Speed improvements?

My database is now about 500MB large and the speed of DevonThink is a real issue. On my older iMac G4 800 with sufficient memory it is really unusable. On my G5 double processor it still takes MINUTES to load and if I have two more serious apps such as Word or Pages open, it becomes also a real issue to have DevonThink open at the same time (and again, memory shouldn’t be an issue). On my PowerBook G4/1.33 with over 1 Gig of mem the speed issue also is noticeable. This is a really serious problem, if one uses DT as the main knowledge management tool (which, let’s face it, was the point of getting it, right?). Will there be improvements re the speed issue? I mean, the hardware (G4 and G5 double processor) shouldn’t really be at fault here!

I just checked, my db is about 513MB and DT takes 20 seconds from the time I click the DT icon in the dock to the time the program is open and the db is fully loaded. This is on a 1.5 GHz G4 PowerBook with 1 Gig of RAM running OSX 10.3.8. Have you run “verify & repair” and “backup & optimize” lately?


My DT Pro database is much larger than yours, and runs on a 500 MHz TiBook with 1 GB RAM. Launch time takes 30 - 40 seconds, including opening 4 view windows. I typically have a number of programs open at the same time (DEVONagent, NoteTaker, Mail or Entourage, iCal, Preview – and often Word and Excel). There’s no significant difference between launch times in DT PE or DT Pro, given similar database sizes.

DEVONthink is RAM hungry, especially the way that I strees it. I frequently add new items from Web searches, do a good many database searches, classify new items and very often use “See Also” to follow threads of related information. That results in less free RAM and more disk thrashing using virtual memory, as time goes on. Also, the database becomes less compact on the hard drive as data is moved to and from the disk. At some point, DEVONthink slows down. I don’t like that. I find that if I optimize my database every day or two, I stay happy with its performance.

When that happens, I’d usually like to take a few minutes break, anyway. First, I run Verify & Repair, just to be sure there are no database errors (I haven’t seen an error report since last June or July). That takes a couple of minutes. Then I start Backup & Optimize, and go get a cup of coffee, or whatever. When I get back, I quit DEVONthink, then relaunch it. This results in some Good Things: Free memory is back up, I’ve got a clean and recently backed up database, and DEVONthink is back at full speed. Once more, I’m awed at how fast searches go on my old TiBook. Back to work.

There are a host of things that can happen to the System and hard drive that can slow down the computer, or even lead to errors and data loss.

One simple thing is to make sure the boot volume has enough free space to manage virtual memory and scratch files. A full boot volume is a bad thing.

OS X needs routine maintenance, including running the cron files, repairing permissions and running the disk utilities. Every few days I run the cron routines. Lately, I’ve started using AppleJack to run some of the maintenance chores in the auto mode. Every few weeks (and after OS upgrades) I’ll run DiskWarrior to catch and repair any directory errors and to rebuild and optimize the directory files.

The slow launch times and general slowness of DEVONthink do not sound normal. If you haven’t done so recently, try running the Verify & Repair followed by the Backup & Optimize procedures. Then quit DT. If you haven’t rebooted in some time (some Mac users almost never reboot), rebooting may also help. Post back and let us know if that helped.

Thanks first of all for the quick responses! My Macs are frequently rebooted and usually well-maintained, so that shouldn’t really be the issue. Also, I am paranoid about my database getting corrupted, so I frequently check&verify, in addition to optimizations. RAM hungry is probably the answer. A big culprit is iTunes, I guess. I stop using both DT and iTunes at the same time, it’s a no-go. But the lag problem persists with me nonetheless. For example, when I do searches (All/All Words/Fuzzy/Database) and the first couple of letters are fine, but then it sometimes just takes rather long. Is there a way to first type and then hit SEARCH (my typos make searching a real hassle otherwise)? That’s why I asked, because it’s not just the start-up.

OK, the booting time lag is one issue but the fuzzy search is another, imho. FYI, I often have 15 or so programs open at a time, always including iTunes, and am still not experiencing the long lag time in devonthink loading. However, regarding the fuzzy search. I agree. I want to click a button before it starts the search so it will wait until I have entered all my text into the search field. I was experiencing the same problem that you are. I no longer use the search field in the db window but always open a “search” window so that it does wait for me to tell it to search.


… a large single file in your DB??

