Our Monitor Motion Tests
Refresh Rate

Updated
What it is: How frequently the monitor can refresh and show new frames, and whether it can vary its refresh rate in real-time using technologies like G-SYNC and FreeSync.
When it matters: Mostly for gaming, but does provide a little better motion during normal use.
Score distribution

A monitor’s refresh rate is the frequency at which it can display frames every second. A 60Hz (Hertz) monitor refreshes the screen 60 times per second, while a 240Hz monitor refreshes what is shown on screen 240 times per second. A higher refresh rate produces smoother and clearer motion if properly used, but it also allows for lower input lag if well implemented.

Some monitors include a variable refresh rate feature that allows the screen to synchronize its refresh rate with the content shown onscreen, eliminating stutter and tearing caused by fluctuations in frame rate.

Test results

When It Matters

A higher refresh rate is beneficial with general desktop usage, but it's by far the most helpful with content commonly found at higher framerates than the standard 60 fps, like video games. That's because higher refresh rate monitors are only helpful if the framerate of the content sent to the monitor matches the frequency it's using.

For example, a 24 frames-per-second theatrical movie won't look any smoother if played on a 120Hz monitor compared to a 60Hz monitor. On the other hand, if your computer can render the game you are playing at a high frame rate, motion looks crisp, and the game has a "connected" feel thanks to both the lower input lag and the overall smoothness.

Variable refresh rate features, like NVIDIA G-SYNC and AMD FreeSync technology, really only matter for gaming. They help to reduce or eliminate tearing when gaming. These issues are mainly noticeable if your computer can't maintain a consistently high refresh rate when gaming.

Our tests

The goal of this test is to determine the native and maximum refresh rate of the display and to test which variable refresh rate (VRR) format(s) the monitor supports, if any. We also want to check if VRR is working properly across the full range of refresh rates, from < 20Hz to the monitor's maximum refresh rate, including any factory overclock, if there is one. Finally, we check which connectors support VRR, as there may be a difference between HDMI and DisplayPort. All of these tests are done at the monitor's native resolution, using a PC with an AMD Radeon graphics card, and a separate PC with an NVIDIA graphics card. We use both respective control panels to determine which refresh rates are supported by the display. We also use NVIDIA's G-SYNC Pendulum Demo to make sure VRR is working properly and to test the range of refresh rates supported by the monitor's VRR feature. Despite the name, the Pendulum Demo can be used to test any VRR format supported by the PC and monitor.

Native

What it is: The native refresh rate the monitor supports out of the box, without applying any factory overclock.
When it matters: Gaming and other usages where high frame rate content is consumed.

This test denotes the native refresh rate of the monitor, out of the box, without applying an optional factory overclock. It's usually the value advertised by the manufacturer as monitors rarely use the fake refresh rate marketing found on TVs. Generally speaking, the higher the native refresh, the better.

Max Refresh Rate

What it is: The maximum supported frequency at which the monitor is capable of displaying images every second. This includes the factory overclock that comes built-in with many gaming monitors.
When it matters: General usage, but better results are most important for gaming.
Good value: >100Hz
Noticeable difference: 15Hz
Score distribution

The max refresh rate denotes the maximum frequency the monitor can refresh the image, as supported by the manufacturer. It includes the factory overclock that comes built-in with many gaming monitors. Note that this only looks at officially support overclock modes; it may be possible to overclock most monitors to a higher refresh rate through overclocking tools and custom refresh rates. We don't check for this kind of overclocking, as it may void your warranty, and the results may vary between individual units.

Variable Refresh Rate (VRR)

What it is: Feature that allows the monitor to synchronize its refresh rate with the input device's output and reduces stuttering and screen tearing.
When it matters: Almost every usage, but is most noticeable in gaming where constant fluctuation in framerate causes distracting artifacts.

This test indicates whether or not the display supports any variable refresh rate technology (generally either FreeSync or G-SYNC). This test is helpful for gamers interested in variable refresh rate features, which reduces stutter, screen tearing, and other artifacts caused by the fluctuating framerates of video games.

