There isn’t a gamer on the planet that doesn’t wish smoother, steadier gaming experience – especially when playing competitively online against other players.
And while gamer spend a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of money maximizing their PC hardware to squeeze every drop of juice from their gaming set up, a lot of them are overlooking the impact that the refresh rate of their gaming monitor has on their FPS (frames per second).
That’s a big mistake.
Thankfully though, more and more gamers are recognizing just how much these two different elements are intertwined and are taking the necessary steps to maximize both. This is a common question asked in online communities like Reddit and forums like Linus Tech tips.
A higher refresh rate generally means more frame-per-second (fps). This results in a smoother and more consistent gaming experience and definitely gives gamers a little bit more of a competitive advantage when they are going up against players that haven’t taken the time to do the same.
A smart investment in a couple of key pieces of hardware (including some hardware outside of your PC box) can changes absolutely everything when it comes to the FPS that you’re actually getting when you fire your favorite titles up and dive right in.
Let’s get into that right now!
Understanding Refresh Rate and FPS
Before getting into the meat and potatoes of how refresh rate impacts FPS, it’s important to first really breakdown what these two core concepts are and how they are so intertwined.
For starters, let’s begin with FPS or your frame rate.
All movement on your monitor is really just a lightning fast procession of still images (frames) that are moved a lot like they would be on old-school movie reel.
The more frames per second your monitor is capable of showing, the faster and smoother the action is going to be – the more realistic the action on your letter is going to be.
At the same time, though, the frame rate isn’t completely tethered to the capabilities of your monitor itself.
Instead, is more of a combination of your monitor, the software on your PC, and the specific kind of media that is displaying frames on your monitor as well – and the amount of resources that combination is using at a time (particularly in the CPU and graphics card departments).
Your refresh rate, on the other hand, is 100% linked to your monitor (or any other kind of display that you have hooked up to your PC).
The faster your refresh rate, the smoother your experience is going to be – even if all you’re doing is gliding the mouse around on your screen!
A lot of “productivity” monitors have a 60 Hz refresh rate as a baseline, though there are quite a few studies coming out now that show this low level refresh rate is responsible for a lot of workplace related headaches and eyesight issues.
Researchers now believe that a 75 Hz refresh rate is a far superior option, and should be the “gold standard” moving forward – at least as far as productivity is concerned.
Gamers, on the other hand, are going to want to get their hands on monitors with refresh rates that are absolutely as fast as humanly possible.
It isn’t at all unusual for gamers to be running cutting edge gaming PCs that have a 120 Hz display (some are even faster than that). There's no doubt that a higher refresh rate (Hz) can help you win games! For example in First-person-shooter games it can mean seeing your enemies earlier, a definite competitive advantage.
VIDEO - Refresh rate vs. FPS. What is the difference?
What Kind of Impact Does Refresh Have on FPS?
There’s a very real and tangible impact that refresh rate has on the FPS you are going to see and experience, that’s for sure – but not all media is going to benefit from a foolishly fast refresh rate or skyhigh FPS numbers.
For example, traditional movies and TV shows are almost always recorded at a fixed 24 frames per second rate.
The fastest monitor on the planet is only ever going to be to reproduce that media at 24 frames per second (live sports usually are recorded at 30 frames per second). This means that even a 120 Hz monitor hooked up to a PC with plenty of CPU and graphics card power putting out 300+ frames per second is really going to be bottlenecked by media its displaying itself.
Unfortunately, that’s where trouble starts brewing.
When refresh rate and frame rates start to operate out of sync (especially wildly so) you start to notice a gaming effect called “screen tearing”.
The easiest way to describe this effect is to think of it as multiple frames being displayed all and once during a single refresh of your screen. You basically end up with a real mashup of things, performance suffers, and the experience and immersion you were enjoyed otherwise around completely.
Luckily, though, PC hardware engineers have found a way around this kind of problem. They’ve implemented game changing new elements into the mix that balance out your refresh rate and your frame rate (depending on the hardware that you are running) through solutions like Nvidia G Sync and AMD FreeSync.
Both of these technologies are pretty mature right now, included on pretty much every piece of hardware put out by these legendary manufacturers, and capable of delivering a much smoother gaming experience than if you were running hardware without them.
Though the approach that both of these technologies take to produce their “smoothing” results are a little different, at the end of the day they are both engineered to do the same thing – to closer link up your refresh rate and your FPS numbers so that you don’t have screen tearing any longer.
The better optimized and closely integrated these two numbers are, the smoother the action on your screen is going to be, and the happier you are going to be when you are gaming!
This video below has some good real world examples of how higher monitor refresh rates, and therefore higher FPS, can improve your gameplay and gaming experience.
Which Has a Bigger Impact on Gaming Performance?
At the end of day, because both of these details are so important for what you actually see on your monitor you really should be maximizing both your refresh rate and your frame rate as much as possible.
It refresh rate that is lightning fast (120 Hz or higher) is going to produce much smoother motion on your monitor, even when you aren’t gaming. This is going to be especially noticeable in online competitive games (like first-person shooters, for example), and often means the difference between victory and defeat out of the digital battlefield.
Without a high FPS number, though, the best refresh rates in the world are going to be somewhat limited.
If you’re playing a particularly graphic intense game and your FPS numbers are in the tank, your refresh rate isn’t going to be able to help you that much. You’ll still be cutting, you’ll still be “teleporting”, and you will be making the most of the hardware inside of your display, either.
No, you really want to do your level best to make sure that your PC is capable of putting out a consistent enough FPS that is as close to your refresh rate as possible.
To be told, it’s even better to have an FPS that is higher (sometimes much higher) than what your monitor refresh rate is, if only because you can then rely on G Sync or FreeSync to handle the rest of the heavy lifting to smooth stuff out even more and really boost your performance.
How Can I Maximize Both?
At the end of the day, it’s critical that you spend a little bit of extra money on your gaming monitor if you really want to maximize your refresh rate.
Earlier we said that 60 Hz is probably the absolute baseline minimum for productivity focused monitors, and really you want that basement to be tied to 75 Hz whenever possible.
For gaming purposes, you’ll want to step that up to at least 120 Hz. A 144 Hz monitor is even better than that.
You’ll also want to be sure that your GPU (your graphics card unit) is hooked up to your gaming monitor via a DisplayPort connection, too. HDMI 2.0 might work as well, but traditional HDMI is going to “hard cap” your refresh rate at 60 Hz no matter what your monitor is capable of putting out.
After that, your money needs to be funnelled into a high quality graphics card – and then you need to dial in your actual gaming settings.
Any of the mid tier gaming cards from Nvidia or AMD are generally capable of playing modern titles at 140 frames per second when running at 1080p and with your game graphics settings set at “Medium ”.
If you would like even higher frames than that at higher graphics settings (High or Ultra), make sure that your Nvidia or AMD card is in the upper tier of cards, includes either G Sync or FreeSync, and isn’t at all encumbered by a slower CPU, RAM modules, or motherboard.
All in all, you really need a blend of CPU, GPU, G Sync and FreeSync enabled technology, a decent cable connecting your PC to your monitor, and a gaming monitor designed with maximum refresh elements.
Put those things together and you are off to the races!