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Change screen resolution and text size in Windows

By . Last modified: 2014-08-14.

How to change screen resolution, color depth, refresh rate and text size in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1

There are times when you need to adjust screen resolution - maybe for displaying Windows on your TV set, for a new monitor that supports higher resolution or maybe text and icons just look too small.

Screen resolution defines how much information you see on your screen at a time. Resolution is displayed in pixels, Width times Height - 1024×768 or 1920×1080 for example. Essentially, 1920×1080 (aka Full HD or 1080p) displays much more information on your monitor, but it also means that text size and icons are noticeably smaller.

All LCD (thin) monitors have a recommended setting for resolution and text might look blurry when you use a lower resolution.
Old-school CRT monitors are able to use several resolutions without affecting text quality (although they have recommended resolution, too), but refresh rate is the real quality indicator for them. While most LCD monitors are using 60 Hertz refresh rate, CRT monitors use 75-200 Hertz. Rule of thumb for CRT-s is to use at least 75Hz for refresh rate and 100Hz or more if possible. That is because low refresh rate on CRT-s will tire out your eyes and ultimately affect your vision negatively in longer period of time. 100Hz and more is said to be safe for your eyes.

You can also make all fonts larger in Windows to make texts easier to read. Click here to move on to the DPI scaling section of this article.

If you cannot see anything on new monitor, or the screen is scrambled or displays some "Out of range" message, use Low-resolution video (VGA Mode) to set a working display resolution.

Changing screen resolution, color depth and refresh rate

Right-click on an empty Desktop area.
In Windows XP, click Properties.
In Windows Vista, click Personalize.
In Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, click Screen resolution.
Windows XP, to open Display Properties, right-click on Desktop area and select Properties. Windows Vista, Desktop area right-click menu. Click Personalize to change resolution or monitor refresh rate and color depth. Windows 7, Desktop area right-click menu. Click Screen resolution to change resolution or monitor refresh rate and color depth.

In Windows XP, Display Properties window opens. Click to open the Settings tab and adjust the Screen resolution slider.
In Windows Vista, Personalization window opens. Click Display Settings in the bottom of the window. Then, in the Display Settings window, adjust the Resolution slider.
In Windows 7 and later, Screen Resolution window opens. Click Resolution to see the list of possible options.
Windows XP, Display Properties, Settings tab. Drag the Screen resolution slider to select the resolution you like. Click Apply button to test out the selected resolution. Windows Vista, Display Settings. Drag the Resolution slider to the value you like, then click Apply to test out the new settings. Windows 8, Change the appearance of your display. Click Resolution box to open the list of options.

Most LCD monitors are able to list supported resolutions - the maximum one is most probably the best choice. CRT monitors usually have no such feature and listed resolutions are actually the ones that your computer's graphics adapter supports - these might or might not be supported by your CRT monitor. Consult your monitor manual for best settings.
In Windows 7 and newer, optimum resolution for a monitor is marked with "(recommended)". If you have such resolution in the list, it is surely your safest bet.
Windows 7, Resolution slider. If there is a resolution marked with "(recommended)", select this one. Windows 7, Resolution slider. Select the Screen resolution you need by moving the slider up or down.

Windows 8 and 8.1 also have the Orientation combo box, but this one is primarily meant for Tablets that can make good use of the additional Portrait, Landscape (flipped) and Portrait (flipped) options. Default is Landscape, and it should be left this way on PC-s.

Click Apply button to test the new resolution.

CRT monitors might go blank if you select a resolution that the monitor is not capable of and possibly display the "Out of range" error message. Do not worry, wait for 15 seconds without pressing a key on your keyboard or clicking somewhere with your mouse and Windows will revert to previous settings.
If you do see Windows correctly, but the screen flickers, you should select a higher refresh rate (described later in the article).

Windows will then ask if you want to keep the new display settings. Click Yes (Windows XP and Vista) or Keep changes to confirm; No or Revert to restore previous settings. You should click a button within 15 seconds, or Windows will automatically revert to previous resolution.
Windows XP, Monitor Settings confirmation. Click Yes if you are happy with the new resolution. Click No if you want to restore the previous resolution settings. Windows 7, Screen resolution, Display Settings confirmation. Click Keep changes if you are happy with the new resolution. Click Revert if you want to restore the previous resolution settings.

