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 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, so these alternatives seem relevant for the time being.
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 using the Start Menu if you prefer.
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 that you should use for better performance. In grand scheme, though, Windows search is still relatively primitive.
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.
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.
Interface: Lookeen (our review) 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.
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!