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Screensaver vs. Wallpaper: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 6, 2023
A screensaver is a moving image or pattern that appears on a screen when it's inactive, while wallpaper is a static image set as a background on a device's desktop.

Key Differences

Screensavers and wallpapers serve different purposes on a computer or device. A screensaver is a program that launches when the device is inactive for a set period, displaying animations or images that often move or change to prevent screen burn-in. Wallpaper, on the other hand, is a static image that serves as the background of the desktop environment, visible when no programs are open or when the desktop is in view.
Initially, screensavers were designed to protect CRT and plasma screens from the effects of prolonged display of static images. Modern LCD and LED screens are less susceptible to burn-in, making screensavers more about aesthetics than functionality nowadays. Wallpapers don't serve a protective purpose; they are purely decorative, allowing users to personalize their devices' interface.
While a screensaver activates only after inactivity, wallpaper is always present in the background, subtly affecting the user's visual experience whenever they look at their desktop. Screensavers can include a variety of animations, from simple patterns to complex scenes, while wallpapers are typically single images, though some operating systems now support live wallpapers with limited movement.
Changing a screensaver can sometimes involve adjusting settings for timing and display, whereas changing wallpaper is usually a straightforward process of selecting a new image from the device's settings. The screensaver's role has diminished with the advent of modern displays, but both screensavers and wallpapers remain tools for personal expression through technology.

Comparison Chart


Activates on inactivity to protect screen
Background image of a desktop

Type of Image

Usually animated or slideshow
Static image or live background


Prevent screen burn-in (originally)
Personalize and decorate desktop


Only when device is inactive
Always visible behind icons


Timing and type of animation
Choice of image or design

Screensaver and Wallpaper Definitions


A program that displays animations when a computer is not in use.
The new screensaver features a beautiful galaxy animation.


Often reflects the user's personal taste or mood.
My wallpaper of a sunny beach makes me feel cheerful.


Can be a digital clock or a slideshow of images.
I set my screensaver to cycle through family photos.


A static image set as the desktop background.
I changed my wallpaper to a serene mountain landscape.


Designed originally to prevent screen burn-in on monitors.
CRT monitors needed screensavers to avoid permanent image imprints.


Can be customized to fit or fill the computer screen.
My wallpaper fits perfectly on my widescreen monitor.


Activates based on user-defined settings for inactivity.
After ten minutes of inactivity, my screensaver kicks in.


Does not move or change unless manually updated.
I rarely change my wallpaper; I like the consistency.


Sometimes requires a password upon deactivation.
When returning to my desk, I enter a password to disable the screensaver.


Can be a photograph, illustration, or graphic design.
I prefer abstract art for my computer's wallpaper.


(software) A computer program that displays aesthetic patterns or images when the computer is not being used, originally intended to prevent screenburn.
I configured my screensaver to appear after only two minutes, because I enjoyed watching it so much.


Paper often colored and printed with designs and pasted to a wall as a decorative covering.


(proscribed) The background picture of a computer, smartphone, or similar mobile device.


A picture or design displayed on the background of a computer screen or cellphone.


What is the purpose of wallpaper?

The purpose of wallpaper is to provide a personalized backdrop for your computer desktop.

Do screensavers save energy?

No, screensavers do not save energy and can actually use more power.

Can screensavers display personal photos?

Yes, many screensavers can cycle through a selection of personal photos.

Do wallpapers affect battery life?

Static wallpapers do not significantly affect battery life, but live wallpapers can.

How often do people change their wallpaper?

It varies; some change it frequently, while others rarely do.

How can I set a screensaver?

You can set a screensaver from the display settings on your computer.

What is a screensaver?

A screensaver is a moving image or pattern that appears on a computer screen when it's inactive.

Why were screensavers created?

Screensavers were originally created to prevent screen burn-in on older monitors.

Do modern monitors need screensavers?

Modern LCD and LED screens are less prone to burn-in, so screensavers are mostly decorative now.

What is wallpaper?

Wallpaper is a static image set as the background on a computer's desktop.

Can wallpaper be animated?

Some systems support live wallpapers with limited movement.

Can I create my own screensaver?

Yes, with the right software, you can create custom screensavers.

Can wallpaper improve work efficiency?

Some believe a clean, organized wallpaper can reduce visual clutter and improve focus.

What format should wallpaper images be?

Wallpapers are usually JPEG or PNG format, but other formats are also supported.

Can I use a video as wallpaper?

Some operating systems and third-party applications allow for videos to be set as live wallpaper.

Can wallpapers be interactive?

Typically not, although some live wallpapers offer minimal interaction.

Do screensavers work on all devices?

Screensavers are primarily for desktop computers and laptops, not smartphones or tablets.

How can I change my wallpaper?

You can change your wallpaper through your device's personalization settings.

Are screensavers still necessary?

Technically no, but many enjoy their decorative and entertaining aspects.

Are screensavers secure?

They can be if they require a password upon deactivation.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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