NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2004
What Is Your Resolution
by Geroge McGinnis
Computer Society of West Florida – Pensacola
(click to email author)

This story is not about your New Year’s Resolutions. Instead it is about the resolution of your monitor. The resolution of a monitor is important because it determines how correctly the monitor will portray the textual and graphical material that is sent to it by the graphics board in your computer.

The following information relates to cathode ray tube monitors and it is not intended to apply to the so-called “flat” Liquid Crystal Display “LCD” monitors.

Your monitor is based on a 4 x 3 aspect ratio. This means that it is four elements wide by three elements high. If you measure the screen of your monitor, taking into account the portion of the screen that is obscured by the plastic frame, you will find this to be true. Historically, these numbers relate to the aspect ratio generally used by the TV industry and in a loose way are also related to the aspect ratio of the movies as invented by Thomas Edison almost 100 years ago. Computer resolution refers to the number of pixels on the face of the monitor. For example, a resolution of 800 x 600 (note the 4 x 3 ratio) means that there are 800 pixels wide on the monitor face and 600 pixels high. The width is always expressed before the height. In this example, if you multiply 800 x 600 you will get the number 480,000 and this represents the total number of pixels on the face of the monitor. The general rule that applies is that the greater the number of pixels the better the quality of the reproduced image. This same reasoning applies to both graphical and textual material. Of the two, graphical material is of course more difficult to reproduce and the number of pixels is of greater importance.

Whom, or what, determines the resolution? You do. You set the resolution when you set up the computer when you take it out of the box. Each Windows version has a slightly different way of setting the resolution however they are all similar. For Windows XP go to Control Panel, Display, Setting and move the screen resolution slider to the desired resolution position. At the same time you can select the color quality from the pull down menu. The highest setting is (Highest 32 bit). By going to Advanced, you can set the monitor refresh rate and change the size of the text.

Now, you are probably wondering what your setting(s) should be. Here are most of the standard resolutions that are ordinarily available for your monitor, however they may vary slightly depending on the size and model of your monitor:

    640 x 480
    800 x 600
    1024 x 768
    1280 x 1024
    1600 x 1200

However, each size monitor has a recommended resolution number. Here are the recommended numbers:

17” 1024 x 768
19” 1280 x 1024

The capability of your computer to obtain the desired resolution depends on several things. For example, the graphics board that is in your computer and the quality of the monitor are predominant. A high quality graphics board will probably permit you to go to the highest setting your monitor will permit. You will have to look at the manual you received with your monitor to find the settings that are recommended and to determine other parameters of the monitor’s capabilities. For some monitors, you must not go above a certain resolution or refresh rate for fear of harming the monitor. Another factor to consider is the Screen Refresh Rate. This represents the number of times per second the monitor screen is refreshed. If your monitor will permit a refresh rate of as high as 85 Hz, at the recommended monitor resolution, then choose that number. However, a refresh rate of 75 Hz is more likely the maximum number your monitor will permit unless you have a high quality monitor. The higher the refresh rate, the finer detail the picture and the better the quality of reproduction. Very low refresh rates such as 65 Hz are likely to produce annoying flicker and possibly jumpy text. This is very hard on your eyes and is to be avoided. To repeat, look in your monitor manual and determine the maximum refresh rate it will permit and try for that number at the recommended resolution of your monitor.

I took a poll of 50 computer users to determine the monitor resolution they used. I was surprised to learn that, regardless of monitor size, the predominant resolution was 800 x 600. I also learned that most of the individuals were not aware that a higher resolution produced higher quality graphics representation on the monitor. Several individuals indicated that the higher resolution produced very small text and small icons on the desktop and therefore they had difficulty reading the text. All this is true; however these problems can easily be remedied. With Windows XP, go to Control Panel, Display, Appearances, font size and choose the larger font. Then go to Advanced, desktop, icons, to increase the size of the icons; then to icon spacing to adjust the horizontal and vertical spacing of the desktop icons. All these adjustments are important and will overcome the objection to smaller icons and smaller text and at the same time give you better quality graphics and text.

In case you are interested, I have a 19” monitor. It is set for 1280 x 1024 pixels, 32 bit color quality and 90 Hz screen refresh rate. As you would expect at these numbers, it produces outstanding textual and graphics reproduction.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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