PC Setup Customization: Refresh Rate

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Ya know, there’s a certain beauty to consoles. A singular box you buy, plug it into a TV – any TV – and simply play games. Even as members of t he PC master race, we have to acknowledge that that idea is attractive. But PC gamers also know the weaknesses of the console experience. The simplicity of an Xbox or Playstation goes hand in hand with a lack of options to customize your gaming experience. On PC, there are a million and one ways to do just that. From the actual components in your gaming machine to the peripherals you use to interact with it. Mice, keyboards, headsets, monitors – they all can drastically change how it feels to play games. This video is the first in a series where we’ll focus on one specific aspect of the gaming experience, and how changing it can change… EVERYTHING. And we’re starting with refresh rate. ASUS has sent us some fantastic gaming monitors, so we’re going to talk about why you might want a 60 or 144 or 240Hz monitor, what graphics cards you might need to power them, and at the end of the day, whether all this is that much different from a console experience. … BEGIN!


Now before we get too deep, let’s quickly talk about what refresh rate IS. Refresh rate is how many times per second your display can refresh the on-screen image, measured in Hertz. This is different than frames per second, which refers to how fast your GPU can output images to the display. So your GPU might be making 100 frames every second, but if your display only has a 60Hz refresh rate, it will only show 60 of those per second.


One thing that can happen in that scenario is screen tearing. The monitor tries to show 2 frames at once, and ends up showing part of both. One solution to screen tearing is V-Sync, which locks the framerate and refresh rate together, but that can lead to input lag, a delay between when you press a button and when its intended action shows up on-screen. So you end up choosing either tearing or lag.


AMD and Nvidia solve this problem with their own variable refresh rate technologies. AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia’s G-Sync dynamically change the monitor’s refresh rate to match up with the frames coming from the GPU, so you don’t get tearing or significant input lag. The catch is, you need a monitor compatible with either Freesync or G-Sync to take advantage of this – there aren’t really any monitors out there that can do both. FreeSync and G-Sync also usually have a range of FPS values that they work within on a given monitor. One other thing to note is that the higher your FPS and refresh rate, the less noticeable tearing will be. You might get tearing with an FPS of 200 fa 144Hz monitor, but it might be so minimal it’s not really an issue.


So, now we know a bit more about refresh rate and FPS, let’s talk about gaming scenarios in which high refresh rates would be most useful. Obviously, the higher your FPS, the better – but not everyone has the budget or the need to go all out on a GTX 1080 Ti and a 240Hz monitor. High refresh rates are the most useful for fast-paced games with a lot of rapid view switching, like first-person shooters, 3rd person action games, and racing games. Games with slow or largely unchanging viewpoints, like MOBAs, Strategy games, or slower narrative-driven games, won’t benefit as much from framerates higher than 60fps. I want to reiterate here that I’m not saying playing Dota 2 won’t be better at 240Hz – I’m saying you’ll notice less of a change and will receive less of a benefit to your actual gameplay than if you were playing Counter Strike or Overwatch.


It’s important, then, to pick a graphics card and monitor that suit your use cases the best. If you have a set budget, you should get the best product you can within that budget. But if you’re running a lower-end gaming card like a GTX 1050, you’re not going to make anywhere close to full use of a 240Hz monitor, so you might as well save some money and NOT set your budget around that high-end part. Likewise, a super-powerful GPU like a 1080 Ti may not actually afford you any real benefit, FPS-wise, if your 60Hz monitor is incapable of taking advantage of that power. And, like we discussed, you might even get screen tearing that could make your gaming experience worse.


Now, with that said, we can talk about specific recommendations for monitors and what graphics cards you might want to pair with them. If you’re an FPS junkie, you’d probably be best served with a 120 or 144Hz monitor, and anything from an RX 580 or GTX 1070 and up, assuming we’re talking about 1080p, and high settings. 240Hz monitors exist, in fact this is one right here, the ASUS PG258Q. But as refresh rates get higher, the increase in smoothness gets less noticeable. We did a subjective test of whether people here at NCIX could tell the difference between 144Hz and 240Hz, and about a quarter of our test subjects correctly identified the 240Hz monitor. Now we didn’t have the most scientifically robust test design, but it seemed like the people who could tell the difference were frequent gamers. So if you want even more of an edge over competitors than a 144Hz monitor can provide, consider a 240Hz display like this one. And, you likely won’t experience tearing either, unless your framerate goes over 240Hz.


Now if you don’t play many FPS games, the advantages of a 144 or 240Hz monitor are diminished. Like I said, they may improve your gaming experience – but if you’re playing games like Dota 2, League of Legends, StarCraft, or even slower 3rd person narrative-driven games, 120 or even 60Hz monitors may just do ya fine. MOBAs and RTS games can usually run on pretty modest hardware – and some FPS games like Overwatch and CSGO can too – so you would be alright with a Radeon 560, GTX 1050, or even integrated graphics, depending on your CPU and how low of a framerate you’re willing to accept.


Now – that’s not factoring in resolution, in-game graphics settings and all that – we’ll be talking about that in later episodes. But for now, I hope this video clarified some issues about refresh rate, because now it’s over. Thanks for watching guys, click here for previous videos, and check us out on twitter over here. But as always like the video if you liked it, comment below for fans with benefits, and subscribe for more videos like this from NCIX.


Overview of the need for understanding of which GPUs are appropriate for which things


The most powerful modern GPUs are complete overkill for most monitors – resolution vs. refresh rate


Quick explanation of FPS vs. refresh rate


Screen tearing, G-Sync, FreeSync


When do you NEED high fps – primarily in shooters, action games, driving games – high speed

When is high fps not necessary? MOBA, strategy, slower narrative-driven games


So what GPUs do you need for 144Hz or even 240Hz?

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