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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?

Although Windows has a built-in search index, there are a number of third-party tools that claim to be better and faster when searching for relevant files and folders, and that raises a few questions.

Is Windows desktop search slow? And if so, how much faster are these alternatives? I took a look at some of the best known Windows search tools 7 Awesome Alternatives To Windows Search 7 Awesome Alternatives To Windows Search Although there are some things you can do to improve searching using the Windows Search - and the search application seems to be much more improved in Windows 7 - there are some excellent alternatives... Read More and compared them. The results were surprising.

Note: These were tested against Windows 7’s default search. You can safely assume that Windows XP search speeds would be slower than Windows 7. The search in Windows 8 is somewhat improved but far from perfect How To Search Better & Faster On Windows 8 How To Search Better & Faster On Windows 8 Windows 8 search features are quite robust once you get used to them. You can use modern and desktop approaches to search your computer and the Internet. Find out more! Read More , so these alternatives seem relevant for the time being.

Windows Search

windows desktop search

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 3 Easy Ways To Improve The Windows 7 Explorer 3 Easy Ways To Improve The Windows 7 Explorer Windows Explorer is the file manager application that handles the Windows desktop and taskbar and lets you access your files. Without its nice graphical interface, controlling your computer would be a lot more complicated. It's... Read More (basically, any folder) and the search bar will be up in the top right. You can also search Windows using the Start Menu if you prefer.

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Search Time: Average 3m 30s for an unindexed search; average <1s for an 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, but you may notice the system slow down every once in a while as it indexes.

Features: I don’t know about you, but I’ve always viewed the Windows search as a primitive function. That might be because I’ve had poor experiences as a child on Windows 98, ME, and even XP. However, rest assured that the latest iterations of the desktop search are nowhere near as bad.

In fact, there are a few tricks to improve Windows 7 search Top 7 Windows Search Tricks Used by Pro Users Top 7 Windows Search Tricks Used by Pro Users Read More that you should use for better performance. In grand scheme, though, Windows search is still relatively primitive.

Everything

windows 7 desktop search

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.

What separates Everything from its competitors is that it’s faster than fast. (It 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 aren’t any. It barely uses any resources — less than 5MB RAM and less than 1MB of hard drive space! It also monitors file system changes as they occur, so your index is always up to date.

Listary

windows desktop search

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. By default the search only performs in the current directory, but you can manipulate the 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 like project-based search, Fuzzy Navigation which can find files no matter where they are, and quality of life improvements all around.

Lookeen Free

windows-desktop-search-lookeen

Interface: Lookeen (our review Find Everything on Your PC Quickly and Easily With Lookeen Free [10 x Enterprise Version Giveaway] Find Everything on Your PC Quickly and Easily With Lookeen Free [10 x Enterprise Version Giveaway] Windows has features that allow you to search for files, but let's be honest, they're not very good. Read More ) has the best interface of all the programs on this list. The main search bar runs along the top, and the rest of the window is split between a Results pane (on the left) and a Preview pane (on the right).

Selecting a file in the left pane brings up a full fidelity preview in the right, which is great for seeing whether the file you picked is the one you wanted. There’s also a timeline along the bottom that shows the distribution of years for all the files that match the query.

Search Time: When you first launch Lookeen, it’ll take a longer-than-expected time to index everything on your local drives. (For my machine, that meant at least 40 minutes.) Of course, the faster your system, the faster the indexing. The search itself is pretty much instantaneous.

Features: In the Free version, Lookeen has real-time index updates and direct editing of supported files through the Preview pane. There’s no limit to the number of indexed files, and there are advanced search criteria available for more specific queries.

Pro Version: The Business version of Lookeen can search across network drives, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Exchange Server, and more. License is available for a one-time purchase of $83 per seat.

The Enterprise version also has a shared index — one designated index that keeps itself updated, yet can be used by multiple team members when searching. Also grants access to Lookeen Server, an enterprise-level centralized indexing solution. License is available for a one-time purchase of $116 per seat.

Search Faster

The absolute search times listed above have a lot of factors and influences 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. Just focus on the relative search speeds between the programs for comparison.

Overall, they’re all quite good. My favorite? I’d have to say Everything, but Lookeen is really nice if you’re looking for a full-featured solution. While Listary is good as a runner up, its interface can sometimes get in the way, especially during the learning curve phase.

