What you need to know about monitor refresh rates

Monitors (Image credit: Windows Central)

You're shopping for a new PC monitor, and you're presented with a wall of numbers, letters and general gibberish. Well ... it's gibberish if you don't understand it. Here we're focusing on refresh rate, and more specifically, what it means and what you should be looking for when buying a new monitor.

What exactly is monitor refresh rate?

Refresh rate

A definition provided by Encarta Dictionaries (via Bing):

The number of times per second that an image displayed on a screen needs to be regenerated to prevent flicker when viewed by the human eye.

The refresh rate of your monitor refers to how many times per second the screen refreshes the image on it. It's measured in hertz (Hz), and the higher the number the more times per second your monitor refreshes.

Depending on the monitor and graphics setup you have, refresh rate may be something you can alter. There's the overclocking method, but more simply, with some modern monitors you have adjustable refresh rates you can alter yourself using Windows 10.

To do this you simply right click on the desktop, select display settings, then advanced display settings and finally display adapter properties. You'll then see the image above, with a drop-down box that contains different values if your monitor supports variable refresh rates.

What you should look for when buying a monitor

HP Omen 32

Omen monitor (Image credit: Windows Central)

Generally speaking, 60Hz is the minimum for a good quality, solid experience from a monitor. If you're a gamer then the higher the refresh rate, the better. Refresh rates now go up to a whopping 240Hz. For gamers, it's important to have a fast refresh rate to keep things sharp and reaction times high. Speedier frame rates in games make them super smooth.

Even for non-gamers, going below 60Hz will start to hurt your overall PC experience. If you went down to say, 30Hz, that's only 30 redraws a second, which isn't going to look great. The good news is that even without spending a lot of money, 60Hz is common enough nowadays that you should be able to find one.

As you increase the resolution of your panel, however, you'll generally decrease the refresh rate. You won't find a 4K monitor with a 240Hz refresh rate right now, for example, but you will find one at 60Hz. That's something to balance, particularly if you're a gamer. You have to make a sacrifice somewhere.

If you were wondering what the jargon is about, this story hopefully helps. If you're a PC gamer, then a 144Hz monitor (opens in new tab) will be a great shout. A console gamer or an average PC user will get by just fine with 60Hz (opens in new tab) for now. However, if you're on the bleeding edge and like things faster than fast, 240Hz (opens in new tab) is calling your name.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine

