Last Updated: November 25, 2021
If you're new to PC gaming or want a quick refresher to the fundamental concept of frame rates (FPS), this beginner friendly guide will explain what to know about frame rates so that you can better plan the right PC build for your needs. I'll also cover how to show a frame rate counter on-screen when playing a game.
See Also: PC Gaming Resolutions Explained
Your frame rate, also referred to as Frames Per Second (FPS for short, not to be confused with First Person Shooter which is another potential meaning of "FPS"), is a measurement of the number of times your computer renders an updated image to the display.
So, as an example, let's say you're running a game and your PC is capable of 50 FPS at a particular moment in time for that particular game (FPS constantly fluctuates based on the exact scene in the game). In that moment, your display is showing 50 different "images" (or snapshots if you will) per second onto your screen. If your frame rate dips to say 30FPS, then you're only seeing 30 different images per second.
The more powerful your gaming PC, the higher your frame rate, which means you'll be seeing a higher amount of different snapshots/images on the screen every second - up to a certain extent. The maximum amount of images you can see per second is capped by the refresh rate of your monitor. So, on a standard 60Hz display, you can see up to a maximum of 60 FPS. This doesn’t mean you can’t get higher than 60FPS, as your PC may be capable of say 100FPS, but to be able to physically see those extra frames over 60, you would need a higher refresh rate monitor such as a 144Hz display.
When your PC struggles in a certain game, and cannot produce a FPS number that is within the realm of "smooth" for the human eye (we'll get to what numbers those are in a bit), depending on how low the FPS goes you may notice a lack of fluidity in the image since the image isn't being updated as often as it needs to be (in order to be smooth).
The stutter or choppiness caused by poor performance (ie low frame rates) can get in the way of the enjoyment of a game, and can also make you less accurate in games of skill such as shooters or Battle Royale games. But how much of a negative effect it has on your experience varies from game to game and person to person.
It's a somewhat subjective thing, and some gamers don’t mind the occasional stutter here or there, assuming the frame rate doesn’t go too low. Other gamers, especially in a competitive multiplayer context, do everything they can to avoid lower than optimal frame rates. Here's what different frame rates "feel" like, generally speaking.
Since 60FPS is regarded as silky smooth, you may wonder why some people aim for what seems like ridiculously high frame rates like 144FPS or even higher. Monitors with 144Hz refresh rates are super popular these days when it comes to fast-paced genres like shooters or racing, and they allow you to see up to 144FPS on screen if your PC can handle such high frame rates.
But is 144FPS even noticeable? Is it worth the extra money? Depends who you ask. Some people swear by 144Hz monitors, and many professional gamers use even faster-updating displays than that (240Hz monitors, where you can theoretically see up to 240FPS). But the truth is that some people won't notice much difference between 60FPS and 144FPS if you put them through a blind test, because 60FPS is already quite fast.
That said, there certainly are some people who can notice, myself included, and going back to a 60Hz screen after getting used to 144Hz doesn't feel right and you definitely notice the slower updating of the screen. Whether 144Hz is worth it or not completely depends on the individual, and the games you play, but I would personally say it is definitely worth looking into for shooters or racing games. For slower paced games/genres though, 60FPS is absolutely more than enough, and provides such a smooth experience that 144Hz would not be worth it.
There are different ways to go about showing FPS on-screen whilst in a game. Here are the most common methods, which are all very simple:
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Indie programmer currently working on my first official game release (after years of hobby projects), an atmospheric story-driven VR FPS/adventure built with Unreal Engine to be announced once I'm ready here and here (for anyone into VR FPS's). Also likes writing about tech, which helps to fund development of the game. My favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, HL1, WC3, Vice City, and KOTOR, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Alyx.
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