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.