Frame rate or FPS is a measurement of how many times an image is captured or rendered every second. Refresh rate is the frequency at which an image sent to a display panel is refreshed and updated.
In computing and gaming, frame rate and refresh rate are both commonly used as a marker for how powerful a PC setup is. But exactly what are these two key PC specifications, how do they differ, and is one more important than the other?
What Is FPS?
FPS (Frames per Second) is a measurement of video frame rate commonly used in the film, TV, and video game industries. It refers to the frequency at which consecutive images (or frames) are both captured and displayed on a screen. The faster the frame rate, the smoother the motion of the image will appear.
In video games, FPS refers to the frequency at which frames are rendered on screen by the graphics processor, rather than the rate captured images are displayed. But it’s really the same thing as far as our brains are concerned. As FPS increases, that motion appears smoother and more true to life.
When we watch a moving image, such as a video, what we are actually seeing is a sequence of still images. Above about 10 frames per second, our brain stops recognizing individual frames and instead sees motion. There is debate over how many frames per second the human eye and brain can register effectively, but it’s often suggested that 60fps is the maximum and anything above this is redundant.
What is Refresh Rate?
The refresh rate of a television or computer display, measured in Hertz (Hz,) refers to how many times the panel can update the image it receives every second. A 60Hz display is capable of refreshing every pixel on the screen 60 times a second, a 120Hz display is refreshed 120 times every second, and so on. In almost all cases and particularly for gaming, higher is better.
60Hz was the standard for both televisions and computer monitors for a long time, but in recent years faster refresh rates have become more desirable. Newer, high-end displays may support 144Hz or even 240Hz. When paired with a suitably powerful graphics card in a computer, these high refresh rates can significantly improve image performance.
Do FPS and Hz Matter for Gaming?
The short answer is yes, a higher frame and refresh rate will improve the visual quality of your games, reduce input lag, and generally improve how a game appears to respond to your actions.
The benefits of both will be easier to notice when playing fast-paced titles such as first-person shooters and other high-octane games, but even more sedate games will look and perform better at higher rates.
For most PC gamers, 60fps and 60Hz will be a good compromise between good image quality and affordability. If you are planning to upgrade to a 120 or 144Hz monitor you’ll want to ensure that your graphics card is powerful enough to produce a frame rate that can take advantage of it.
FPS or Refresh Rate: Which Is More Important?
Both refresh rate and FPS provide the same or similar benefits as they increase, which seems to imply that you could concentrate on maximizing one or the other to make your viewing experience better. Unfortunately, that isn’t true.
Although frames per second and refresh rate are separate things, the image improvements they can offer are tied to one another. Any performance increase in one will be capped by the lower performance of the other. For example, you won’t notice the benefit of using a 144Hz display if your GPU can only achieve a frame rate of 60fps. And the same is true if your GPU can pump out a stable 120fps, but your monitor only supports 60Hz.
The disparity between frame rate and refresh rate could even result in screen tearing, where the displayed image appears mismatched horizontally, although technologies like VSync, G-Sync, and FreeSync make this less likely. To get the best results from your games the frame rate and refresh rate should be matched as closely as possible.
How to Maximize FPS and Refresh Rate
The most reliable way of maximizing FPS and refresh rate is by upgrading your computer’s GPU and monitor. But if shelling out several hundred dollars on each of those new PC components is not an option, there are other ways to improve refresh and frame rate.
Maximizing Frame Rate
If your PC is struggling to provide a decent frame rate when gaming, there are several things you can do to improve it. Updating your graphics drivers is a good place to start, to take advantage of any optimizations that have been introduced by NVIDIA, AMD, or Intel.
Beyond that, it’s really down to the visual settings for each game you play. Reducing the game resolution, image quality, and special effects will all help to increase the frame rate. The game won’t look as pretty, but it will almost certainly run more smoothly and with less lag.
Maximizing Refresh Rate
You probably already know that most CPUs and GPUs can be overclocked to increase performance, but you might not have been aware that some PC monitors can also be overclocked. You’re unlikely to be able to safely boost a 60Hz display to 120Hz, but it could be possible to hit 75Hz or slightly more.
Before you consider overclocking, it’s worth checking that your monitor is currently using the highest refresh rate it natively supports. On Windows, right-click the desktop and select Display Settings from the context menu. You can also open Settings > System > Display to reach the same menu. Now click Advanced Display Settings to see the current refresh rate and a drop-down menu to increase or decrease it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to have a 4K or 120Hz monitor?
This really depends on the type of games you play. A good 4K monitor will likely provide higher image quality overall, but a monitor that supports 120Hz may be better if you mainly play fast-paced games. A high refresh rate like 120Hz or 144Hz can make a big difference in games like Apex Legends or Valorant.
Is using a low refresh rate bad for your eyes?
Refresh rates lower than around 60Hz can produce an almost imperceptible flicker that has the potential to cause eye strain. Other factors such as viewing time and screen brightness can also lead to eye strain, but using a refresh rate is a good step toward reducing the likelihood.
Does FPS mean anything else?
There can be some confusion about the term FPS when talking about computers and gaming because it is also commonly used as an abbreviation for the First Person Shooter genre of video games.
Is refresh rate the same as response time?
The response time of a TV or computer monitor is based on how quickly pixels can switch from one color to another and is measured in milliseconds. The response time is not directly related to the refresh rate of a display panel.