Tableau vs Power BI for Data Visualization

Tableau vs Power BI

Data visualization is rapidly growing in popularity and with it has come multiple platforms to make analysis easy even in the absence of knowing a programming language.

Tableau and Power BI are two of the most popular options.

These tools have a lot of similarities. But if you’re looking for a tool to implement in your business or want to learn data visualization, you might not be sure which one to pick. 

We’ll look at Tableau vs Power BI so you can understand how they compare.

What is Tableau?

Tableau is a compilation of many tools including:

  • Tableau Desktop - full functionality desktop app (paid)
  • Tableau Server - password protected, privately hosted
  • Tableau Public - free desktop app with some limits on functionality
  • Tableau Public server - password protected, Tableau hosted visualizations
  • Tableau Public Desktop - password product, Tableau hosted visualizations. All info stored on tableau public
  • Tableau Reader - vide tableau files locally on your laptop / desktop
  • Tableau Mobile - view visualizations from online and server on your phone or tablet
  • Tableau Prep Builder - Connect to and combine data from multiple data sources.

These all work together to manage and clean your data, create dashboards and presentations, and share this information with others.

This comparison will focus mainly on Tableau Public and Tableau Desktop as these are the applications where MOST people are going to build data visualizations.

What is Power BI?

Like Tableau, Power BI is also a collection of multiple different tools. These include: 

  • Power BI Desktop — Free, intended for small to midsize businesses
  • Power BI Service - Microsoft Power BI service, sometimes referred to as Power BI online
  • Power BI Pro — Paid per-user license, needed to get access to advanced features and the ability to share reports
  • Power BI Premium — Licenses by scale, intended for large businesses and enterprises
  • Power BI Mobile — Device-based app for phones and tables
  • Power BI Report Server — An on-premise version of the Power BI Desktop app for businesses that need to keep their data and reports on their own servers

As with Tableau, we’ll focus on the Power BI Desktop version which is going to be the most widely used for building visualizations.

Availability & Use

Tableau Availability & Use

Tableau has customers from 86,000+ companies across many industries. It is widely used meaning there are also many jobs for people who know how to use Tableau.

Power BI Availability & Use

Power BI is readily available and widely used. While a customer count is difficult to find, they boasted 5 million users as of 2016, only 1 year into existence.

Ease of Learning and Using

Learning Tableau

Tableau is quick to learn, but definitely not as easy as Power BI. 

Check out Tableau Training.

Learning Power BI

Power BI is very intuitive if you’re already comfortable with Microsoft tools. If you’re an Excel whiz, you’ll quickly pick up Power BI.

Quality of Data Visualizations

Tableau Data Visualization

Tableau offers fantastic data visualizations with interactive reporting. It has significant functionality built in making it easy to create unique visualizations.

Power BI Data Visualization

Power BI has a solid variety of visualization options. The options are slightly less than Tableau, but more than sufficient for most standard users.

In my opinion, Tableau has slicker visualization options and features, BUT these aren’t going to be what gets used most of the time. In reality, the shiny bells and whistles are attractive, but most people aren’t going to feel like they’re missing anything in Power BI.


Tableau Performance

Tableau is focused on working well with large volumes of data. Because of this, the performance is much better on visualizing larger datasets that Power BI can really struggle to handle. 

Power BI Performance

Power BI is better for visualizing small to medium amounts of data. It continues to improve on larger volume visualizations. However, Power BI currently struggles to visualizing high volumes.

If you’re dealing with millions of data points, you’re better off choosing Tableau.

Data Sources

Tableau is designed to more easily connect to and accept a bigger range of data sources than Power BI. However, for the typical user, you’re unlikely to find Power BI lacking in terms of options for data sources and connections.

Tableau vs Power BI Cost

Both Tableau and Power BI range in price depending on how many users and which versions of their products you purchase. Both have free options which still have great functionality and are ideal for learning the tools.

Moving into the paid tools, Power BI starts at $10/mo/user. Tableau is much more expensive - coming in at $70/mo/user.

If you’re looking at large data warehouses, you’ll also be getting into the enterprise offerings of both which are priced on a different scale - though also usually requiring individual user licenses as well. 

Tableau vs Power BI Summary

That’s an overview of Tableau vs Power BI. In general, for users using small amounts of data that don’t need sophisticated visualization options, Power BI is the better choice. If you’re dealing with big datasets or want to have more control over your visualizations, then Tableau is the way to go.

Tableau vs Power BI Infographic

About this Guide

Jen - the person behind all the content on this site - has over 15 years of experience in data science and data analytics. She know what it takes to be a great data scientist or data analyst.