Monitors can include a range of features that can improve your viewing experience. One of the less common settings found on a monitor is overdrive. If overdrive sounds confusing, or you have no idea how to enable it, this guide is for you! What is overdrive on a monitor, and, furthermore, what settings should you be using?
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What Is Overdrive On A Monitor? (How Response Overdrive Works)
It's a difficult task on its own to decide which monitor is best for you. With various brands promising high refresh rates, improved panels, and FreeSync/G-Sync compatibility, we are spoilt for choice. One marketed aspect that all monitor manufacture's love advertising is a fast response time.
I'm sure we have all seen the generic slogan, "1ms response time!". But what if I told you that most monitors that advertise 1ms response times actually perform better within 3 to 5? Moreover, setting your monitor to 'overdrive' is actually adjusting the standard response time of 5ms to the advertised speed of 1ms.
1. Ghosting and Response Time
Before diving into 'overdrive,' we first need to discuss two important terms: ghosting and response time. If you're interested in a monitor's overdrive, chances are you've heard of the term ghosting. Like its name, ghosting refers to blurred images that you see on your display.
They aren't random or necessarily white images like you'd expect from a spooky encounter, but rather images left behind for a split second. Why does this occur? Well, it's quite simple, a slow response time paired with a fast-moving image (for example, a videogame) doesn't have a pleasant outcome.
Ghosting, therefore, results in a distorted display because the monitor's response time cannot keep up with the speed of the changing image. Consequently, some pixels may not have time to fully change color when a new image is on the screen, and for that reason, fragments of the old image (a few microseconds ago) are left behind like a ghost.
The process continues until the image stabilizes with slower-moving content. Ghosting won’t necessarily be prevalent if you’re browsing documents, watching standard YouTube videos, or moving between applications. However, if you’re using graphically demanding programs, prepare for a few smears.
Response time is how long it takes for a pixel to change color. The lower your response time, the faster your pixels will change color, and subsequently, the more accurate and updated your display will be. But how do you decide on a fast response time monitor, and which is best for gaming/entertainment? The answer lies with the type of monitor panel.
2. VA, TN, and IPS Panels
There are three types of monitor panels: VA, TN, and IPS. VA panels offer superior colors and clarity, while the response time is often high. TN panels have fast response times, but their colors are often washed and less vibrant.
IPS panels are a mixture of the two, with great colors and a quick response time, but usually include a higher price–tag when compared to its VA and TN predecessors.
How does this relate to ghosting, response time, and overdrive? Well, depending on what you plan to do with your monitor, you may need a fast response time to avoid ghosting. Perhaps, you're a photographer, and picture clarity and quality take priority.
Stable images won't need a fast response time, and a VA panel will do just fine. Alternatively, if you're a gamer on a budget, then IPS panels offer low input delay and fast response times. Finally, if you're a PC enthusiast looking for a bit of everything, IPS might be the middle ground you're after.
3. What is Overdrive?
Response overdrive, Response Time Compensation, OD, or purely, overdrive is a monitor setting that allows you to increase the response time of your monitor. It's got nothing to do with overclocking or adjusting your desktop in any way, but simply changing your response time from 5ms to 1ms inside the built-in monitor menu. For more info on overclocking, read our guide on overclocking and CPU lifespan.
At the start of this section, we mentioned that some monitors might claim to have a 1ms response time but are actually hovering around 3-5ms at default. You, therefore, have to switch the monitor to its fastest setting to get the maximum performance as promised by the manufacturer.
Ethically speaking, most monitor manufacturers, therefore, mislead tech newbies when buying their first high-end monitor. You’re probably not going to get that 1ms response time as promised out of the box, and if you do, there’s a chance it might lead to inverse ghosting, or overshooting (but more on that below!). However, overdrive is important when looking at high refresh rate monitors.
60Hz monitors refresh an image 60 times per second, so there are approximately 17ms between two refresh cycles. Additionally, 144Hz monitors have a refresh cycle of 6.94ms, and 240hz monitors hover around 4.16ms.
Again, for your monitor to avoid ghosting, the response time needs to be quicker than the refresh cycle. Hence a pixel that takes longer than 6.94ms to change on a 144Hz monitor will overlap and cause visible smears and trailing. This can happen when playing certain games on a 60Hz monitor.
When unboxing your 144Hz monitor for the first time, you might notice the 'normal response time is 8ms'; therefore, go into your overdrive setting and adjust it to 5ms to avoid ghosting. How will this affect the performance of the monitor? In summary, you're not going to see enemies faster in-game, but the overall quality of the image will be smooth, up-to-date, and trail-free.
How To Turn Overdrive On & Off (Adjust Response Time Compensation)
There isn't a universal method for turning on & off overdrive. However, most brands will have the option located in the OSD (on-screen display). The on-screen display does not mean your NVIDIA or AMD control panel where you can adjust the picture quality, refresh rate, or specifications. It's actually the built-in menu that comes with your monitor.
Now, using your fingers, locate any buttons on the side or the rear of your monitor. In some cases, your monitor might have touch-sensitive buttons instead of push buttons, therefore keep a lookout for a bookshelf menu icon.
Once you have located the controls, push the menu button preferably, but any key will usually work to get the OSD activated. Your monitor should now have an overlay with a few settings over your current wallpaper or whatever you are busy with.
