Screen flicker can be a headache

Your job can really be a headache—especially if you spend all day staring at a monitor. Here's an easy trick that has the potential to take at least some of the pain out of your work.

Staring at a monitor all day can leave you with blurry vision and a monster headache. If you’ve noticed that after a long day you feel like someone is slowly tightening a vise into your temples, you might be suffering the effects of screen flicker. Fortunately, there’s a cure that works with most newer monitors and video cards.

Diagnosing flicker
Open an application window so that it takes up most of the screen. A glaring, painfully white screen is best. Now peer closely at this window. Does your monitor seem to flicker? If so, what you’re observing is a monitor refresh rate that is just slow enough to be visible. This effect depends on each person’s physiology. Some people won’t notice the flicker while some people will find it disturbing, even nauseating.

Curing your monitor
To adjust the refresh rate, begin by right-clicking a blank area of your desktop and choosing Properties to open the Display Properties sheet. Then select the Settings tab. On the lower right of this tab, you should see a drop-down box called Refresh Frequency. If you don’t see this box, your settings may be customized for your computer’s video chip. In that case, you should see an Advanced button. Click that button and look for the Refresh option.

Figure A
You can change your monitor’s refresh frequency on the Settings tab of the Display Properties sheet.

If you’re like me, you can notice a refresh rate of 60 Hertz (the speed at which the video display is rewritten on the screen). I find it vaguely disorienting. Depending on your hardware, you might be able to choose new values anywhere in the range of 42-85 Hertz. But before you change values and click OK, let’s talk consequences.

Check your monitor’s specs
First, you should always check your monitor’s specs before you make any change. Using a refresh rate that isn’t compatible with your monitor can damage it. Second, you should always test changes before you make them permanent. Otherwise, you may end up with an unreadable display. In that case, you’ll have to reboot into Safe Mode in order to restore your earlier settings. Finally, depending on your video card, upping the refresh rate may reduce your desktop area and the number of viewable colors.

Now that you’ve been warned, you may proceed. Change your refresh rate to a higher value—for example, 72 or 75 Hertz. Click the Test button; do not click OK! The new settings will display for five seconds before returning to their previous values. If the test worked, you can keep those settings.

If you don’t have a Test button, your Windows configuration should still let you restore previous settings by pressing Esc. Make sure you click Apply, so you don’t exit the dialog box. Remember, if you do mess up here, you can always boot into Safe Mode and restore your earlier settings.

Tweak your video settings
If your settings worked, you should notice a steadier display with little or no flicker and feel a sense of relief when looking at your screen. At the end of the day, you should have fewer headaches (the kind caused by your monitor, that is).

Don’t exit the Display Settings tab yet. First take a look at the values for Colors and Desktop Area. As you raised the refresh rate, these may have been automatically reduced. Often, you can change the settings back without losing the higher refresh rate. Just remember to test any changes before you click OK to save them. If you can’t set up your display to your perfection, you have a few possibilities. Check the video card vendor’s Web site to see if there’s an updated driver you can install. Or you can purchase a new video card, a new monitor, or both. Remember, you have to spend most of your time at a computer, so it pays to go easy on your eyes.

If you can live with it, consider sacrificing millions of colors or a 1024x768 pixel desktop area for smaller settings.

When you’ve finally finished tweaking your display, click OK and enjoy.

Help your employees
Want to be a support hero? As you make your rounds, check out office monitors. If you see one flickering, offer to change it. The gratitude and goodwill you might earn from this tip can’t hurt an IT department.

Mike Jackman is an editor in chief of TechProGuild and the editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and he also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike's an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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