Is Excel Single-threaded?

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Microsoft Excel is a powerful spreadsheet application

Microsoft Excel is a powerful spreadsheet application developed by Microsoft originally for PCs but the application is now functional on macOS, Android, and iOS. It forms part of the Microsoft Office Suite and contains lots of formulas and functions. Excel can be used to organize numbers and analyze data.



By default, when calculations are made in Excel, Excel automatically recalculates all the formulas and values in your worksheet whenever you open your worksheet or change a value – entry, formula, or name used in the formulas. If you’re working on large data, especially with more functions and/or formulas, the auto-recalculation of the workbook can take several seconds or even minutes.

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This process largely depends on the processing power (and the number of cores) of your computer. This process takes us to the concept of “single-thread,” or “multi-thread.” Read on for a better understanding.

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Is Excel Single-threaded?

Yes, all Excel versions are typically single-threaded and still run with a single thread most of the time. However, the concept of multi-threaded recalculation of workbooks was introduced in MS Excel 2007 and this concept is continued in all later versions of MS Excel.

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What Is Single-threaded in Excel?

In a simple term, single threading is the execution of an entire process/task from beginning to end without interruption in a single sequence. That is, a single-threaded process contains the execution of instructions in a single sequence. More so, a single-threaded process processes a command at a time.

When a task is in execution on Excel or a recalculation is taking place, it follows a process, which is usually a resource-consuming task. Hence, for efficiency, the process is divided into multiple units called “threads,” which is a lightweight process. These threads can be divided into either a single thread or multiple thread and tasks are assigned to each thread.

When there is one thread in the entire process, it is referred to as a single-threaded application, whereas, if there are multiple threads in the entire process, it is referred to as a multi-threaded application.

In the single-threaded application, a task must be completed in a thread before the process continues to the next task. Being single-threaded or not has nothing to do with the number of processor or core i.e. both single core or multiple cores can both undergo either single-threading or multi-threading. However, having multiple cores favors threading and makes processes run faster – parallel execution.

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Is Excel Multi-Threaded?

Later versions of Excel are multi-threaded. Excel 2007 was the first version of Excel to use multi-threaded recalculation (MTR) of worksheets. With this added feature, Excel users can configure Excel to use about 1024 concurrent threads when recalculating worksheets, irrespective of the number of CPUs or CPU’s cores on the computer.

If your computer has multiple CPUs or CPU’s cores, your operating system takes responsibility for allocating the threads to each CPU or core in the most efficient manner. Also, Excel attempts to identify parts of the calculation chain that can be recalculated synchronously on different threads.

Whenever you open an Excel workbook, your operating system determines how many CPU or cores are available and uses this to create a separate calculation thread for each CPU or core. These threads can then run in parallel multiple threads.

Multi-threaded recalculation (MTR) of worksheets is supposed to be faster than the single-threaded recalculation of worksheets. However, whether or not the MTR would be faster than the single-threaded recalculation depends on the number of independent calculation trees in the workbook. For instance, an Excel workbook with only one continuous chain of dependent calculations may not show any improvement in performance.

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More so, an Excel workbook with only one continuous chain of formulas may not show any performance gain while an Excel workbook containing several independent chains of formulas may show performance gain.

Although MS Excel 2007 and later can benefit from the multi-threaded capability, not all features on Excel can enjoy this benefit (irrespective of the version). For instance, the following features can’t enjoy the benefit of Excel multi-threading:

  • User-defined functions (UDF) written in VBA
  • User-defined functions (UDF) available through Automation add-ins
  • User-defined functions (UDF) available through XLL (unless they have been updated)
  • Cells in circular reference loops
  • Calculate and Range.CalculateRowMajorOrder
  • Worksheet functions relating to cube and pivot tables

Also, Excel uses a single-threaded capability to execute or run the following processes:

  • Built-in commands
  • XLL commands
  • XLL Add-in Manager interface functions (xlAutoOpen function, and so on)
  • Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) user-defined commands (often referred to as macros)
  • VBA user-defined functions
  • Built-in thread-unsafe worksheet functions (see the next section for a list)
  • XLM macro sheet user-defined commands and functions
  • COM add-in commands and functions
  • Functions and operators within conditional formatting expressions
  • Functions and operators within defined name definitions used in worksheet formulas
  • The forced evaluation of an expression in the formula-edit box using the F9 key

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Excel Multithreading VBA

While some Excel operations can be multi-threaded, Excel VBA macros are single-threaded.

