Reducing Word's CPU Load

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated October 21, 2023)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Subscriber Susanne Schmidt recently wrote about a problem she was having running Word on her laptop. It seems that whenever she is working on a document, the CPU usage on the system (as measured by the Task Manager) registers in the 95% to 100% range. She wondered if there was a way to reduce the CPU load imposed on the system by Word.

Of course, there are many, many things that could actually be affecting how much CPU time is needed by Word. One thing to check is your settings for background services provided by Word. For instance, Word is normally checking spelling and grammar in the background at all times. (That is why those squiggly underlines appear under words and sentences in your document.) You can turn off this feature by choosing Tools | Options. On the Spelling & Grammar tab, clear the Check Spelling As You Type and Check Grammar As You Type check boxes.

There are other background operations that Word can be performing, as well. For instance, you may have background printing turned on, and Word is trying to print a document as you work. You can turn off background printing by choosing Tools | Options and clearing the Background Printing check box on the Print tab.

If your document is very large either in page count or in file size (lots of graphics, etc.), then quite a bit of CPU time can be spent in swapping information in and out of memory to the disk cache. The best way to overcome this type of bottleneck is to add more memory to your system. If you can't add more memory, you can break your documents into smaller, more manageable documents.

Some documents contain quite a few field codes, including codes for TOCs (table of contents) and indexes. When these fields are being updated it will add to the CPU load without the cause being readily apparent. You can either wait for the update to complete, or you can start deleting unnecessary fields from the document. (Page numbers are notorious for using CPU cycles, since the entire document must be constantly repaginated to keep page numbers up to snuff.)

If the large CPU load occurs right after loading the document, then it is possible that the cause is external links in the document. These are automatically updated when you first open a document, and updating them can be very system intensive. This is particularly true if the links are across a network. If you are using your laptop without it being connected to the network, then updating links can take a tremendous amount of time as Word patiently waits on each link update request to time out. You can also choose Tools | Options to display the Options dialog box, and on the General tab clear the Update Automatic Links At Open check box.

You should also understand that not all views in Word are created equal. If you are used to working in Print Layout view, you will want to switch to Normal view on your laptop. Print Layout view is more CPU intensive, as it tries to constantly make what you see match what will be printed in the document.

If you suspect that a particular document may be corrupt, and therefore may be sucking up CPU time, the best way to handle this is to open the source document (the one you think may be corrupt) and a new target document. One by one, copy the paragraphs from the source document to the target document. After pasting each paragraph, save the target document, close the source document, and see if your CPU load goes down. Assuming it does, you can then open the source document again and copy the next paragraph. This iterative process allows you to see exactly which paragraph from the source document may be causing the most system load, as well as to clear up any corruption in the source document.

If the CPU load is still high, you can check in Task Manager to see if it is really Word doing the hogging. Open the Task Manager (right-click on the task bar and choose Task Manager) and make sure the Processes tab is displayed. Click twice on the CPU column (don't double-click) so that the processes are sorted in descending order based on the percentage of time they are occupying. Focus on those top two or three processes. If they are not Word, then you should be looking elsewhere for optimizing your system. (This may involve removing offending programs or reinstalling deficient drivers.) If it is Word, and you have tried everything already mentioned in this tip, you can try reinstalling the program.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1378) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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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