Know of any other Windows search tools that are just as fast? Share them with us in the comments!

  1. Matthew Dunn
    November 24, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Regarding EVERYTHING above:

    Features: You’d think that such a fast search tool would come with a downside. Well, as far as I can tell, there aren’t any.

    . . . except, that it only searches file names and not within the files' contents themselves. That seems like A PRETTY BIG DOWNSIDE, doncha think?

  2. Taurus Singularity
    July 10, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I think Desktop Rules (DeskRule) by zabkat (xplorer2 dev) is worth checking out.
    Fast and extensive search options.
    UI is dated though.

    • Joel Lee
      July 13, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks Taurus! I'm not a big fan of outdated UIs but I'll check it out. :)

  3. frank
    June 1, 2016 at 12:23 am

    Everything’s interface is as simplistic as they come.

    It is "simplistic"? That's not much of a recommendation.

    • Joel Lee
      June 1, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      Hey Frank. Depends what you're looking for. Some people prefer a tool that doesn't have much eye candy or anything extravagant, and Everything would be good for that. If simple is not your style, then maybe it's not right for you. :)

  4. Janus
    May 28, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks for great trustworthy article again..

    • Joel Lee
      June 1, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      You're welcome, Janus. Glad you liked it!

  5. Morten Pedersen
    February 2, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Exselo Desktop is another product which is 100% free, and have a different take on finding and sharing information.

    Although some will say they are missing something in regards of look and feel of the interface, it is easy to use, quick and have included the possibility to share your information with others.

    It focuses on textual documents, and indexes all content, whatever the size of the documents. Supports most standard document formats, .epubs included.

    This is comment is not meant as advertising for the tool, but I am affiliated with the company that develops the product.

  6. Dejan Nenov
    December 30, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    You should consider X1 Desktop Search

  7. Philip
    December 14, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Lookeen Free no longer appears to be "free" :-( There's only a 14-day trial available on their web site.

  8. muo2
    August 2, 2015 at 9:14 am

    The key distinction to make is (A) search file and folder names and (B) search contents of files as well as file and folder names. These are two very different beasts!

    I would appreciate a review of software that searches file contents. If you scan documents to PDF and OCR them, theoretically a content search is all that is required to retrieve them (i.e. no need to name or organise the files, much like Gmail). The problem is that software of this type is of varying quality and (perhaps through competition with Windows search) poorly maintained.

    Options in this group that I am aware of include X1 Search, Copernic Desktop Search, Windows Search and Lookeen. They are not cheap, but I would be happy to pay if (i) privacy was a central part of the design and (ii) there is evidence of ongoing software development.

    I have used Copernic Desktop Search to date but have not been too happy. The UI is outdated and the results are not readily sorted by relevance, so if you have many documents, there is still quite a bit of sorting to do. Finally, they have recently released an upgrade that is not inexpensive but (in my opinion) offers little in the way of better functionality.

    • Sarah
      November 17, 2015 at 5:03 am

      You mentioned you were looking for good content search. I may have just found the best content search I’ve ever encountered. I just downloaded and tried AIKIN HyperSearch mentioned below. Initial impressions are pretty good. It started indexing and within a few seconds I was already able to start searching contacts and files (unlike Copernic and X1 which take a long time to index before returning searches). I haven't used Lokeen, but from what I've seen it just looks like a ton of messy bells and whistles I don't really need. I prefer elegant user interfaces that are simple, a la google.

      The HyperSearch interface is pretty simple, not a lot of bells and whistles. They claim their artificial intelligence makes it so you don’t need a ton of options as it can better just “understand” what you type and see its similarity to other things on your system. It does provide some standard and innovative filters, and the smart search pretty much worked as advertised.

      Example: I searched for this document, “Independent Experiences of Consensus Driven Thought”

      It found it pretty easily by entering a couple key words. Then I tried messing with the search to see if it could find it if I misspelled the words as if I was fat fingering, lazy, a bad speller or just hung over. I typed into the search various misspellings and it always found it and usually was at the top or sometimes 2 or 3 down but near the top.

      I then pushed it even further and just really messed up the words to see how good it was and typed, “indicondriven thoupendent” which is complete non-sense of course… but was pretty amazed that not only did it find it, but it was right at the top of the results. I think an apt description here is holy crap.

