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I am planning to buy a CRT (low price, high refresh rate, no ghosting, no input lag). On some specs page they list different values for maximum refresh rates and preset signal timing.

For example on the specs page of Sony E430 I can read:

Preset signal timing

VGA      640 x 480/60 Hz
EVGA     640 x 480/75 Hz
VESA     640 x 480/85 Hz
VGA-Text 720 x 400/70 Hz
VESA     720 x 400/85 Hz
SVGA     800 x 600/60 Hz
ESVGA    800 x 600/75 Hz
VESA     800 x 600/85 Hz
Mac 16"  832 x 624/75 Hz
VESA     1024 x 768/60 Hz
VESA     1024 x 768/70 Hz
EUVGA    1024 x 768/75 Hz
Mac 19"  1024 x 768/75 Hz
VESA     1024 x 768/85 Hz
VESA     1152 x 864/75 Hz
VESA     1152 x 864/85 Hz
Mac 2    1152 x 870/75 Hz
VESA     1280 x 960/60 Hz
VESA     1280 x 960/85 Hz
VESA     1280 x 1024/60 Hz
VESA     1280 x 1024/75 Hz
VESA     1280 x 1024/85 Hz
VESA     1600 x 1200/60 Hz
VESA     1600 x 1200/65 Hz
VESA     1600 x 1200/70 Hz
VESA     1600 x 1200/75 Hz

Maximum refresh rates:

800 x 600/155 Hz
1024 x 768/121 Hz
1280 x 1024/91 Hz
1600 x 1200/78 Hz

Is this "maximal refresh rate" a theoretical maximal limit which I cannot set? Or is it possible to get 120Hz at 1024x768?

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There is one area, where these aspects (refresh rate, ghosting, input lag) are very important: it is fast paced high fps gaming (think quake, unreal, etc). Also, people will say, you can't differentiate 60Hz from 120Hz. I say its rubbish. We did informal blind tests and I could tell every time the difference. The 120hz feels really smooth compared to 60 or 75hz. – gnidoc Sep 10 '11 at 9:05
up vote 1 down vote accepted

The preset resolution rates are standards which most video cards should support out of the box. The maximum refresh rates are supported by the monitor, however might not be supported by the video card you are using. You need to check your video card's specification to see if it will support 120Hz @ 1024x768. This shouldn't be a problem in most modern video cards, though.

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On some spec pages they only lists presets (1024x768: 85hz), but they also write "Vertical Frequency (Hz) 50 to 160 Hz", what does this 160Hz refer to? – gnidoc Sep 9 '11 at 23:15
horizontal refresh is the time it takes the electron gun to make a draw from left to right and move back to the left. Vertical refresh is the time it takes the electron gun to draw all the horizontal refresh rates (the entire screen) and move back up to the top. – Keltari Sep 9 '11 at 23:20
  • 800 x 600/155 Hz
  • 1024 x 768/121 Hz
  • 1280 x 1024/91 Hz
  • 1600 x 1200/78 Hz

This is the answer to your question.

It's the maximal "vertical refresh rate" which people simply call "refresh rate" that your monitor can do for each resolution. So yes, you can set your CRT to 1024x768 @120Hz

You might need to tweak your settings in your AMD/NVIDIA utility to access this mode though.

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