Windows Vista DPI scaling: my Vista is bigger than your Vista

As anyone who uses an ultra-portable laptop would know, reading ultra-minimalistic weblogs with 9px-sized fonts on a high-resolution 1400×1050 display panel spanning an entire 12″ is like an everyday blessing for eye-care companies. Now’s a good time to invest in the laser eye surgery business.

Whilst desktop monitors has always maintained the adequately readable 96 DPI standard with LCD displays, pixel-density on laptops has reached as high as 144 DPI, and that means smaller interfaces and fonts. But who doesn’t want more pixels? The more pixels, the clearer the image.

Windows Vista DPI scalingWindows Vista aims to reduce the negative effects of high-DPI displays by introducing an updated DPI-scaling engine for the desktop compositor. This allows icons, interfaces and text to be scaled bigger to compensate for the extra pixels. In theory, everything should look just as crisp and detailed compared to the default 96 DPI. But in practice, due to lack of vectorized interface elements and icons, it’s not perfect. So exactly how good does it look? I’ve put together this comparison to show you exactly that.

Hover over the links to change the image.
Please note: the images may take short while to appear due to the high quality and large file sizes.

Windows Vista DPI scaling comparison

96 DPI (Default) | 120 DPI (125%) | 144 DPI (150%) | 192 DPI (200%)

As you can see, the interface scales quite nicely all the way up to 144DPI. Everything is still reasonably crisp and usable. But when you get to 192DPI, things become awkward. For example, the search icon in Windows Explorer is definitely out-of-place, and the power control buttons in the Start menu is way out of proportion. Also to note, sadly Sidebar gadgets do not scale at all.

But it doesn’t stop here.

Warning: Do not try this at home. You will not be able to revert this change without knowledge of keyboard shortcuts.
The highest possible DPI setting was 500%. I wasn’t quite sure for which decade this feature was aimed at, but it was technically possible. Theoretically you would need a 12-inch display with a resolution of 7000×5250 to properly appreciate 480 DPI.

Windows Vista 480 DPI
I knew I shouldn’t, but I wanted to attacked this giant enemy DPI for massive damage. (Sony E3 reference)

Windows Vista 480 DPI
Calculator turned into a full-screen application.

Windows Vista 480 DPI
You know when your system tray is bigger than the size of your applications, you’re in trouble.

Windows Vista 480 DPI
Smaller scale? Fit more information? Don’t be ridiculous.

Windows Vista 480 DPI
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back. This interface was starting to grow on me, in more than one ways.

Avoid 480 DPI, for quite a while. ;)

Update: Thanks to Aaron Parker for submitting this. Here’s a great resource for more information on calculating DPIs. As well as an monitor DPI calculator tool to know exactly the DPI setting for your monitor size and resolution.

73 insightful thoughts

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  2. Nice post Long, but as you say not everything scales correctly – not even some of the applications that come with Vista. Check out Windows Mail in high DPI. “No high DPI support for you!”

  3. It’s a shame the control boxes don’t get scaled properly (bitmaps?)
    Anywho nice find, though it’s strange they’ve left a custom option that allows people to mangle the OS and see the flaws.

    The systray icons do look beautiful though!

  4. 480dpi might be useful using some nextgen cinema projector :) maybe in 10years?? :D personally I use 120dpi @ 20″ wide(1680×1050), default is uncomfortable to read, some icons are jagged,but most apps work great. Vista can do so many magical things with windows rendering which are very big in realtime.. I wonder why it can’t do the same with icons which are 16×16… “nearest neighbour” resizing method is used in paint, not in Vista… argh.. cold-fire you’re right there was too much rush making vista… I hope they’ll make a hotfix by the release date…

  5. Apparently DPI scaling will be in OSX, for some reason I bet they will get it right…

    Maybe MS will feel the need to fix it then. I remember the promise of this, the ablity to just “scale” a window, Vector meant everything, blaa blaa. Somehow MS just couldn’t figure out vector. Said that it didnt look good when scaled down, hell, just do a mixed Vector and Bitmap format..

