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Why is 640×480 my only resolution option?

I got a new Dell PC with 19 inch screen. I cannot change the
resolution to be greater than 640 by 480. What can I do to change it? In this
mode the Start menu itself goes off the top of the screen.

640 by 480. There was a day when we were excited to have it – and with all
of 16 colors. Now, 640×480 is so “small” as to be unusable in most cases. Even
the most basic new computer supports at least 800×600, if not 1024×768 or much
higher.

But what if it appears that 640×480 is your only option?

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640×480 “VGA” resolution is the lowest-common-denominator – by definition
all PC’s, graphics adapters and monitors must support at least VGA.
Because it’s the one thing that can be counted on to work, and always work
regardless of your hardware selection, it’s often used as the fallback when
troubleshooting, or the default if your computer doesn’t know it can do any
better.

“… it’s often used as the fallback … if your
computer doesn’t know it can do any better.”

To change your resolution, in Control Panel,
Display, and then the Settings tab, you’ll
see something like this:

Display Settings Dialog

Yours may vary based on what hardware and drivers you have installed. And
there’s the rub – if you have the wrong drivers, or the default drivers,
installed, the slider under Screen Resolution may not give you
any option other than 640×480.

So what to do in that case?

99% of these problems are simply not having the correct video drivers
installed for your machine. Normally, and especially in a case where your
computer has come pre-configured from the manufacturer, this will already have
been done. And, unfortunately, exactly where you go to make sure you have the
proper drivers will vary based on where you got your computer, and whether or
not you installed a new graphics card yourself.

To see what your computer “thinks” you have, right click on My
Computer
, click on Properties, click on the
Hardware tab, and then click on Device
Manager
. Expand the node labeled Display adapters by
clicking on the boxed plus sign in front of it:

Device Manager

If it says something like
“default” display adapter, then Windows does not know what kind of adapter you
have, and what its capabilities are – thus is must assume the lowest common
denominator: 640×480.

If this was a pre-packaged machine, get in touch with the manufacturer’s
technical support – you’ll need to locate and install the correct driver for
whatever video card you have. If you installed a new video card yourself,
you’ll need to locate the drivers for it (they should have come with the card)
and install them.

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56 comments on “Why is 640×480 my only resolution option?”

  1. Exactly the same problem! No display drivers mentioned either. Im stuck with that awful 640×480 rubbish too. Ive even managed to get the drivers to change it (from Dell) but cant work out how to install them with no mention of the monitor in the device manager! The “properties” button is greyed out in the control panel access to my monitor also. Arrrghhh! Help!

    Reply
  2. Nah mate, its a bit more difficult than that. I got it sorted myself after a bit of messing with it. Go into your device manager and scroll down to video adapter click,then click properties on the tab above – more than likely it will say theres no driver installed for this device. Click the reinstall drivers and from here select where you want it to look. I put in my Dell cd at this point, and after a few seconds it installed what I needed. Once done, go back to the main display settings for your monitor and youll find that little slider now moves.Woohoo! Goodbye to that awful 640 rubbish, hello my full beautiful screen!

    Reply
  3. Hello Leo, I am having this problem, but unfortunately I have the correct drivers installedc and everything. I had the resolution at 1280/760 or whatever, rebooted, and then it was in 640×480. I can still change the color depth, but the slider for resolution won’t move. I tried changing resolution in regedit but that won’t work either. I even removed the adapter and monitor from the hardware profile and put them back, but to no avail. Is this indicative of a hardware failure in the video card or something?

    Reply
  4. hey

    i have just finished reformatting my computer and i can’t change the resolution in my display. it keeps telling me that the monitor is on default. help its driving me mad.

    Reply
  5. Hi all. I had this problem and this is how I solved it. I went to my computer-properties & device manager. There was a little YELLOW question mark that said “other devices” I opened that up and there was a something that said video drivers I think. I added the drivers and it works now. Check it out.

    Reply
  6. hi leo i cant change my screen resolution its on 640×480 .and its realy annoying me because its a crap picture.
    well i read the article on it but i dont no how to install my graphic card thing and when i got my pc it never came with a disk or anythink can you help please or anyone? email me at jason.jaws.13@hotmail.co.uk

    Reply
  7. Mine is an older system that I replaced the hard drive on. I reran the windows 98 SE CD and it installed fine But now it only gives me two color choices (16 color or 2 color) and the resolution will not slide off of 640×480…Help!

    Reply
  8. I have one sony PCV-671, Nvidia Geforce4 MX 4000, windows XP professional.
    Every 30 seconds the windows change my resolution to 640×480.
    I try a lot things

    Reply
  9. I am having similar rpoblems with my HP laptop running GeForce Go5700 video card. I’ve repaired Windows XP and was finally able to change the display mode from 640×480 (8 bit) but can’t boot with out going into safe mode. During repair sequence my video display flashed repeatedly. I have uninstalled/reinstalled drivers, etc. and am running out of ideas… monitor is set to default ,,, Thanks, Leo!

    Reply
  10. i am running a dell dimension 3000 and i cant change the screen resolution. but it also does not say display adapters in device mannager. what do i do?

