Is it bad to have monitors with different refresh rates?

Published by Nyau Wai Hoe - Updated on

When setting up a multi-monitor workstation or gaming setup, one important aspect to consider is the refresh rate of each monitor. The refresh rate, measured in Hertz (Hz), indicates how many times per second the display refreshes its image. It’s a key factor in determining the smoothness of motion and overall visual experience. While the ideal scenario is to have monitors with matching refresh rates, it’s not always feasible or necessary, depending on your needs and usage.

In this article, we’ll discuss whether using monitors with different refresh rates is a good or bad idea. We’ll look into how it impacts various activities such as gaming, professional work, and general use. Understanding the pros and cons can help you make a better decision about your multi-monitor setup. Let’s begin by examining how different refresh rates affect your experience and what to consider when choosing your monitors.

Is it bad to have monitors with different refresh rates

Do multiple monitors with different refresh rates impact gaming in any way?

One of the most significant areas where different refresh rates matter is in gaming. A monitor with a higher refresh rate (such as 120Hz or 144Hz) offers smoother motion and less screen tearing, which is crucial for fast-paced games. This smoothness is especially noticeable when compared to standard 60Hz monitors. However, in a dual-monitor setup of, for example, with one at 144Hz and the other at 60Hz, there may be some challenges (in certain cases).

Also see: Game Stuttering and Lag on Dual Monitor (Fix)

Synchronization problems

When a game is played across multiple monitors with different refresh rates, it can result in stuttering or tearing. This occurs because the graphics card struggles to synchronize the frame output across displays with varying refresh rates.

game stuttering and tearing

Reduced performance on higher refresh rate monitor

If a game is mirrored or extended across both monitors, the higher refresh rate monitor might underperform, limited by the lower refresh rate of the other monitor. This leads to not fully utilizing the potential of the high-refresh-rate monitor.

User sensitivity to frame rate differences

Some gamers are particularly sensitive to differences in motion smoothness and might find it uncomfortable or distracting to have one monitor refresh significantly faster than the other, especially when used simultaneously for gaming, browsing, or other activities.

Linked issue: 144Hz Monitor Only Showing 60Hz in Windows 11, Why?

Potential solutions and workarounds

To fix these issues, you can try these workarounds:

  • Enabling G-Sync or FreeSync: Tweaking graphics card settings, such as enabling V-Sync or G-Sync/FreeSync, can also help synchronize the frame rate output to the monitors’ refresh rates, though this might not always be effective.
  • Use high refresh rate monitor for gaming: Many gamers choose to play their games exclusively on the higher refresh rate monitor, using the other monitor for secondary tasks like web browsing or chat applications.
  • Adjusting game settings: Ensure you’ve set the game’s graphics settings to the correct resolution and refresh rate. For example, if you are playing a game on a 1080p monitor that supports 144Hz, ensure the game resolution is set to “1920×1080 (144 fps)” to match the monitor’s capability..

How to enable or disable G-Sync in Windows 11

In short, for gamers, the disadvantages of using monitors with different refresh rates can be noticeable, but there are ways to manage and reduce the impact of these issues. The decision largely depends on the specific games they play.

Recommended read: 144Hz vs 165Hz Monitor: Can you tell the difference?

How do dual or triple monitors with different refresh rates impact general use?

When considering the use of monitors with different refresh rates for non-gaming activities, the impact is generally less critical but still worth considering. This includes activities like graphic design, video editing, and general office work.

Desktop management and window movement

Users may notice a difference in how smoothly windows and cursors move between screens with different refresh rates. This disparity can sometimes be distracting, particularly if you frequently drag windows or content across screens.

How do dual monitors with different refresh rates impact general use

Video playback on secondary screens

If you play video content on a secondary monitor with a lower refresh rate, you might not experience the smoothness you would on the higher refresh rate monitor. This could be noticeable if you’re playing high frame rate videos.

Design and detailed work

For tasks requiring precise motion control, like graphic design or photo editing, the difference in smoothness when dragging tools or objects across screens could be slightly off-putting, although it’s generally not a major hindrance to workflow.

