Your display’s refresh rate is a measure of how frequently the on-screen image is updated. Refresh rate is measured in hertz (Hz), which indicates the number of times per second something occurs. So a 60Hz display is one that has a refresh rate of 60 times per second.
Understanding monitor refresh rates
Most people don’t need to worry much about refresh rate, especially when using a computer for ordinary productivity applications. That’s because computer displays typically have a refresh rate of 60Hz – that’s the default for many monitors – and that value is perfectly adequate almost all the time. It’s fast enough that there’s no obvious blurring or “image tearing” when there’s on-screen motion. Below this value – 30 Hz, for example – you might see some stuttering or jitteriness when things are moving on the screen.
Higher refresh rates are of interest to gamers, though. Because many video games rely on fast-moving visuals, many computer displays are optimized for gaming with very high refresh rates – 144Hz, 240Hz, and even 360Hz. For gaming, the higher the refresh rate the better.
There’s also a relationship between screen resolution and refresh rate. Because a computer only has so much bandwidth for the display, you might find that at higher resolutions, your display can’t run at its maximum refresh rate. If you are adjusting these settings, you might need to make a choice between, for example, an HD (1920×1080) display at 144Hz or a 4K (3840×2160) resolution at 60Hz.
Depending on your monitor or laptop display, you might be able to adjust the refresh rate. Some displays aren’t running at their highest refresh rate by default, for example, and it’s adjustable in the system settings. If you try to increase the refresh rate but it won’t go as high as you think the monitor is designed to go, you might need to lower the resolution to make a higher value become available.
Overclocking a component in your computer – usually the CPU, and occasionally the graphics card – makes your computer run faster than it was originally intended. This lets you improve your computer’s performance without spending money to upgrade or enhance your PC.
Not every computer can be overclocked, and there are some risks associated with overclocking as well. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is overclocking?
Different computer processor chips run at different speeds – this is known at their “clock speed.” A higher clock speed means a CPU can run more operations per second, and thus run your computer faster.
But even processors with different speeds are all made on the same assembly line. It’s only after the processors are built that companies test them for defects, take out the more defective ones, and manually “throttle down” those chips to make them run slower in a computer.
That means that in theory, even these slower chips can run at faster speeds if you want them to – that’s how they were built, after all. This is where overclocking comes in.
Overclocking lets you undo the throttling and run that slower chip at a faster speed, as if it were a less defective model.
To do this, you need to increase the processor’s “multiplier,” which can be found in your computer’s UEFI or BIOS menu, causing the chip’s clock speed to increase.
The pros and cons of overclocking
Overclocking is incredibly popular among computer enthusiasts, gamers, and anyone who regularly needs to run programs that take a lot of CPU power. This can include graphic design apps, 3D modeling programs, and more. Done right, it can increase your computer’s performance essentially for free.
When you join discussions about building computers or buying graphics cards, you’ll often find people talking about how easily their computers can be overclocked. Buying a less expensive graphics card that can be overclocked can save money, while still ensuring excellent performance.
In recent years, however, there’s been some evidence that overclocking isn’t as useful as it used to be. Modern CPUs already run so fast that overclocking can have little effect. And more important, improving your processor performance can be useless if the rest of your computer isn’t fast enough to keep up. This is called “bottlenecking.”
For example, if you have a slow hard disk drive (HDD), overclocking your CPU can’t make it run faster. Likewise, programs that use your graphics card more than the CPU won’t be helped by an overclocked CPU.
Overclocking comes with some inherent risks. Companies don’t throttle down processor chips for fun – they do it because the chip has defects, and running it too fast can cause your computer glitches.
Too much overclocking can lead to instability and crashing apps, as well as the occasional Blue Screen of Death. Frequent crashes can cause data loss and frustration. In some cases, overclocking can even damage your CPU or graphics card permanently.
You need to weigh the sometimes-marginal performance improvements that come from overclocking against these risks.
How to overclock your processor
If you want to overclock your computer, first assess if your processor supports overclocking – not all do.
Intel adds an “K” or an “X” to the model numbers of the Intel Core CPUs that can be overclocked. For example, the Intel Core i9-10900K can be overclocked; the Intel Core i9-10900F cannot.
If you have an AMD CPU, the news is better – any “Ryzen” CPU can be overclocked.
You should also ensure your computer has adequate cooling equipment. Your CPU should have a heavy duty heatsink and large cooling fans. You might even want to use a liquid cooling system to deal with the extra heat generated by your faster CPU.
Your CPU will need enhanced cooling if you plan to run it at a higher clock speed.
