What is GPU Scaling For? (And, How to Turn It On)

If you’re confused on what GPU scaling is, in this guide, we’ve broken down what the term means, whether you should be using it, and how to turn it off.

What is GPU Scaling
Most modern games give you the ability to select a variety of screen resolutions to play them at. However, for those of you who are looking to run emulators to play older games, or if you’re someone who wants to run an older application, it’s very possible that that game or application won’t offer you the ability to choose an appropriate resolution to run them at.

(Looking for information on multi-GPU performance scaling instead? Check out our guide, SLI vs CrossFire: Are Multi-GPU Configurations Worth it?)

A lot of older games (older PC games, NES games, SNES games, etc.) were all designed to run on screens with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Modern monitors and displays offer wider screens and typically come in a 16:9 aspect ratio.

That means that when you try to run those older games and applications that are designed for a 4:3 aspect ratio, you can run into some problems. The most common problem is that older 4:3 games get stretched to fit on a 16:9 monitor and, as a result, the game ends up looking poorly. That’s where GPU scaling comes in…

How GPU Scaling Helps Display Older Aspect Ratios

Both AMD and NVIDIA have GPU scaling options through either AMD’s Catalyst Control Center or AMD Radeon Settings or NVIDIA’s Control Panel. You can utilize the GPU scaling feature through both GPU manufacturer’s control panels to help fix the problem that arises when you try to force a 4:3 (or another square-shaped aspect ratio) game or application onto a modern widescreen monitor.

GPU Scaling Black Bars
A user from the teamliquid.net forums posts a screenshot that shows how an older game looks on a modern monitor.

The most common option for GPU scaling is to just force the game to play at its native resolution and fill the remainder of the screen with a black backdrop (or, in other words, add a thick black frame either on the sides of the game, or all the way around the game.) So, essentially, in this scenario, a 16:9 aspect ratio monitor will create a small 4:3 aspect ratio square in the middle of the display where the game can run as it was intended to.

How to Turn On GPU Scaling With an AMD Graphics Card

If you have an AMD graphics card, there are two ways to turn on GPU scaling:

Turn on GPU Scaling Through AMD’s Radeon Settings

  1. On your desktop, right-click and select AMD Radeon Settings from the menu that pops up
  2. When the AMD Radeon Settings window opens, click on the Display tab on the menu on the top of the window
  3. Click on GPU Scaling and switch it to On
  4. Finally, choose the Scaling Mode that fits your needs

Turn on GPU Scaling Through AMD’s Catalyst Control Center

  1. On your desktop, right-click and select AMD Catalyst Control Center from the menu that pops up
  2. When Catalyst Control Center opens, find My Digital Flat Panels on the left-hand side bar and expand it
  3. Then, select Properties (Digital Flat Panel)
  4. From the Properties (Digital Flat Panel) screen, check Enable GPU up-scaling
  5. From there, choose the GPU scaling mode that suits your needs
  6. Finally, hit the Apply button

How to Turn On GPU Scaling With an NVIDIA Graphics Card

If you have an NVIDIA graphics card, you can turn on GPU scaling by doing the following:

  1. On your desktop, right-click and select NVIDIA Control Panel from the menu that pops up
  2. When the NVIDIA Control Panel opens, click on Adjust desktop size and position underneath the display tab on the left-hand menu
  3. In the ‘Adjust desktop size and position’ options, click the drop-down menu under ‘Perform scaling on’ button and select GPU
  4. From there, select the scaling method and accompanying options that best fits your needs

Further Points and Requirements to Consider for GPU Scaling

There are a couple of other things to note when it comes to utilizing GPU scaling on your system. They are:

1. You Must Use A Digital Input in Order to Use GPU Scaling

It’s also important to note that, in order to use GPU scaling on both NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards, your monitor must be connected to your graphics card via a digital connection. That means GPU scaling will only work when connected via:

  • HDMI
  • DVI
  • DisplayPort or Mini DisplayPort

GPU scaling will not work when connected with an analog input (like VGA).

2. You May See A Small Amount of Input Lag When Using GPU Scaling

Using GPU scaling can cause a small amount of input lag, which can potentially affect in-game performance. However, the amount of input lag caused by GPU scaling is generally minimal and, in most scenarios, it won’t have a noticeable impact on your game.

Should You Even Use GPU Scaling?

Most emulators already run games in a separate window that scales the game properly. However, in certain scenarios, you may be forced to manually scale older games by using the settings found in AMD’s Radeon Settings panel, or their Catalyst Control Center, or through NVIDIA’s Control Panel.

The step-by-step instructions listed above will help you find the GPU scaling options you’ll need in order to get your games running at the correct resolution and aspect ratio.

However, for the majority of users that are running modern games on a modern 16:9 or 16:10 (or even ultra wide monitors), using GPU scaling won’t be necessary.

Hey, I’m Brent. I’ve been building PCs and writing about building PCs for a long time. Through TechGuided.com, I've helped thousands of people learn how to build their own computers. I’m an avid gamer and tech enthusiast, too. On YouTube, I build PCs, review laptops, components, and peripherals, and hold giveaways.

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