    Reply
  11. my graphics card is not installed. i dont have the disc i think. i think that is why my computer will not go to higher screen resoltion. how can i get the disc for the graphics card. the card is the default card from the factory

    Reply
  12. I need help too, When ever i start such programs as Windows messenger live or Itunes, My computer the last few days seems to throw itself int 640×480 mode with low 16 bit colour, Does anyone know why its doing this, i thought it was a virus so i brought Zone alarm, but nothing… its just getting really frustrating with all my Studies and just finishing highschool please help ASAP

    Reply
  13. Hey..My friend Meg is having trouble with the 640×480 prob.. 16bit or 2it colours..and the slider wont move, and the screen is tiny in the middle of her screen. She has a windoes 98 laptop..and she had her screen FULL SCREEN once before..and suddenly this happened. Could anyone please e-mail me at “mad_muskie@hotmail.com” for help please. Thanks guys!

    Reply
  14. Here’s a solution I found:
    98 default loads a basic VGA graphics driver.
    Open System>Device Managers>Display Adapters and open the one listed. Then click the Driver tab> Update Driver>Display a list of all drivers.

    Now here is the important part that stumps some people: Click the radio dot for Show _all_ hardware and then highlight [Standard Display Types]. Usually you’ll see a Standard PCI Graphics Adapter has been nominally chosen by Windows. Change to Super VGA and OK close everything and let it reboot. You should now be able to change to 800×600 and High Color _IF_ your card will support it. This only works if the maximum capabilities of your system are being twarted by Windows stupid default choice. If not, get a better vid card is all you can do.

    Hope this helps, that’s how I solved it.

    Reply
  15. I’m having the same problem also, however I have options to change the display settings to higher res. Once I’ve changed them, it will prompt to restart, but after restarting the settings are back to lowest and I get a pop-up saying that the settings aren’t correct and need amending – this will take me back into the properties and back around in circles!! I’ve the work around above but I don’t have the ‘display list of drivers’ option.

    Does anyone have a suggestions? Any help grateful received!!

    Reply
  16. I have a toshiba satelite computer it has an s-video cord but when I hook it up to my tv the screen is working but so blurry you can’t see a thing. I know the resolution on my computer can be lowered but the lowest mine goes is 800×600 my tv is an older one a “Sharp” is there ANY way I can lower my screen resolution ad play my movies on my tv…?

    Reply
  17. Nice one Leo! as we say over here in the UK.

    I reinstalled windows on my dell dimension yesterday but had the same problem with the poor display. I read your excellent article and immediately understood my problem. I went to Dell support and downloaded the graphics driver and EUREKA!

    You’re doing a great job!

    best wishes, Barry

    Reply
  18. How can I force Windows XP Pro with SP2 in safe mode to allow me to change the drivers from a standard 640×480 VGA display mode Screen Resolution on my LCD which is confined to large graphics, to a larger view [1024×768] that is not the 640×480 that also does not allow to view adjustment functions like [OK] when a corection has been made.

    Your expedited cooperation in this matter is appreciated. Thank you.

    Reply
  19. I want to change my resolution to 640×480, but graphic card doesn’t seem to let me in display settings. I have a 7300gt. Please help.

    Reply
  20. I recently had to reinstall windows xp on my mothers dell dimension 2400. I was left only with the option of 640×480 color resolution. I installed the drivers that windows found on the original dell drivers disc that came with the computer. I thought that it solved my problem because when I went to change the color display, I had all my options restored like im used to(ie, more color options than 640×480). However when I pressed ok to change the settings, my screen flickered(like usual)then went completely black for about 5 minutes before I shut off the computer, and turned it back on, and still only the black screen. Why did this happen, and what can I do to fix it?

    Reply
  21. i’m having the same problem with not bieng able to increase the screen resolutionmore than 640×820 what driver can i install on my Dell branded system with no manufacturers cd. I formated it with Windows XP 2005 version.

    Reply
  22. I got a new grafics card and i installed in my tower. but when i start it up the picture is clearer than before and when i intall the drivers and it restarts the screen resolution goes down and i cant change it what can i do please

    Reply
  23. I’ve recently upgrade my version of windows 98 to windows 2000. When I start the computer with windows 2000 the colours all look like shadows. When I tried to change the colour resolution it won’t let me. The only option available is 16 colours. What can I do to fix it?

    Reply
  24. Seeing as the Dell name pops up a bit in hardware descriptions, I’d like to point out a great service Dell offers in the area of drivers – a “Service Tag”. This ‘Service Tag’ is a sticker on the box of the computer, usuall on the top or back and is a unique number to identify that computer with Dell. If you go to Dell’s support site and enter that number, you will be shown the computers purchase and warranty history and all the relevant drivers to ‘that’ computer as it left the factory – That is why I like to work on Dell computers (albeit they are super basic, too).