I observed the same behavior when I imported all of my old mail files as a single 50MB file. When I split them apart and imported them individually, DT ran smoothly again.

I agree: the amount of resources DT takes up is atrocious. I’d be quite happy without the automatic cataloguing/sorting features and a much lighter program. I’d also be happier if I could just edit the text files on the hard drive and not within the database and that the database was there largely for search functions.

I figure that DT alone eats up 1 stick of 512 MB memory. I know top (in terminal shows less) but that’s how it feels. Swtiching in and out of DT can bring a computer even with 2 GB of RAM to its knees. An expensive program to run in terms of the system resources it consumes.

OTOH, until high quality desktop search comes to the Mac, DT is about the only thing out there that actually gives you access to all your past notes and files in a single location.

I much preferred the old OS 9 EZNote which at least stored your notes safely as individual text files. DT dataloss is not pretty and it does happen.

The solution for fuzzy search? Don’t use it!

Press shift-command-f instead for your finds. The search won’t start until you hit the go button.

I agree that DT uses a lot of resources but I would NOT like to go backwards in its abilities. I use all of the features you wish it didn’t have and work completely differently because of it. I wouldn’t use it if it was just another routine card-file type note storage application. After importing all the significant files from my hard drive I’ve used it solely for grabbing and storing most of my search information from the internet, snippets of grabbed text from documents, etc. Most of this is not even saved as separate files on my computer now. I just routinely do verify and repair and backup and optimize and don’t worry about it.


One of the things that can cause excessive startup delays is backups. What are your backup options set to? DT backs up when you first launch it (if you have it set to backup), and with a 500 MB database, it can add significantly to the launch time. Tinker with this and see if it’s what’s causing the issue.

Have you tried cronaid? It runs the daily/weekly/monthly cron scripts if they haven’t run at their default scheduled times. All that’s necessary is to ensure cronaid will run (via cron) sometime when the system is awake. And Anacron can run any missed cron tasks, not just daily/weekly/monthly like cronaid.

Which reminds me … I wish DT (Pro beta) gave indication other than the pinwheel when it runs an automatic backup.

I have a question about using the search window (rather than the fuzzy search): can you then use the ‘See Also’ feature from that window? I haven’t figured out a way to do so, though I’m sure it’s easily done. The search window works much more quickly for me since I’m trying to run DevonThink on a G3 iBook. Thanks

macjournal - great notebook (until bought by mariner). really lousy search capabilities. (donated twice.)

circus ponies notebook - great outliner. good search capabilities. lousy notebook. (registered user.)

devonthink - great program. great name. great search but too resource intensive and too slow (until pages into memory). (registered user.)

hog bay notebook - great notebook. lousy name. great search. very fast and very lightweight.

on my G4 17" 1.5 PB after some hesitation i’ve moved to hog bay notebook 3.5. on a G3 iBook i wouldn’t hesitate.

sorry guys. please leave this post up. for those of us on powerbooks or macminis (common trait, slow drives), as opposed to dual processor towers hog bay notebook will often be a better choice than devonthink.

Double-click the document’s name in the left pane (or the top pane, if you use horizontal split), and the document will open in its own window. Then you’ll see three buttons for Words, Classify, and See Also.

By the way, since the search window is very useful as a starting point to browse the database, it would help if the Zoom In and Zoom Out icons were added to its Customize Toolbar set.

Thanks xuanyingzi. I knew I was missing something easy and actually stumbled across the method you described shortly after I posted.

ronsard, everytime I’ve told a fellow grad student about DEVONthink, they’re very excited and the PC people are always disappointed when I say it’s only available on Macs becauseI use DEVONthink the same way that Bill DeVille, chembob, and others use it, as a database. I’m a geoscience grad student so the ability to search all my PDFs and especially the ‘See Also’ feature are extremely helpful and quite powerful. I fiddled around with Hog Bay Notebook and unless there has been some drastic change in the newest version, it doesn’t have similar capabilities. So it’s all about what one is using the application for. I also found Circus Ponies Notebook to be more useful for my purposes because I could categorize To Do items and notes for my various projects but could get all the To Do items to show up in a single page with the Super-Find feature. So yes, DEVONthink is a bit slow on my computer but is well worth it.

As you can see, I used Devonthink as a notebook (and a database).

