What Is the Difference Between Scaling and Screen Resolution in Windows?

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By Akemi Iwaya on April 13th, 2017

If you are trying to get your monitor or laptop screen set up for the best, or most comfortable viewing, you may find yourself wondering which adjustments are the best ones to make and how they can affect each other. With that in mind, today’s SuperUser QA post has the answer to a confused reader’s question.

Today’s Question Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of QA web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader Szybki wants to know what the difference is between scaling and screen resolution in Windows:

I have discovered, much to my disappointment, that changing the percentage scaling in Windows (125, 150, 175, etc.) actually changes the screen resolution. What is the functional difference between adjusting the scaling factor and just changing the screen resolution?

What is the difference between scaling and screen resolution in Windows?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor gronostaj has the answer for us:

Resolution is the number of pixels rendered on your screen. Scaling is how much everything should be enlarged when measured in pixels.

For example, with a halved resolution, things will still be the same size in pixels, but each pixel will be twice as large. With 200 percent scaling, pixels will be the same size, but things will occupy twice as many pixels in both dimensions.

Decreasing the resolution makes everything bigger just like scaling, but:

1. Unlike scaling, it also makes pixels bigger (because your physical screen has a fixed size), so less detail can be shown when rendering photos, for example.

2. LCD screens have fixed native resolutions and images look the best when the system-configured resolution matches it. Using a lower resolution forces the screen to interpolate pixels (attempt to approximate a lower resolution with its native-resolution pixels) and negatively affects the quality of images.

3. When a computer has more pixels to work with, it can make the edges with contrasting colors crisper. This is mostly noticeable when rendering fonts, but it is also the reason why gamers want to play using the highest resolution possible, even if changing it does not actually help them see more at once. Here is the word “resolution” rendered in a 20 pixel font (bottom) and a 10 pixel font (top) resized to keep the physical size, just like when you are using a lower resolution:

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.