FreeSync

What it is: An implementation of variable refresh rate that works with Radeon graphics cards and the Xbox One.
When it matters: When you want the benefits of variable refresh rate while connected to a PC or Xbox One.

We check for FreeSync compatibility with a PC with a Radeon graphics card, usually an RX6800. This test is important if you're planning on using the variable refresh rate feature with an AMD Radeon graphics card or with an Xbox One S/X or Xbox Series S|X. There are three possible results for this test:

No

If it's not possible to enable FreeSync with an AMD Radeon card or Xbox, this means the monitor isn't compatible with FreeSync.

Yes

Since FreeSync is a proprietary format developed by AMD, most monitors that support FreeSync fall under this category. AMD maintains a list of certified monitors here, and we also check the manufacturer's website. AMD isn't always quick to update its list, so if a manufacturer claims that a monitor is FreeSync certified, we usually have to rely on that information.

Compatible (Tested)

Unlike NVIDIA G-SYNC displays, there's very little distinction between native FreeSync displays certified by AMD and compatible ones. We have to rely on AMD's list of certified displays (see above) and the manufacturer's website. If a monitor doesn't appear on that list and isn't advertised as FreeSync certified by the manufacturer, but it's possible to enable FreeSync on the monitor, we consider it FreeSync Compatible. We run the full range of tests to ensure it's working properly, including checking the VRR range and the supported connectors.

Most of the monitors that fall into this category are G-SYNC displays that also work with FreeSync. Many monitors that support FreeSync are instead marketed as G-SYNC Compatible.

G-SYNC

What it is: We test for G-SYNC compatibility with an NVIDIA GTX1060. We check for any excess blur, screen blanking, or excess tearing, and confirm the variable refresh rate range.
When it matters: If you have an NVIDIA graphics card.
Good value: Yes

Like the above test, we check for G-SYNC compatibility with a PC, but this time with a recent RTX card (usually an RTX3070). This test is only important if you're planning on using the monitor with an NVIDIA graphics card. There are multiple results possible from this test, depending on the level of compatibility with NVIDIA cards, as NVIDIA recently added support for both FreeSync and Adaptive Sync variable refresh rates. We test every monitor for G-SYNC compatibility, regardless of which VRR format it's advertised to supported.

No

Some displays simply aren't compatible with NVIDIA's G-SYNC technology. They might still support other types of VRR, but we're completely unable to enable G-SYNC with these displays. This is becoming increasingly rare, as most monitors support some form of VRR, and it's usually possible to enable G-SYNC.

Compatible (NVIDIA Certified)

A certified G-SYNC Compatible display - MSI Optix MAG274QRF-QD

NVIDIA officially certifies certain displays to work with their "G-SYNC compatible" program. On certified displays, G-SYNC is automatically enabled when connected to at least a 10-series NVIDIA GPU over DisplayPort. G-SYNC compatible displays lack the dedicated G-SYNC hardware module found on native G-SYNC displays. NVIDIA tests them for any compatibility issues and only certifies displays that work perfectly out of the box.

NVIDIA maintains an official list of certified displays here. This list isn't always up to date, though, so we don't just base our results on that. The simplest way to validate that a display is officially G-SYNC compatible is to check the 'Set up G-SYNC' menu from the NVIDIA Control Panel. G-SYNC will automatically be enabled for a certified compatible display, and it'll say 'G-SYNC Compatible' under the monitor name.

If you have a compatible monitor but can't enable G-SYNC, ensure that your drivers are up to date and that you're connected over DisplayPort. With newer GPUs, it's also possible to enable G-SYNC over HDMI with a few monitors and TVs, but these are relatively rare.

For this test, even if it's certified by NVIDIA to work with G-SYNC, we make sure G-SYNC is enabled and use the NVIDIA pendulum demo to make sure G-SYNC is working correctly. If we have any doubts, we'll also check with a few games to make sure it's working with real content as well. At the same time, we check which connectors support G-SYNC and check the supported variable refresh rate range.

