iMac vs Macbook Pro Screen Size
October 11, 2012 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Why does the resolution on the 17" Macbook Pro seem so much bigger than the 21" iMac?

Long story short, my 17" 2007 Macbook Pro has kind of been used and abused and I figured I'd buy an iMac "just in case." I found a very good deal on a 21" iMac on Amazon and ordered it. For ~$900 I literally got a brand new iMac.

I was super stoked, and figured with the extra 4" I'd have sooooo much more real estate. Well, not quite. Obviously the iMac's vertical height isn't as high but everything on my screen just seems "bigger" like I'm sitting with my face too close to the screen. Sometimes on my Macbook Pro I feel like I have to squint because the text is too small.

I know people are going to ask, so I looked under "Displays" and this is what I got:

Macbook Pro resolution: 1920 x 1200
iMac resolution: 1920 x 1080

So, does it boil down to DPI or something to that effect? Why do I have so much more room on my Macbook Pro's display?
posted by ascetic to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
**Sorry, by DPI I meant PPI.
posted by ascetic at 7:30 PM on October 11, 2012

You just said it yourself, your Pro has 120 more pixels vertically in a smaller size area. Therefore it will both show more information and show it smaller than the iMac.
posted by travis08 at 7:43 PM on October 11, 2012

Indeed, the 17" MacBook Pro actually has a higher resolution display than the 21.5" iMac, with the result being that the iMac actually can display less on-screen than the MacBook Pro despite the fact that it is a physically larger display. Every pixel is physically larger on the iMac than the MacBook Pro, and the iMac can't display as many.
posted by eschatfische at 7:45 PM on October 11, 2012

It's because everything *is* bigger on the 21" display. All the graphics that people build user interfaces out of are sized in pixels. A particular icon might be 32x32 pixels.

So if you have two screens that are each 1920 pixels wide, you could fit the exact same 60 icons across it. It doesn't matter if one screen is 17" and the other is 21". In this case, the 21" screen just has pixels that are physically bigger.

Further, as you can see, the MacBook Pro actually has *more* pixels available. It's equally as wide but taller than the iMac screen.

If you look at a part of the screen that's identical on both machines (say, the height of the menu bar), you'll see that it's actually physically taller on the iMac. You can even take a ruler and measure them both to prove it to yourself.

A pixel is just a square that lights up. You could build a screen half a mile wide, and if it had a horizontal resolution of 1920 pixels, all that would mean is that each pixel is a bit over a foot across, and a 32 pixel icon was 32 feet wide, and you could still only fit 60 of them on your screen.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:46 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

While on your desktop, under the View menu at the top, choose Show View Options. You can change the grid spacing, type size, and icon size of your desktop view settings. Changing these might allow you to feel like you gain more real estate on your desktop.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 8:06 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The thing to keep in mind is those resolution numbers are for the whole screen, not per inch, so even though the imac has a larger display, it has the same number of horizontal pixels, so each of those pixels is bigger.
posted by markblasco at 8:20 PM on October 11, 2012

More pixels in less area. The numbers speak for themselves.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:48 PM on October 11, 2012

This DPI calculator is useful for comparing different display types.
posted by Lanark at 6:25 AM on October 12, 2012

All the graphics that people build user interfaces out of are sized in pixels.
This is a bit more complicated than it might appear, especially on a high resolution Mac - which doesn't apply in the specific case of the question here, but could well in other situations. There's now more support for rescaling UI elements in OS X, given the right hardware (for example).
posted by edd at 7:05 AM on October 12, 2012

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