What is monitor "resolution?"

Resolution is the number of dots horizontally and vertically that are shown on the screen. Common sizes are 800x600, 640x480, 1024x768, etc.

Since it is independant of the monitor's actual picture area, a higher resolution shrinks the picture (an image 640 dots wide will just fill a 640x480 screen, but will only fill 640/1024ths of a 1024x768 screen). Larger monitors can be used when using higher resolutions to get the image back up to a size that can be seen easily. The reason people go to higher resolutions is that they can show more on the screen, for example more rows and columns of a spreadsheet.

Sometimes as the resolution increases, the video card and/or monitor may not be able to handle the higher number of dots and must slow down the refresh rate a bit to accomodate. If the refresh rate drops far enough, users see this as "flicker." Most newer computers and monitors can handle high refresh rates with no problem, but less expensive monitors or video cards may not be able to handle the higher resolutions as well. Since flourescent lights operate at 60 Hz most users see flicker with a refresh rate of 60 Hz. When shopping for a new system we recommend getting one that can handle refresh rates of 72 Hz or higher for your preferred resolution size.

Note that LCD, or "flat," monitors are a different game entirely. They have a fixed number of dots, and thus an optimal resolution. Changing resolutions on an LCD monitor often yields a "fuzzy" look as the monitor tries to adapt. Users who prefer a larger image for clearer viewing may prefer a traditional monitor instead.


January 2003

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