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What Is GPU Scaling? Should You Use It? (Pros & Cons)

If someone asks you what is GPU scaling, then it's essential to know what you're talking about. In brief, it helps improve the gaming experience for older and indie games.  

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GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit. These are typically a part of specialized graphics cards, but you can also find them integrated into the computer’s Central Processing Unit. They’re used to display, or ‘render,’ graphics for: 

  • Video games 
  • Film editing 
  • Animations  
  • 3D simulations  

People can also use a GPU for Artificial Intelligence and machine learning purposes. So they’re not only used by gamers and film producers but scientists and programmers too. 

GPU scaling is a feature included in all graphics cards manufactured recently. It allows you to play older games on newer monitors through a process called interpolation. An algorithm guesses how the game would render on a monitor with a modern aspect ratio like 16:9.

In other words, you can ‘scale up’ the game’s output compared to how it would look with older aspect ratios like 4:3, which gamers used before widescreen monitors were introduced. 

Gamers need to know what is GPU up scaling because it improves the gaming experience. Gaming studios designed older games for older technology and optimized them for lower aspect ratios. These games look small on newer monitors, and GPU scaling solves this problem. 

gtx 1080 ti graphics card

Different Types Of GPU Scaling 

Maintain Aspect Ratio  

This method of GPU scaling ensures the game you’re playing stays at its original aspect ratio and is stretched to fit your monitor. Because the aspect ratio is maintained along either the width or the height, some space will remain unused. The unused space will appear as black bars, like in the photo above.  

This option is a good choice for low-spec computers because it doesn’t involve any complicated processing. If you’re playing an indie game or an older game that doesn’t support widescreen monitors and your computer is average, this option is your best choice.  

Full Panel Scaling  

The Full Panel Scaling approach does the same as the method above, except instead of placing black bars on either side of the game screen, it uses the whole monitor. That means your game will play across the entire width and height of the monitor. 

That arrangement can seem optimal at first, but it comes with some negative consequences. If your monitor’s aspect ratio is much higher than the game’s native aspect ratio, the game will look blurry and unfocused. It’s only worth choosing this option if your top priority is removing black bars.  

Center Scaling  

Center scaling will place the game right in the center of your screen and display black bars on all four sides surrounding it. If the game you’re playing is particularly low-resolution, and you want it to display clearly on a modern monitor, this mode will work best for you. The amount of space taken up by the bars will depend on the game and the monitor.  

Integer Scaling  

A less well-known type of scaling is integer scaling. Integer scaling works with low-resolution games that are smaller in resolution than the native resolution of the monitor.

It can scale up game images from one pixel to four or more. Integer scaling makes the scaled-up game screen appear sharper. For any images that cannot be scaled appropriately, they will appear centered instead. 


What Does GPU Scaling Actually Do? 

GPU scaling is a method of making retro games playable on newer monitors. It scales up the aspect ratio of the game so that it fits the size of the monitor. There are several methods outlined above, and they help make the gaming experience more satisfying.  

Maintaining aspect ratio will optimize a game without making it look stretched or blurred. Center Scaling focuses on maintaining quality, and Full Panel Scaling uses the maximum possible amount of screen space regardless of quality. Finally, Integer Scaling helps sharpen low-resolution games. 

These methods can help make the game captivating because it increases the screen area used. That means there is more to see, which is a clear advantage for gamers. Older and indie games would be uncomfortable to play without GPU scaling because they’d only take up a small part of the screen.  


Pros & Cons Of GPU Scaling 

The Good
  • You can pick from three options for GPU scaling 
  • Enhanced playability for older games on modern monitors
  • Allows immersion - there is more to see in-game
  • Great for indie and retro gaming on modern monitors
  • Ensures a longer lifetime for older games
The Bad
  • Input lag means actions taken take longer to display in-game
  • Inserted black bars can be distracting and take up space
  • FPS rate can slow down 
  • Unsuitable for low-resolution games

How To Enable Or Disable GPU Scaling On Your PC (Turning ON And OFF) 

There are several ways to turn GPU scaling on or off, and it depends on the graphics card that your PC has. We’ll look at AMD what is GPU scaling, Radeon what is GPU scaling, and what is GPU scaling in Catalyst Control Center.  

