Have you ever laid eyes on the iPad Pro’s crazy-smooth ProMotion screen? Perhaps you’ve seen a OnePlus 7 Pro out and about or, less likely, a Razer Phone with their 90hz refresh screens. If you’ve seen any of these screens or witnessed an awesome gaming laptop or desktop that fully leverages higher-than-normal refresh rates, you know that these smoother frame rates really make a difference not only in games, but in the overall use of any device with any app.
I’ve talked in other posts about the importance of at least 60hz (or 60 frames per second) when dealing with Chromebooks or any other desktop experience. We’ve simply become used to seeing things animate at that frame rate and anything less than that is very, very noticeable.
In general, Chromebooks and Chrome OS are both capped at 60hz across the board. To be fair, I don’t know of any current devices that have a display attached that could take advantage of anything more at this point. Increased frame rates can only happen if the hardware and software both support the increase in refresh rates. For instance, you could have hardware that is fully capable of higher refresh rates but be limited by the OS. On the other hand, your OS and chipset could be more than capable, but your display simply isn’t built for it.
A Change Is Coming
Spotted by an eagle-eyed user u/kentexcitebot over on Reddit, it appears that there are flags already in place in Chrome OS 76 that allow it to leverage much-higher refresh rates right now: up to 144hz according to this post. For what it is worth, we only have a few 75hz monitors on hand, so that is as far as we could test. However, by following the steps outlined below, I have little reason to think the options won’t scale up to whatever the connected monitor is capable of.
After giving this all a test, I didn’t see a ton of difference in the 75hz refresh setting and the 60hz that it was set to prior, but I am encouraged that this new ability is already working on Chrome OS as the Reddit post only tested it with CloudReady (a USB-loaded version of Chromium OS that can be installed on older Windows and Mac devices). We’re asking around to see if we can get our hands on a monitor with higher refresh rates (we may just need to buy a new monitor, right?), but until we do, I’m hopeful that some of you out there will give all this a try and let us know how your higher-refresh monitors do.
My bigger hope is that we are seeing this developed for a few Chromebooks and not just for external displays. We did find a commit mentioning this effort, but it isn’t tied to any devices at the present and we’ve yet to find anything definitively showing us a Chrome OS device in development leveraging a higher-than-usual refresh rate. I can assure you that after today, we’re on the hunt for sure. I personally would love to see this feature in play for ‘Atlas’ as we are 99% sure it will be the Pixelbook 2. With the Pixel 4 getting a 90hz screen, it would be cool for the new Pixelbook to have the same feature.
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How To Try It Out
If you’d like to give this a try, you need to make sure you have the right hardware. We don’t have an exhaustive list of Chrome OS devices that can support higher frame rates, but don’t let that stop you from trying. Outside of the Chromebook, you’ll need:
- A monitor capable of more than 60hz refresh rates
- A monitor with a DisplayPort input
- A DisplayPort Cable
- A DisplayPort adapter (Chrome OS outputs DisplayPort via the USB-C port)
That’s all the hardware you need, but you’ll also need a few settings taken care of on your monitor and then a few flags enabled in Chrome OS. For your monitor, settings vary by make and model, so you’ll just have to dig around a bit. You’ll likely see things in game mode or display settings on your monitor and, if it is available, many monitors put frame rate settings in the FreeSync settings. You’ll want to turn that on for sure. Once you have your monitor in a high frame rate mode, you’ll need to get your Chrome OS device all lined out.
For at least a few more days, you’ll need to head to the Beta Channel to get on Chrome OS 76. We hope to see the Stable Channel on 76 this week, so you may want to wait a few days if you don’t fancy the idea of heading to the Beta Channel. Once you are on Chrome OS 76 (or higher), you’ll need to go to chrome://flags and search for each of the following:
- #enable-viz-display-compositor (set to enable)
- #enable-oop-rasterization (set to enable)
- #list-all-display-models (set to enable)
- #enable-background-blur (set to disable)
Once that is done, you’ll be prompted to restart Chrome. Do that and then plug in your external monitor. Though all this worked for me with both displays running, I closed my Chromebook and tested only on the external display for my trials. At this point, just navigate to settings > displays and then select your external monitor. Under the displays you’ll see a listing of resolutions in a drop-down menu and, if you’ve done everything right, you’ll see something like this:
That’s it! Again, our testing didn’t make a massive difference, but the Reddit user who first found this new feature had this working at up to 144hz, and I guarantee that is a stunningly-different experience. While I’m happy to see this show up for those who have nicer monitors, I’m way more excited at the idea of seeing Chromebooks with higher-than-normal refresh rates available on the internal display. It would be a massive upper hand on a the majority of the laptop industry at this point, and I love the idea of Chromebooks starting to leverage this perk before so many others in the space.