Two common services are the biggest culprits for “disk churning” behavior in Vista, and they’ll be familiar from XP. Now, tame that disk access!

A common complaint of users who have just installed Vista is that the disk starts churning endlessly. Any kind of frequent disk access on the same volume on which you have stored samples or audio content can cause major problems with recording and playback — even worse if you’re using disk-intensive software like samplers or Ableton Live.

These problems aren’t entirely unique to Vista, but disk indexing seems expanded in Vista and both may be more aggressive — particularly if you’ve just installed an update.

1. Turn off Disk Indexing

Disk indexing allows Vista to search files automatically. It’s a nice feature in theory, but as with tools like Google Desktop, I prefer not to have background services doing this sort of thing while I’m working. In audio testing, I found indexing would continue even as I was performing other tasks — bad. (Yes, theoretically one of the touted features of Vista was that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen, but it does. The scheduling service that is included with Vista requires app-by-app support on the audio end in order to prioritize audio, and it doesn’t seem to shut off things like disk indexing.)

1. Launch Services (aka the Microsoft Management Console). Click Start, and type “services” into the search box.
2. Scroll down to find Windows Search.
3. Right-click, and choose Properties.
4. Choose Startup Type > Disabled. This will stop the service instantly.

For more granular control, you can right-click individual volumes or even folders and turn on or off indexing at the local level. There are also some options in Control Panel; just type the word “indexing” into the search bar in the upper-right corner. But I prefer the brute force method, because it removes this resource draw altogether.

And the good news: the new search interface in Vista, searching in the Start menu, and searching in the Control Panel (necessary with that new screwy hierarchy) all work with this service turned off.

If someone can explain to me why you shouldn’t do this — or how you can prevent this from interfering with audio but working the rest of the time — please do. I couldn’t find a good way to schedule indexing; the control panel offers virtually nothing in the way of control. And, philosophically, I just don’t feel this is essential on a production machine, where you expect files to be well-organized in file folders. (Hey, that system has lasted us at least two decades, huh?) If there were no performance task, that’d be one thing, but there clearly is.

Speaking of which, the other disk-churning source is also easy to disable …

Turn off System Restore Points

System Restore points, again, are a nice idea: they allow you to roll back the system to a previously known state. But they break down in practice: first, on a performance machine, you really don’t need a record of every state of the system. You need a full backup of the state of the system you know runs your gig, plus full (separate) data backups. Worse, System Restore often doesn’t play nice with dual-boot systems.

And, most importantly, I’ve found System Restore gets far too aggressive about automatically creating restore points each time you breathe on your machine. I’ve been in gigs where I had to reinstall a driver at the last minute. Do I want System Restore churning away, stealing disk I/O in order to save this pointless change? No. And when you’ve first installed Vista and are installing lots of drivers, this can get pretty crazy.

The best way to turn restore points on and off is from the Control Panel. (There’s also a Registry entry — Google it if you like — but I suggest avoiding that if possible. You may need to check the Registry entry if you see a “Restore point creation disabled by Group Policy error in Control Panel.)

1. Open the Control Panel.
2. Click System and Maintenance.
3. Click System.
4. Click “System protection” under Tasks, in the left column.
5. Click continue when prompted by User Account Control.
6. Under Available Disks, click the checkbox next to your main drive to disable it.

The other good news is that Vista includes an upgraded Backup utility. I’d much rather use that than the System Restore points, just based on past experience.

Other Disk Tips?

There were all sorts of XP tweaks related to disk performance, many of which did nothing, many others which actually made things worse. But if you’ve found something helpful on Vista, let us know.

And, as always, feel free to take issue with the advice here. It’s offered in an entirely unscientific manner, and because of the variables involved, may not apply to your situation.

  • helio9000

    I agree regarding system restore. I have not however, found the indexer to be troublesome but then, I also haven't done any live audio.

    One note about the indexer – if you turn off or put the machine to sleep right away when you are done with it then, without any downtime, it might be trying to index whenever it has the slightest opening. Without system restore on I only notice the disk indexing when it really is at idle.

  • http://kief.net/ Valis

    Vista is a *tiny* bit better but on XP I had a minimal installation (6Gb) that I was tuning, looking for a specific offending program. I decided to try a rollback real quick as the most recent system restore point was newer than the last drive image, and lo & behold the drive was at 10Gb used after reboot. Why?!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Valis, that issue sounds familiar … I seem to recall issues with system restore doing that and eating up disk space, maybe even as early as XP. Wish I had a solution, but if you dig around, I think you'll find one.

  • anon

    System restore is for emergency recovery. We professionals have backups instead.

  • oscillations

    Does adding more RAM help with disk access? I wonder what the difference is between your test setup and an extra gig or two.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @oscillations: I was running a 2GB system, so already getting close to the upper-limit for 32-bit Vista. More RAM will help short of that, yes, but in this case I was able to isolate these two services.

    I could have been patient and let Vista build its restore point and disk image; part of what was happening here was that they have much more to do when you've just installed. But I don't like the fact that Vista doesn't give you control over scheduling either service. If you want either functionality, there are tools that do offer detailed scheduling options.

  • BriMercer

    I tried turning off both these things but my machine keeps maddeningly accessing the disk. Ahhhhh!

  • Toe

    BriMercer – I see the same thing. Whenever I log in the drive gets slammed. If I can get the resource monitor running I see tons of system threads accessing tons of my music files and reading them all in. I think this is windows prefetch but I haven't confirmed.

  • Deefa

    Excellent – after performing both 'fixes' the disk has stopped churning, and CPU utilisation down to 2-3% (even with 60 processes running).

    thanks!

