Using More CPU Power when Calculating

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 1, 2017)


Geoff has noticed that when calculating, Excel's CPU usage peaks at 50%. He wonders if there is any way to break through this barrier. He has tried setting Application.MultiThreadedCalculation.ThreadCount to various values, and has been able to bend the 50% limit out to about 58%, but there is still a large amount of untapped processing power available.

One way to change how much of your system resources are devoted to a particular task (such as running Excel) is to modify the importance placed on the task by the operating system. You can do this by displaying the Task Manager, right-clicking the Excel.exe process, and then choosing Set Priority. You will see six priority options available; Excel.exe is most likely set at a "Normal" priority level. You can increase the resources allocated to Excel.exe by the operating system by choosing either "Above Normal" or "High."

Note that you could also choose "Realtime," but this choice is not recommended. Why? Because then Windows will give precedence to Excel.exe at the expense of every other process on your system, including those processes used by the operating system itself. Essentially, this setting means that absolutely nothing else on your system can interrupt Excel. Sounds great, right? It can actually be a recipe for disaster because if Excel goes into an infinite loop or it takes inordinately long to finish some task (such as calculating a huge workbook), your entire system could lock up and you would be forced to reboot it.

Running at Realtime priority can also starve other system processes and prevent necessary system maintenance. Fortunately, it's rare that Excel will hold the CPU very long, so in most cases there won't be any adverse side effects, but nobody should ever boost any process to Realtime priority that's not explicitly designed for it.

Even if you were to boost Excel's priority to Realtime, you might not be able to get more than 50% usage. This is especially true if your machine has multiple CPUs or a multi-core CPU. How your system utilizes those additional CPUs (real or virtual) depends on several factors, the most important being the way in which the program (in this case Excel) is programmed to take advantage of threading on multiple CPUs. (Fortunately modern versions of Excel take advantage of multithreading opportunities very nicely.)

If you want to know more about how Excel uses memory, you can find detailed information at this helpful page:

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11056) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is five less than 7?

2017-02-02 23:15:11

David Gray

Lowering the dispatch priority of less important tasks absolutely can improve overall performance. The problem is that, by itself, Task Manager forgets all about those settings when you restart, or if the process is one that runs intermittently.

A solution exists, though, in the form of PRIO, the Process Priority Saver, freely available at I have been using it since I discovered it about a year ago, and it works quite well.

2017-02-02 04:44:19

James H

I haven't tested this theory, but could reducing the importance of other .exe files to low or below normal also help divert processing power to Excel?

2017-02-02 04:09:39

Warwick W

Even better, if this hasn't been done already, is to reduce the CPU requirements. A number of detailed approaches can be used in particular instances, but two general ones that can be applied are:

1. Put "Application.ScreenUpdating=False" as early as possible in the macro and turn it on again at the end of the macro, by repeating the above line but substituting "True" for "False". I reduced production of a print-ready 52-page brochure generated from many tables of a database from about 15 minutes to about 2 minutes with this alone. It cuts out the considerable processing involved in continually updating the screen. It has the side benefit of not seeing the screen go wild in long-running macros.

2. Well-documenting the macro with comments is very praiseworthy and can make it much easier to pick the program up at a later time. However, VBA is an interpretive language and goes through interpreting each token (bit) of each line it passes through, no matter what it contains, including comments. So keep comments outside of very compute-intensive parts of the macro. Put such comments at the start of these parts outside of the intensive loops.

These steps alone will often take away the need to do anything about increasing the percentage of the processor's power used by the progrom. They will certainly cause much better performance even if other measures are needed.

2013-10-02 09:29:54

Glenn Case

I find that if I have a number of Excel files open, macro execution can become very slow. It helps significantly in such cases to open a second instance of Excel and execute the macro from the new instance. This typically results in orders of magnitude faster execution.

2013-09-03 08:50:12


Is the link right? The article is about CPU and the link is about memory.

The article says "Fortunately modern versions of Excel take advantage of multithreading opportunities very nicely." -- does this apply to VBA? It's darn rare that I ever have calculation times with worksheet formulas, but I do often have long times when running involved macros. With Excel 2007, I've never gotten more than 50% usage, or 100% of one core.

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