Compatible (Tested)

An unofficial G-SYNC Compatible display -Gigabyte AORUS FI32U

It's usually possible to enable G-SYNC on most monitors, even if they aren't officially certified by NVIDIA. Compatible monitors that aren't certified have to be enabled from the 'Set up G-SYNC' menu and come with the disclaimer that the display hasn't been validated as G-SYNC Compatible.
Monitors with this result don't necessarily perform worse than certified displays. According to NVIDIA, the unsupported monitors display a range of FreeSync issues, ranging from minor tearing and blur to screen blanking or motion duplications. But, also according to NVIDIA themselves, the monitors displayed these issues on AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards. Another issue is in NVIDIA's requirements, as they require FreeSync to be enabled by default on G-SYNC Compatible monitors; since most monitors need you to enable FreeSync in the monitor's OSD, they are automatically disqualified, even if there were no issues. It's also possible that the manufacturer simply hasn't submitted their display to NVIDIA for testing.
For this test, we manually enable G-SYNC from the NVIDIA control panel and use the NVIDIA pendulum demo to make sure G-SYNC is working correctly. If we have any doubts, we'll also check with a few games to make sure it's working with real content as well. At the same time, we check which connectors support G-SYNC and check the supported variable refresh rate range.

Yes (Native)

A native G-SYNC Display - Dell Alienware AW2721D

Displays that natively support G-SYNC support a few extra features when paired with an NVIDIA graphics card. They can dynamically adjust their overdrive to match the content, ensuring a consistent gaming experience, even if your frame rate jumps around with your favorite games.

Like with certified G-SYNC compatible monitors, G-SYNC is automatically enabled on Native devices. Instead of listing them as G-Sync Compatible in the 'Set up G-SYNC page', Native monitors are identified as simply 'G-SYNC Capable'. NVIDIA also maintains a list of Native G-SYNC monitors on the same page as the G-SYNC Compatible ones. Native G-SYNC displays are identified as either 'G-SYNC' or 'G-SYNC ULTIMATE' depending on the capabilities of the display. Both are listed as 'Yes (Native)' in our reviews.

For this test, like with the two previous ones, we make sure G-SYNC is enabled from the NVIDIA control panel and use the NVIDIA pendulum demo to ensure G-SYNC is working correctly. If we have any doubts, we'll also check with a few games to make sure it's working with real content as well. At the same time, we check which connectors support G-SYNC and check the supported variable refresh rate range.

VRR Maximum

What it is: The maximum frequency covered by the Variable Refresh Rate feature of the monitor.
When it matters: Any time the VRR feature is enabled.
Good value: Matches Refresh rate
Noticeable difference: 10Hz
Score distribution

This test represents the maximum frequency at which the variable refresh rate feature can be enabled and works properly. We test this using the NVIDIA Pendulum demo, adjusting the frame rate until we start to see tearing. We test this over both HDMI and DisplayPort, as there's often a difference between them, as most monitors have a lower refresh rate over HDMI due to bandwidth limitations of HDMI. We note any differences between HDMI and DisplayPort in the text. If a monitor supports both FreeSync and G-SYNC, we also check the range of each. If there's any difference between them, we put the widest range as the result and note the difference in the text.

VRR Minimum

What it is: The lowest frequency covered by the monitor's Variable Refresh Rate feature.
When it matters: When using the VRR feature of the monitor at lower frame rates.
Good value: 30Hz

Our VRR Minimum test checks for the minimum frame rate at which the included variable refresh rate feature is still working properly. Like the previous test, we check this using the NVIDIA Pendulum demo, gradually reducing the frame rate until the screen starts tearing. We test this over both HDMI and DisplayPort and note any differences in behavior in the text. If a monitor supports both FreeSync and G-SYNC, we also check the range of each. If there's any difference between them, we put the widest range as the result and note the difference in the text.