Setting resolution on multiple monitors

In case you have more than one monitor, you should also set the second monitor to recommended resolution. Monitors are marked with numbers, usually number 1 is the main display. The currently selected display is marked with light blue frame. Click the other monitor's icon and set its resolution, too.
To find out the number of a monitor, click the Identify (Windows XP, 7, 8 and 8.1) or Identify Monitors button. You can rearrange monitors to your liking by clicking and holding on its box and dragging to a desired location.
Then click Apply and Yes or Keep changes if you are satisfied with the result.
Windows XP, multiple monitors. Be sure to set the other monitor's resolution to recommended, too. The monitor currently selected is displayed with light blue frame. Windows 8, multiple displays. Be sure to set the other monitor's resolution to recommended, too. The monitor currently selected is displayed with light blue frame.

Changing color depth in Windows XP and Windows Vista

In Windows XP and Vista you can also select the number of colors available in the Display Properties or Display Settings window by adjusting the Color quality or Colors box value. Under most circumstances, you should select Highest (32 bit) here. If you are using some old CRT monitor, you might also try High (24 bit) or Medium (16 bit) modes.

Color depth means how many different colors your monitor or graphics adapter is able to display. 8-bit mode shows only 256 colors and that is unacceptable. 16-bit color mode means that your monitor can display over 65 thousand different colors. This might sound good enough, but actually you need more color variations for high quality photos, videos or even games. 24-bit color mode displays over 16 million different colors. 32-bit color mode is theoretically able to display over 4 billion different colors, but in reality some non-color data is usually added to 24-bit color to achieve pleasing visual effects.

Please note that setting a higher color depth might lower screen resolution on older CRT monitors or graphics cards/display adapters.
Windows XP, Display Properties. Color quality combo box is to the right of the Screen resolution slider. Windows Vista, Display Settings. Colors combo box is to the right of the Resolution slider.

Changing display refresh rate

To change monitor's refresh rate (and color depth in Windows 7), click Advanced (Windows XP) or Advanced settings.
Windows XP, Display Properties, Settings tab. To change monitor refresh rate or text size, click Advanced button. Windows 7, Change the appearance of your displays. To change screen refresh rate or color depth, click Advanced settings.

Open Monitor tab, select best possible Screen refresh rate under Monitor Settings. For LCD (thin) monitors, this is usually 60 Hertz; for CRT (large) monitors this can be anything from 75 to 200 Hertz. Again, consult your monitor manual to find the best refresh rate for the previously selected resolution.
To change color depth in Windows 7, use the Colors box below. Under most circumstances, you should select True Color (32 bit) from Colors box. If you are using some old CRT monitor, you might also try True Color (24 bit) or High Color (16 bit) modes.
Windows 8 and 8.1 use automatic color management, so there is no color depth selection available.
Click Apply to test new settings. Again, CRT monitors might go blank - wait 15 seconds without clicking a mouse button or pressing a key on keyboard to revert to previous settings automatically.
Windows Vista, Monitor and Graphics Adapter Properties, Monitor tab. Select best suitable Screen refresh rate. Click Apply to test the new settings. Windows 7, Monitor and Graphics Adapter Properties, Monitor tab. Select best suitable Screen refresh rate. Use True Color (32 bit) in Colors box. Click Apply to test the new settings.

Changing text and item size (DPI) in Windows

In the modern high-resolution world, text might seem too small on your screen. You can adjust the size by selecting a higher DPI setting. In Windows XP and Windows Vista, this setting affects all users on the computer, but Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 are able to use different text size for different user accounts.
In Windows 8 this affects Desktop programs only, new Modern UI/Metro-style apps have fixed font size. Windows 8.1 users can control app sizes on high-resolution screens only - this is described in the end of this tutorial.

In Windows XP, click Advanced in the Display Properties window (right-click on Desktop and select Properties).
In Windows Vista, click Adjust font size (DPI) in the Personalization window (right-click on Desktop and select Personalize).
In Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, click Make text and other items larger or smaller in the Screen Resolution window (right-click on Desktop and select Screen resolution).
Windows XP, Display Properties, Settings tab. To change text size, click the Advanced button. Windows Vista, Personalization. To change text size, click Adjust font size (DPI) on the left side. Windows 7, Change the appearance of your display. To change text size, click Make text and other items larger or smaller.