Is Microsoft Office Single-threaded?

Yes, almost all Microsoft Office applications are single-threaded except MS Excel, which can handle lots of several operations and needed faster processes.

Please note that while Excel worksheets are mostly calculated with the multi-thread feature, Excel VBA macros only run on a single-thread feature.

Why Is Excel Calculating Threads?

As stated above Excel can handle lots of calculations and operations. These calculations and operations follow a process, which is rather a resource-consuming task. Excel usually divide this process into threads for efficiency. These threads are calculated by Excel and then divided into either a single thread or multiple threads. Smaller processes follow a single thread.

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How Do I Stop Excel from Threading?

For your information, you cannot stop excel from threading. Threading is a normal process on all MS Office applications so Excel must thread. However, you can either choose whether or not your Excel application should utilize multi-threading or not.

If your computer has a single processor or core, you can disable the multi-threading feature by following the steps below.

Later versions of MS Excel come with multi-threading capabilities, which help them to reduce the time required to calculate complex calculations and formulas. Excel users with multiple CPUs or cores in their computer can then turn on this feature to enable Excel to make use of the multi-threading feature to calculate complex files faster.

However, you may choose to disable this feature, especially if your computer has a single processor or core. Follow this guide to either enable or disable the multi-threading feature:

On your Excel application, click on “FILE” and select “Options” to open the Excel Options dialog box.

Select “Advanced” from the “Options” dialog box.

Gently scroll down to the “Advanced” pane until you get to the “Formulas” section, “Enable multi-threaded calculation” should be checked, uncheck it. That’s all. You have successfully disabled Excel from using the multi-threaded feature. You can follow the same method to activate it – simply check the box.

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How to Increase Excel CPU Usage?

If you own a modern computer, chances are that your computer has lots of CPU power to handle complex and multiple tasks, which include data processing, complex calculation, etc. However, if you are using an older computer or your computer has low processing power, you would need to manage your CPU usage. Improving your CPU performance will help you to get more value from your computer.

  • What is the CPU?

Simply put, your computer’s CPU is its processing unit, more like its brain or seat of operation. It performs from simple to complex tasks, which include mathematical calculations and data analyses. For a smooth operation on your computer, your CPU must be working efficiently. However, two major problems can greatly slow down the performance of your CPU – complex operations or computing and various non-CPU “logjams.”

Complex Operations or Computing

Carrying out some complex Excel operations or running some complex applications, such as large spreadsheets and databases, etc., on your computer can tax its CPU resources. Sometimes, these applications can push your computer’s CPU to its absolute limits and affect its efficiency.

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Dusty Fans and Clogged Vents

Irrespective of how old your laptop is or its CPU power, dusty fans, and clogged vents will affect its efficiency. Normally, as your CPU runs, it generates heat and gets hotter. The cooling system should blow the CPU while the vents allow hot air to leave the system. However, dusty fans will reduce the amount of air the CPU is receiving and clogged vents will prevent the hot air to leave. As a result, internal heat will rise and will not only limit the performance of the CPU but damage it subsequently. You should always clean your computer in and out and if necessary add an external CPU cooling kit.