To overclock the CPU, restart your computer and enter the startup menu in the computer’s UEFI or BIOS. These startup screens vary dramatically from one manufacturer to another, so you’ll need to look for the overclocking controls.
It’s a good idea to increase the multiplier by a small amount, reboot the computer and test it. You can increase the clock speed in increments to get to the speed you are interested in.
Every time you increase the clock speed, spend a few hours “stress testing” the computer. You can use an app like Prime95 to temporarily run the CPU at 100% load to make sure there are no problems with the PC.
If your computer crashes, you get a Blue Screen of Death, or your programs won’t open, return to the UEFI or BIOS menu and revert to a slower clock speed.
It’s also possible to overclock your graphics card’s GPU, though you can’t do that from the UEFI or BIOS menu. To speed up your GPU, you’ll need to use an overclocking utility – one of the most common is MSI Afterburner.
At the birth of the computer era, the IBM PC became the standard computer in large part due to its modular architecture with interchangeable components.
Like the original IBM, now every PC’s motherboard has slots in which any third-party manufacturer can insert the components needed to make the PC run. Among those components: the graphics card, which is responsible for displaying all the images you see on the screen.
What to know about graphics cards
A graphics card looks like a smaller version of the computer motherboard – it’s a printed circuit board that has a processor, RAM, and other components. A graphics card is sometimes commonly referred to as a graphics processing unit, or GPU, but in reality the GPU is just a component (albeit the primary, defining component) of the graphics card.
In fact, GPUs come in two major forms:
An integrated GPU is built into the motherboard and cannot be upgraded or replaced. You’ll find this in laptops and inexpensive desktop PCs. These graphics typically have modest performance and don’t perform well for tasks like games or professional graphics production.
A discrete GPU is mounted on a graphics card that slips into a computer’s expansion slot on the motherboard. This kind of graphics card is replaceable so it can be upgraded as newer graphics cards are developed and helps keep a PC from becoming obsolete.
Modern graphics cards are extremely sophisticated devices that in some ways behave like stand-alone computers. They perform an enormous number of calculations and are typically the most sophisticated components in a computer – particularly high-end graphics cards optimized for gaming and advanced graphics processing.
Not only are they responsible for drawing ordinary 2D graphics such as windows and documents, but the best modern graphics cards can generate realistic, high-resolution 3D graphics in real time without needing that content to be pre-rendered. They’re essential for graphics production, such as photography and video production, because they’re able to manipulate and process an enormous number of pixels in real time.
Increasingly, graphics cards are also capable of performing a technique known as ray tracing. Ray tracing is a form of 3D graphics in which scenes are rendered by tracing the path of each light beam in a scene and accurately modeling its effect on materials and textures in the image. Ray-traced graphics are incredibly realistic and previously could only be rendered in advance with copious amounts of processing power. As graphics cards with ray-tracing capabilities continue to drop in price, video games will increasingly rely on ray-traced graphics to deliver cinema-quality visuals, rendered in real time.
Types of graphics cards
Virtually all graphics cards are developed by two rival brands: Nvidia and AMD. No matter what kind of graphics card you purchase or find inside your PC, it’s almost certainly sold directly by one of these companies or by a third-party company that has licensed the technology.
That makes it easier to purchase a graphics card because, while there are a lot of companies selling graphics cards, you can always compare them directly since they are all using the same underlying architecture. In other words, an Nvidia GeForce 2070 GPU will behave more or less the same no matter if you buy it from Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, or Nvidia.
AMD is a close competitor to Nvidia and the two companies sometimes leapfrog each other in top performance. But as a general rule, the best AMD cards offer similar performance to the best Nvidia cards.
Applications for graphics cards
The sophistication and processing power of modern GPUs means that graphics cards are often the most complex and high-performance component in a computer, rivaling or exceeding the computer’s CPU (central processing unit).
High-end graphics cards do all the traditional tasks that they have always been responsible for, including rendering the ordinary graphics you use daily. They also render advanced 3D graphics in real time for computer games.
Graphics professionals rely on high-end graphics cards as well. These days, photo, video, and graphics production applications rely on the graphics card, not the computer’s CPU, to perform advanced image processing, including computational photography, which uses artificial intelligence and computer processing to achieve results that previously could only have been done “in the lens” when photos or video were taken.
The GPUs in graphics cards are also sometimes used for their raw processing power to perform non-graphics work. Cryptocurrency miners, for example, rely on computers with high-end graphics cards to perform the sophisticated mining process for coins.