  • It might be helpful to mention that, if you go for a 240Hz display, your graphics card needs to be equipped with HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2 or greater in order to drive 1920 x 1080 at that refresh rate!
  • It's also worth mentioning that there are no consumer 240Hz monitors available. Yes, there are 120Hz panels used with marketing tricks to fake 240Hz, but that isn't real or anything. 144Hz is the common true max, though there is a 165Hz monitor available now. 240Hz? Fiction.
  • Indeed. We are in the process of proving 240Hz at work, and are generally driving cutting edge high resolution displays for commercial installs. It's all very much in the works, and not anything readily available in the field!
  • Its not only the monitor, but also the pc and the software, witch have to support the frames...
  • Yep. People need to realise that it takes approx the same video power to run 1080p at 144fps as it does to run 4K at 60fps. So, for 240fps, get ready for some very low res gaming.
  • You should mention G-Sync and Freesync etc. in this article. It's not really a gaming monitor unless it has these technologies is it?
  • Mine only provide me 60Hertz... Though I don't know why I have to wait in refresh... It takes time..
  • 2560x1440 @60Hz (Dell U2515H) and Nvidia GTX 950. I do like that it can basically be used as a HDTV, it supports 1920x1080 @23.976 so works well with Netflix without causing 3;2 pulldown artefacts. Even at this refresh rate there is no flicker
  • yeah yeah everything sounds cool but everybody forgets one key factor: eyes (eye strain). Of course a 20y. old kiddo will have zero problems at 140/240 at short or long run with fast paced games, but 10 years later he will be as blind as my 80y. old grandpa
  • For me, it is the opposite. The lower the refresh, the more it strains my eyes. To each their own I guess.
  • @Electric Jack, you are correct. Lower frame rates are harder on the eyes (and visual cortex). Less of an issue with modern LCD monitors (because the image doesn't fade between frames), but this was a big deal back with CRTs where you could actually see the flicker and people would get headaches if they had to look at a screen at anything below about 75Hz. But if the scene is fast moving, like it can be in a game, the tearing and jitteriness is harder on the eyes at a lower refresh rate.
  • Really? I need glasses for distance, my eyesight is not particularly great (in fact, not great at all). I am 42. I can EASILY tell the difference between 144Hz and 120Hz just moving items around the desktop, let alone in game. The diff. between 144Hz or even 120Hz and 60Hz on the desktop alone is very significant. OK, so if you're a pensioner then possibly don't bother. For everyone else, you will realise how awful 60Hz is when you get a modern monitor.
  • I knew a guy who would get migraines if he used 60 Hz monitors... he had to go 75 or higher. I'm not sure how refresh rate would impact actual vision though (time spent staring at the screen, yes... refresh rate, no)
  • I still work w/ a guy like that. He insists I should buy nothing less than 75 Hz monitors although my eyes don't seem at all bothered by 60 Hz. Perhaps the 15 Hz difference was bigger back in the days when we had CRT monitors?
  • "The number of times per second that an image displayed on a screen needs to be regenerated to prevent flicker when viewed by the human eye​". NO.  This is not the definition of refresh rate.  The EYE has nothing to do with the definition of refresh rate... This is a better definition: "The refresh rate is the number of times a display's image is repainted or refreshed per second"   Only when the question "Why does refresh rate matter", should you mention a human eye...
  • Yep. Very bad definition, or rather bad selection by the author...
  • Actually, I suspect you're wrong. I suspect more people use an eye based definition, technically unhelpful as it may be. What's more, on a technical level things are even more complex with modern flat screen monitors which no longer use a scanning beam in a cathode ray tube. Getting people to understand this stuff is an exercise in frustration. Better to just direct them to the right choice based on brand and trust.
  • Can the eye even distinguish between 120 and 240? I've personally seen differences between 60 and 85 on an old CRT, I thought there were limits?
  • The eye sees a continuum of light, not a flick book, so 'infinite' frame rate if you like. There is no limit.
  • Refresh rate was very important to me about 15 years ago when I was playing Rogue Squadron 3D, Janes WWII Fighters, and others, in 3D with shutter glasses. Especially at high rates of 120 and beyond they were so immersive. When LCDs started replacing CRTs that all went out the window. It's nice to see people talking about refresh rate again with the newer products coming in, but they're still ridiculously expensive for me.
  • What if I connect a media PC to an UHD TV via HDMI (1.4 vs. 2.0)?
    * What is the best refresh frequency?
    * Does this depend on the grid frequency (50Hz in Europe, etc., 60Hz in USA, etc.)?
    * Does the refresh frequency depend on the movie I watch, e.g., at 24 fps, 25 fps, or 30 fps?
  • 1) Depends what you're doing. Best to match the refresh rate to the frame rate.
    2) Yes, if you're playing a video at a specific grid frequency best to match that.
    3) See answer to question 2. Basically, as with Gsync etc., best to match refresh rate with the source rate.
  • Agreed, always match the refresh rate to the source rate to avoid motion judder on panning shots. That's why I like that my monitor can do 23.976 rate for netflix and Blu ray.
  • Unfortunately, most laptop monitors are parked at 60 Hz. Fine for watching video at a 60 or 30-Hz frame rate but anything else (films on Blu-Ray at 24 Hz, 25/50-Hz video) interpolation is used to generate the intermediate frames and the picture loses sharpness and motion smoothness.
  • Yes, but since we're discussing a TV in this branch that's not such an issue.
  • Please tell me this is the start to an article that will be continually updated with information about refresh rate. It's missing so much. I can't be the only one who thinks this article is missing all relevant information about the subject. Author was obviously asked to write about something he wasn't interested in nor wanted to write about.
  • So true
  • a console gamer can also go with 30HZ monitor since they cant go above 30fps
  • Latency is also very important when it comes to gaming.  Its tough to shoot the bad guy when the image at which you are looking actually happend seconds ago.
  • How can we have 4K TVs that have 120Hz refresh rates, but we only have 4K monitors with 60Hz? I guess I will just continue gaming with my XBox One S on my 4K Sony Bravia...
  • I do believe that even on the fancy Bravia TVs that the 120Hz is achieved by generating and displaying its own "in-between" frames to make the motion appear smoother and does not mean that it accepts a 120-fps input as we talk about with computer monitors. Still maxed-out at 60 (plus perhaps motion-smoothing).
  • There are 4K monitors with 120 Hz... the article is wrong/misleading