What is GPU Scaling? (And How To Enable It)

What is GPU Scaling

If you’re old enough to remember NES, SNES or Genesis games. You may remember that they were designed to run on your roughly square televisions.

Widescreens were not out yet, so the games were designed to be in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

4:3 aspect ratio sonic the hedgehog

A lot of gamers will run emulators to play old consoles on their computers, and a lot of the older PC games would have the 4:3 ratio, too.

Your screen today, if you’re running a wider screen, will have an aspect ratio of 16:9.

So, what happens when you run one of these games?

They look terrible and pixelated. Your game will be stretched from the 4:3 ratio to your 16:9 ratio, making all of the textures look stretched.

NVIDIA and AMD Have a Solution for GPU Scaling

NVIDIA and AMD, the leaders in the graphics card industry, have both come up with their own solutions for GPU scaling.

The companies want to help consumers display older aspect ratios on new monitors in a way that makes games look normal.

You don’t want to play a game that’s highly distorted, at least not for long in most cases.

It just makes the quality of the game suffer.

What’s the solution?

  • NVIDIA’S Control Panel, or
  • AMD’s Radeon Settings or Catalyst Control Center

Both of the control panels will have an option for GPU scaling, and this option will have you play your game in a modern resolution. One way that this is done is by forcing the game into the native resolution that it was designed to play in.

Wolfenstein 3d on xbox 360

The idea is simple:

  • Force the game into its own native resolution of 4:3
  • Fill the remainder of the screen in black

Essentially, the game will be put into the correct aspect ratio using only a portion of your screen.

The remainder of the screen will be filled with black so that you’re not viewing your desktop icons or any other programs in the process.

Different GPU Scaling Modes and Options

GPU modes and options for scaling are different, and the three options that you’ll come across for AMD are:

  1. Maintain aspect ratio
  2. Scale image to full panel size
  3. Use centered trimmings

What’s the difference? A lot actually. The Maintain aspect ratio is a full-screen mode that will not alert the ratio of your graphics.

Excess areas will be filled with a pattern or black bars. Scale image is the least appealing because the quality of the graphics will be poor due to the graphics being stretched beyond their intended ratio.

Use center trimmings is what we discussed previously, where the game is placed in the middle of the screen and a black pattern is placed behind it. The game’s original aspect ratio will remain the same and allow for a great picture, albeit much smaller than a full screen game.

Emulators Will Often Do GPU Scaling for You

Before we go through changing your settings to get your aspect ratio properly, you may want to look at the emulator that you’re running.

Oftentimes, these emulators will open the game up in a window that they have scaled to the right aspect ratio.

This will negate the need to change your graphics card settings and engage the GPU scaling available.

If this is not the case, you can then go into your settings to enable GPU scaling.

How do you do this?

Turning on GPU Scaling on AMD Graphics Cards

There are two different options for AMD which you’ll need to be concerned about:

  1. Radeon Settings (available for newer cards)
  2. Catalyst Control Center (available for all others)

If you have a Radeon app, you’ll be able to set your GPU scaling rather easily:

  1. Right-click on your desktop
  2. Navigate to Radeon Settings
  3. Click on Display in the setting’s menu
  4. Find GPU Scaling and switch the setting On
  5. Choose your Scaling Mode

Radeon Setting

But if you right-click on the desktop and don’t see the AMD Radeon Settings, you may see the AMD Catalyst Control Center.

You’ll want to navigate to this menu to open up the Catalyst Control Center and then do the following:

  1. Expand the My Digital Flat Panels on the left side of the bar
  2. Select Properties (Digital Flat Panel)
  3. Find the Enable GPU up-scaling and check it off
  4. Choose the scaling mode that you want
  5. Hit Apply

catalyst control center

Now, your game should be scaled properly.

Turning on GPU Scaling on NVIDIA Graphics Cards

GPU scaling is easy to turn on if you have a NVIDIA graphics cards. The process is rather similar to AMD’s options, and it includes:

  1. Right-click on your desktop
  2. Select your NVIDIA Control Panel
  3. Click on Adjust desktop size and position
  4. Click on Perform scaling and select GPU on the drop-down menu
  5. Select any options you see fit from there

perform scaling

And that’s pretty much it. You’ll have to navigate through the drop-down menu system, but overall, it’s pretty fast and intuitive to get the GPU scaling working on your graphics card.

When using GPU scaling, there are a few additional points to consider:

  • GPU scaling will not work with analog input only digital connections, such as: HDMI, DVI or DisplayPort
  • Input lag will occur, but it is very minimal

Otherwise, there should be no issues with GPU scaling. You’ll be able to play your older games just fine, and they’ll be far more enjoyable without the image distortion occurring.

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