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April 20, 2014

Windows program scaling on High-DPI monitors

Filed under: Programming,Win8 — see @ 2:01 pm

There are more and more highdpi screens coming. Laptops like the Yoga 2 (3200×1800 on 13″) or highdpi monitors from Asus, Dell, etc. This is a challenge for the OS as well as programs which have to cope with this. Problems like blurring or tiny menus, text or icons are still very common. Also different operating systems have a different degree of “support” for highdpi.

Apple had their called “Retina” displays earlier, so the OS and third party programs had more time to adjust to the challenges of highdpi display. It took even companies like Adobe some time to adjust but theirĀ  Adobe Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator etc) seems to work on “Retina” on OS-X now. There still seem to be some niggles here and there but overall the situation is not that bad.

On Windows the situation is still a bit worse, partly as highdpi devices came later and so are not as common (yet).

So just for myself I tried to find out if the stuff I have installed (not necessarily use ;) on my PC does work or not. I do think older versions of Windows (or OS-X) cannot be be expected to work well so only tested in the current version of Windows which at this day is 8.1 Update 1.


As I do not have a highdpi monitor yet I adjusted the “Make text and other items larger or smaller” in the Screen Resolution control panel to the highest possible scaling on my machine. As this would be the same settings to adjust on a highdpi monitor I think this should emulate the situation on a real screen sufficiently.

Following the list of programs I tested in ordered by how good they work highdpi. It is quite a subjective and incomplete list of course…

Programs that are OK and work well

  • Windows own things like the File Explorer, CMD shell, and most other Desktop helpers like Task Manager, Control Panel, Defender, Notepad, Snipping Tool, WordPad, etc work well
  • Bvckup 2 (beta 65)
  • FileZilla
  • Firefox (28) – a few icons in menus are blurred but everything else is fine
  • IE (11)
  • Microsoft Movie Maker
  • NotePad++ – menu icons are pixelated and ugly (as always) but appropriately large
  • Office 2013 – not sure if the setup bug for advanced account is fixed yet but that would be a very minor niggle if still present at all
  • Paint (ok, I know…)
  • SourceTree
  • TunnelBear – images are not sharp but UI is
  • Visual Studio 2013 – menu icons could be sharper but else great
  • WebMatrix 3 – menu icons could be sharper but else great
  • Windows Phone App for Desktop (Metro version works anyway)
  • Metro apps (including PDF Viewer and Adobes own Reader, CodeWriter etc)

OKish but with some problems

  • cmder – font-size is adjustable so will work but tabs are small
  • InkScape 0.48.2 – if disabling scaling it actually scales(!) well except some icons so bad
  • Scite – icon bar too small but everything else looks good
  • VLC – icon bar too small but all else good

Blurred but usable

  • Windows helper stuff: Computer Management, Device Manager, Disk Management, Event Viewer, Hyper-V Manager – actally this is a bit surprising but these are all not used very often, maybe except Hyper-V. I did not test any VMs yet though, only the manager itself it blurry
  • Baregrep
  • dbPowerAmp
  • Fiddler 2
  • KeyPass2
  • Notepad! – unexpectedly as this seems quite a new and modern app
  • SE-Explorer
  • Sync-Toy
  • WinMerge
  • XAMPP (Control Panel)

Blurred and unusable

  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0(!) – not small but blurs even the files so basically useless. Even the newest Adobe Suite CC is AFAIK not really good (not blurred but too small, not tested myself though)
  • Calipers (very old 0.x? but free version) – even with disabled scaling in Properties does not work
  • Chrome 34 – I think Google is working on it but it is not there yet, the alternative browsers are though (see above)
  • GIFcam – records wrong part of screen

Some conclusions

I guess just working with text or code is fine on Windows already. You might have to switch to another editor but most seem fine.

Working with graphics is another thing. Sadly programs like the Adobe Suite need some work before becoming usable. In Adobes case this is unexcusable, Inkscape being Open Source and with much less resources is annoying but maybe understandable. (UPDATE: Actually Inkscape is not so bad if you manually disable scaling in compatibility settings for the program). I guess there might be alternatives that work better but I have not looked into that yet.

In general the situation can only get better so not all is lost. I actually read and heard from people who actually used a highdpi screen that the much improved reading experience may already justify the expense of such a display. I guess I for myself wait a bit but am very tempted and am sure my next desktop monitor will be highdpi ;)

If you have any additions of programs that work or work not please add them in the comments, would be very interesting. Thanks!

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