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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Monitors | Monitor Size ]

Size and Resolution Matching

The maximum resolution of a monitor is roughly related to its size, in that small monitors can't generally display in very high resolution. However, this is a function of the features and quality--and age--of the monitor, and some 17" monitors can handle higher resolution than some 20" monitors can.

Since higher resolutions mean that the pixels become smaller, using a high-resolution mode on a small monitor can be an exercise in squinting. Your new 15" monitor may support 1280x1024 resolution--great, but are you going to be able to see anything? I have found that in most cases, the highest resolution that is supported by most monitors, especially 15" and 17" ones, is unusable for any practical purpose. The quality of the monitor, in particular the sharpness, is also a factor of course, since keeping images and text sharp is what is hard at higher resolutions.

On the other end, when large monitors are run in lower resolution modes, the pixels tend to become quite large and "blocky", detracting from the quality of the image. While not usually a major problem, if you are using your machine for say, games, and the ones you like run on 640x480 resolution, you may find that the images appear very smooth on a 15" monitor but unpleasant on a larger one. Also, diagonal lines and circles show their pixels quite obviously. Have you ever seen 320x200 (standard VGA in 256 colors) graphics on a 21" monitor? They're actually very ugly.

The table below shows the different major screen resolutions and how they appear on different monitor sizes. This is of course highly subjective, and depends on personal taste, what you are doing with your PC, and how good your eyes are. I absolutely cannot tolerate any resolution above 800x600 on a 15" monitor while others use 1024x768 without any problem. In the table below, for each resolution one monitor size is labeled as "Ideal" for that resolution. "Small" means that the resolution is usable but the features will appear very small and some people will find the image hard to see. "Very Small" means the resolution is possible but most people will find the images too small to be used properly, as text will become very blurry. Larger monitors will show lower resolutions but they will appear "Blocky", which can be more or less of a problem depending on what you are doing (and how picky you are):

Nominal Size

14"

15"

17"

20"

21"

320x200

Ideal

Good

Blocky

Very Blocky

Very Blocky

640x480

Good

Ideal

Good

Blocky

Blocky

800x600

Small

Good

Ideal

Good

Blocky

1024x768

Very Small

Small

Good

Ideal

Good

1280x1024

Magnifying Glass

Very Small

Small

Good

Ideal

1600x1200

Yeah Right!

Magnifying Glass

Very Small

Good

Ideal

Next: Monitor Size and Cost


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