Remember, this monitor menu is controlled by the monitor alone, so you cannot make adjustments using your mouse. No amount of clicking or scrolling is going to activate the controls.
I personally have an Alienware AW2720HF monitor, so once I click the menu button, I simply need to navigate to 'game,' 'response time,' and choose between 'fast, super-fast, or extreme .'Extreme allows my monitor to go into a 1ms overdrive response time, whereas the default 'fast' setting is more or less 4ms.
If you have a different brand such as MSI, LG, Asus, Samsung, etc., you will probably find the overdrive setting under 'display, response time compensation, OD, personalize, or enhanced mode .' Once you've located the overdrive setting, you'll either see the actual response time options, for example, '1ms, 3ms, 5ms' or 'standard, fast, faster .'
To navigate the OSD, you might need to use your volume buttons to go up and down, and click the menu button to confirm your choice. It might seem confusing here, but don’t worry, it's pretty easy when you’ve got the controls in front of you.
The overdrive setting is standard on most newly released monitors and shouldn’t damage the display in any way. You can have it on for as long as you like, and switching it off takes a few seconds. Furthermore, there's no need to turn off your entire PC or restart your system.
Keep in mind that the overdrive setting is usually on its slowest setting by default, so you will need to change it to get the fastest response time. And finally, if you can't find the overdrive setting, chances are your monitor doesn't have it and comes with a fixed response time.
However, most gaming or performance catered monitors will have the option for maximum customization.
What Overdrive Settings Should You Use? (Tips For Popular Brands)
Now that you know what overdrive is and how to enable it, what is the best setting? If you're presented with a choice between a 'normal, fast, or super-fast response time,' you're probably going to lean towards the quickest right?
Well, most people would, and they probably want that true 1ms response time as promised by the manufacturer. But, sometimes, more power reaps less benefit.
Before choosing which setting is best, you need to keep the popular quote ‘If it ain’t broke, don't fix it!' in mind. If your monitor isn't experiencing any ghosting, leave it on the normal/default overdrive setting. I promise you're not going to see a difference between a 5ms response time versus a 1ms response time.
It's purely your brain having a placebo effect on you, and chances are your eyes aren't sensitive enough to see a distinct variation. On the other hand, upgrading your refresh rate from 60Hz to 144Hz will be night and day in terms of responsiveness.
With that being said, there might be a chance your monitor has ghosting on its default response time setting. We would then advise you to move to the ‘fast’ setting and see if it gets rid of the problem. Never jump from ‘normal’ to ‘super-fast’ without trying the middle ground because it can lead to overshooting.
Overshooting, also known as inverse ghosting, occurs when a pixel tries to change color too quickly and goes beyond what the target color is meant to be. Similar to ghosting, overshooting results in a trail left behind from a moving object, but in a more whitish color.
Therefore, keep your overdrive settings on normal or fast if possible, and attempt the highest super-fast setting as a last resort. Popular monitors such as the Dell S2421HGF and the ASUS TUF Gaming VG27AQ both advertise a 1ms response time, but in fact, perform best at their default 5ms setting.
These monitors have no ghosting but still include an overdrive option. Once you select fast or super-fast, the monitors then begin overshooting, and the experience dampens quite a bit.
Why do manufacturers do this, you may ask? Marketing and false hype. Again, it's not the best strategy, but if everyone claims a 1ms response time, you'll need to offer it too in order to compete.
Frequently Asked Monitor Overdrive Questions
Can overdrive damage your monitor?
No, overdrive does not damage your monitor or reduce its lifespan. It can, however, lead to overshooting or inverse ghosting which can cause a distorted trailing effect. You should therefore leave your overdrive setting on default or increase it one level at a time.
How do I know if my monitor is ghosting?
Ghosting isn't difficult to see, and you'll notice right away that something isn't right with the picture. As a fast-moving object moves around your screen, it will appear as if there are remnants or smears. In other words, your monitor will appear as if the image has stained the display for a few split seconds.
Can overdrive make video games smoother?
No, overdrive is meant to get rid of ghosting, so the smoothness of your gameplay still factors into your refresh rate, frames per second (fps), and overall system performance. Removing ghosting can make gameplay clearer, but again, it's not going to feel as though you’ve gained an extra 50fps.
Can I have overdrive on while using G-Sync or FreeSync?
Yes, G-Sync and FreeSync are adaptive monitor technologies that support a variable refresh rate. The result is an image that is tear and stutter-free. The overdrive setting, therefore, has no effect on the refresh rate but rather on the response time alone. Users can choose to have overdrive on/off, or G-Sync/FreeSync on/off with no conflict. You can check out our favorite FreeSync monitors here.
Overdrive might sound complicated at first to tech newbies, but it's merely a setting found in the monitor's on-screen display (OSD). If you experience ghosting, you can choose between various response times (overdrive) ranging from normal, fast, or super-fast (the name varies between brands).
Increase the overdrive value if you experience ghosting, but remember, never overshoot your settings!
Andrew White is the founder of TechGearoid, a leading technology review & information website that is designed to help consumers make better decisions when it comes to their IT purchases. As a specialist tech writer (nerd) with over 10 years of experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern technology & the newest market innovations. When he isn’t providing value for his readers, he’s usually drinking coffee or at the beach. Andrew lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and family.