In Windows XP, make sure you are on General tab of the Monitor and Graphics Adapter Properties window. Then select Large size (120 DPI) from the DPI setting box and click OK.

In Windows Vista, select Larger scale (120 DPI) in the DPI Scaling window and click OK.

In Windows 7 and 8, select Medium - 125% in the Make it easier to read what's on your screen and click Apply. You might see a yellow warning text "Some items may not fit on your screen if you choose this setting while your display is set to this resolution" near Apply button. This indicates that some text or items might not fit on your screen while using this DPI setting. Well, you can still try it.

Windows 8.1 allows using different scaling for each monitor by default, and only a slider with Smaller and Larger is available. Changing this affects only the current display - you need to open the same Screen resolution window on the other monitor to change the size of all items there. Please note that the text size slider might be disabled on lower-resolution monitors (such as 1024x768).
To set the same DPI for all screens in Windows 8.1, tick the Let me choose one scaling level for all my displays check box.
Windows XP, Monitor and Graphics Adapter Properties, General tab. If you want to increase text and icon size on your screen, select Large size (120 DPI) from the DPI setting box and click OK. Windows Vista, DPI Scaling. To change text size, click Default scale (96 DPI) or Larger scale (120 DPI). Then click Apply. Windows 7, Make it easier to read what's on your screen. To change text size, click Smaller - 100% or Medium - 125%. Then click Apply. Windows 8.1, Change the size of all items, independent scaling enabled. To change text size for the current monitor, set the slider to Smaller or Larger. Then click Apply.

After the different scaling feature in Windows 8.1 has been disabled, available options are the same as in Windows 7 and 8. You can now set all option on lower-resolution screens, too. High-resolution ones have two additional item sizing options here: Larger - 150% and Extra Large - 200%.
indows 8.1, Change the size of all items, independent scaling disabled. To change text size, click Smaller - 100% or Medium - 125%. Then click Apply.

Windows XP will then warn that the new settings need a restart. Click OK to close the warning window.
Click OK to close the Monitor and Graphics Adapter Properties window. Another window pops up saying that the required files are already present. There is no need to overwrite them, click Yes.
Then Windows XP works for a while and icons and text size increase. System Settings Change dialog appears with enlarged text and buttons. Click Yes to restart your computer.
Windows XP, Change DPI Setting. Click OK. Windows XP, General warning. Click Yes. Windows XP, System Settings Change. Click Yes to restart your computer.

Windows Vista reminds you that the changes take effect only after you restart your computer. Click Restart Now.
Windows Vista, DPI Scaling - you must restart your computer to apply these changes. Click Restart Now.

Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 remind you that the changes take effect only after you log off/sign out and log back on again. Click Log off now or Sign out now.
Windows 7, text size - you must log off your computer to apply these changes. Click Log off now. Windows 8, text size - you must sign out of your computer to apply these changes. Click Sign out now.

After you log back on, you will notice changes in text and item size.
Here's a comparison between the sizes:
Windows 7, text and item size at 100% (default). Windows 7, text and item size at 125% (medium).

Windows 8 and 8.1 also allow you to change text size of selected items only - Title bars, Menus, Message boxes, Palette titles, Icons or Tooltips. As shown below, you can choose font size and/or make the selected texts bold. This also affects Desktop programs only.
Changes to these items takes effect immediately after clicking the Apply button.
Windows 8, Change the size of all items. To prevent resizing all texts, select an item from "Change only the text size" section instead.

Changing Modern UI app size in Windows 8.1

To change display resolution and orientation, plus app sizes in Modern UI app of Windows 8.1, open Settings charm using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W, type "resolution" and click Display settings.
PC Settings app opens in PC & Devices, Display tab. Configuration is pretty straightforward and easy here. Note the Change the size of apps on the displays that can support it setting that is not available in Control Panel. This is available for high-resolution monitors only, and you can set it to Default or Smaller. The latter option also allows displaying six or more rows of tiles on Start screen if you open Settings charm, click Personalize and enable the More tiles option.
Windows 8.1, PC Settings app, PC & devices, Display. Here you can also change Modern UI app sizes on monitors that support it.

 

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