GPU Scaling vs. Display Scaling: Which Is Better?

by Aakash Regmi

For anyone who plays a lot of retro games, there is one thing that typically bugs all the time—the aspect ratio. The performance is hardly ever an issue, but switching back and forth from full screen to half screen can be jarring. 

Older games are designed and optimized for ancient hardware. Monitors and televisions, back then, were in the aspect of 4:3 or 5:4, basically more squarer than what we use now. The maximum available resolution also lingered around 720p. Logical for developers to design the game on those parameters. 

Even today, some games do not support the ultra-wide resolution. Scaling is the most sought-after solution in both cases, and there are two methods for doing so: GPU scaling and Display scaling. 

But what is scaling anyway? 

Scaling aligns the game’s aspect ratio and overall resolution to your monitor or screen specifications. Suppose the game you’re playing isn’t compatible with your monitor, scaling will either upscale or downscale to make it fit.

Now that you’re aware of what they do, the next thing is to decide whether you should opt for display or GPU scaling. 

Everything about GPU Scaling 

The definition here is the same, but your graphics card is performing the task of scaling. All graphics cards from both AMD and NVIDIA have them pre-built. 

GPU scaling will help you hit the native resolution of your screen and enhance the image quality. It can also reduce the resolution if you prefer to lower it. The downside of GPU scaling is performance issues, although this problem is more for a less powerful graphics card.

Your GPU is already doing the heavy lifting by handling the most intensive part of the game—graphics. Asking them to perform more duties will drain more power, and that may affect other areas like frame rates. 

AMD and NVIDIA both have multiple scaling modes for different resolutions. They are termed differently but do largely the same. 

All scaling modes, what they do, and how to turn them on

For AMD, 

How to turn on

  1. Open Radeon Settings. You can download it on AMD’s official site
  2. If already installed, just right-click on your desktop and open AMD Radeon Setting. 
  3. Select Display.
  4. There should be a GPU scaling option.
  5. Click on the preferred mode of your scaling. 

Types of GPU Scaling in AMD

  • Preserve Aspect Ratio: As the name suggests, it keeps the original ratio. The rest of the screen is filled with black bars.   
  • Full Panel: Scales it to fit your monitor. 
  • Center: Similar to the first mode, it puts black bars on all four sides of the screen and keeps the game aligned to the center. 


How to turn on

  1. Launch the NVIDIA control panel by right clicking on your desktop. In case it is missing, you can download it here
  2. Click on GPU scaling
  3. Select the mode you’ll like to scale. That’s it. 

Types of GPU Scaling in NVIDIA 

  • Aspect Ratio: Similar to AMD’s Preserve mode, it keeps everything as is. Black bars for all empty screens. 
  • Full-screen: Matches your monitor’s resolution. 
  • No Scaling: GPU will say “Nope, I’m out,” and actually do nothing. 

Should I turn it on? 

There is no need to dwell too much about this. The answer is simple, for older games, definitely yes. But for newer, maybe not.

As we’ve mentioned before, turning it on will take some power away from your GPU which will indirectly hurt performance. You may experience frames drop, more blurry images, and input lag. 

If the game isn’t running smoothly with GPU scaling turned on, but you still want full resolution, the other option is display scaling. 

Everything About Display Scaling 

The concept of scaling, even here, remains the same. But delegated to monitor and is handled by your CPU. 

For integrated GPUs that do not have discrete cards, the only option is display scaling. The feature is available by default for Windows systems and allows you to tinker with more than just resolution.

In Display Scaling, you can change font size, UI elements, and other layout elements, along with the overall menu resolution. 

This is especially useful for high DPI monitors. Not only games, but the Windows itself doesn’t scale properly with some monitors. Display scaling, even with limited options, will help you customize much of your screen and make sure it fits and looks nice.

How to turn on Display Scaling 

  1. Open settings on your windows. You can use the shortcut Windows Key + i.
  2. Type Display in the search bar. 
  3. Display scaling options, like resolution, scale, and layout.
  4. If none preset makes a good change, you can try Advance Scaling Settings

Should I turn them on? 

Unlike GPU scaling, display scaling doesn’t have many drawbacks. There is no major performance downgrade. 

Lowering the resolution can even boost your FPS. The input lag is also very non-existent.

While there is not much to lose, there is not much to gain either. Only if your image is matched piss-poorly with your monitor, will the change be drastic, otherwise may not be as noticeable. 

Most things are best when they’re set on default—there’s a reason why the resolution is as is, right? Anyway, depending on your case, it can either change the world around or not even turn a hair.  

So, should I opt for GPU or Display Scaling? 

On modern and powerful hardware, GPU scaling is much better. Yes, it does take away a little power from the GPU; they’re not noticeable and may not even decrease in the slightest. 

On older hardware, people do report input lag very often, but that doesn’t mean you’ll suffer too. 

Integrated GPUs, though, will have no option but to resort to displaying scaling. 

Retro games are also best with GPU scaling as the graphics card will have enough power to do both tasks. 

If you experience input lags, display scaling is also good enough to hold on its own. In fact, a lot of people prefer them as some monitors scale really well with the display scaling.  

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