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The ultimate guide to tweaking your GPU's most arcane settings

Loyd Case | Feb. 6, 2013
Understand the weirdest, most complex options of your graphics control panel, and start tweaking your display like a pro.

On the other hand, sometimes you may benefit from using the GPU control panels for 3D settings. We'll discuss those situations in the section on 3D graphics.

Know your controls

The display control panels are available by either right-clicking on the Windows desktop or by clicking on the tray icon in the lower right corner of your task bar and then clicking the icon for the control panel.

Bringing up the tray icon and then right-clicking the control panel icon yields additional options. With Nvidia, the only practical option is to update your drivers or check for updates. But AMD provides a cascading set of menus that amount to a mini-control panel.

Following the cascading menu choices can be a little daunting, however. Unless you know exactly  what you want to tweak, however, you'll probably do better to bring up the entire control panel and then navigate the choices in a more visual way. Let's do that, starting with basic display settings.

Display settings

Your GPU has one crucial job: to drive your PC monitor through analog (VGA) or digital (DisplayPort, DVI, or HDMI, for example) interfaces. Performing this duty gets a little tricky in a system that runs multiple monitors simultaneously; but even if you have just one monitor, you may want to adjust some important settings. For example, if you're connecting via HDMI to an HDTV panel, you'll probably want to set a custom resolution to avoid overscan, a problem that arises when the GPU doesn't correctly match its display resolution to your display's resolution, causing the edges of your screen to get cut off (so you can't see the Start menu in Windows 7, for example.) Old standard-definition TVs, many older HDTVs, and even some current models are susceptible to overscanning an input signal; to compensate, you must instruct your GPU to kick out video at a custom resolution. Both Nvidia and AMD let you do so via their graphics control panels.

Nvidia provides a convenient way to set a custom resolution via its graphics control panel while including extra options like 'sync width'. For the most part, you should leave the exotic settings alone and just tweak the pixel resolution. However, if you're connecting to a really old TV, you might need to fiddle with parameters such as 'front porch', a timing setting (specifically, the time between when the last scan line displays and when the next sync pulse from the GPU arrives) used in analog video

Another display setting you should know how to tweak is the aspect ratio. Older games and standard-definition TV might run in a 4:3 aspect ratio, such as 640 by 480 pixels or 1024 by 768 pixels. When you play them on a modern widescreen monitor, they may look unnatural when stretched to match the full width of the display. GPU control panels have settings to let you tweak aspect ratio; and though some monitors have aspect ratio controls built-in, using the GPU control panel is simpler and ensures that your settings remain the same if you should ever switch displays.

 

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