    Reply
  25. i am use a dvi – hdmi cable to run my dell pc im getiing the same proble i cant change my resoultion i can move the bar back and for and and press change but the screen goes blank for 15 secounds comes back on and it hasnt changed i thought it could by the dvi cable im using dvi on my other pc tha isnt dell ive conected it up the same way and that works

    Reply
  26. I have an hp media center that came with a 1680X1050 monitor, but Windows media palyer only lets me get 680, I want to know how to changet because when I go to properties it says compatability modes cannot be set in this version of windows, I HAVE VISTA but it says windows 95 An its all in grey so I cant change anything,PLEASE HELP!!!!!!! THANK YOU

    Reply
  27. Acer Aspire 5920G cant change resolution or colour? Stuck on lowest res and 4 bit colour? could it be my graphics card thats cooked??? didn’t install any new drivers? Please Help…

    Reply
  28. My screen is huge, I’m not able to change the resolution from the Display option which is set to 640×480 and 16 colors. Also the Hardware wizard keep appearing pertaining to the video adapter, please help? Dell PC, XP Home Edition.

    Reply
  29. hey my computers resolution was fine while installing windows xp bu then it changed to 800×600. i only have two options and it is 800×600 and 640×480. both resolutions bring up weird colours. pls tell me how to fix this.

    Reply
  30. So we just got a new HP, the monitor is a HP2709m which is a 27″. The drivers were installed properly (I think) as NCDIA GeForce 250 and the screen resolution is 1920 x 1080 but it dosen’t fill the screen. There is like an inch of black all around. Is there anything i can do about this?

    Reply
  31. I got a pc in the office called Tcon, no idea where the boss got it from. I had to reformat the pc and now its stuck in 4 bit 640by480 resolution. I opened the computer but it looks like it doesnt have a separate card. The mother board is intel d845epi/d845gvsr. Any ideas how i can get the right drivers for this, also maybe what software can help me find the right drivers?

    Reply
  32. my name is linda i use a HP 550 ,i accidentally change my resolution and now i cant change back to normal screen, it does allow me to do so, i can go to display settings but i cant click ok/apply because of its huge resolution and my screen is now smaller, im very stressed please assist

    Reply
  33. The needle won’t move so I can change the pixels

    Then, as the article states, you do not have the correct drivers for your video card.

    Leo
    05-Jul-2010

    Reply
  34. When I get yo the screen resolution under SETTINGS,I cannot move from the lowest end to change the setting. Also, when this problem started I lost the top task bar, that included the tools, view, help and others. How can i fix this?

    Reply
  35. i have a dell computer which i formatted it recently from windows 7 to windows XP but now the resulution has stuck on 640*480. what can i do to change this?

    Please read the article you just commented on. It answers this question.

    Leo
    02-Oct-2010

    Reply
  36. i tried everything u said but when i open the device manager it doesn’t show the option for the display driver. what should i do?

    Reply
  37. Hi I have an Acer Inspire, My screen resolution won’t go any higher then 1024*600, why won’t it go any higher?

    That’s either a limit of the video hardware in that machine, or as the article states you need the proper drivers for it. Check with the folks at Acer.

    Leo
    04-Jan-2011

    Reply
  38. i tried everything u said but when i open the device manager it doesn’t show the option for the display driver. what should i do?

    I HAVE THIS SAME PROBLEM!

    Reply
  39. HI everyone!!! I Was having the same problem that all of you were having. I used nivida to get a nicer picture for a game. Little did i know I dont even have a nivida graphics card. Now your resolution is stuck on “8-Bit” and the picture is terrible , right? Well Like everyone says, go to device manager. There is no pulldown that says display, right? Well keep looking down the list untill you see a big yellow question mark. It should say graphics controller. Right click that and install updates. It should install the updates, then go back to desktop properties and your 16-bit and 32-bit options should now be there. HOPE THIS SOLVES YOUR PROBLEM!!!!

    Reply
  40. I did everything you said but my computer doesnt have device adapters on the device manager can you help because i really need to change my screen resoultion

    Reply
  41. I reinstalled new graphic driver, but problem is still here, I cant change resolution, its only on 640×480. pls help, what i should do?

    Reply
  42. I have the same problem with my resolution. I took it back to the store. At first they said my monitor was bad. So they replaced it. When I got it home and set it up again, I still couldn’t change the resolution. It was stuck on the 640×480. I took it back again. Everything was checked and all systems and drivers were correct. They told me it has to do with my outlet and that there is nothing they can do.

    Unless your computer is 20 years old (when 640×480 was the standard and often the only thing available) I’d challenge the store. There’s simply no reason a properly working system and monitor shouldn’t handle much better than 640×480. Not even sure what “outlet” they’re referring to.

    Leo
    02-Nov-2011
    Reply
  43. My computer was running just fine with a much higher resolution when driver updates were recommended.

    After installing the updates and restarting, the resolution dropped down to only 640×480 at 16bit and now does not show anything else to choose from.

    How can I change it back ? Do I HAVE to do a system restore and possibly loose the other drivers that was installed during the update?

    What are my options, if any?

    Reply
  44. Here is what you do. right click my computer and then properties and head over to hardware. click device manager and go to other devices. click on the vga graphics controller and update it. Now go to control panel-appearance and themes-change the resolution, and change it to 1024 by 768 pixels for best quality.

    Reply

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