LFC

Because we test for the effective frame rate and not the actual refresh rate of the display, our minimum refresh rate is frequently lower than the minimum reported by the manufacturer. It's because many monitors support a feature known as LFC or low framerate compensation. If the framerate of the source drops below the minimum refresh rate of the display, the graphics card automatically multiples frames to bring the framerate back within the refresh rate range of the display. For example, if a monitor can only refresh at a minimum of 40Hz, and the source can only generate 30 frames per second, it'll double each frame, so the monitor is receiving 60 frames per second.

Since we look at the effective VRR range, we don't differentiate between monitors that use LFC and monitors that can reduce their actual refresh rate. Most manufacturers only report the minimum refresh rate, not the minimum effective rate.

VRR Supported Connectors

When we test for VRR support, we test for both FreeSync and G-SYNC compatibility over both HDMI and DisplayPort. We list a connector as supported as long as it supports one form of supported VRR. For example, if a display supports FreeSync only over HDMI and G-SYNC only over DisplayPort, we would list both HDMI and DisplayPort as supported connectors. Any limitations of each connection will be noted in the text, as well as any difference in the minimum or maximum refresh rate supported over each connection.

Additional Information

Variable Refresh Rates

Variable refresh rate technologies like G-SYNC and FreeSync allow the monitor's refresh rate to be synchronized with the content displayed. This is mostly useful for gaming since the fluctuations in framerate can cause screen tearing as well as stuttering due to inconsistent frame times. Variable refresh rates eliminate these issues since the screen only shows the frame once it's sent by the computer instead of running on a fixed schedule that isn't necessarily in sync with the content.

Learn more about FreeSync vs G-SYNC

Refresh Rate and Response Time

While refresh rate has the biggest impact on the clarity and fluidity of motion on screens, it's entirely dependent on another aspect called response time. We measure this as part of our motion blur test, and it refers to the time it takes for the display's pixels to switch from one state to another across a variety of transitions (for example, from showing black to showing white).

The relation between them is found when looking at what we call frame time. The frame time refers to the length of time a frame is shown on screen. For example, a 120Hz monitor has 120 cycles per second (1/120), so every frame appears every 8.33 ms. If your screen's average pixel response time is higher than this, it can cause blurriness since the pixels rarely have time to complete their transition before switching to displaying the next frame. It's rare, but in more extreme cases, it can cause the highest refresh rate setting to look worse than a slightly lower frequency. Because of this, it's important to consider our entire motion section and not only the refresh rate to evaluate the motion capabilities of a monitor.

How To Get The Best Results

There isn't much to do to enable the maximum refresh rate of your monitor. It's mostly a plug-and-play affair and doesn't require much tinkering to get working right.

  • Set the monitor's refresh rate in its on-screen menu to the frequency that you want if necessary.
  • Change the refresh rate setting on your computer. You can do this either through your graphics card's driver settings or in Windows through the display adapter properties panel found in your display settings.

Related Settings

  • Some high-end gaming monitors have an Overclock feature that allows you to boost your screen's refresh rate beyond its standard rating. You can access this in the monitor's on-screen display menu. You will need to change the refresh rate in your operating system to match the overclock afterward.
  • G-SYNC and FreeSync also have to be enabled through your graphics card's driver settings. These can easily be accessed by right-clicking on your desktop.

Other Notes

  • Some games and other applications that execute in full-screen mode ignore the system setting for refresh rate and might require you to enable your monitor's maximum refresh rate through their internal settings.

Conclusion

The refresh rate is the number of images your monitor is capable of displaying every second. Higher frequencies produce smoother and clearer motion and enable more responsive interaction. It's most important for video games, but it offers an improvement for almost every type of usage as long as the content or device supplies a matching amount of frames per second as the screen is capable of. 60Hz is standard, but 120Hz or higher provides a significant improvement. We verify that the monitor can function at its advertised frequency as well as surrounding features that interact with the screen's refresh rate, like Variable Refresh Rate or Overclock.

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