    Rushed!!

  6. The DpI Scaling is a need when approaching a High Resolution Monitors
    But i think that any OS should afford us with the appropriate icons,bitmaps,fonts … size that will look fine with the desired scale , and so the application developers, but till now they don’t
    and i guess affording custom scale isn’t the right thing to do

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  8. Any application that uses the Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly code named “Avalon”) will scale perfectly, as the WPF is predominately vector-based. It’s the legacy MFC applications that will have some issues. I’m currently developing a turn-based strategy game in my spare time using the WPF, and I’ve tested out the DPI scaling–it’s flawless.

  9. How can I set up different DPI settings for different users? I don’t want to have to change the settings every time I log on, but I need more real estate while my father wnats bigger text and icons.

  10. Does anyone know how to reduce my font size in Vista Ultimate? 96dpi is HUGE on my cheap laptop with a giant monitor that is only 1400 pixels width! I’m thinking like 48dpi, or at worst 72 dpi…help!

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  12. I think you should have used PNG for the screenshots. The JPG files show imperfections (look around letters when there is white background) due to the lossy compression.

  13. scatter, I’m wondering the same thing. If someone can’t read 96 then yeah they need eyes fixed. I’ve gone in and reduced every font size as small as possible, and it’s still too big for me. I’ve got 1440 resolution also.. if you figure it out let me know! Thanks!

  14. OH HELP! I increased the text size 200%…and now I can’t get to the bottom of the page to hit “submit” to REDUCE the text size back to something smaller. In Vista, the screen to change DPI scaling doesn’t have a scroll bar and so I seem stuck forever at the top. I’m so frustrated I could spit. Can someone explain HOW I get to the bottom of the page so I can confirm that I want to change the text size again?

  15. I diden’t know a pixel based monitor would be able of showing DPI (dots per inch: used for printing services). The DPI should be PPI (pixels per inch)

  16. bt,

    - DPI: Dots Per Inch
    - Pixel: Picture Element; a.k.a. “a dot”

    Thus, “dots per inch”. Don’t be so proprietary (-:

    On colour displays of course, a pixel can be made of three smaller dots…

  17. Help! I increased my DPI scaling in Vista – and now I cannot get a scroll bar to change to a smaller DPI. How can I get to the bottom of the page so I can confirm that I want to change the text size again???

  18. What good is 480 DPI? Maybe it’d be useful for the Sony VAIO UX490N/C, which has a 4.5″ screen at 1024×600 pixels. (If/when I get one, I’ll still probably stick with 96 DPI, at least until I turn 40 or so. I have my Clie UX50, 3.5″ @ 480×320, set to the smallest possible text size for most Palm apps.)

  19. That’s a very nice overview, it gives us a good picture about DPI settings in Vista. I, for one, am waiting for a follow-up review, with a list of popular programs that don’t look good when scaled like that, and a list of ones which are DPI-aware and can handle such settings properly.

  20. Hah! I love this post. I’m a Linux user currently enjoying proper font scaling on a high resolution display. Fixing the OS is the easy part… Fixing broken websites is a lot more difficult. For example, this site doesn’t scale that well (but better than most).

    Any site that uses “px” instead of “em” or “pt” in its CSS is not going to scale (read: amateurs). Also watch out for text-as-a-graphic (*shudder*).

    -Riskable
    http://riskable.com
    “Why run a desktop from your server when you can run a server from your desktop?”

  21. I’d send this link to my friend and he didn’t seen “Warning: Do not try this at home. You will not be able to revert this change without knowledge of keyboard shortcuts.” ))))))

  22. I used 105% or 101px for my DPI on my 1440×900 14inch screen. Makes the fonts more legible. Some apps of course aren’t designed for this, Firefox has some interface issues with this resolution.

