Windows 10 and MacOS have their devoted fans. One side prefers the look of Windows and the breadth of the Windows PC ecosystem. The other side appreciates the elegance of MacOS and the tight integration between Apple’s hardware and software.
However, there is one thing that MacOS has always done better: Take advantage of high-resolution displays. Still, Windows 10 is catching up now that 4K has become the new high-resolution norm.
Here’s how to adjust High DPI scaling in Windows 10 to get the best images you can pull from your PC.
High DPI screens and windows
Although Full HD (1920 x 1080) and higher displays are much more common today, 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) displays are now the new high-resolution standard.
Some PCs, like the HP Specter x360 15, only offer 4K UHD displays. Other manufacturers use custom resolutions, as highlighted by Microsoft’s Surface line. These PCs have a very high pixel per inch (ppi) count packed into a 3: 2 aspect ratio screen compared to the more common 16: 9 widescreen aspect ratio.
There is no question that high resolutions are excellent. However, they require a higher physical pixel count, and when all those pixels are placed on a small screen, on-screen elements that are not properly scaled to support that high resolution can become very small. That makes them extremely difficult to see and use.
The term dots per inch, or DPI, is generally associated with printers and how many dots they can print both horizontally and vertically within an inch. On screens, this translates to metering an image on the screen. The more physical pixels installed on a screen, the more dots the GPU can “print” (or render) in both directions.
Microsoft originally defined “high DPI” as a display with between 120 and 144 dpi, and began to support high DPI displays in Windows 7. Since then, manufacturers have shipped displays with significantly higher ppi, which has caused some problems in the way.
Pixel Per Inch Problems
The first big problem with Windows 10’s high-resolution displays is that the vast majority of Windows applications weren’t written for such high resolutions. Newer apps are more aware of high-resolution displays, and some developers have caught up and tweaked their older apps.
However, there are still millions of Windows apps that just don’t display well on today’s best screens when running in their native resolutions. Consider the following screenshot, showing a 4K UHD display set to its native resolution with the Windows 10 Settings app maximized.
The Windows 10 and app user interfaces on such a screen are simply too small to use. Why? Because the screen has a large number of pixels and the user interface of the program was not designed to natively support the largest width and height. Basically it tells Windows and the GPU to “print” a smaller interface. That’s where Windows 10 scaling comes in.
Scale Windows 10
The most basic setting to consider is the display scale, which essentially means adjusting the DPI by some percentage multiplier. By increasing the screen scale, you can make on-screen items, such as text and icons, more substantial and more comfortable to read and use.
For example, here is the same 4K UHD display and setup app scaled at 250% (click on the image to see it clearly in full resolution). All on-screen elements, such as text and icons, are now much easier to see and manipulate.
Simply put, the app only knows how to provide its interface up to a specific resolution and physical pixel count. Because its resolution and pixel count is higher, Windows and the GPU will use the extra pixels to render the interface on a larger scale without making the whole thing look like a blurry mess. Text and lines are crisp, as if the app is natively 4K capable.
To adjust the scale, do the following:
Step 1: Click on the Notification on the taskbar and select the All settings tile in the Action Center. Alternatively, click the Start button followed by Gear icon in the Start Menu. They both open the Settings application.
Step 2: Click System.
Step 3: The Display section should load by default. Scroll down to Scale Y Provision.
Here, you will see a drop-down menu to change the size of text, apps, and other items. They are typically set to a unified “recommended” setting based on what Windows 10 knows about your display.
Stage 4: To change the scale, click the Arrow down and select a new setting from the pop-up menu. The scale percentage ranges from 100% to 300%.
Let Windows help
Some desktop applications will look blurry when you change the display and scale settings and adjust the DPI. If you are running Windows 10 April 2018 Update or later, the system should automatically attempt to resolve these issues when it encounters a problem. If not, this is where you can find the settings:
Step 1: Click on the Notification on the taskbar and select the All settings mosaic in the Activity Center. Alternatively, click the Start button followed by Gear from the Start menu. They both open the Settings application.
Step 2: Click System.
Step 3: The Display The section should load by default. Scroll down to Scale Y Provision.
Stage 4: Click on the Advanced scaling settings below scale percentage box.
Step 5: Make sure Lever is established in About under Let Windows try to fix apps so they aren’t blurry.
Step 6: This step is optional. Enter a custom scale size in Custom scale. This shouldn’t be necessary unless you are working with a single display that needs a custom scale to function.
Windows desktop applications
Problems can arise with older Windows desktop applications. When many of Windows’ roughly 16 million desktop apps were first written, high-DPI displays were rare. Also, updating applications to support all currently available screen resolutions is too costly for developers.
The problems mostly arise when you use Windows 10 scaling to make your high-DPI displays more manageable. Many Windows desktop apps just don’t scale well, with symptoms like blurry text and icons. Microsoft has made some changes to support for high-DPI Windows 10, and these older apps are now handled much more efficiently.
Even with all the improvements from Microsoft, Windows desktop applications can still have problems. Fortunately, there is a trick you can use to make some of those apps look better on high-resolution displays.
Step 1: Click on the Notification on the taskbar and select the All settings mosaic in the Activity Center. Alternatively, click the Start button followed by Gear icon in the Start Menu. They both open the Settings application.
Step 2: Please select Ease of access.
Step 3: The Display The section should open by default. Under Enlarge the text, move the Slider accordingly, and then click Request.
Stage 4: Under Make everything bigger, click on the Arrow down and select a scaling percentage.
Adjust DPI settings manually on an app-by-app basis
You may also need to adjust the DPI settings manually on an app-by-app basis. That’s how:
Step 1: Right-click the desktop shortcut for the program and select Properties (edit) from the pop-up menu.
Step 2: Click on the Compatibility tab.
Note: If you don’t see this tab, you may need to open File Explorer and right-click on the actual EXE file of the program buried somewhere on your drive: Program Files or Program Files (x86). Sometimes desktop shortcuts don’t allow compatibility changes.
Step 3: Under Settings, click on Change high DPI settings.
Stage 4: A second pop-up window appears on the screen. Check the box next to Override High DPI Scaling Behavior.
Step 5: Please select Application system, or System (improved) from the drop-down menu, and then click OK. For more information on each setting, see the next section of this guide.
Note: You may need to experiment with these three settings until you determine which one solves your program’s scaling problem.
High DPI scaling override setting explained
Consider the app shown below as it runs on a 4K UHD display set at 250% scaling. While it can be used, it is incredibly blurry, which is not the ideal experience. Now, let’s look at the same application using each of the three override settings.
The Application option does not allow user customizations and instead uses the default application screens. This results in the same as if you had your Windows 10 system configured to scale 100%; note that the icons under the menu are small.
The System option uses the Windows 10 system to control the settings. This is the default, so it will not matter whether you have this selection enabled or disabled.
System settings (improved) does not work with all applications. If it’s supported by an app, it’ll give you better graphics and clearer text, so it’s worth a try.
Play with the settings to see what works best
Before the Windows 10 Creators Update, there were more detailed settings that could be configured to control the size of text, icons, and other items. However, Microsoft removed those options, so you are now left with these more limited options. You will still be able to personalize your PC enough to make it attractive to look at and efficient to use.
When looking for new apps for Windows 10, try to make sure they are Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps. UWP has built-in scaling that takes advantage of your screen size to give you the best graphics without having to struggle to access certain areas of the screen.
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