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[ The PC Guide | Troubleshooting and Repair Guide | The Troubleshooting Expert | Troubleshooting Specific Components | Troubleshooting Video Cards | Image Quality Problems ]

The refresh rate my video card is using is too low, or it is supposed to support a particular refresh rate but it is using a lower rate instead

Explanation: The video card's refresh rate is too low. You may believe that the video card you are using should be capable of running at a higher refresh rate than the system is currently using. You are unable to set the video card to run at a refresh rate that it is supposed to support.

Diagnosis: There are two general of the causes of this problem. The first is the possibility that the card may not be exactly what you think it is, because many manufacturers sell different versions of their cards and they can have different capabilities. For example, Matrox sells both "retail" and "OEM" versions of their popular Millennium card. The retail version uses a faster RAMDAC and is therefore capable of displays at higher refresh rates than the OEM version. More on retail vs. OEM can be found here. The second possibility is misconfiguration. If the system is not set up properly then the refresh rates may be selected incorrectly. In particular, many people don't realize that under Windows 95, the refresh rate setting is impacted by the selection of monitor type. In many PCs Windows 95 is set up with a generic monitor type selected (because it doesn't appear to matter much which monitor type is chosen, at first glance). This tells the video driver (incorrectly) that the monitor is overly limited in the refresh rates it can handle.

Recommendation:

  • Determine if the card you are using is the retail or OEM version of the card. Generally speaking, if the card was bought at a retail outlet and came in a shrink-wrapped retail box, it should be the retail version. If the card came already installed in a purchased name-brand PC, or if it was bought cheaply in a plain cardboard box at a computer show or discount merchandiser, it is probably OEM. Look up the card's capabilities at the manufacturer's web site, and you may find that if you have an OEM card, the refresh rate capabilities are less than you thought.
  • Make sure that you have the correct drivers installed for your video card. Use the configuration software that goes with your video card to check the refresh rates. Often, the default refresh rates initially chosen by the system are much lower than the maximum rates that are possible if you manually change them.
  • Ensure that you have selected the correct monitor type either within Windows or in the appropriate place in your video driver configuration utility. Running at too high a refresh rate for your monitor can damage it, so often the default is to run at a very low rate if the monitor type is unknown. Under Windows 95, the "Monitor" item in the Device Manager (under System Properties) controls what type of monitor the operating system thinks is attached to the PC.
  • It is possible that there is some sort of problem with the video card. You may want to try troubleshooting it here.
  • You may want to try lowering the resolution or color depth of the display. Most video cards will run lower-resolution screens at higher refresh rates than higher-resolution ones. Going to 800x600 instead of 1024x768 may allow you to choose a higher refresh rate. Similarly, going to 256-color mode from true-color may raise the refresh rate.

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