Windows 10 2004 20H1 finally gets multi-monitor refresh rates right

Windows 10 2004 20H1 brings in much-needed improvements to the DWM. (Image Source: Fossbytes)
Windows 10 2004 20H1 brings in much-needed improvements to the DWM. (Image Source: Fossbytes)
After nearly 13 years, Microsoft seems to have addressed an oft-ignored issue when it comes to how Windows deals with multi-monitor refresh rates. Till now, Windows 10's Desktop Window Manager (DWM) caused stutters and frame-skips when running multiple monitors with mismatched refresh rates. Windows 10 2004 20H1's DWM, which supports hardware-accelerated GPU scheduling in WDDM 2.7, finally seems to have corrected this issue as demonstrated by a user on Reddit.

The upcoming feature update to Windows 10 has a decent changelog but does not offer much in terms of totally new features. However, it looks like the update solves a niggling issue that has been plaguing Windows users since the days of Vista Longhorn. Those having multi-monitor setups with different refresh rates for each monitor will find a good-enough reason to update their PCs to Windows 10 2004 20H1.

If you have ever used multi-monitor setups with differing refresh rates, say 144 Hz and 60 Hz, any window movement in the 60 Hz monitor meant that stuttering would be observed even in the 144 Hz display as well until the window movement is stopped. This is because the Desktop Window Manager (DWM) — the display compositing component of Windows — draws on both monitors together instead of individually compositing each display. Therefore, the monitor with the higher refresh rate gets pulled down to match the lower refresh rate monitor causing micro-stuttering and frame-skipping.

Reddit user /u/loopy750 uploaded a video to demonstrate the difference in refresh rate sync between Windows 10 1909 and an Insider Preview version of Windows 10 2004 (Build 19041.2004). In the OP's video (which we have uploaded to YouTube and embedded below), one can see the Blur Buster's Test UFO page in the 144 Hz monitor (left) reporting major stuttering when the Explorer window is moved in the secondary 60 Hz monitor (right) in the case of Windows 10 1909.

In Windows 10 2004, however, movement in the secondary display does not seem to cause any stutters the Test UFO page indicating that Microsoft could have finally fixed what has been an ignored issue since the times when DWM was made an integral part of Windows since Windows 8.

Even if you don't have two monitors, the issue can still be replicated when you run a game in borderless windowed mode and have another window by the side. Moving the other window can cause stutters in the windowed game. The issue does not affect games running in fullscreen mode as the image then bypasses DWM and is rendered directly by the GPU. 

A caveat though, is that the OP notes that the fix may not work for refresh rates more than 3x the lowest refresh rate. For example, if you have a 240 Hz primary monitor and a 60 Hz secondary monitor, the 240 Hz monitor may be reduced to 180 Hz when there is movement in the 60 Hz display. Looks like more work still needs to be done, but it is good to know that Microsoft has finally acknowledged the problem instead of passing the buck to GPU vendors. 

This is a welcome news for Twitch and YouTube streamers as they would not have to worry about stuttering affecting gaming in their high refresh rate monitor while streaming in the lower refresh rate one.

Improvements in DWM in Windows 10 2004 are tied to the updates in the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 2.7, which adds support for hardware-accelerated GPU scheduling. This allows video cards to manage their video memory to significantly reduce latency and improve minimum and average FPS regardless of the API used. 

At the moment, using WDDM 2.7 in Windows 10 2004 requires NVIDIA drivers 450.12 and above and Intel driver and above. AMD is yet to make WDDM 2.7-compatible drivers available. 

Hardware-accelerated GPU scheduling can be now enabled in Windows 10 2004. (Image Source: Windows Latest)
Hardware-accelerated GPU scheduling can be now enabled in Windows 10 2004. (Image Source: Windows Latest)
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2020 02 > Windows 10 2004 20H1 finally gets multi-monitor refresh rates right
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam, 2020-02-18 (Update: 2020-02-18)
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam
I am a cell and molecular biologist and computers have been an integral part of my life ever since I laid my hands on my first PC which was based on an Intel Celeron 266 MHz processor, 16 MB RAM and a modest 2 GB hard disk. Since then, I’ve seen my passion for technology evolve with the times. From traditional floppy based storage and running DOS commands for every other task, to the connected cloud and shared social experiences we take for granted today, I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed a sea change in the technology landscape. I honestly feel that the best is yet to come, when things like AI and cloud computing mature further. When I am not out finding the next big cure for cancer, I read and write about a lot of technology related stuff or go about ripping and re-assembling PCs and laptops.