How to improve Office 2013 performance in a virtual machine

Improve Office 2013 performance in a virtual machine
Improve Office 2013 performance in a virtual machine – click to enlarge

Microsoft is certainly doing some great things lately. I’ve been impressed by Windows 8 (which the critics seem to loathe) and, especially, Office 2013, which is just now hitting the general public.

I’ve been using Office 2013 for several months. It’s improved in many ways — good SkyDrive integration, support for replicating settings across machines if you login to a Microsoft account and, best of all, a seriously gorgeous and very subtle user interface update.

Alas, I rarely run Office 2013 on a real Windows machine. My everyday work-and-fun-and-digital-life machine is my delicious, over-priced and not-upgradeable-when-you-need-more-memory-and-disk MacBook Air. That means I run Office 2013 in a Windows virtual machine. So, performance is important. While using virtual machines is convenient, it’s a heavy load of overhead just to run Word or Outlook or Excel.

One of the cool UI improvements in Office 2013 is a little hard to describe in words; it’s better seen. It’s a form of cursor animation and, in Excel 2013 especially, animation effects are visible when you cut and paste items and input data. It’s cool, but it seems to spike the CPU on my MacBook Air every time it happens.

I went looking for a way to turn it off to improve performance and found two deeply buried options in Word 2013 that turn it off for the entire Office 2013 suite. You can find these in the File menu, Options setting. Then, in the Word Options pane, select Advanced and scroll down to the section labeled Display.

You need to turn on “Disable hardware graphics acceleration” and turn off  “Use subpixel positioning to smooth fonts on screen.” Click on the image nearby to see how it looks in Word 2013.

Voila! Better virtual machine performance on Macs under both Parallels and, especially VMware Fusion. I run both and Fusion really needs all the performance help it can get.

I also think that if you don’t want the fancy effects, you might see some improved performance in Office 2013 on a real Windows machine. In my experience it was so slight as to not be worth making these changes. But in a virtual machine, it really makes Office 2013 run much faster.





11 responses to “How to improve Office 2013 performance in a virtual machine”

  1. Alex Neihaus Avatar

    Hi, Joe.

    Thanks for the feedback. I am pleased to see that this now nearly five-year-old post still contains valuable info.

    If you search the web for “remove unneeded Windows services” you’ll find lots and lots of tips on what services you might not need. YMMV

    While I agree that Windows is a little, ahem, “portly”, I don’t think this matters as much as it did in 2013. 

    Today, I run Windows 10 in Parallels VMs on a 2017 MacBook Pro (i7, 16GM, 1TB SSD). An unmodified Win10 VM boots in 30-40 seconds, including PD 13 launch time. I can run five or six of these VMs (at 2GB) each on my MacBook.

    This says to me that Microsoft has done a good job of improving Windows launch times and so I am less concerned about manually improving its performance.

    You mention you are on Windows 7. I think you’ll find the performance boost between a Win7 VM and a Win10 VM on the same hardware to be significant.

    Good luck.


  2. Joe Avatar

    Alex you are a genius! I could not run office 2013 or 2016 without failures on my Fusion 10/Windows 7 machine.  Now it runs well. Thank you!

    Assuming I only use the basic functions of Windows 7 with nothing fancy, can you suggest which unecesary add-ones and services in Windows 7 I should uninstall to further boost the speed and reliability of office? 

  3. Andy Avatar

    Wow! I’m running a Windows 7 guest on a Win7 host & this little “hack” has DRAMATICALLY improved Office performance. Thanks!

    1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
      Alex Neihaus

      Thank you, Andy. I’m glad it worked for you.

  4. Steve Avatar

    This made a YUGE difference 🙂 Thanks!

    1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
      Alex Neihaus

      My pleasure.

      Guess you’re feelin’ the Bern, eh? Me, too.

  5. Justin Cooper Avatar
    Justin Cooper

    What a difference this makes on my virtual workstation. We use NVIDIA Grid K1 cards in our EXSI hosts and this still vastly improves response times for Office 2013.


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  7. Salter Avatar

    Hi Alex thanks for posting this. I also use 2013 in Paralles – mostly in “Coherence”. I was digging around and with few excpetions, few posted on their experience with this combo. I’m running into some strange GUI behaviour: sometimes windows will not be clickable/active, or odd ordering behaviour, strange ghosting artifacts etc. I’m running it on 3 machines (well spec’d MacMini, MBA and iMac). Pretty much the same. Are you experiencing any of it?

    1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
      Alex Neihaus

      Are you running Windows 8 with Office 2013 in Parallels? Parallels 8? The former is a combination I experienced a lot of issues with. And I didn’t achieve good results until I upgraded to Parallels 8.

      I run on a July 2011 MacBook Air (Core i5 with 256GB SSD) in Coherence mode. Performance is usually fine, once Windows gets loaded. At the office, I even run on multiple monitors without issues.

      I have found that it helps to do a little surgery on Windows 7 — uninstall everything you don’t use and turn off services you don’t need.

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