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OneDrive Slow? Try Disabling Files On-Demand

Speed up OneDrive

In recent months, several customers running OneDrive as a service have complained of torturously slow uploads. Files created on a PC take a very long time to appear in the cloud. In one case, it took more than 3 days for a small Word document to show up on OneDrive’s website!

The first instinct was to suspect AlwaysUp. Perhaps running as a Windows Service had somehow crippled OneDrive. But a few tests quickly disproved that theory. The performance problem showed up even when OneDrive was started normally on the desktop, outside of AlwaysUp.

The mystery has persisted for several months but recent feedback on various forums suggest that there may be a workaround. Apparently disabling the new Files On-Demand feature often restores sanity.

What is OneDrive Files On-Demand?

Files On-Demand is Microsoft’s attempt at making more efficient use of your hard drive. Instead of automatically transferring each file in the cloud onto your PC as soon as possible, OneDrive will delay the transfer of each file until you explicitly open it.

You can turn Files On-Demand on or off from your OneDrive Settings window. Right-click on the OneDrive tray, select Settings from the menu and move to the Settings tab in the window that comes up. The Files On-Demand option appears at the bottom of the form. It appears to be on by default:

OneDrive Files On-Demand

Files On-Demand trades space for speed of access. For example, let’s say you have a 10 MB PowerPoint presentation in the cloud. Without Files On-Demand, that document will be automatically copied to your computer, immediately consuming 10 MB on your hard drive. With Files On-Demand, OneDrive will “know about” the file but will not automatically transfer it. Your hard drive stores 10 MB less — great.

But the downside of Files On-Demand becomes evident when you need to use the file. Without Files On-Demand, you simply double-click the file and away you go. The document loads quickly because it is already on your computer.

With Files On-Demand enabled, double-clicking the PowerPoint issues a command to the cloud to dynamically download the file. At best you wait a few seconds for the download to complete and the file to open; at worst you can’t retrieve the document because you are not connected to the Internet.

As contributor Craig Long points out, “Files On-Demand is for those who have limited space available or for those who only occasionally need to open a file”. It’s a fine choice for individuals/hobbyists looking to conserve precious resources.

However, please be cautious when considering Files On-Demand in a professional setting. It would be a disaster in an office where OneDrive is mapped to a shared folder because the files not downloaded would never fully show up on the shared drive!

And furthermore, as Microsoft mentions, “you cannot search the contents within online-only files because they aren’t stored on the device” — a potential deal-breaker in a commercial environment.

Complaints of slow uploads with Files On-Demand

Several folks experiencing slowness were able to speed things up by disabling Files On-Demand. Here is one data point from the popular OneDrive forum hosted by UserVoice:

I have been waiting a week for the sync to complete, speeds is about 0,2kb/sec. My internet speed is 1GB/1GB. Then I turned off “sync on demand”. BOOM!!! Speed up to 15mb/sec. A factor 75.000 faster.

“John S” had a similar comment:

I had this same issue with large upload batches from my Mac (uploading about 13GB worth of data from a prior DropBox repository into a SharePoint location on Office 365 tenant) and figured out resolution myself after unsuccessful calls to MS Support: SOLUTION: turn OFF “Files on Demand”. Once off, I got normal upload speeds.

Apparently there may be problems with the new feature.

How to disable Files On-Demand

You can easily turn off Files On-Demand by un-checking the box on OneDrive’s settings page (available by right-clicking on the tray icon). Click OK on the conformation window to commit your changes:

Disable OneDrive Files On-Demand

Hopefully this simple change will put the spring back in OneDrive’s step!

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