What you need to know
- Windows 11 Insider builds are now available.
- Microsoft's announcement mentions Dynamic Refresh Rate (DRR) as being available on some devices.
- The tech differs from Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) for gaming and suggests Surface hardware with refresh rates of higher than 60 Hz could be coming soon.
A new feature coming to some Insider builds of Windows 11, which is expected to ship later this fall, hints at new Surface hardware with refresh rates of higher than 60Hz.
Dynamic Refresh Rate, or DRR, is different than the Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) that has been in Windows 10 for a while, which focuses on gaming to prevent screen-tearing. Instead, DRR applies to all of Windows 11 when using the OS for everyday mundane tasks.
Here is why it's a big deal.
Dynamic Refresh Rate: Better battery life
Microsoft describes DRR in its release notes for the Windows 11 Insider build as thus:
Today, almost all non-gaming laptops only support a 60 Hz refresh rate, while many gaming laptops can hit 120 Hz or as high as 300 Hz.
The issue with high refresh rates on a gaming laptop is that it runs at that 120 Hz all the time, doubling the draw on the display since it is refreshing twice as fast as a regular 60 Hz laptop. Such a refresh rate destroys good battery life as the screen is one of the top draws of battery power.
With DRR, that won't be the case.
The OS will now drop the refresh rate when the screen is static but quickly boost it when scrolling or moving around windows. While we don't know how low the refresh rate goes, it certainly beats running at 120 Hz or higher all the time, and it should have a significant improvement on battery life, especially for gaming laptops.
Microsoft gives more details about DRR in a new blog post (opens in new tab):
Moreover, not all apps support it right out of the box, but these do, according to Microsoft:
- Smoother inking: Microsoft Office, Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Whiteboard, Microsoft Photos, Snip & Sketch, Drawboard PDF, Microsoft Sticky Notes, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft To Do, Inkodo
- Smoother scrolling: Microsoft Office
Dynamic Refresh Rate: New Surface hardware?
I think the other conclusion we can draw is that DRR is not just for gaming laptops. Many users have been asking for 90Hz or higher refresh rates in regular Ultrabook laptops for some time. The problem is battery life takes a hit, but that now appears to be solved with this technology.
Apple's iPad Pro features a "ProMotion display," which varies the display between 60 and 120 FPS (Hz). It is one reason people love the iPad Pro and using the Pencil as it feels more fluid due to that improved refresh. Moreover, Microsoft mentions "inking" with this feature, which is very curious…
Intriguingly, there are no Surface products that support displays with higher than 60 Hz. That makes DRR less effective on current hardware, as you need at least a 90 Hz refresh (or even 120 Hz) to make it worthwhile. And Microsoft has clarified that to make DRR work, you need "a laptop with a display that supports Variable refresh rate (VRR) and a refresh rate of at least 120 Hz."
When combined with Microsoft's new haptic pen technology, wake on touch, and now DRR, it seems we are finally getting some idea of where Microsoft sees PC hardware going later in 2021 and 2022. These are some significant advancements in usability, and it'll be very curious to see if a new Surface Pro 8, which could be announced in October, features all this new tech.
Watch this space.
Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.
Now that's the stuff!
Can't a gaming laptop use 60Hz for Windows and 120Hz for games?
Some gaming laptops have NVIDIA Optimus, which can help with that (mostly switches from dGPU to integrated). Many do not. Many laptops with 120Hz+ displays simply run at that all the time, hence why Microsoft is announcing DRR. You could also just manually set Windows to run at 60Hz all the time and manually switch to 120+ when you game.
wonder if DRR will be compatible with current laptops with >60hz screens
That's the big question, right? I think on current hardware maybe the display could drop below 60 Hz, which would improve battery life, and that alone is a noteworthy feature. We'll try to follow up.
That would be nice to have.
Microsoft is really looking deep into the user experience of Windows going forward. Here's to success on all fronts in this regard.
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