Software compatibility

Some software applications might behave unexpectedly when spanning across monitors with different refresh rates. While this is not common, it’s a possibility, especially with older software or applications not optimized for multi-monitor setups.

Eye strain and comfort

Differences in refresh rate can sometimes contribute to eye strain, especially in scenarios where you are looking back and forth between two screens with noticeably different refresh rates. This is more of a concern for individuals who are particularly sensitive to flicker or motion smoothness.

Considerations and recommendations

While these issues are potential concerns, they are often manageable:

  • Assign specific tasks to the monitor best suited for them. For example, use the higher refresh rate monitor for video playback and the other for static content like text documents.
  • Tweaking the display settings, such as aligning the resolutions or adjusting the scaling, can sometimes reduce the perception of disparity between monitors.
  • Positioning the monitors in a way that minimizes the need to frequently move content between them can help reduce the impact of different refresh rates.

In summary, for professional and general use, having monitors with different refresh rates is usually not a significant issue. The decision should be based on the specific requirements of your work and personal preferences regarding display characteristics.

Related resource: What happens if you play 1440p on a 1080p monitor?

What can you do to lessen the issues of a multi-monitor setup with different refresh rates?

Given the potential issues with monitors of different refresh rates, it’s useful to discuss technical solutions and best practices that can help resolve these concerns. This section will focus on practical steps users can take to optimize their multi-monitor setup, especially with vary refresh rates.

Updating drivers

Ensure your graphics card drivers are up to date. Driver updates often include improvements and fixes for multi-monitor setups.

Update graphics driver Nvidia

Adjusting refresh rate settings

Make sure to adjust the refresh rate settings from the Windows monitor settings or graphics card control panel so that your monitors are running at their optimal refresh rates. For NVIDIA users, this would be the NVIDIA Control Panel, and for AMD, the Radeon Settings.

Game Stuttering change refresh rate monitor

Enabling synchronization technologies

Technologies like NVIDIA’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync can help synchronize the frame rate output with the monitor’s refresh rate. These can be particularly useful if one of the monitors has a variable refresh rate feature.

How to enable FreeSync in Windows 11

Physical arrangement of monitors

Place the higher refresh rate monitor directly in front of you if it’s your primary display, especially for tasks requiring higher frame rates, and use the secondary monitor for less dynamic content.

Task allocation

Dedicate each monitor to specific types of tasks based on its strengths. For instance, use the higher refresh rate monitor for video playback or dynamic content and the lower one for static tasks like coding or reading.

Aligning resolutions

While this doesn’t directly address refresh rate differences, aligning the resolutions of your monitors can improve the overall experience when moving windows or applications between screens. You can decrease the refresh rate of the high refresh rate monitor down to matching the lower one. Or, considering getting two monitors that match refresh rates.

TL:DR: Summing things up

To wrap it up, the question of whether it’s bad to have monitors with different refresh rates really comes down to your specific usage and sensitivity. In a nutshell, for gamers, the difference can be significant—stuttering, tearing, and synchronization issues can detract from the gaming experience. This is particularly true for fast-paced or competitive gaming, where the smoothness of motion is crucial. However, even in gaming, there are workarounds and settings adjustments that can mitigate these issues.

For general computing, professional work, or less intensive activities, the impact is much less pronounced. In these cases, the disparities in refresh rates are often a minor inconvenience at most. The differences might be noticeable when moving windows or cursors across screens, but they rarely hinder productivity or overall experience.

So, is it bad to have monitors with different refresh rates? Not necessarily. It’s more about understanding the limitations and knowing how to adjust your setup and usage to minimize any negative impact. If you’re not a hardcore gamer and mainly use your computer for work and everyday tasks, you’ll likely find the issues to be minimal.


Nyau Wai Hoe
Nyau Wai Hoe is the Founder and Chief Editor of WindowsDigitals.com. With a degree in software engineering and over 12 years of experience in the tech support industry, Nyau has established himself as an expert in the field, with a primary focus on the Microsoft Windows operating system. As a tech enthusiast, he loves exploring new technologies and leveraging them to solve real-life problems.

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