The world of PC gaming is full of high-end hardware and accessories that normal people don’t need. The latest entry in that category, announced Monday at CES 2020 by Asus and Nvidia, is a gaming monitor for a niche market that — let’s face it — probably doesn’t include you.
Known as the Asus ROG Swift 360Hz, the 24.5-inch 1080p display is true to its name, billed as “the world’s first 360 Hz monitor.” (This follows laptops with 300 Hz screens from Acer and Asus, which the companies released in late 2019.) That figure refers to the display’s refresh rate: The screen updates 360 times per second, which is six times as often as a standard 60 Hz monitor and 50% faster than a 240 Hz screen.
Of course, you have to pair the monitor with a computer that’s powerful enough to run a game at 360 frames per second, which entails generating every new frame in less than 3 milliseconds. Games that can reach those blistering speeds at 1080p resolution — with the right graphics card — include esports mainstays such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Fortnite, and Rainbow Six Siege. Combined with Nvidia’s G-Sync adaptive sync technology to prevent screen tearing, the monitor is designed to deliver top-level performance for the people whose livelihoods depend on it: professional gamers.
Monitors with refresh rates above 60 Hz — displays are already widely available at 144 Hz and, for esports players, as high as 240 Hz — provide legitimate, tangible benefits for competitive gaming. In a field where winning and losing can come down to a matter of milliseconds, speed kills. (Literally.) Esports pros depend on high frame rates and low input latency. Asus says the ROG Swift 360Hz will offer “a huge upgrade in motion clarity, smoothness, and responsiveness.” Some players will notice that more than others, though.
Nvidia’s research department published a study in November that demonstrated measurable improvements in response time for aiming tasks, when playing at high frame rates and high refresh rates with low latency. The study found that going from 60 Hz to 240 Hz provided a 33% improvement in flick shot hits in Overwatch — for a test group of “eight skilled esports athletes,” a tiny sample size. At 360 Hz, the improvement rose to 37% better than 60 Hz performance.
If you find that difficult to parse, you’re probably not a competitive gamer. Which is fine! The folks who participate in esports tournaments comprise a tiny fraction of the millions and millions of people around the world who play video games. That’s why Nvidia hired Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert, a five-time Counter-Strike: Global Offensive champion, to provide a testimonial for its announcement video about the ROG Swift 360Hz.
Gilbert starts out by saying that he was skeptical of the potential for 360 Hz gaming to deliver a palpable improvement over 240 Hz, but that after trying it, he “could immediately tell that there was a difference.” I have no reason to doubt that, since it comes from a longtime esports athlete. And no less an authority than Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, professional Fortnite streamer and former Halo esports pro, espoused the benefits of a high refresh rate in his book Ninja: Get Good: My Ultimate Guide to Gaming.
But a 360 Hz monitor is almost certainly overkill for the average gamer. And this is where Nvidia’s marketing starts to become a bit ridiculous. At the end of the promotional video, Gilbert says that he believes the monitor is “for anyone who wants to invest in better performance” — even if “you’re just playing for fun on the weekend with your friends, but you want to outfrag them.”
That’s eyebrow-raising on its face, and even more so when you consider that Asus has yet to announce full specifications for the ROG Swift 360Hz, let alone a price or release date. (For reference, the ROG Swift PG258Q, which has the same size, resolution, and features except with a 240 Hz refresh rate, launched in 2017 for $599.99.)
I can’t tell you what to do with your money, of course, but I will say this: If you’ve got upwards of $600 burning a hole in your pocket, I’m sure you can find a better use for it than a new monitor that may or may not make it marginally easier for you to rack up kills in a multiplayer game. (That much money could buy a cutting-edge graphics card, for instance.) Or you could try a less exciting upgrade that will pay long-term dividends: overhauling your desktop setup so you can more comfortably “outfrag” your friends.