      It’s also got this deep content search where you can open a document from within the app and do searches. As you are typing it starts looking through the content of your document and interprets the meaning of what you are typing and finds the best results where that meaning is in close proximity. The example they show on their website is a document content search like “price of winning” may not be found in a document because it’s not written like that in the document, but if the document contains “the cost of success”, it will find that… pretty darn slick… and it allows you to add your own word relations, so I’ve been playing with that and adding some of my own, so for example anytime I look for the word finance it will automatically look for money, monetary, as well. Additionally, it’s able to find stuff in the document that is misspelled.

      So far I’m impressed. I’ve run into a few bugs here and there but tech support seems active and alive. They actually rolled out a fix for one of my issues in under 24 hours. So, in summary this is one I’d recommend. I do need to play with it a bit more and will maybe post an update later if I run into any issues or find some more cool features.

  9. Rafael Avila
    July 30, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    I've tried several desktop search programs from Windows Search 7/8, Everything, Locate32, Listary, Coppernic, and others; the best one I have found is X1 Search, I have used it for years, it is instantaneous, you can search inside office documents (any kind), pdfs, emails, outlook attachments and even inside .zip files. Give it a look (http://www.x1.com/products/x1_search/)

  10. Mike Goodson
    July 29, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    I've been using Copernic Desktop Search for more than 6 years. It indexes every word in every document depending upon the file extensions you specify plus email. It also indexes videos, music, contacts and more. Searching is instantaneous as you type with a preview of any document you select from the list. The preview goes right to the search terms you requested. In the past, I used applications from Google and Alta-Vista to index and search my own drives similar to the way google searches the web.

  11. DamianD
    March 5, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    I can recommend Lookeen (www.lookeen.com) :)

  12. Dylan
    August 10, 2013 at 6:33 am

    On the topic of Desktop Search, most people don’t know that dramatically better desktop information search suddenly became available earlier this year to consumers and businesses alike. While Windows Search has improved significantly in recent years, and there are a number of other third party desktop search applications, they all generally suffer from the similar shortcoming of not being able to effectively find items that are only somewhat textually similar with any high degree of success. Basically, you generally need to know exactly how something was written or spelled, or know some small exact part of the name or content of some item to find it. When you don’t know or remember the exact details (a frustratingly common scenario) you frequently find yourself backspace deleting what you typed, trying and re-trying various search phrases until something meaningful shows up in the results. If what you typed contains some matching information but also contains some non-matching information, the result you are looking for is not likely to appear.

    Fuzzy matching allows you the freedom to write what you remember and the software does a better job of finding items that are similar even when there is non-matching information in the search phrase; basically fuzzy search is much more tolerant of textual variations as well as distortions like misspellings.
    Another issue with other current desktop search applications is that when you do get some decent results, you usually have to scroll down and/or dig for the information. Why can’t today’s desktop search engines do a better job of similarity and relevance ranking? Well, one of them has. Earlier this year a little known company called Grapple Data Technology silently released a new desktop information search technology to the average consumer that sports the kind of search usually seen only in enterprise search and discovery appliances costing in the tens of thousands of dollars. Billed as an Artificially Intelligent Knowledge and Information Nexus or AIKIN, this new application only costs $39.99.
    They use a proprietary fuzzy search technology to not only find names of items in a fuzzy non-exact way, but also search down into the content of items in a fuzzy way, ranking results by similarity and word/phrase proximity. This is the kind of stuff lawyers use to scan your emails when you’ve been included in a company lawsuit. Additionally, the application showcases some very innovative ways to work with the information found: work surfaces, contextual views, segregated search results, and proactive automatic query generation and suggestion. It’s fast, and it scales well to over 1,000,000 indexed items. They will also be releasing a small/medium sized business file server search appliance in the September/October time frame that will work directly with the AIKIN HyperSearch client.

    Check it out at http://www.grappledata.com/aikin

    • DonGateley
      July 29, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      Do you have to pay MUO to post adds like this or is it a free service? It's a good add but I won't be looking any further into it because of this placement.

  13. SnowDude
    June 26, 2013 at 10:35 am

    It's not really a Desktop Search product but I think Agent Ransack is a very useful search tool, especially if you need to search file content.

