Three Ways to Quickly Search Your Computer’s Files on Windows 10

Windows 10’s Start menu can search your files, but it seems like Microsoft is more interested in pushing Bing and other online search features these days. While Windows still has some powerful search features, they’re a bit harder to find—and you might want to consider a third-party tool instead.

The Start Menu (and Cortana)

The Start menu search functionality on Windows 10 is handled by Cortana, and it searches Bing and other online sources in addition to the files on your local PC.

In the initial version of Windows 10, you could click a “My Stuff” button while searching to search only your PC. This feature was removed in the Anniversary Update. There’s no way to only search your local PC’s files while searching your PC—not unless you disable Cortana via the registry.

However, you can still use the Start menu for some basic file searches. Search for a file stored in an indexed location and it should appear somewhere in the list.

This won’t always work because the Start menu only searches indexed locations, and there’s no way to search other areas of your system from here without adding them to the index.

By default, the Start menu searches everything it can—indexed files, Bing, OneDrive, the Windows Store, and other online locations. You can narrow this down by clicking the “Filters” button and selecting “Documents”, “Folders”, “Photos”, or “Videos”.

The problem is that there’s no way to search just all your local files. These categories are all narrow and include online locations, like your OneDrive.

To improve the results, click the “Filters” option in the menu and then click the “Select locations” button at the bottom of the menu. You’ll be able to choose your indexed search locations. Windows automatically scans and monitors these folders, building the search index it uses when you search via the Start menu. By default, it will index data in your user account’s folders and not much else.

File Explorer

If you frequently find yourself frustrated with the Start menu search feature, forget about it and head to File Explorer when you want to search. In File Explorer, navigate to the folder you want to search. For example, if you just want to search your Downloads folder, open the Downloads folder. If you want to search your entire C: drive, head to C:.

Then, type a search into the box at the top right corner of the window and press Enter. if you’re searching an indexed location, you’ll get results instantly. (You can make this a bit faster by telling Windows to always start searching when you type in File Explorer.)

If the location you’re searching isn’t indexed—for example, if you’re searching your entire C: drive—you’ll see a progress bar as Windows looks through all the files in the location and checks to see which match your search.

You can narrow things down by clicking the “Search” tab on the ribbon and using the various options to choose the file type, size, and properties you’re searching for.

Note that, when searching in non-indexed locations, Windows will only search file names and not their contents. To change this, you can click the “Advanced options” button and enable “File contents”. Windows will do a deeper search and find words inside files, but it may take a lot longer.

To make Windows index more folders, click Advanced Options > Change Indexed Locations and add the folder you want. This is the same index used for the Start menu search feature.

Everything, a Third Party Tool

If you’re not thrilled with the integrated Windows search tools, you may want to avoid them and go with a third-party utility. There are quite a few decent ones out there, but we like Everything—and yes, it’s free.

Everything is very fast and simple. It builds a search index as you use it, so you can just start searching and it will work immediately. It should be able to index most PCs in just a few minutes. It’s a lightweight, small application that uses uses minimal system resources. Like many other great Windows tools, it’s also available as a portable application.

Its one downside, compared to Windows’ built-in search, is that it can only search file and folder names—it can’t search the text within those files. But it’s a very fast way to find files and folders by name on your entire system, without dealing with Cortana or telling Windows to index your entire system drive, which could potentially slow things down.

Everything works very quickly. It builds up a database of every file and folder on your computer and searches happen instantly as you type. It runs in your notification area (aka the system tray) and you can assign a keyboard shortcut to quickly open the window from Tools > Options > General > Keyboard, if you like. If you want to quickly search all the files on your PC, this is a much better solution than the integrated Windows search tools.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.