    Deefa

  • Nicky Bentley

    I'm running out of options. I follow the instruction above. Disable the windows search. I also went to C drive and unchecked indexing under properties and my hard drive is still churning like crazy. If it doesn't stop I will put Land O Lake out of business pretty soon.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, then there's "upgrading" to XP, which is what I finally wound up doing, even with these fixes. ;)

    You did look at restore points, though, right? Are you running any antivirus / antispyware software? Are any automatic updates for Windows running?

  • Nicky Bentley

    I just gave my sister my old XP system. I don't think I want to spend more money on XP which MS will stop supporting the update patches some day.

    I only have Avast anti-virus that's it and I know for sure that it wasn't the anti-virus that was running in the background because I was actually disabling it completely to see if the disc will stop running. Sure enough the drive was still churning. I hope MS realize about this issue and come out with a patch soon. Let it run when the system is idle for more than 30 minutes or something not while you're using.

  • north w.

    hey guys,

    i currently do not have vista installed (i rolled out my xp cd and reinstalled), but, for those of you wanting to disable windows pre-fetch, i have a possible solution… i was reading this other site a couple of minutes ago("codinghorror", i believe it was called(i kinda forgot)) and stumbled upon a long list of comments from whitch i cut and pastedprinted for a friend a possible solution, whitch i have cut and pasted below

    > how u turn off superfetch?

    open up a command prompt, type 'net stop superfetch', and press enter. (you'll probably need admin privileges).

    > its not lettin me use my pc at all with music programs , it lags them

    It's probably not superfetch that's at fault (but disabling it could be a good experiment). I'd make an educated guess that it's a driver issue, but of course I can't be sure. good luck!

    brad on October 18, 2006 01:29 PM

    i tried but i got the message accesss denied and im the system admin?

    sablet on October 23, 2006 03:17 PM

    >i tried but i got the message accesss denied and im the system admin?

    when you open up the command prompt, open it by right clicking on the cmd.exe file, and select 'run as administrator' from the right click menu. You will have to go through the UAC dialog bs.

    after doing this, you'll have a cmd window which *actually* has system admin rights. Even though you are already the sys-admin, you still have to do this… Confused? you should be. In my opinion, The UAC dialogs, unlike superfetch, are worthy of some criticism. Even if they do technically make the system more secure. More info here:
    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000571….
    brad on October 23, 2006 04:10 PM

    got it , thanks

    sablet on October 24, 2006 09:49 AM

    everythin runs faster now , only problem i found so far is when i start winwos, takes longer , something makes my computer think a lot after boot

    sablet on October 25, 2006 09:48 AM

    Hi Jeff,

    There is a way to disable superfetch in vista by setting the following registry key to a value of "0":

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlSession ManagerMemory ManagementPrefetchParametersEnableSuperfetch

    A value of 1 prefetches boot processes, 2 prefetches applications and 3 is for both.

    They should have given the option to turn this setting off in the computer management mmc but that works.

    Mario on October 26, 2006 02:46 PM

    mmm was guessin that it turned on by itself after boot

    i do not know if it works, so do not ask, but if you could try it and let me know the results that would be appreciated…

    send any results to wiebenor_3@yahoo.com…. hope this works and speeds up your computer, if not, well, i tried…

    see tou,

    north w.

    also, some of you more technical people may be able to figure out what might be wrong, as the person that tried this on the other website said that it didn't work

  • Adam

    "You may need to check the Registry entry if you see a “Restore point creation disabled by Group Policy error in Control Panel"

    I tried googleing the for the reg entry but couldnt find it, do you know it?

  • Nicky Bentley

    Wow. Thank you North W. I was rendering the video when I was doing super fetch.

    It was going so slow because it was rendering while the hard drive was doing its stupid daily churning. As soo as I type in stop surper fetch and hit enter and got the mesaage that it was done. The hard drive speed up instantly.

    Let's hope my churning day is over.

    Thanks again for the tip

  • Paul DeLeeuw

    YES! Finally, after living with Vista going slooow. Disabling suoerfetch solved the problem. Before, on boot-up the computer would be virtually paralysed for about 15 minutes, with very little processor use shown. Now, disabling superfetch, things are almost as good as they were with XP.

  • Matt

    I have one issue regarding completely disabling the windows search feature. If you are like me and can only afford one computer for both work and play, turning off the search feature also disables a number of nice search functions in the latest office package, which I find myself using quite often.I thought maybe it could just be disabled for a specific recording hardware profile but Vista has kindly removed access to this feature.

    If anyone knows how to create and use multiple hardware profiles on Vista, please kindly share.

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  • http://colortronic.blogspot.com johnElectric

    THANKS! I've been working (or trying to work) with Ableton on Vista for a while and have been experiencing horrible issues with clipping and such with the audio. Great!

    Some stuff in Vista is terrible, for instance with the very commonly used ATI Video Cards, when you upgrade the RAM (like I did) going into full screen mode with flash applications causes the screen to crash! WTF VISTA?!?!?! Can't wait until some upgrades come out.

  • ross

    John,

    The problem to which you are refering is an ATI and/or Adobe problem, not a problem with Vista. It's probably an ATI problem, if I had to guess, though Adobe's software stinks pretty bad, too (regardless of OS.) ATI and NVidia both had pretty awful support for Vista at first, though they've both gotten quite a bit better this year. I really don't know why they didn't actually start serious ports of their drivers until after Vista was released, though. That was pretty dumb. It's not like they didn't have time… Vista was in the works for 6 years and the driver interface was well known for most of that time. It was even in beta for nearly a year. More than plenty of time to get drivers ready. Of course, they're Vista support still isn't as bad as their Linux support.

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  • hexaae

    Lame advices.

    Don't touch those services with Vista.