What is monitor resolution and refresh rate?

What is more important for a PC user: monitor resolution or refresh rate? Learn more about these important terms for your PC monitor in this guide.

If you’re looking for a new monitor, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make. Not only do you have to decide on screen size and aspect ratio, but you also have to consider screen resolution and refresh rate.

What is monitor resolution? How is it different from refresh rate? What is more important when considering refresh rate versus resolution?

We’ll look at these and other questions below to help you understand the difference between them.

What is monitor resolution?

Sample Monitor

Monitor resolution is a measure how many pixels your monitor can display. The higher the resolution of a monitor, the sharper the images. You also need to consider screen size – a smaller monitor at a specific resolution will provide sharper images than a larger monitor at the same resolution.

Resolution generally refers to the number of vertical and horizontal pixels your monitor can display, although the most common resolutions are often known by specific names.

Here are some of the most popular screen resolutions:

  • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels. Also known as HD.
  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels. Also known as Full HD or FHD.
  • 1440p: 2560 x 1440 pixels. Also known as Quad HD or QHD.
  • 4K: 3840 x 2160 pixels. Also known as Ultra HD or UHD.
  • 8K: 7680 x 4320 pixels.

Why is monitor resolution important?

Pixels have no defined size. The size of a pixel on your monitor will depend on factors such as your monitor’s resolution, but also the size of the screen itself. Monitor resolution is important because the higher the resolution, the smaller the pixels will be for certain display sizes. As you can imagine, the smaller the pixels, the finer the detail that can be displayed.

It’s easy to appreciate the importance of pixel size with a simple experiment. Take a sheet of grid paper and draw a picture by shading whole squares. Up close, your image will look very blocky.

Put your paper on the other side of the room, and it looks a lot smoother. From a distance, each square you’ve shaded looks much smaller, just as smaller pixels lead to smoother images.

High resolution scaling

Higher resolutions mean smaller pixels for the same screen size. This leads to much more detailed images, but it also has unintended consequences.

Imagine you have a 24-inch monitor running at 1080p resolution. There is an icon on your screen that is 32 pixels high. Now imagine another 24-inch monitor running in 4K. Since this monitor has twice as many vertical pixels, that same icon, which is still 32 pixels high, will appear half the height it is on the 1080p monitor. It will be the same for its width.

In other words, at higher monitor resolutions, the same images will appear much smaller. It can get to the point where the images on your screen are too small to comfortably view or use. At this point you will need to use display scaling.

Scaling is like zooming in on the screen. If you used a scaling of 200% for example, each image will appear twice its size. This means that the 32px icon will now be 64px high. This means that the icon will be the same size as on the 1080p monitor, but it will be much sharper.

What is pixel density?

Pixel size will vary between different sized monitors that have the same resolution. It’s there that pixel density Between.

Pixel density is a measure how many pixels your monitor can display per inch. A smaller monitor will have a higher PPI (pixels per inch) than a larger monitor at the same resolution.

A higher PPI is desirable, but at some point the difference becomes undetectable. You’ll have a good experience with a monitor that has a PPI of around 110, but you may decide that you need a higher PPI to meet your specific needs.

What is monitor refresh rate?

Explanation of monitor refresh rate

The monitor refresh rate is a measure of how quickly it can update the image on your screen. The faster the image refreshes, the smoother the motion appears.

Standard monitors have refresh rates of 60Hz or more. This means that the image on your screen can change up to 60 times per second. Some gaming monitors can have refresh rates as high as 240Hz, which means the monitor can update images four times faster than standard monitors.

A modern PC monitor will be able to output at a much higher refresh rate than the base 60Hz. You can change your refresh rate to a higher (or lower) rate, depending on your monitor, GPU, and operating system specifications.

Monitor Refresh Rate vs Resolution: Which is More Important?

The focus on finding monitors has evolved over the years. When higher resolution monitors were first introduced, having the highest resolution was the most important thing. This is because the difference between a 720p monitor and a 4K monitor is like night and day. While an 8K monitor has four times more pixels than a 4K monitor, the difference between the two isn’t that obvious.

This is why the refresh rate has become more important in recent years. One of the main reasons is that games can run at higher frame rates of 100 frames per second or even more. If your monitor can only refresh 60 times per second, it can’t update for every one of those 100 frames.

This leads to a phenomenon called tearing where the frame rate and refresh rate are out of sync – you’ll see a horizontal split in the screen image. Technology like Vsync (supported by some monitors and graphics cards) is designed to help solve this problem.

Games that look better with higher resolution vs. refresh rate

Higher resolutions give you sharper images, so a high resolution monitor makes playing visually detailed games much more enjoyable.

High-end games (such as Red Dead Redemption 2) are full of stunning landscapes and detailed cities. These graphics-intensive games are best played with a high-resolution monitor. The higher the resolution, the more detail you will see in the game.

Games that are better with high refresh rate compared to resolution

Sample FPS player

A high refresh rate is especially important for fast-paced action games such as first-person shooters. A higher refresh rate provides smoother motion, so trying to achieve the perfect headshot feels a bit more natural.

A higher refresh rate could also give you that little edge you need when playing online against someone with a lower refresh rate.

Choose the right monitor

Choosing the right monitor is about more than refresh rate versus resolution. There are plenty of other things to consider if you’re trying to get the best gaming performance out of your PC.

You must select the correct monitor size for your needs. There’s no point in having a huge monitor if you only have to sit inches away from it. You will also need to consider the aspect ratio, i.e. the width of your screen in relation to its height.

It is important to consider how you use your computer. If you mostly browse the internet and type Word documents, an 8K monitor with a 240Hz refresh rate is definitely overkill. If you’re looking for a monitor for business purposes, you might even consider using a dual-monitor system to give you more space.

Edward N. Arrington