Workbook, Once Created, is Too Big for Memory

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 8, 2014)

Subscriber John Hersey created a worksheet that contained lots and lots of information. In column A he placed 65534 words (rows 1 through 65534), then in columns B through Z he placed formulas to the side of all those words. When he saved the workbook and tried to reopen it, he got a "Not Enough Memory" error. Since the workbook only took 84MB on the disk, and he has 512MB in his system, the error message seemed confusing.

Comparing disk file size to RAM space is, in some respects, comparing apples to oranges. Excel doesn't store a workbook as a "memory dump." Instead, it compresses the data from memory so that the disk files are more manageable. Thus, the 84MB file will necessarily take more space once loaded into memory.

The amount of memory in your system may not be the problem, however. Different versions of Excel place different limits on the number of formulas you can have in a workbook, and this is likely the problem you ran into. (It is curious, however, that you were able to create the worksheet, use it, save it, but then not load it.)

Excel 95, 97, and 2000 are officially limited to 64MB of formula memory (heap space) for workbooks. Excel 2002 raised the limit to 128MB, and Excel 2003 raised it even further--to 1GB. Since Doug is using Excel 2000, he could theoretically open the workbook on a system that uses a later version of Excel.

If that doesn't work, or if it is not possible, then there are a few other things to try. First, try opening Excel without any add-ins or hidden workbooks. These take up memory, and by starting without them, you leave more room for the mondo workbook. Choose Run from the Start menu to display the Run dialog box. In the Open box, enter the following:

"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office\Excel.exe" /Automation

The quotes are mandatory, and you might have to change the path to reflect where Excel is installed on your system. When Excel is started, turn off automatic calculation (Tools | Options | Calculation tab), then try to open the file.

If the file can be opened, remove most of the calculations. Copy the results of the calculations, then use Edit | Paste Special | Values to paste the results over the top of the formulas. Plain results--particularly numeric results--take much less space than formulas do. If you resave the file (using Save As), you should note that the resulting disk file is much smaller than the 84MB of the existing workbook file.

If you cannot open the file, you could read the values using some of the techniques outlined for corrupt files in this Knowledge Base article:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/179871

Using these recovery methods will cause you to lose the formulas, but you can get their values. You will also find a good discussion on Excel and memory-related problems at this Web page:

http://www.decisionmodels.com/memlimitsc.htm

As a side note, if you ever want to determine how much memory Excel is using for a particular workbook, use the following formula in any cell:

=INFO("memused")

The function returns the used memory, in bytes.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2545) applies to Microsoft Excel 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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