Snow Leopard vs. 3rd Party LCD Displays

Update: CWS provided a solution in comment: opening Terminal and entering defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2, after re-login, everything is back to normal again!

Update: Turns out the problem is not just from Dell, various 3rd party display manufactures including Samsung, LG, HP and EIZO also have the same issue.


A very tricky issue has been bothering me for a few months: in Snow Leopard, whenever I connected my Dell 2408WFP monitor, every app launched after that will have sub-pixel antialiasing (aka. LCD Font Smoothing) disabled.

For a typography freak like me, it is a huge disaster.

The full story comes in two parts:

  1. Prior versions of Mac OS X used to have this “Font smoothing style” option in System Preferences -> Appearances, it is not as complete as fontconfig. But good enough for general public. A very unfortunate thing I covered about a few months ago is, they simplified that option to a checkbox: Use LCD font smoothing when available.

    in Leopard
    in Leopard
    in Snow Leopard
    in Snow Leopard
  2. But how did Snow Leopard determine whether it is “available”? It relies from information retrieved from the driver of the display. Let’s say if you have ten displays connected, and one of them is a CRT display instead of LCD, then all the applications in your system will not be able to use LCD font smoothing. Here comes the epic fail: Dell 2408WFP (and Dell 3008WFP, AFAIK), a perfectly fine LCD display, is not recognized as one by Mac OS X (both Leopard and Snow Leopard have this issue, I haven’t check earlier versions).

(Though my Dell 2408WFP is not recorgnized as a LCD display in Leopard, I can force sub-pixel rendering with the “Font smoothing style” option.)

With the combination of these two problems, I’m stucked. Either I can give up Snow Leopard or get a new display. But I simply don’t have enough space on my desk for another display. (And I really happy with the Dell 2408WFP, it works with all other devices: Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, etc., so I won’t abandon it for an Apple LED Cinema Display for apparent reasons.)

This morning I just got a reply for my bug report from Apple Developer Connection, it said:

Thank you for contacting us regarding Bug ID# 6975903. The report you have submitted has been determined by engineering to be an issue with LDC Display. Please know that we are doing our best to inform Dell of the issue with the hope that they can implement the necessary changes. Please feel free to contact them regarding this issue to help alert them of its importance.

I felt even more desperate after receiving this. Because it seemed too rare that Apple (and Dell) won’t even care to fix. And since I have little knowledge about why and what need to be fixed from Dell, it will be really hard for me to push Dell on this issue.

To be honest, what I’m asking is pretty simple: if we cannot get back the original font smoothing level option, at least give us a hidden preference item to turn on LCD font smoothing, that won’t hurt the usability of Snow Leopard, right?

Author: jjgod

A software engineer from China, working on text rendering for a fruit company. Interested in typography and science fiction.

35 thoughts on “Snow Leopard vs. 3rd Party LCD Displays”

  1. I’m in the same boat and it’s just awful! Everything looks terrible at CRT-style font hinting. This is most painful as I’m also running Windows 7 and it finally looks terrific.

  2. I am having the exact same problem. Snow Leopard, 2408wpf. Text is absolutely a migraine inducing nightmare. Surely they will fix this. Perhaps there is a hack to force smoothing?

  3. I was using with HP2475w and wacom cintiq. And I was struggle with same problem with you in Snow Leopard.

    It’s very not good. Why apple make things worse? I can’t understand.

  4. Try opening Terminal and entering “defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2”. A log-off or restart may be required.

  5. Apple, Apple… same for my display (Samsung). The solution works (but for how long??? I also filed a bug on this). Apple, you have to understand that removing things such as font rendering quality that makes you what you are is certainly not a smart move.

  6. I’ll stick with ‘AppleFontSmoothing -int 1’ not 2. Much lighter smoothing. 2 is to blurry for my opinion:

    defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1
  7. Same problem here, with an IBM/Lenovo display, identified as LEN L171p.

    Grr, I spent an hour trying to track down the preferences file for this.

  8. Unfortunately this fix is not working for me. Yes, it turns on anti-aliasing on fonts, but it doesn’t look like the Leopard font smoothing. Instead it looks like ClearType, is not as smooth and shows red & blue artifacts around letters.

    In the MacRumors forums it is recommended to turn off sub-pixel anti-aliasing as well: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?p=8417671

    I hope Apple just comes with a fix for this, because reading on my monitor is so much less comfortable now.

  9. @Arnoud: Non-subpixel antialiasing should be the default option if you haven’t changed any preferences. Have you tried defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1? It could be better.

  10. Yes, I’ve tried that. The problem is that the text in the menu bar (from iStat Menus for example) doesn’t look as in Leopard when I use the “fix” (none of the settings). When I turn off LCD font smoothing in the prefs, it does look as in Leopard there, but then the text in browsers, emails, text editing apps etc. looks horrible (like ClearType). Each fixes it partly, but it’s one or the other for me, and the “fix” never manages to show the font smoothing quality of Leopard.. 🙁

  11. Thanks a lot! “defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2″ helped a lot for me after installing Snow Leopard and seeing some fonts (not all) with horrible jaggies! My configuration: Mac mini (2009), OSX 10.6.1, Monitor Acer AL2216W sd (22”). Thanks again!

  12. This seemed to work for me until I connected a second display to my Mac Pro. Does it make sense that a second display would cause problems? Any suggestions for fixing Font Smoothing with two displays on Snow Leopard? Is Apple just trying to get us to buy their displays?!?

  13. I am having the same problem, The font is blurry on the computer screen.I have tried everything…I switched to Mac to avoid problems…

  14. Is this problem the same as getting font displayed wider than usual on mac and not on windows? I thought it was just a safari issue and so i downloaded firefox and crome, but the issue is the same on all.. on firefox the space between the letters is also more and this cases the website to break the layout. This is very irritating, i chaned the smooth pixel option now to render below 12 px and it seems to work on safari.. not a perfect font but i could live with it but the problem remains unchanged on FF. Any clue how to fix this?

  15. hello….i’ve a 21,5 Asus (vh222)…i tried the fix….. (option 1,2,3 and then restart)

    but the problem remain !!!

    what the hell….how can i resolve this ? it’s a tremendous bug…incredible!

  16. I’ve the same problem, just buy a new i mac…I connected a samsung syncmaster 206bw by mac vga cable and I’m not able to set the native resolution of the external monitor, it doesn’t appear in the resolution choices…horrible

  17. Because Microsoft and Apple released their new operating systems almost simultaneously, it is not surprising for computer enthusiasts to compare Microsoft’s Windows 7 with Apple’s Snow Leopard to see which is better. But while hardcore fans on both sides will always refuse to give in to the other on the issue of which operating system is better, it may be a better idea simply to compare the differences of the two. Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard: Five Main Differences

  18. I’ve tried every fixes you mentioned with no success. My config still have jagged fonts (Mac mini late 2009, Snow Leopard, LG L1718S monitor with miniDVI – VGA connection.

  19. Hi, How did you know “monitor is not recorgnized as a LCD display in Leopard”? I have dell sp2208wfp, and it has color profile named “sp2208wfp” ….

  20. Can anyone in here help me? I tried the defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1 command in terminal. Now it looks even worse, with colors on the text. how can i undo this and get it back to the way it was originally? Im not good with terminal. Thanks!

  21. I have to use terminal to workt with GIT very often. It’s killing me to see beautiful font anti-aliasing on my MBP and the crappy on my Mac mini, particularly when they are lying on my table side by side. Thanks CWS for the fix and jiang for the great blog!

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