GPU Scaling: What Is It and How to Turn it On or Off?

what is gpu scaling
Long gone are the days of gamers feeling helpless against what hand you’ve been dealt with by your parents, IT-guy, or budgetary restrictions.

Long gone are the days of those round-looking monitors and long gone are the days of being unable to get the graphics of your game to match your screen, be it a newer generation than the game you’re playing (resulting in a stretched or small image) or an older one with an unsupported resolution. If your monitor won’t support a certain resolution, your GPU can come to the rescue through something called GPU scaling.

GPU scaling, simply put, is a feature that allows you to “scale” your on-screen graphics for better gameplay.

This corrects any aspect ratio disparity – the difference created by the screen resolution and the software (app or game) itself. It lets you scale the gameplay on both horizontal and vertical axis. This means that older games with an aspect ratio of, say, 4:3, would be better presented when scaled to fit your 16:9 display. This can often be done by the GPU displaying black bars around the game, either vertically or horizontally, whichever way the shortfall stands.

GPU scaling is a counteractive measure for the display ratio not just for games, but videos and apps as well: essentially it puts the control of your monitor’s display in your hands.

How is GPU scaling different from in-monitor stretching?

It sounds like you might be familiar with the basics of such a thing if you’re asking that question; yes, many monitors will scale the image for you, but it’s something akin to stretching out an image beyond its limits and losing a lot of quality in the process.

Moreover, sometimes a monitor won’t support a certain resolution at all. This is where your GPU, which can be changed, replaced, and installed at will, comes to your aid. You could have a cheap monitor and be as budget-conscious as you want with it (there are some models that will give you a great high-resolution IPS panel but nothing else to go with it).

Essentially, GPU scaling is superior to the in-built scaling in every way. Without a GPU that can scale, your monitor might even end up showing just a black screen or a bunch of colored lines.

In fact, if this is a problem you’ve ever run into, now you know the answer to the rudimentary question: what is GPU scaling good for? The answer is: pretty much everything. Let’s run down some of the direct benefits.

Bring your older games into the present age

Older games weren’t made to be played in full screen. By keeping your GPU scaling on, you can get your games to look how everything else does on your monitor screen: full-sized, with visible detail, and easy to track visually).

Preserve image quality when scaling

In-built electronics on monitors aren’t really built for scaling in the same way a graphics processing unit is, what with the GPU being a dedicated piece of hardware to do what the monitor would only do as a temporary solution. This is particularly important for gamers!

Greater control over your visuals

Bottom line: GPU scaling lets you either make your games with “older” aspect ratio widescreen or preserve the image quality and aspect ratio which your monitor would otherwise scale automatically on its own. A non-native resolution can be replicated on your display pixel for pixel, and you get to choose whatever setting you want from the options available.

You might already know the answer to what surrogate-you is about to ask in the next heading, but let’s take the discussion there anyway just so you’re up to speed with all the technical aspects.

When should I turn GPU scaling On or Off?

You can keep or turn GPU scaling off in the rare instance that your monitor is more adept at scaling (or equally as so) than your GPU. This might be the case in some monitors more towards the high-end side of price and quality. In those cases, you can save processing and power and hassle without having to employ GPU scaling.

In any other case – which basically means pretty much any situation you can think of – keep your GPU scaling on. A possible downside to this could be input lag which is barely noticeable to the average eye but has an impact on gameplay. However, it would be perceptible to know what’s causing it, meaning there isn’t really some esoteric, hidden downside to GPU scaling.

The types and modes of GPU scaling

  • Preserve/Maintain Aspect Ratio, wherein black bars will be added either to the top and bottom or left and right of your display, thus preserving the original ratio of whatever you’re working on.
  • Scale image to full panel size (or full panel) lets the image fill the screen in its entirety. Essentially the opposite of the first option, this is for non-native resolutions.
  • Use centered timings (or simply Center) places the visuals squarely at the center of your screen, basically with no scaling at all. This is useful where scaling might be the default state that your monitor forces your game or video to.

How to turn your AMD GPU scaling on or off

Whether your GPU is AMD or NVIDIA makes a difference here, since the options are arrived at differently.

AMD GPU scaling can be turned on in one of two ways, but both require you to right-click the desktop screen. If you go to the AMD Radeon Settings, you can click on the tab that says Display, and turn GPU Scaling to ‘On’ before selecting the mode you want.

Alternatively, you can right-click and select AMD Catalyst Control, find My Digital Flat Panels and the Properties (Digital Flat Panel) screen wherein. Here, check Enable GPU up-scaling, choose your preferred GPU scaling mode, and click Apply.

amd gpu scaling
Image Source: AMD

NVIDIA GPU Scaling

With NVIDIA, however, the process is a bit longer: right-click on your desktop and select NVIDIA Control Panel. Then, click on “Adjust desktop size and position” under the display tab on the menu to your left. There, click the drop-down menu under the button that says “Perform scaling on” and select GPU. Finally, choose your scaling method (and further options that correspond), and you’re good to go!

Now that you know what GPU scaling is and how you can use it to brighten up your gaming experience, you can utilize it when playing games which are incompatible with your monitor. Whether you are a sucker for the original Quake or are trying to run the latest games on an old CRT monitor for the ‘bonkers’ refresh-rate, you can now enjoy games which are scaled to perfection.

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