I still use Circus Ponies Notebook as my outliner as it is a fantastic and supple tool for that work.

Devonthink is a lousy tool for keeping a journal (it’s just too heavy, with too many windows opening all over the place to be able to just start writing) which is why I always had to keep Macjournal around as a scrapbook for journals and little text fragments (html coding, css coding). It is a very good database.

Hog Bay Notebook 3.5 has improved enormously as it finally has dual navigation windows (a master list with the open notebook contents in the inner list). It is easy to get around and sort one’s notes. Moreover, one can also at last open multiple individual notes in their own window (when occasionally necessary).

Since about version 2, Hog Bay Notebook has had a fantastic (open source) find feature built-in which is much, much faster than Devonthink and scores matches very well. Until 3.5, the navigation between notes was somewhat clunky and restrictive.

Devonthink has more features than Hog Bay Notebook 3.5 but is much more resource intense. I don’t know about you, but my computer runs better when I am not switching in and out of Devonthink regularly (another reason to use Macjournal as the secondary notebook in tandem with Devonthink). As you point out, the ability to parse PDF’s into its database is quite unique to Devonthink and could make the difference to someone who references a lot of PDF’s.

But without a need for either Devonthink’s special sorting capabilities or for the indexing of PDF’s, Hog Bay Notebook is the superior notebook and text database thanks to its light footprint and responsiveness.

I hope to be able to consolidate all my notes and clippings in a single application, putting both Devonthink and Macjournal out of work. The goal is to lighten the load on my computer and get significant amount of system resources back.

I would like to see Devontechnologies continue to work on making Devonthink use less system resources.

(For the record, I have tried Devon Note but found that it difficult to navigate within the library and not significantly faster than Devonthink. I also found the interface less attractive. Every time I try Devon Note I go back to Devonthink very quickly.)

I run a big database that holds more content than the Encyclopedia Britannica, on my 500 MHz G4 TiBook with 1 GB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive.

It’s fast. Not as fast as on Christian’s dual processor Power Mac, but it really runs quickly, and I find it very usable.

I usually have a number of other applications open at the same time, including NoteTaker, Mail and/or Entourage, iCal, iChat, DEVONagent, Preview, Word – and sometimes ReadIris 9 Pro and Acrobat (full). If I’m working on a finished layout for a project document, I’ll often have Create and PStill open.

Yes, DEVONlthink is RAM hungry (and so are some of my other open applications at times), so virtual memory is used. When I switch from one process to a different one, I may briefly see the spinning ball as code and data are swapped. But hey, even virtual memory in OS X is pretty fast.

So I’ve been scratching my head over user reports of really long database launch times and very slow database operations – usually on computers with processors that run at multiples of the speed of my own, and with smaller databases. Why? What’s going on?

I know that there are maintenance routines to keep the System and drive running clean and fast, and I recommend them. But some of the users who are seeing slow DEVONthink performance are knowlegeable abour that.

Since I’ve been reviewing Support requests, I’m getting a picture of what causes slowdowns for some users – perhaps many who have problems. Unsupported file types.

Example: One user reported slow DEVONthink performance. It turned out that he had NoteTaker notebooks imported into DEVONthink. I asked him to delete those files. He did, and reported back that DEVONthink is now running quickly.

NoteTaker is a great application. I use it because it does some things for me that DEVONthink isn’t designed to do. I can easily flow information back and forth between the two applications. Once, I experimented with import of a NoteTaker notebook into DEVONthink. What I found out was that DEVONthink can’t really ‘see’ and index all the content of the notebook, which fact indicates that there’s nothing to gain anyway by importing notebooks in their native form. But NoteTaker can easily convert all or part of a notebook into a file format that DEVONthink understands – Word, PDF, or RTF.

Think about it. DEVONthink and NoteTaker use database files. Why should one expect either to fully recognize the contents of the other, unless both followed a common standard, or the developers had collaborated? If I were to import my DEVONthink database into NoteTaker, could NoteTaker handle that? (No.)

CP NoteBook notebooks become flaky when imported into DEVONthink. Not a good idea.

There are many other package file formats in common use: Keynote, Pages, Create, etc. Such package file types aren’t yet supported by DEVONthink. I don’t have such files in my database. But if the contents of some of those files should go into my database, it’s easy to import the information, perhaps as PDF.

