We would like to have a discussion about screen resolutions and share with you some very practical things such as: how to change your monitor’s display resolution in Windows, how to work with multi-monitor configurations, how to make text and other items larger or smaller and how to revert back your changes, if you are unhappy with the end result. If we’ve got your interest, read on:
NOTE: This guide contains information that applies to all modern versions of Windows: Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.
A lot more automatic than it used to be
In years gone by, the choice of screen resolution was almost always entirely up to the user, since Windows defaulted to one or two low-resolution screens. This was a “lowest common denominator” approach that guaranteed that people installing Windows would at least be able to see what was on the screen from the get-go. Higher resolution displays were the job of the graphics cards manufacturers, and each card came with a disk full of drivers. Even after that, not all resolutions were appropriate for all monitors, and you could (and often did) get garbage or a black screen if you tried to use them. Fortunately Windows has always had a built-in safeguard, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
In Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 things have changed for the better. The operating system tries to correctly identify your monitor model, its aspect ratio and supported resolutions. If all goes well, it will automatically set the resolution to the maximum supported by your display. That’s really great and it means you get the maximum screen space available as soon as you log into Windows for the first time. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t want to change the resolution at some point, for whatever reason.
Before you move forward, we recommend you to read our previous article: What is the screen resolution or the aspect ratio? What do 720p, 1080i & 1080p mean?. It provides a very good history lesson and explains some important concepts you need to consider.
Getting to the screen resolution settings in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1
Changing the screen’s resolution, or its orientation in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 is done from a panel named Screen Resolution.
You can get to Screen Resolution from “Control Panel -> Appearance and Personalization -> Adjust Screen Resolution”, but the fastest way to get there is to right click or tap and hold anywhere on your Desktop and choose Screen Resolution from the menu.
This will bring up a window that will allow you to make changes. In the screenshot below, you can see what the window looks like when working with a single monitor that has a 4:3 aspect ratio. Keep in mind that it’s almost certain your window will look different from mine. Still, regardless of what you see, the changes work the same way.
Getting to the screen resolution settings in Windows 10
In Windows 10, the Control Panel is getting old, and the newer Settings app is taking its place. As a consequence, choosing a different resolution for your monitor is done from inside this app, from a panel named “Advanced Display Settings”.
To get to it, launch the Settings and go to “System -> Display -> Advanced Display Settings”.
This will open the panel named “Advanced Display Settings” that will let you change your monitor’s screen resolution. In the image below, you can see how it looks like when working with a single monitor that has a common 16:9 aspect ratio and a default Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
What the screen resolution settings look like when you have a multi-monitor setup
These days, it’s pretty common to see setups in which more than one monitor is involved. Most people go with a dual-monitor setup, but three-monitor setups are also increasingly popular. Here’s how the Screen Resolution window looks like when using a dual-screen configuration in Windows 7 or in Windows 8.1:
And here’s what the “Advanced Display Settings” look like in Windows 10 when you’re using a dual-monitor configuration:
As you can see, both monitors are shown, regardless of the Windows operating system you use. Select one of the screens with the mouse or with your finger and then you can change its settings.
How to change the screen resolution in Windows
From here on, the steps you’ll take are the same regardless if you use Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. To begin making changes, click or tap on the drop-down menu labeled Resolution.
You can adjust the resolution up and down to whatever setting you wish. If your monitor is 1080p or 1080i, for example, remember that that translates to a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. However, you may see higher resolutions than that, depending on your monitor.
NOTE: If you are using a portable computer, you may not be given a chance to change your screen resolution. Some laptop/tablet/hybrid devices screens have a fixed resolution and there is no way you can change it; others will allow you to make choices. Luckily, this is not very common.
Read the next page of this tutorial to find out about the quirky display resolutions, evaluating your changes and handling their consequences, as well as how to make the text, icons and other visual elements larger.