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Using 4K (HiDPI) Monitors on Linux

Updated: 17-Aug-2017

High Resolution Monitors

At the time I am writing this article, in August of 2017, "High Resolution" monitors are also known as Hi-DPI or 4K displays. A typical 4K monitor is capable of a screen resolution of 3200x1800 pixels. Right now, support for high resolution displays is still being perfected. Some day it may be possible to simply plug in a 4K or even an 8K monitor and have it automatically configure itself correctly, like 1080P displays do today. For now, if you have a HiDPI screen, like the one on my Dell XPS 13, you may find that it has tiny icons and fonts that make it difficult to use. You can certainly change the resolution on your display to 1920x1080 (1080P) and simply not use its full capabilities but this article will walk you through adjusting the settings to take full advantage of the full resolution of your beautiful 4K display.

HiDPI Display

Display Settings

If your monitor is not set to the highest possible setting automatically, Ubuntu MATE makes changing the resolution quite easy. Changing monitor preferences is accomplished by selecting System > Control Center > Displays in the menus.

  1. To check your resolution settings, simply click on the rectangle that represents the display and select the resolution settings you prefer. The list includes all resolutions the monitor is capable of displaying. The highest resolution is at the top of the list.
  2. To apply the settings, click the Apply button.
  3. The new configuration is set temporarily. If you don't confirm the settings, for example if the settings don't work properly, after a short delay the configuration will revert to the previous settings.
  4. Click on Keep This Configuration to confirm your changes.

Changing The Font Size

To change the size of the text on the screen (the font size) you will need to change some of the appearance settings.

  1. Open Appearances Preferences by selecting System > Control Center > Appearance from the menus.
  2. Choose the Fonts tab.
  3. You'll be tempted to change the five settings for fonts individually. Don't! There's a way to change everything at once. Click on the Details button.
  4. The default setting for "Resolution" is 96 dots per inch. Increase this to between one and a half and two times the size. A setting of 144 dots per inch worked well for me, but you may need 168 or even 192 to make the fonts more readable. You can always come back to this screen later to make things bigger or smaller to suit your taste in font size.
    Change Resolution
  5. Click each of the two Close buttons to save your change.

Changing Icon Size

Now that the text is bigger, the icons in the panel and in the menus have also changed size to match. However, the icons on the desktop still seem too small. Let's make them bigger. Believe it or not, you do that in the File Manager.

  1. From the menus choose Applications > System Tools > Caja.
  2. From the menus in the Caja window, select Edit > Preferences.
  3. On the Views tab, under "Icon View Defaults" change the default "Default zoom level" to 150%. This will change the size of your desktop icons and the size or icons in the file manager windows using the Icon View.
    Change Icon Size
  4. Click each of the two Close buttons to save your change.
  5. Click Close.

Change The Pointer Size

The next step is to change the size of the pointer so that it is more visible on your 4K screen.

  1. Select System > Control Center > Appearance from the menus and ensure that the Theme tab is selected.
  2. Click the Customize button, and then select the Pointer tab.
    Change Pointer Size
  3. Move the slider to the right to change the pointer size from small to one of the two larger settings.
  4. Click Close to save your changes.

Modifying The Greeter

The greeter is the application that shows the login screen that appears when you first boot into Ubuntu MATE. You can change the greeter settings to make it easier to enter your login name and password. You've likely already noticed how tiny the login box looks.

  1. Select System > Control Center > LightDM GTK+ Greeter settings from the menus. You will be asked for your password to make these system-level changes.
  2. By default, the font size is set to 11. For 4K screens you will want to change this to twice the size. You can click on the button next to the label "Font" and move the slider to the right to increase the size, or simply type "22" into the field. Click Select to acknowledge your changes and then Save to save them.
    Change the Greeter

The next time you log-in, the font will be larger to make it easier to see your login information as you enter it.

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