Remember, though, that DEVONthink supports more file types than any of its competitors.

BOTTOM LINE: If your DEVONthink database is running slowly, or DEVONthink isn’t stable, check to see if you have, perhaps inadvertently, dumped in unsupported file types. If so, remove them. (See the Help file for a list of supported file types.)

hello bill,

that is a very good suggestion for everybody to make sure that there are not unsupported filetypes in their database. i think file checking is something that christian should automate (i’m surprised that there is still a persistent bug like this in DEVONthink - something along the lines of a rejection and notification of inappropriate filetypes.

this is not something that is plaguing my own copy of DEVONthink.

as i’ve mentioned, when i am in DEVONthink and working away, it is reasonably responsive.

the problem is with the huge resource footprint. i.e. when tabbing in and out of DEVONthink, the spinning beachball as the program pages in its database. which when you switch to photoshop or a safari full house (browsers are also resource intensive with lots of windows open), you get both coming and going.

when you tab in and out of Macjournal or Hog Bay Notebook, the application responds instantly. and you can tab back out after taking your note or doing your search.

people looking for a more responsive notebook who have been stuck with DEVONthink until now (great search capabilties, good file browser) finally have a lightweight choice.

what i haven’t mentioned so far about Hog Bay Notebook is the outlining capabilities which apparently rival Omnioutliner and are quite similar. i am much better with Circus Ponies Notebook (much more like the InControl 4 outliner that i used to use in OS 9), but it looks like i will be able to drop all of the following applications and use just Hog Bay Notebook:
Circus Ponies Notebook
Textedit (I started to distrust Macjournal with unique text entries after some data loss)one program for four! and the principal one much more responsive. now that is saving system resources and being able to get on with one’s work more quickly.

for weblog entry, i will still be stuck opening up Ecto, but none of the journal programs handle weblogs as well as a dedicated application like Ecto or MarsEdit (haven’t used it, recommendation based on quality of NetNewsWire).

i should mention that i am someone who still doesn’t really like MacOS X on account of the slow user interface. of course i can’t live without the dedicated multitasking and protected memory, but i would have liked apple to have left the options to turn off the eye candy and revert to a somewhat NEXT-like/OS 9 finder interface with an ultraresponsive user interface. for that matter i also like racing mountainbikes and driving BMW’s very fast.

to return to the question at hand, DEVONthink is more like a Mac truck than a sportscar.

Exactly. That’s the whole point of DEVONthink.

I need a “big load” database manager. I’ve got a very large collection of scientific and technical literature, much of it in PDF format. DEVONthink lets me do knowledge mining, which none of the outlining or notebook programs will let me do. For that, I need the contextual recognition features of DEVONthink.

I spend a lot ot time doing Web searches for new information. My database contains a Bookmarks group that contains the URLs of the journals and other Web resources that I routinely check. DEVONthink’s browser simply has the best features I’ve found for quickly and very easily grabbing information from the Web into my database. It’s integration with a companion application, DEVONagent, allows me to do comprehensive or tightly focussed Web searches.

When I’m reviewing material in my database, I need a well-thought-out interface that allows me to open an item with one click in its parent application.

When I’m writing, I want extensive hyperlinking features that I can control for my purposes.

Yes, I do use other applications, including a notebook app. But for my knowledge mining needs, notebook apps are more like tricycles than sports cars.

I often use Expose to switch between open applications, but I just don’t see the beachball except as a flash duting switches.

I think that there may be an as yet unidentified factor at work in the case of those people complaining about slowness of DT. I run DT on a G4 466 Mhz with under 500 Mb RAM. My database is around 400 Mb and contains over 1500 items including images, lots of PDF’s and lots of notes (many of them several pages long) and I’m not experiencing the type of slowdowns being described here. I run multiple applications most of which I have open all the time including Mail and Safari as well as a software development application which is notoriously resource hungry. Have you guys considered that your problem may actually lie outside of DT?

As far as Hog Bay Notebook et. al. being replacements for DT well that’s just misleading. If you are only interested in keeping track of simple text or RTF notes then it may well be adequate but if you also want to keep track of pdfs, images and other documents then HBN doesn’t even come close. As a research tool I’ve yet to see anything that rivals DT and that is what I use DT for.