What is GPU Scaling?

If you’re a fan of older computer games, GPU scaling is a must-have feature that will make old titles look good on modern screens. GPU scaling is done by the graphic card. While it’s most commonly associated with AMD, other manufacturers have also started to implement scaling features to accommodate older programs.


What Does GPU Scaling Do?

Essentially, the goal of GPU scaling is to scale the image up to fit modern screens without producing unwanted artifacts. Back in the early days of PC gaming, computer monitors used a 4:3 or 5:4 aspect ratio. Screens were much more square than what you’d find on the market today.

These days, 16:9 is the norm. The increased aspect ratio provides a widescreen viewing experience. Unfortunately, this can prove to be a problem if you are trying to use a program that was made for older aspect ratios.

Without GPU upscaling, standard 4:3 or 5:4 titles are simply stretched to fit the screen. As a result, the image you see on your widescreen monitor is distorted and unusable. You can experience issues like pixelation, blurriness, and overall poor image quality. Depending on the software you’re using, this could ruin the user experience. This is especially true in fast-paced action games.

GPU upscaling works to actively improve the image quality while stretching it to fit your modern screen. The graphics card processes the image before sending it to your display.


GPU Scaling Options

There are a few different scaling modes available. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. In most cases, the right option depends entirely on the software you’re using and your own personal preference.

The first option is to “Maintain the Aspect Ratio.” In this mode, the image is stretched without changing the width/height relationship. As a result, the image stays true to the developer’s vision. Of course, our modern widescreen monitors cannot match the shape of older aspect ratios. So, the GPU will use black bars on the sides of the image.

The second mode is “Scale Image to Full Panel Size.” This is the complete opposite of maintaining the aspect ratio. The ratio between the image’s width and height is unlocked, allowing the processor to stretch the picture to match your screen size. Typically, this produces poor image quality.

Finally, there’s the option to “Use Centered Trimmings.” With this mode, the image isn’t scaled up at all. You can experience the software’s graphics exactly how it was intended to be viewed. The GPU will display the image in its original size and aspect ratio. It will be placed in the center of your screen and be surrounded by black bars.


How to Take Advantage of GPU Scaling

The good news is that most modern graphics cards have some type of scaling feature built-in. Before you launch a program, you must enable the feature within the GPU settings. This can be done in the “Properties” or “Display” section of your graphics control setting.

Just tick the box or toggle the feature on. You should also have the option to choose between one of the three scaling modes. Once enabled, your graphics card will automatically scale images that require it.


Potential Issues

GPU scaling has done a lot to help fans of older games experience their favorite games from yesterday. Despite the ability of most systems to get the job done right, you may encounter a couple of problems.

The first involves the placement of the surrounding bars or the overall size of the image. Glitches in the analyzing and scaling process can cause mismatched sizing, unwanted black bars, or parts of the image being cut off. Luckily, there’s an easy fix to the problem.

Most graphics cards have an Underscan/Overscan feature. You can use this setting to manually improve the image quality. The GPU will perform the scaling job as normal. However, with Underscan/Overscan enabled, the image’s size will be manipulated just enough to fit onto your screen.

Another issue you can encounter is input lag. GPU scaling puts a bit of a strain on your graphics card, as the component has to analyze and process the data. It’s an extra step. Thus, you can experience a bit of lag. The input lag isn’t major. Most people won’t even notice the fraction-of-a-second delay. However, it can be more noticeable in fast-paced games. If you’re playing a competitive first-person shooter, you’ll need to consider how the input lag will affect your performance.