Note that you may not be able to directly adjust the Excel CPU usage. However, there are some things you can do or stop doing to enhance the performance of your CPU when using Excel. here are a few of them:

Adjust the System Cooling Policy

Windows are equipped with energy-saving software that slows down the CPU automatically if its temperature is rising beyond set value. You can adjust the settings of the Cooling Policy and Minimum Processor State of your PC to run the cooling fans faster. This will help your CPU to run fast when necessary. Follow the step below to change this setting in your PC (Windows 10):

  • Click the Start button and click Control Panel.
  • Click Power Options.
  • Click Change Plan Settings.
  • Click Advanced Power Settings.
  • Expand the Processor Power Management list.
  • Expand the Minimum Processor State List.
  • Change the settings to 100 percent for “Plugged in.”
  • Expand the System Cooling Policy List.
  • Change the settings from Passive to Active for “Plugged in.”

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Close Unused Workbooks

Do you know that each workbook has its own window which needs to be redrawn every time Excel is recalled on your screen? As a result, the rendering of Excel becomes slower with every additional open workbook.

Therefore, if you’re not using a workbook, close it instead of leaving it open to slow down the operation of other workbooks.

Disable Hardware Graphics Acceleration

Normally, hardware graphics acceleration sound like an improvement to your PC’s performance, but it actually does the opposite. Hardware graphics acceleration really refers to a whole bunch of unnecessary animations that you hardly notice when you use Excel. These animations slow down the performance of your Excel application. So, it is advisable that you turn it off by following these steps:

On your Excel application, click on “FILE” and select “Options” to open the Excel Options dialog box. Select “Advanced” from the “Options” dialog box. Gently scroll down to the “Advanced” pane until you get to the “Display” section, and tick the Disable hardware graphics acceleration checkbox as shown above.

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Avoid The 64-Bit Version of Excel

In case you don’t know, the 64-bit version of Excel 2016 can use 50% more memory than the 32-bit version of Excel. This is more of a design issue and only a few Excel users know that the 64-bit version of Excel will almost certainly be slower than its corresponding 32-bit version because it must do twice the lifting to complete the same tasks. So, as much as possible, avoid using the 64-bit version of Excel unless you need to do so.

Turn Off Auto-Syncing of Office Files

Everyone is going to the cloud and Office is doing the same with its OneDrive. However, there’s one problem – using OneDrive is still a bit clunky. Feedback from Excel users showed that switching off auto-syncing often significantly improves the performance of the Office applications, including Microsoft Excel. Therefore, if you’re using OneDrive and you notice a lag in Excel, simply navigate to the OneDrive Settings dialog, and untick the “Use Office 2016 to sync Office files that I open” checkbox (your Office version may vary).

Turn Off Automatic Calculation If Possible

If possible, turn off the automatic calculation feature. Normally, Excel automatically recalculates all the formulas and values in your worksheet when you change any entries or other formulas on which the final value or formulas depend. If you’re working on a large worksheet with several formulas, this can slow down operations.

However, you may decide to temporarily turn off automatic calculation until you are finished entering and changing the formulas in your worksheet. This will save time and improve CPU usage. This can be done easily by following these steps:

On your Excel application, click on “FILE” and select “Options” to open the Excel Options dialog box. Select “Formula” from the “Options” dialog box.

Gently scroll down to the “Formula” pane until you get to the “Calculation option” section, and tick the Manual checkbox to prevent the formulas from being calculated every time you make a change to a value, formula, or name or open a worksheet containing formulas.

You can also easily and quickly access the calculation options from the ribbon by clicking on “Formulas” on the menu bar and clicking the “Calculation Options” button in the “Calculation” section.

Note: In case you don’t want to turn off the automatic calculation feature, you can still leave it on as long as your computer has multiple processors, you can turn on the multi-threading feature by following the steps mention under “How Do I Stop Excel from Threading?” simply check the box instead of unchecking it.

In Summary:

  • Optimize the worksheet to ensure that it is not forced to be single-threaded.
  • Identify how many threads Excel can use and if possible increase it.
  • Get a computer with the fastest CPU you can get.
  • Get a computer with the fastest RAM you can put in it.
  • Avoid 64-bit Excel to maximize the amount of RAM and CPU power available to the worksheets.

Excel Multi-Threading Calculation

To most Excel users, Excel multi-threading calculation (MTC) is very important. It is also referred to as multi-threaded recalculation (MTR).

