Windows Search return results so quickly—often within milliseconds. It’s much faster for Windows Search to check the index it’s created than it would be to go searching across your device each time you ask it to look for a file.

This service not only indexes file names but all the content within each file. It also powers the file search for File Explorer, Outlook, Timeline, and many UWPs. This is why we don’t recommend turning off the indexer, which can dramatically slow down your device’s ability to find stuff, whether you’re looking for a document, media file, message, or contact.

Of course, indexing does require disk space and processing power (both CPU and RAM resources), especially when you first run indexing. But we’ve done a lot of work to help ensure that indexing is slowed down when you’re using your device for other tasks.

Insiders weigh in

Despite these improvements, we know that many users have continued to turn off indexing, so we decided to ask them why directly. Whenever a Windows Insider disabled Windows Search, a message would pop up on the screen asking why. Insiders gave many reasons for turning off the indexer, but it boiled down to three key areas: high disk and CPU usage, general performance issues, and the indexer didn’t seem valuable to them.

This was the kind of concise, real world feedback we’d been looking for—and we got straight to work addressing it.

Adding value with Enhanced Mode

To help you get more value out of Windows Search, we made a new setting called Enhanced Mode that makes it easier to expand a search. By default, Windows Search is limited to documents, pictures, videos, and your desktop, to make sure it doesn’t eat up your device’s resources. To extend search, you can change your search locations, or you can simply select Enhanced Mode to instantly expand indexing across all folders and drives.

 

Searching windows screen.
Enhanced Mode makes it easier to expand a search query across your device.

We originally introduced this feature to Insiders in a Windows 10 Insider Preview Build in 19H1. The question was, would it be enough to satisfy our Insiders’ needs for more Search value?

Tackling high disk usage

We’d actually been working on this issue for a while, but Insider feedback made it a priority. Soon after, we rolled out a new algorithm that detects high disk usage and slows down indexing activity. This algorithm wasn’t perfect yet though, and we continued development through 20H1.

Our goal was to supply our algorithm with even more signals, so it could better identify your peak usage times and manage the indexer accordingly. Based on these new signals, the indexer will stop or cut back when:

  • Gaming mode is on
  • Power savings mode is on
  • Low power mode is on (constrained mode or connected standby)
  • The device is waking up after being in low power mode or in a log-on state
  • Device goes from AC > DC
  • CPU usage goes above 80%
  • Disk usage goes above 70%
  • The device’s battery charge is less than 50%
  • The device’s display state goes to screen off

For our developers, we also made a change where the indexer no longer covers popular source repositories, like Git. This was partly because of the sheer size of these repositories, and also because the tools developers use to interact with their repos usually have their own search tools. We also worked with our Visual Studio partners to exclude their project folders, which resulted in a quick 30% improvement in disk usage, for an even better developer experience.

We introduced these changes to Insiders in 0ur Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 18945. Again, we deployed our pop-ups whenever an Insider turned off the indexer. This time, we wanted to see if the changes we’d made had impact on the issues you’d shared before.

What’s next

We recently wrapped up this outreach, and we’re pleased to announce that the latest results are very encouraging!

Reason for turning off Windows Search Current rank Previous rank
Didn’t mean to turn it off 1 4
To protect an SSD from wear 2 5
High CPU usage 3 6
Because of past or general performance issues 4 2
Not enough value to me 5 3
High disk usage 6 1
Blocking an update 7 NEW
Other (mostly folks testing things) 8 7

After introducing our latest round of updates, all three top reasons for turning off the indexer fell in importance. High disk usage fell from the top reason all the way down to number six. General performance issues fell from number two to four. And turning off the indexer because of it didn’t seem valuable moved from the third most popular reason down to number five. It appeared that we’d made some real progress in delivering a better Search experience.

The new top reason, didn’t mean to turn it off, was also encouraging. This is usually the result of third-party applications turning off the indexer automatically, often without the user knowing. Our guess is that, as our app partners discover just how far the indexer has come, disabling it may no longer be necessary.

As we head into the next round of Insider Preview build development, we’ll continue to work on solutions to address the issues raised by you, our Insider community. In the meantime, we’d like to thank you for helping make the Windows Search experience even better for users around the world.

Keep your feedback and comments coming in the Feedback Hub. As always, we’ll be listening!

Windows Search tips & troubleshooting

  • Expand your search – The fastest way to extend Windows Search across more on your device is to go to Settings > Search > Searching Windows and turn on Enhanced Mode. This will let you search across all your folders and drives, including your desktop. This option may reduce battery life and increase CPU usage, so you may want to scroll down to exclude folders that you don’t typically search.
  • Minimize your search – Along with being able to exclude specific folders from indexing, you can also exclude specific file types. Go to Settings > Search > Searching Windows. Under More Search Indexer Settings, choose Advanced Search Indexer Settings, and then select Advanced for the File Types tab. If you don’t use full text search for certain files, like code files, you can select Index Properties Only.
  • Check your indexer status – If the indexer seems to have been running for a long time, you can check the Settings page to see how many items are waiting to be indexed and to get a rough idea of how long each item is taking. If the indexer is running and there aren’t any items in the pending queue, one of two things is happening:
    • First, it could be doing a maintenance operation. These typically take less than 5 minutes and will happen every 100,000 new words indexed.
    • Second, the indexer could be servicing a complicated query from an application running in the foreground. Check to see if you have a window open somewhere on your machine that is doing a search.
  • Check that Windows Search is running – If you ever think Windows Search might be disabled, press the Windows Key + R, type services.msc, scroll down, and double-click Windows Search. To get Windows Search running again, confirm that Startup Type is set to Automatic (Delayed Start) and Service Status is set to Running.

Learn more in our Windows Search FAQ.