The more I use my computer, the more I realize how much I take search for granted. How many times have you lost a pair of socks or misplaced your keys only to wish you could search for them and have the location spit back out to you? Fortunately, Windows (and most other operating systems) comes with a handy search feature.
On top of the default search feature, there are a number of third-party tools that claim to be better and faster at searching your computer for relevant files and folders, and that raises a few questions. Is Windows desktop search slow? And if so, how much faster are the alternatives? I took a look at the best known Windows search tools and compared them – the results were surprising.
Note: I’m on a Windows 7 desktop so I’m testing these tools against the default search on that operating system. You can safely assume that Windows XP search speeds would be slower than Windows 7, but I don’t know how much more the Windows 8 search improves. So if you use Windows 8, just keep that in mind.
Interface: The Windows search integrates nicely into the actual operating system, so you’ll feel right at home using it. Open up any explorer window (basically, any folder) and the search bar will be up in the top right. You can also search Windows in the Start Menu if you prefer it that way.
Search Time: Average 3m 30s for unindexed search; average <1s for indexed search. If you enable Windows search indexing, your computer will constantly keep an index of all files and folders, which helps to improve search speeds.
Features: I don’t know about you, but I’ve always viewed the Windows search as a primitive function. That might be because I had some poor experiences as a child on Windows 98, ME, and even XP. However, rest assured that the latest iterations of the desktop search aren’t so bad. There are a few tricks to improve Windows 7 search that you can use.
Interface: Everything’s interface is as simplistic as they come. It’s just an empty window with a small search bar across the top. As you type, the search results show up in the list below. There really isn’t much else to say. Minimal and to the point – just how I like my tools to be.
Search Time: Instantaneous real-time. Everything is an impressive bit of windows desktop search technology due to how fast and responsive it is. Like Windows search, Everything works by indexing your entire computer’s file structure, which allows it to present immediate search results as you type your search query. Everything can index a fresh install of Windows 7 in just a few seconds.
Features: You’d think that such a fast search tool would come with a downside. Well, as far as I can tell, there are no downsides to Everything. It barely uses any resources – less than 5MB RAM and less than 1MB of hard drive space. It also monitors file system changes live, so your index is always up to date.
Interface: The Listary interface is fantastic in my opinion, but I can see how it might be cumbersome or annoying for some users. Essentially, Listary doesn’t have an interface of its own. As you browse around on your computer, all you have to do is start typing and Listary will know based on context whether you want to search or not.
Search Time: Average <1s for computer-wide search.
Features: Listary’s search is extremely flexible. The query matching isn’t verbatim, so you can just type multiple terms until you get the match that you were looking for. The search only performs in the current directory, though you can easily manipulate the search query to search in other locations if you want.
Pro Version: Though the Free version is feature complete and available forever, you can upgrade to the Pro version for $19.95 USD, which unlocks a few advanced features.
The absolute search times listed above have a lot of factors going into them, such as the size of my hard drives, how many files and folders I have, other programs running in the background that take up CPU resources, etc. However, just focus on the relative search speeds between each program and you’ll see that all of them are quite good at fast searches.
My winner? I prefer Everything. Listary offers the same “find as you type” instantaneous search results but the interface can sometimes be intrusive, especially when you accidentally bring it up. I like how Everything is both fast and compact and only shows up when I open it myself.
I tested out a few other Windows desktop search tools that didn’t make it onto this list. With indexing, Windows search is quite fast already. Everything and Listary were the only ones that could offer the same (or better) speed while adding extra features on top. Know of any other Windows search tools that are just as fast? Share them with us in the comments.
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