  23. “Rushed!” says Ryan LM, with all the envious generosity of a Mac user.

    This has been available on every Windows version I can remember Ryan, although I have only used it with the Notebook I got a year ago with a 1920×1200 screen and Vista. It works fine for me, apart from the odd HTML or Flash site, but I’m sure the Mac implementation will make even the sloppiest site look fantastic… in your imagination. The 500% scale here is just a bit of fun.

  24. I used the 100pt font for my whole display, but not everything is perfect, but its ok for appearence. Some icons don’t look good, and some menus look bad as well. Windows Vista seems to have been designed for either 96dpi or 120dpi. Anything in between seems irregular.

  25. Hi Bonnie,
    Not sure have you resolve your dpi problem. The same thing happened to me. Don’t get panic! Here is the solution. As long as you can get to the DPI Scaling screen you can use TAB to navigate the selection. First of all click on the “Default scale (96 DPI)”. Here is the fun part. Press Shift key and then Tab key. This would position you to the “How do I know which DPI to choose?” button. Then you press Tab key 3 times. This would take you to the unseeable “OK” button. Then a screen woul pop up to ask you to restart your pc. Press Enter to reboot your pc. After your pc boot up, you are just as good as before! Hope this help. Good luck for those people in the past and the future who has the same problem.

  26. Hi Eric and Bonnie,

    Eric no offense to you, but that didn’t help me. I do hope it helped someone though.
    Bonnie all I did was click on the first button (dpi 96 button) and click enter key on keyboard. That asked me to restart computer after I did everything was fine.
    I was amazed that I didn’t have to reach bottom of that screen to hit apply or okay, the enter key was all I needed. I hope this helps, good luck.

  27. When you do that scaling try opening System Properties dialog or any other dialog which uses Shell Dlg font and see how it looks like. There is still absolutely no scaling for that font and those dialogs look like they just came from 1980 — there is simply no excuse for that.

  28. Thanks Eric. I had been freaking out for about 20 minutes before it occurred to me I wasn’t the first person with this problem and I found your answer in just a minute or two. It easily fixed my problem.

    What I was really trying to do was find a way to make the Quick Launch & Taskbar Icons larger. Anyone have an answer for this? If I find one, I’ll share.

  29. WOW…thanks to Carol for the tip on solving my DPI issue. Carol your method worked !!!
    Just to review: I had re-set the DPI -see steps below**
    The answer, Carol, is eloquent…get back into the DPI scaling panel & select the default 96 DPI then hit enter & viola the “restart” window pops up & off ya go…thanks again…I’ve been working on this problem off & on for a week…I first noticed it when I needed to back up my Nokia phone in Nokia PC suite & couldn’t get to the bottom of that page either…

    **R clicking the desk top & choosing Personalize, then opening DPI scaling panel & adjusting the font size from default of 96 to 144. So now that everything had changed I could not pull up the screen and scroll to the bottom of the page so I that I could confirm that I wanted to change the text size again.

  30. Cordial regards.
    I have a laptop of 13.3 inches with Windows Vista Business,
    And to see better I have changed from 96 to 120 dpi, this way I see much better but I feel that it tires the sight this can be a truth or is alone a my perception.
    My questions are:
    Does to increase the dpi help or not to the vision?
    Finally does to increase the dpi affect the performance of the laptop or not?

    Thank you for your answers

    Patricio Humanante R.

  31. Thanks Eric and Carol for your help. Carol your method worked. What a freedom I feel. I am new and I felt stuck.
    Everybody wanted money. The computer maker, windows and even Mcafee where this whole problem started for me. I got pop saying I need to update windows and my font size changed for no reason at all. When I changed the font size, I got stuck. I spent two days and i did not want pay. Thank God I came to this site. you guys saved me some money.

  32. Thanks Eric and Carol for your help. Carol your method worked. What a freedom I feel. I am new and I felt stuck.
    Everybody wanted money.
    ___________
    Jose

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