Power Pivot vs. Power BI: What is the difference? (2023)
Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.
Before Power BI came into being, Power Pivot was already with Excel since 2008.
Before Excel 2016, users had to download Power Pivot separately. But recent versions of Excel already include the Power Pivot add-in.
But with Power BI, do you still need the Power Pivot add-in in Excel?
In this article, we’ll establish the relationship between Power Pivot and Power BI. We’ll answer questions like:
- What’s the difference between the two?
- Which one should you use?
Excited? Let’s get started! 🧐
*This tutorial is for Power BI Online (also called "Power BI Service").
Table of Content
Power Pivot, also known as DAX (Data Analysis Expression) Engine, started as an add-in for Excel. It is part of Excel’s business intelligence (BI) features designed to handle big data analytics.
Microsoft, according to their documentation, defines Power Pivot as:
“…an add-in for Microsoft Excel 2010 that enables you to import millions of rows of data from multiple data sources into a single Excel workbook, create relationships between heterogeneous data, create calculated columns and measures using formulas, build PivotTables and PivotCharts, and then further analyze the data so that you can make timely business decisions without requiring IT assistance.”
In a way, a Power Pivot is a calculation engine where you can perform powerful data analysis and create complicated data models.
What we like about Excel’s Power Pivot
One of the things we like most about Excel’s Power Pivot isn’t the add-in itself. It’s the fact that it’s in Excel.
Microsoft Excel is an all-around spreadsheet tool. It’s capabilities aren’t limited only to data visualization and business intelligence.
You can use it for other tasks like data entry, formatting data, website scraping, and others. There’s no need to switch to another app in case you need to do any of these tasks.
On the business intelligence side of things, Power Pivot makes the basic Excel seem more powerful.
With Excel’s Power Pivot, you can import and handle large datasets that would otherwise cause basic Excel to hiccup. A dataset with over 2 million rows would now take only just a minute to load in Excel with Power Pivot.
Another benefit is that Power Pivot for Excel would let you import data from multiple sources easily. There’s no need to create multiple worksheets for different data sources as well as using VBA codes.
What we don’t like about Excel’s Power Pivot
This is a tough one to answer. Compared to Power BI, using Power Pivot in Excel isn’t as intuitive and easy.
For example, here’s how the interface for the Power Pivot for Excel looks like:
Of course, once you get a hang of it, it’ll be easier. But against Power BI’s interface, Excel’s Power Pivot falls a little bit flat.
In Power BI, changing from reports to dashboards to datasets is easy. Adding a visualization is just a click away.
Unlike Power Pivot, Power BI isn’t an add-in to an app. Power BI is a business intelligence tool by Microsoft inspired by Excel. It debuted last 2013 making it fairly new compared to its peers.
Power BI is composed of different cloud-based apps and services. Its main components include:
- Power Pivot
- Power Query
- Power View
- Power Map
- Power Q&A
Unlike in Excel, Power BI comes with Power Pivot straight from the box.
What we like about Power BI
Compared to Excel, Power BI is solely focused on business intelligence. It offers lots of benefits that Microsoft Excel can’t.
One of the most notable features of Power BI is its seamless integration. Power BI is made for collaboration. Getting data from different sources like Office 365, SharePoint, Salesforce, Mailchimp, and others are easily done.
Power BI shines the most in telling a story. That’s where dashboards come into play. A dashboard is a page that contains highlights of the data.
Dashboards in Power BI are highly customizable. Power BI offers great and rich personalization options so you monitor your business and see all the important KPI at a glance.
Here’s an example of a dashboard in Power BI:
There are lots of other reasons why we like Power BI including the visualization options that aren’t just good to look at, they’re interactive too!
But one of the best things about Power BI is its price. You can literally use Power BI for individual use for free. You only have to opt for a pricing plan if you need other users or you would like to share your reports/dashboards with others.
What we don’t like about Power BI
In comparison to Excel, Power BI isn’t a spreadsheet so it’s not for tabular reports. If you would like to author data from scratch, you’ll be disappointed.
Power BI is designed to collect data, analyze it and then make insights and visualizations out of the data. You can also share it with others or export the data to other apps or tools.
Aside from that, there’s not much to dislike about Power BI in comparison to Excel’s Power Pivot. 😊
Power Pivot vs Power BI
The battle between Excel’s Power Pivot and Power BI would ultimately lead to a showdown between Microsoft Excel and Power BI.
To gain more ideas in which tool to use, here are a few guiding questions:
- Do you need services related only to business intelligence?
- Do you need advanced, interactive visualizations?
If you’re serious about business intelligence, Power BI is designed solely for that purpose. But if you like a more general functionality — maybe similar to a spreadsheet — then Microsoft Excel is better.
One of the deal-breaking features that others like in Power BI is the available visualization options. These stunningly made, interactive visualizations would allow you to instantly focus the graphics to your desired data.
By the way, both Microsoft Excel and Power BI have free versions.
You can use the basic versions of Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote for free in your browser. The desktop apps, typically the Office 365 Suite, start at $8.25 per month per user for businesses. The standalone Excel software costs $129.99.
Power BI is also free for individual use. You can’t use it though to share dashboards and reports with others. You can’t also export them to other apps. However, you can import data from any sources.
For more advanced functionalities, Power BI has 2 paid plans:
- Power BI Pro which costs $9.99 per month per user
- Power BI Premium which costs $4,995 per month
If you subscribed to Office 365, sharing isn’t a problem via SharePoint. If you need to share Power BI dashboards and reports with others, you’ll have to cash out a bit.
Ultimately, it all boils down to your specific needs — do you need a spreadsheet or a business intelligence tool? If the former, go with Excel. If the latter, Power BI is the better choice.
Whichever tool you use, what’s important is that you’re efficient in using it. For Power BI, check our Power BI tutorial for beginners. If Excel, we also prepared a Crash Course where you can learn in just 30 minutes how to efficiently use the app. 😊