Excel multi-threading calculation enables Excel to identify formulas that can be calculated concurrently. It then runs these formulas on multiple processors concurrently.  The net effect of this action is that a given Excel worksheet completes its calculations within a few times. Thereby improving Excel’s overall calculation performance. 

Irrespective of the number of CPUs or cores on a computer, when Excel loads a workbook, it asks the operating system how many CPUs or cores are available on the computer. This information is used to create a thread for each processor. That is, the more processor a computer has, the better the performance improvement.

Excel multi-threaded calculation works in this way:

  • Excel analyzes the calculation chains of formula dependencies looking for lengths of chain that can be processed in parallel.
  • It starts several separate calculation threads,
  • It assigns the lengths of chain to the calculation threads for processing,
  • And finally gathers everything together

How successful this process will be is largely dependent on the structure and linkages between your formulas, whether the functions you are using are multi-threaded etc., and this can vary enormously between workbooks.

Naturally, the Excel worksheet is designed in such a way that it has a direct impact on the size of any performance increase.  For instance, a worksheet with lots of completely independent calculations should witness a great performance increase, and a spreadsheet with a completely linear set of calculations (where a calculation depends on the previous calculation in a linear pattern) will not witness a significant increase in performance.

You can control the number of threads that Excel assigns to the calculation process by following these steps:

On your Excel application, click on “FILE” and select “Options” to open the Excel Options dialog box. Select “Advanced” from the “Options” dialog box.  Gently scroll down to the “Advanced” pane until you get to the “Formulas” section. The number of threads assigned can be larger or smaller than the number of logical cores available.

A few other things about Excel multi-threading calculation:

  • The results of Excel calculations are not affected by multi-threading calculation, instead, the speed at which the results are executed is affected by multi-threading calculation.
  • Excel users can either turn the feature on or off if they so desire. If the feature is turned off, Excel will calculate the same way as it has in previous Excel versions, though a bit slower.
  • The first time a computer calculates a workbook with a different number of processors, there would be some overhead incurred as Excel examines dependencies. However, the maximum performance will increase in the second and subsequent calculations.
  • Users can also manually specify the number of threads they want to run simultaneously, so if they want to run more than the number of processors on the machine, they can.

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Disable Hyper-threading in Excel

This feature can only work on computers with CPU having multiple cores. Hyper-threading is an Intel hardware feature that allows each core to look to Excel as though it is two cores. If one of the hyper-threads on a core gets stalled while waiting for data, the other hyper-thread takes control of the resources and tries to continue. This makes processes run faster.

However, how efficient hyper-threading in Excel will be is highly dependent on the software application. There is no concrete evidence that Excel makes good use of hyper-threading or not. Hyper-threading is a hardware feature, which can only be switched on or off using the BIOS.

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From the post above, it can be seen that while earlier versions of MS Excel were single-threaded, MS Excel 2007 and later were multi-threaded. The purpose of adding the multi-threading feature is to speed up the time used by Excel to execute calculations and run functions.

The performance of multi-threading would be appreciated better in computers with multiple CPUs or cores. The effect of enabling hyper-threading showed no significant result in Excel. Finally, closing unused Excel workbooks and disabling the automatic calculation feature amidst others will improve the efficiency of your CPU.

If you have any more questions as regards Excel, single-threading, or multi-threading, don’t hesitate to contact us. Thanks.     

Luis Gillman
Luis Gillman

Hi, I Am Luis Gillman CA (SA), ACMA
I am a Chartered Accountant (SA) and CIMA (SA) and author of Due Diligence: A strategic and Financial Approach.

The book was published by Lexis Nexis in 2001. In 2010, I wrote the second edition. Much of this website is derived from these two books.

In addition I have published an article entitled the Link Between Due Diligence and Valuations.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information published on this website is accurate, the author and owners of this website take no responsibility  for any loss or damage suffered as a result of relience upon the information contained therein.  Furthermore the bulk of the information is derived from information in 2018 and use therefore is at your on risk. In addition you should consult professional advice if required.