Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard): Spotlight performance issues

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 5th, 2010 • 4:35 pm

Lately, I have noticed that the performance of Spotlight searches on my system has become rather poor. Global Spotlight searches in the Finder generate a lot of hard drive activity and the results take quite a while to show up.

And the same can be said of searches in PDF files using the “Search” field in Preview’s toolbar. In fact, when I search for an exact phrase (i.e. with quotation marks) in a PDF file, the search is so painfully slow that I often wonder whether Preview is stuck or something. Eventually, I do get the result, but it can take 20 or 30 seconds! And if I dare try and edit the search phrase to make it shorter while Preview is still in the process of searching for it, the application usually freezes altogether and I have to force-quit it.

The most paradoxical thing is that, the longer the exact phrase I am search for is, the longer the search takes. It should be the exact opposite, since a longer exact phrase is much more unique than a shorter one.

I have tried to reproduce the problem in a separate, “clean” user environment, and I can’t. If I use the same PDF file and search for the same long exact phrase in Preview in that clean user environment, I get the result almost instantly.

So it looks like it is something specific to my regular user environment. Yet I cannot imagine what. Since the problem does not affect Spotlight/Preview searches in the other user environment, I cannot fault the Spotlight index itself, and there is probably little point in trying to rebuild it.

But I am looking at other user-specific settings and files and I cannot think of anything that could be causing this. It is really quite puzzling, and quite frustrating. I don’t particularly fancy rebuilding my entire work environment from scratch, just in the hope of eliminating this mysterious problem?

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