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Why does my screen have a black border all around it?

I have this nice new laptop, but the display is smaller than the screen. What I would normal see across the entire screen is smaller than it should be, and it’s surrounded by a black border. How do I get rid of the border and use my whole screen?

Most flat displays, like the LCD screen in your laptop or an LCD monitor
for your PC, have what’s called a “native” resolution. That’s the resolution at
which they give you the best display.

If Windows is configured to use something other than the native resolution,
things get ugly.

Often quite literally.

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Native resolution

An LCD monitor is made up of a fixed number of pixels – those tiny colored dots that are individually lit up and set to various colors to form an image on the screen.

Let’s say that I have an LCD monitor that has a native resolution of 1280×768 pixels; that’s 1280 pixels across and 768 pixels up and down. You’ll often see that listed as the maximum resolution because that’s the limit of the display – it can’t display more pixels than it actually has.

“… the monitor has compensate for being asked to display something other than its native resolution.”

Higher-than-native resolutions

If you try to display at a higher resolution than the monitor’s native resolution – say we try to set our 1280×768 monitor to a resolution of 1600×1200 – you’re effectively trying to cram more pixels onto the screen than it has. As I mentioned above, that doesn’t work – the monitor can’t display more pixels that it actually has.

Often, Windows will simply not present the higher resolutions as an option. If it does and you set it to display a too-high resolution, your monitor may go completely black, or display wavy lines, noise, or other gibberish.

That’s why Windows has the 15-second timer after you change resolutions. If the screen goes “wonky” when you try a new resolution, just wait and Windows will revert to the old after the timeout.

Lower-than-native resolutions

You can set Windows to display at a lower resolution than the monitor’s native resolution. For example, you might tell Windows to display at 800×600 instead of 1280×764.

It generally should work.

But the monitor has to compensate for being asked to display something other than its native resolution. It’ll do one of two things:

  • It stretches the 800×600 image that it’s been given to fill the 1280×764 physical display. While everything might appear bigger, it’s not uncommon for proportions to be wrong and displayed characters and figures to be fuzzy or worse.

  • It centers the 800×600 image in its 1280×768 screen, leaving the rest – the border – black.

A 800x600 display on a 1280x768 screen

The solution: always use native resolution

The solution is very simple: Always configure Windows to use a display at its maximum or native resolution.

Always.

That way, it’ll use the entire screen and be as sharp and clear as possible.

If you’re trying to “make things bigger” by choosing a different resolution, try changing the DPI setting instead. That can change the overall appearance of what Windows draws on screen without forcing the monitor to center, or worse, stretch.

If the native resolution doesn’t appear, then either of two things is the case:

  • Your video card doesn’t support the resolution. The only solution here is to get a different video card. (This almost never happens in a laptop – laptops come with video cards that support their built-in screens.)

  • You don’t have the proper drivers installed for your video card. This is probably most common, particularly after building out Windows on a new machine, or after installing a new video card. Go to the card or computer manufacturer for the latest drivers for your video hardware.

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10 comments on “Why does my screen have a black border all around it?”

  1. I have had similar issues in the past. Sometimes a program does not support the ‘native’ resolution of an LCD monitor. This is most apparent using an old program written for 4:3 on a new laptop with 16:9 or similar widescreen format.
    In my experience, it has been difficult to get the display not to stretch the image (the programs often ignore any ‘preserve aspect ratio’ settings).
    The other issue – setting the display to higher than the monitor can handle – I have seen handled quite well. The display becomes a ‘window’ on the window – moving around to show as much as it can, based upon the location of the mouse pointer.

    Reply
  2. When setting the display resolution, I find it best practice to use the utility that comes with the video card, and not to use the Windows “display properties- advanced settings”.

    Reply
  3. Another item to keep in mind… A monitor’s native resolution may be 1024x768m but the computer’s video card may be capable of, say, 1600×1200. So you select the higher resolution in the video card, and your monitor display actually looks lower res. That’s because, no matter what resolution you send to the monitor, the monitor will convert it back to it’s native resolution. It does so by mathematically throwing away a certain amount of detail. So do use the native resolution of your monitor, or if your display card is capable of higher resolution, get a higher res monitor to match it.

    Reply
  4. Some times you do not want to use the highest resolution allowed by the card and monitor. I installed a big screen monitor for my wife (cataract surgery). The resolution was awsome -Pictures looked like you were there because of the detail, but her system became a dog – not enough memory for this. I had to back it off some. The view is not as awsome, but the speed is back to where she can get things done!

    Reply
  5. On a similar note, while all is fine, I have problems with some pop-up images where the resolution is too long for the screen[Windows Movie Maker, Open Office]. There is no way possible to move or adjust the pop-up to click the lower buttons [OK,APPLY,CANCEL]. In most cases, I hit enter because the default is OK. But when it isn’t – I’m truly confounded, and frustrated. This has been driving me crazy!

    Any help on these interim pop-up resolution problems?

    Reply
  6. Every so often there’s some little bit in the computer world that for some reason passes me by. I always knew my screen could go a lot better than 1024×768, so I thought I’d give it ago. I need my glasse’s, but the clarity is amazing. I also didn’t know it was called negative resolution.

    Not negative resolution: native resolution.

    Leo
    14-Dec-2011
    Reply
  7. Although Leo has covered the likely option, there is also a possibility that you have set a screen background (wallpaper) that is smaller than the screen can display (if this is the case then icons can appear in the black area, and when you maximise a window, it still fills the whole screen). In this case you need to amend your display settings if you want to change it (though it does no harm as it is).

    Reply
  8. Adjusting the dpi on a Dell e1705 laptop (17″ screen with 1900 x 1200 native resolution) to enlarge the text didn’t offer a large enough increase in text size, so I set the display at a lower resolution than the laptops LCD native resolution to help 80+ year old users more easily read the screen.

    The laptop displayed a message stating the 1900 x 1200 native resolution should be used for optimal viewing (a message that can be disabled). What I was wondering is if forcing a lower resolution than the native resolution stresses or damages the video system on the laptop. Does anyone have any expertise they can share on this question?

    Reply
  9. @Ken
    Using a lower resolution won’t put any strain on your video system, in fact it’s a bit the opposite. It uses fewer resources and may make allow your computer to run a little faster, probably not very noticeably, though.

    Reply
  10. Mark

    Thanks for the information – I won’t worry about going against the recommended resolution. The screen looks good at the lower resolution, not as sharp as a higher resolution, but having everything appear larger is a big help for older eyes.

    Thanks again

    Reply

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