When using Tableau Desktop are you connected to the data source live? Or are you using an extract? An extract can often improve the performance.
Tableau Reader is a different type of tool than Tableau Professional, but probably will not be the answer for your performance issue. Generally I find that that performance is more based around dashboard design, data source speed, hardware configurations and the version of Tableau you are using. It is likely one of these items that resulted in the change in performance, rather than which application you are using open the same workbook. Both environments should behave the same with everything being equal, with the exception that a user cannot build new visualization/dashboards in reader.
For a file to read in Tableau reader, you would've had to extract the data. Its likely that this was the change that improved performance, as bringing the data into Tableau data engine both localizes and optimizes the file. The in-memory data engine also leverages RAM, which queries faster than regular disk. With those gains, this typically speeds up queries against slower data sources, and with all else being equal, would be the only thing to suggest the difference seen between desktop and reader. Do note that the Desktop and Server can leverage the extracted data as well, so you should not need to use reader if you are solely concerned around performance.
I use an extract on both and the data source is Excel.
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Can you recreate the situation with sample made up data, and provide a packaged workbook?
I have not seen a situation where calculations are evaluated faster in Reader than in Desktop.
My first thought is it is some other factor that is effecting the performance.
You are right. I tried to recreate the difference, and the workbook now runs fast in both programs.
I am 100% sure that before the viz took well over a minute to refresh, instead of the 10 or less seconds it takes now.
No idea what might have changed.
Thanks anyway and sorry for the false alarm.