While the individual (and combined) performance of a system’s internal components are doubtlessly the most important factor of any computer, there still lies a need to consider the performance of exterior components—in other words, the peripherals.
And while—usually—the purpose of a peripheral is fairly straightforward, I’ve seen a fair amount of confusion regarding some of the metrics they’re judged by—especially in computer monitors. More specifically, the terms “response time” and “refresh rate” tend to get mixed up fairly often.
So, what’s the difference between the two? And why does it matter? Which one is more important?
Between these two terms, response time is more narrowly applied. The unfortunate truth is that, currently, we have no way of garnering an immediate response whenever we press a button on our keyboard, or move our mouse. While current technology allows us to minimize the delay to an extent that it’s not visible to the naked eye (or, really, even a factor in day to day life), it’s still there. This delay, as one might expect, is aptly named response time, and it is measured in milliseconds (ms).
As straightforward as it seems, there’s some nuance to how this term is applied to different areas. For example, the response time of a monitor measures how quickly it’s display shifts from one color to another. The lower the response time, the more accurate and fluid the display. The “industry standard” is 10ms—though these days, most gaming monitors boast a 1ms response time.
When referring to a computer mouse, it’s a bit more self-descriptive. Also measured in milliseconds, a mouse’s response time is how long it takes for inputs to be recorded, reported, and executed.
For obvious reasons, the lower the response time, the better—especially when competing in high-risk tac shooters like CS:GO or Valorant. Until recently, wireless mice were eschewed across most titles due to the fact that they held higher response times than their wired counterparts. This is no longer the case, however, and further advancements make an even more compelling argument for wireless peripherals—but I digress.
On the other hand, what is refresh rate?
Refresh rate can mean a lot of things, as it’s a term that’s broadly applied to a wide variety of different fields.
When referring to monitors, refresh rate (measured in hertz, or hz) refers to the number of pictures that the monitor is capable of drawing every second. Rather than one continuous moving image, videos are recorded (and displayed) as a series of images rapidly displayed one after another. This means that higher refresh rates directly lead to a more fluid, seamless display.
A 60Hz monitor is capable of displaying up to 60 images per second, a 75Hz monitor is capable of displaying 75 images per second, 144hz displays can display 144 images per second, and so on.
This also directly correlates to how many frames per second a monitor is capable of supporting. For example, a game could be running at a consistent 120 FPS, but if the monitor only goes up to 60Hz, it’s only displaying 60 FPS. This is why anyone serious about competitive shooters will tell you to get the highest refresh rate monitor you possibly can.
Higher refresh rates lead to a more accurate picture, which can mean the difference between winning and losing a round—and by extension, a match.
While not the focus of this post, you should also consider the refresh rate of servers hosting the games you play. For example, Valorant servers boast a high, 128 tick refresh rate, meaning that you want to be displaying at least 128 FPS to really reap the benefits. More on that later.
When referring to computer mice, refresh rate (also referred to as polling rate) is used to measure how often the mouse reports its position. A 125Hz mouse will report its position 125 times every second—or once every 8 milliseconds. A higher refresh rate leads to more accurate tracking, though the effect it has on an individual’s performance is often a subject of contention—especially in the 1000Hz range and up. Even then, though, the vast majority of people will all agree on one thing: The higher the refresh rate, the better.
Server Effect on Refresh Rate
I briefly mentioned the effect that servers can have on the refresh rate of your hardware. Online servers also have their own refresh rate (more commonly known as tick rate). In this case, a server’s refresh rate is a measure of how often the server is updated with information from the connected computers.
As before, 60 tick rate servers are updated 60 times a second, and so on. While an outlier, Valorant servers feature 128 tick rate servers. This means that, if running on a 60hz monitor, the server is still updated 128 times every second—meaning that more than half the updates aren’t displayed properly.
In some extreme cases, I’ve had this lead to significant peeker’s advantage, something that Riot vowed to combat when developing Valorant.
Refresh Rate vs Response Time
In conclusion, when picking out a monitor, it’s important to narrow down what you do and don’t need. For example, a digital artist would be more interested in color accuracy and display resolution than response time and refresh rate—while those two factors are perhaps the most important part of any gaming display.