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I want to see how many FPS I'm getting on my desktop.

As I understand it, in Windows it's just a program called Explorer.exe.

How can I see how many frames per second it is displaying?

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    What sort of frames do you want to count? Either I don't understand your question or you don't quite understand how operating system graphics work. Your computer's UI isn't a video file! – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 24 '19 at 17:08
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explorer.exe doesn't really control the whole visual presentation of your desktop, per se. It runs the shell (things like the start menu and task bar, file and folder icons, etc), but it doesn't have much to do with video rendering. The closest thing to that would probably be dwm.exe -- the Desktop Window Manager that composites the graphics of all the programs running on your desktop together and sends them to the video driver.

I'm not actually sure of a way to look at the framerate of the desktop in Windows, but you don't need to -- it is basically always running at the refresh rate of your monitor, ever since the Desktop Window Manager was introduced in Windows Vista. The design of this is basically that all the programs update off-screen copies of the screen as fast as possible, and the DWM copies the current changes to the video driver once per screen refresh. Because this drawing process works differently from the way discrete video frames are generated in most games, there isn't really an "FPS" number you can associate with it, at least not in a sense that would be comparable to what we think of when we think of FPS in games.

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    I don't know for certain how Windows does it, but on Mac if there's no actual moving content such as a video playing, then the 'desktop environment' will only be ticking over at 4 or 5 fps - there's no reason for it to run any faster. I have a menu bar monitor that shows fps constantly & it definitely changes if I switch to a desktop with gaming or video content, as opposed to just 'static' stuff like the desktop itself or file windows. – Tetsujin Nov 24 '19 at 12:17
  • @Tetsujin in this case, Windows' FPS would probable be 0. Nothing changed = nothing to do. – Ivan Milyakov Nov 25 '19 at 3:13
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This was something that I ran into when I bought a 144 Hz G-Sync gaming monitor - I noticed that Explorer was still running at what appeared to be 60 Hz despite having this monitor plugged in. Fortunately, my monitor also came with the solution: in the front panel settings, I could turn on a frame counter that shows the FPS at the top right of the screen (and sure enough, it was only running at 60 Hz).

Fortunately, you can also change the target refresh rate that your desktop runs at. Here's a link with pictures, but the basic idea is that you want to change the properties of your display adapter by going into Settings -> Display -> Advanced display settings -> Display adapter properties for display (whichever one is your monitor) -> Monitor. There's a drop-down with all the refresh rates your monitor supports (provided "Hide modes that this monitor cannot display" is checked) - pick the one you want, click OK, and enjoy your new buttery smooth 144/240 Hz Windows desktop.

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    The monitors refresh rate and the frame rate is not the same thing generally. There's no reason to refresh static content, so, a static image may essentially be 0fps, even though the same picture is sent to the monitor 144 times per second. – vidarlo Nov 24 '19 at 15:45
  • @vidarlo When gamers ask about an application's FPS, they usually care about its responsiveness - i.e. if information changes over time (which it is always doing in a video game), how quickly and how often do I get updates? Desktops don't move most of the time, but I do want it to be fluid and snappy when moving the mouse, dragging things around, or typing. – TheHansinator Nov 24 '19 at 16:43
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    Yes. But that refresh rate is different from the screen refresh rate. The screen refresh rate (which your, and pretty much all monitors made the previous 20 years shows) has nothing to with the redraw rate. – vidarlo Nov 24 '19 at 16:45
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    @TheHansinator Of course, but that's not what FPS actually is, unless you happen to have a system that kicks out constant FPS for some reason, which most of the time (and particularly with general-purpose software) doesn't make sense. That's just a waste of processing power to constantly redraw when you don't need to. Instead, things are redrawn when they need to be redrawn according to the software running them. This whole question seems kinda vacuous tbh. – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 24 '19 at 17:10

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