If you’re trying to play an old game on a new monitor, you might be struggling to find the optimal gaming resolution—but it could be that an outdated aspect ratio is your real problem.
Games from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s often used a 4:3 aspect ratio, which generated an image that’s much more square than rectangular. If you’re not old enough to remember that, take my word for it when I tell you it sucked. There are a lot of cool games from that era though, and you usually can play them on new hardware—there’s just a bit of tweaking to do first.
In this guide, we’ll explain what GPU scaling is, how it might be able to make old games look better on your brand-new monitor, and walk you through several different ways to enable it.
GPU Scaling 101
Why do you need GPU scaling?
Truth is, you probably don’t.
Basically, some issues can occur when you are trying to display low-resolution images or outdated aspect ratios on a newer monitor. Mostly, this problem troubles gamers who prefer playing older and indie games. Back in the day, the best monitors for gaming were built with an aspect ratio of 4:3 and video games were designed to follow the output requirement.
Computer monitors today mostly use a 16:9 aspect ratio. If you’re playing a game that was originally 4:3, your GPU will have to stretch the picture in order to fit the new screen. That will make some objects on the screen look pretty ugly.
GPU Scaling: NVIDIA & AMD
GPU manufacturers (NVIDIA and AMD) found a solution for the mismatched picture annoyance; it’s commonly known as “GPU Scaling.”
With this option in its arsenal, your GPU can take the aspect ratio of the monitor into account while processing the image. The game’s resolution and aspect ratio will be adapted to the aspect ratio and resolution of the monitor without losing picture quality.
The way image scaling works depends on the GPU, and there are three main types:
- Maintain aspect ratio: scales the picture up but keeps its original aspect ratio. You will get a better picture in a higher resolution, but the aspect ratio will not match your monitor’s. Therefore, the computer will add black bars to fill the rest of the space on the display.
- Scale image to the full panel size: does what it says. The picture will be scaled up and stretched to fit the whole screen. It will inevitably provide a disproportionate picture and objects will look strange.
- Use center trimmings: will not scale nor stretch the picture. It will place the original picture in the center of the screen and fill the rest of it with black bars.
Black bars around the image on the screen don’t present any technical issues, but they can be annoying.
Thankfully some GPUs have a solution for that problem, too. Option Overscan or Underscan enables the GPU to additionally stretch or shrink the image after the normal image scaling in order to remove the black bars.
Before trying GPU scaling, you should check if you have an adequate connection. Your display needs to be directly connected to the GPU via HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, or MiniDisplayPort. Other types of connection, such as VGA, will not allow you to use GPU scaling.
GPU scaling in AMD Catalyst
This method is slightly outdated since most PCs are using Radeon Settings (described below), but let’s get through it in a few simple steps:
- Right-click on your desktop to get a drop-down menu.
- Choose ‘AMD Catalyst Control Center.’
- On the left side of the screen choose the option ‘My Digital Flat Panels’. It will open more options in the drop-down menu below.
- Click on the option ‘Properties (Digital Flat Panel)’.
- In the main window find the box ‘Enable GPU scaling’ and check it.
- Below the box, choose one of the three possible scaling methods.
- Click the ‘Apply’ button on the bottom of the window to complete the process.
- Your screen should turn off for a couple of moments to adapt to the changes.
GPU Scaling in AMD Radeon Settings
If you’re using one of the best AMD graphics cards for gaming, this is the section you’re looking for.
First off, right-click on your desktop to get a drop-down menu. Next, choose AMD Radeon Settings.
- Inside the AMD Radeon Settings window, click on the ‘Display’ tab.
- Click on the ‘GPU Scaling’ and turn in on.
- From the drop-down menu, choose your preferred method for GPU scaling.
- This completes the process and you can exit the AMD Radeon Settings.
GPU Scaling in the NVIDIA Control Panel
Let me show you the fastest way to handle GPU Scaling using the NVIDIA Control Panel.
Right-click on your desktop to get a drop-down menu.
- Choose the NVIDIA Control Panel.
- Click on the ‘Display’ tab on the left side of the NVIDIA control panel window.
- Click on ‘Adjust desktop size and position’.
- Within the main window, click on ‘Perform scaling’.
- When the drop-down menu shows up, choose GPU.
- Choose the preferred method of scaling.
- This completes the process and you can exit the NVIDIA control panel.
As we have shown, proper GPU scaling is very easy to set up. Playing some classics on a 4K gaming monitor is bound to be a nightmare without this nifty feature.
However, you need to be sure that you really need this feature.
Modern games (are supposed to) work perfectly on all 16:9, 16:10 and ultrawide monitors and shouldn’t need GPU scaling. If you’re playing older games on an emulator, it should perform its own picture adjustment. If that is the case, you should make changes in that program rather than in your GPU scaling settings.
When GPU scaling is on, your GPU will be forced to spend more time processing the image, which in turn produces up to 1 ms of input lag. Therefore, you shouldn’t use it if you don’t have to.