Using the AMD Catalyst Control Center 

If you’ve been considering what is GPU scaling AMD, and how to turn it on and off, then here’s what to do if your graphics card uses the Catalyst Control Center:  

  1. 1
    Right-click anywhere on your Desktop and select the AMD Catalyst Control Center. 
  2. 2
    Click on My Digital Flat Panels from the menu on the left-hand side and choose Properties. 
  3. 3
    Tick the Enable GPU up-scaling checkbox, choose which scaling mode you’d like to apply, and click apply. 
  4. 4
    To turn it off, simply untick the box. 
Using the AMD Radeon Settings  

When considering Radeon GPU scaling, there is a process you can follow to turn it on and off. We’ll outline the steps below:  

  1. 1
    Right-click on your Desktop and select AMD Radeon Software.  
  2. 2
    Click the gear icon in the top-right of the screen and click Display on the navigation bar that appears.  
  3. 3
    Select GPU scaling and slide the toggle to the On position.  
  4. 4
    Pick which scaling mode you’d like to apply. 
  5. 5
    To turn it off, just slide the toggle back to the off position.  
Using the NVIDIA Control Panel  

If you’ve got an NVIDIA graphics card, you’ll need to use the NVIDIA control panel. Inside it, you can turn GPU upscaling on and off. Here’s how: 

  1. 1
    Open the NVIDIA Control Panel by right-clicking on the Desktop or using the Start Menu search bar. 
  2. 2
    Under the Display category in the navigation tree, click Adjust Desktop Size and Position.  
  3. 3
    Click the Scaling tab.  
  4. 4
    Choose the scaling mode you prefer, and click OK.  
  5. 5
    To turn it off, click the ‘No scaling’ option.  
nvidia rtx 2080 gpu

Considerations & Requirements For GPU Scaling 

Digital Input (HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, or Mini DisplayPort) 

As you research what is GPU scaling, you’ll come across the requirement for a digital display connection between the graphics card and monitor. 

Four common ways to do this are HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, or Mini DisplayPort. All of these are similar in terms of quality, although HDMI is the most well-known. 

It’s important to distinguish these from VGA cables. VGA is an old method of connecting monitors to graphics cards, and it’s analog, meaning GPU scaling won’t work.  

Potential Input Lag  

One of the more significant concerns that gamers have is the input lag that GPU upscaling can cause. More processing time is required to display scaled images, and that processing occurs before you see the image.

That can cause a short delay between an action and its appearance in-game. For pre-recorded footage, like cinematics, there is usually no input lag. In most cases, the lag will be so slight you won’t notice it.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Does GPU scaling affect FPS?  

Yes, it does. The extra processing time required by the GPU can induce some slight input lag, which reduces the FPS rate of the game you’re playing. However, the effects of this are usually minor.  

Does no scaling reduce input lag?  

If you disable the scaling options, as is typically the default for most computer graphics cards, you’ll reduce input lag. The GPU will not engage in any additional processing, meaning the game images will display straight away. 

Does scaling affect video playback?  

Scaling won’t be a factor if a pre-recorded video plays and its resolution is the same or greater than the monitor. Playback will be fine if the resolution is lower than the monitor’s native resolution, as the GPU will stretch the video to fit the screen. However, it may be more pixelated depending on how much scaling occurs. 

Is display scaling or GPU scaling better?  

You can perform scaling using the monitor itself, and this will be faster than GPU scaling. However, the GPU will have more dedicated resources that it can apply to processing the scaled images. Older games will also benefit more from GPU scaling, as their resolution is often too low to benefit solely from display scaling. 

Should GPU scaling be on or off?  

You should turn off GPU scaling if you’re playing modern games or using any software that works well with the native resolution of your monitor. If you’re playing a retro or indie game that uses a different aspect ratio or resolution, then it’s better to turn it on.  


Conclusion

In this article, we’ve covered what is GPU up scaling, the four types of GPU scaling, what it does, and the pros and cons of GPU scaling. We’ve also looked specifically at how to enable and disable it and the requirements for it. You should use GPU scaling if you intend to play any indie or retro games.