  14. Paul G
    June 6, 2013 at 2:06 am

    I liked Everything but since switching to Windows 8, it would have erratic behaviors that irked me a little!

    After searching online for help, I found that Voidtools (the Company behind the software) have released Everything 1.3.2.649b Beta.

    After installing this Beta, no more problem on Windows 8 so my vote still goes to Everything!

  15. Fastforward
    May 12, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Listary ... intrusive, especially when you accidentally bring it up ?
    You *can* avoid this after a few instances - then you needn't load another application.
    Listary has moved the search process forward to a new level.

  16. Jappe
    May 12, 2013 at 12:39 am
  17. plasbot
    May 11, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Windows 8 search has improved quite a bit.
    I noticed it does search inside files for text.
    I did try using it to search a large network drive once and it took 10-15 seconds to locate the filename.
    Thanks for the tip on locate32 I have tons of files saved on network drives and if they could be indexed, well that would be awesome.

  18. Manide
    May 10, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I discovered Locate32 few years ago and I still use it.

  19. Farhan
    May 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Everything is awesome but it does have one downside. It only works for NTFS drives. Another thing - I couldn't find out to search multiple format at once in everything e.g. *.jpg *.bmp doesn't work like windows search.

  20. Zvonko Pinter
    May 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    A bit outdated, but still my favorite is Locate32 (http://locate32.cogit.net/)...

  21. Torben
    May 10, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I use Locate 32

  22. Rama moorthy
    May 10, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    gona use Everything ..!

  23. ReadandShare
    May 10, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Indeed, "Everything" searches for file names but not file contents. Fine, it is what it is -- and at least it searches for file names with lightning speed.

    Joel -- can you do another article next time and compare the 'best' or 'fastest' apps that will search file names as well as search contents?

  24. AWT
    May 10, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I've consistently found the now unsupported Google Desktop to be superior to native Windows Search. It also searches file content. Would appreciate recommendations and thoughts vs Desktop.

  25. Saqalain Qassimali
    May 10, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Came on here to suggest Everything :) Since it's already recommended I'll be another voucher

  26. Darryl Gittins
    May 10, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Apples and oranges. Windows search indexes the contents of files, Everything does not. So if I want to find that Word doc that contains the phrase "this is a silly review", Windows search will find it, but Everything will not. They are completely different animals.

    • Paul G
      June 6, 2013 at 2:16 am

      Most people use those search tools to find the entire file and/or folder name when they remember just a part of it.

      Yet you are still correct about the differences!

  27. Manuel Guillermo L
    May 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    I once tried to index my files to use Windows Search, but the problem was that it is the same index used to search in the start menu ("search programs and files"). I use that a lot, to look for programs. Indexing my files cluttered it with a lot of other files, so I chose to go with Everything instead, and keep only my Start Menu indexed.

    • Alexis C
      May 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      You should try a program called Phrase Express. It lets you open programs just by typing a combination letters you previously assigned by you to that program. fore example, if I type pshop and then hit spacebar, photoshop opens.

  28. null
    May 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    I decided against Everything because it doesn't search network drives. Locate32 does.

  29. Alexis C
    May 10, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    If can't remember the name of what I'm looking for, I prefer to use the search tool of XYplorer. It has many optiond to redefine the search and i find it quicker than Windows' tool.

  30. Pooky Joralyn
    May 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Windows Search on Windows 8 Pro seems fast enough for me, even with a 5400rpm hard drive?

  31. Anonymous
    May 10, 2013 at 11:59 am
    • Scott M
      May 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      This looks very capable.I will give it a try.Thanks for the link.

      • Gideon Waxfarb
        May 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

        +2 for Ultrasearch. I haven't tried any of the others.

  32. Scott M
    May 10, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I've been using Ultra-explorer for a few years and have found it to be very useful as well as reliable.I haven't encountered any bugs.

  33. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    May 10, 2013 at 10:07 am

    SwiftSearch is pretty quick too. Even so, Everything's still the best when it comes to desktop searching.

  34. Eric Jay P
    May 10, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Everything rocks!

  35. Fahmy Corporation (FREE Software)
    May 10, 2013 at 6:28 am

    "Everything" is My Favorite

  36. Vipul Jain
    May 10, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Everything FTW.
    (Tried & tested on Win 8 Pro as well, beats the hell out of the Windows search)

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