Get the Most From Your Display and Graphics CardAdjust your monitor and graphics card settings, shut down your modem after a fixed length of time.
When it comes to your PC's monitor, looks aren't everything--they're the only thing. Staring at fuzzy images and a flickering screen can lead to eyestrain, headaches, and general crankiness. Follow these steps to see the best your graphics card and monitor can show you.
To view your graphics card settings, right-click your Windows desktop and select Properties, or click Start, Settings, Control Panel and double-click the Display icon (see FIGURE 1). In the Settings tab of the Display Properties box, 'Screen area' sets your monitor's resolution, and 'Colors' determines how many colors it shows (also known as color depth). 'Refresh rate' (reachable via the Advanced button and the Adapter tab) sets how often per second the monitor redraws the on-screen image.
Resolution: Most PCs made in the past four years have a graphics card and graphics RAM that can support resolutions of at least 1024 by 768 pixels per inch; many graphics cards support resolutions up to 1600 by 1200. Budget systems often integrate their graphics processing onto the motherboard--a setup that provides less power than a dedicated graphics card. Some low-cost systems don't support resolutions higher than 800 by 600.
In the Settings tab, slide the 'Screen area' bar to the far right to see the highest resolution your system supports. If the maximum setting is too low to meet your needs, you may be able to eke out a higher resolution by lowering the color depth.
Color depth: Click the pull-down list under Colors to see your color-depth options at the monitor's current resolution setting. High Color (16-bit) provides 65,536 colors, and True Color (24-bit) offers over 16 million. Newer systems have a True Color (32-bit) option that also displays 16 million colors; the additional 8 bits define opacity, or the amount of transparency when layers of color are combined.
Color depth and resolution compete for the graphics adapter's screen memory, so lowering one may allow you to increase the other. But there's no hard-and-fast rule--you just have to experiment.
Refresh rate: Some experts say your PC should redraw the screen no less than 72 times per second (or 72 Hz) to be comfortable, while others say the minimum rate is about 85 Hz. Try different refresh-rate settings and see what works for you.
To set the refresh rate, click the Advanced button under the Settings tab of Display Properties, and then select the Adapter tab. If both your graphics card and your monitor support multiple refresh rates, you can select one from the drop-down list under 'Refresh rate'.
If the choice is set to Optimal, Windows has selected a refresh rate for you. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to know what that optimal rate is, and it may not be the highest setting available. If the Optimal setting doesn't produce a flicker-free screen, try your other choices.
Kirk Steers is a PC World contributing editor. Hardware Tips welcomes your tips and questions and pays $50 for published items. See more information for additional hardware tips.
Designate Your Driver
Windows lets you choose only refresh rates that your graphics card and monitor support. If Windows can't detect your monitor--because Plug and Play isn't enabled or because the monitor doesn't support Plug and Play--it sets a safe but eye-exhausting refresh rate of 60 Hz.
The name of your monitor is shown on the Settings tab in Display Properties under 'Display'. If it says 'Unknown Monitor', Windows couldn't find a driver for your monitor and likely set the refresh rate at 60 Hz. To correct this setting, click the Advanced button at the bottom of the Settings tab, select the Monitor tab, and make sure the Automatically detect Plug & Play monitors box is checked.
Make sure you've downloaded and installed the latest driver for your graphics card. Graphics drivers are updated frequently, and installing the latest revision is often the cure for all kinds of graphics-performance and display problems.
Leaving your PC's modem connected when not in use blocks incoming phone calls, leaves your Internet account open to unauthorized use, and may rack up phone charges. To keep your phone line open and your network link closed when idle, have your modem shut down after a set time. Double-click the Modems icon in Control Panel, select Properties, and click the Connection tab. Check Disconnect a call if idle for more than and enter the length of time you want Windows to wait before closing your modem link.