This is already becoming a fact – laptop’s resolution is much worse than what we’re seeing on tablets. Google’s Nexus 10, the biggest brother in the Nexus family (LG Nexus 4 and Nexus 7) comes with the best resolution that we can currently see on the tablets market – 2560 x 1600. This puts Apple’s Retina Display to shame and sets a new standard when it comes to stunning display quality. But things seem to be moving only on the “smaller” section of mobile computing.

No wonder tablets are outselling laptops – and why they shouldn’t? They are portable, have already stunning processors and are suitable for plenty of games. You are not as productive with a laptop, but that is bound to change, especially with the launch of Windows 8 hybrids. But the question remains the same – why do laptop’s resolutions still suck?


Laptop’s resolutions are no match to tablets

This already old issue has gotten some fresh attention after Linus Torvalds, the founder of Linux, has posted the following on his Googe Plus account:

Even a $399 tablet has 2560×1600 pixel display, can we please just make that the new standard laptop resolution? Even at 11″? Please. Stop with the “retina” crap, just call it “reasonable resolution”. The fact that laptops stagnated ten years ago (and even regressed, in many cases) at around half that in both directions is just sad. I still don’t want big luggable laptops, but that 1366×768 is so last century.

Soon even the cellphones will start laughing at the ridiculously bad laptop displays. I want pixels for high-quality fonts, and yes, I want my fonts small, but “high resolution” really doesn’t equate “small fonts” like some less-than-gifted tech pundits seem to constantly think. In fact, if you have bad vision, sharp good high-quality fonts will help.

You couldn’t have said it better, right? Apple seems to be the smartest player here, once more, as they have updated their 15 and 13-inch MacBook Pro units with Retina Display, which is just their own marketing term for the 2560 x 1600 resolution. But other OEMs are really behind in this game and there are quite enough Ultrabooks that have much worse resolutions than what shoul become the standard now.

Why aren’t resolutions becoming better on laptops?

What’s becoming uber bad for laptops is that quite soon, even smartphones will “laugh” on these resolutions. Even Windows Phone 8, who has been seen as an outsider until now, has enabled support for higher resolutions. At the moment, it seems that the most popular screen resolution is 1366×768 and while that applies to all screens, it still means that it’s a widespread resolution amongst laptops, as well. We’re no screen manufacture experts, but here’s a pretty plausible explanation that we’ve managed to find:

1366×768 comes from a quirk of at least one method for manufacturing LCD panels. At one stage in manufacture, they’re made as a big sheet of pixels, much, much larger than you want as screens. This is then cut into individual screens, first by cutting into vertical chunks, then cutting the line of screens into single screens. The trick comes in when you’re cutting – defects tend to cluster in individual spots on the screen. Any finished screen with too many defects is a failure and has to be discarded.

So, vertically, you want to cut into as small a number of sizes as possible, and cut horizontal chunks avoiding any defects. You may be seeing why 1366×768 is popular at this point – you can now cut your lots by 768 stage into a mix of 1024×768 4:3 and 1366×768 16:9 screens, and can therefore get more usable screens from the same vertical cut.

If you are aware of a better explanation, do not hesitate to inform us in the comments section. There’s already a very active thread on this subject on Hacker News and Reddit. But just why aren’t high resolutions on laptops here yet? Here are a few explanations:

  • There wasn’t a proper OSWindows 8 has arrived and it now comes with the much needed high-dpi support which Apple has put in their OS X since the Lion update.
  • Bigger battery – this might be the reason why some ultra-thin Ultrabooks don’t come with big resolutions. Also, we know that the ARM structure for some tablets make them have a bigger battery life, so that’s another factor that contributes to high-resolutions on tablets.
  • Panel production is oriented elsewhere: the most simple answer of them all – the production of high-resolution panels is focused towards smartphones and tablets. Manufacturers have to change that if you want to see high resolutions in your laptops.
  • Cost of production: just look how expensive the latest 13 inch MacBook Pro from Apple is. For $1699 you can get yourself quite an impressive personal computer. So, in a market where everybody tries to operate with sensible margins, high resolution panels come at a high cost.

And don’t try to blame Intel here, because Ivy Bridge supports resolutions of up to 4096 pixels horizontally. So, let’s hope that with the launch of Windows 8 and with the shift in the panel productions, things will change. Until that happens, I fear more people will flock to tablets and hybrids and they will be your next laptop.

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was the Managing Editor of Technology Personalized. He now writes about Windows 10 apps and reviews them on WindowsReport. Believes that technology is the main engine of civilization. Send him a tweet or make him your Facebook friend