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Windows 11 includes new Dynamic Refresh Rate feature to save laptop battery life

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This feature looks like it’s designed for a future Surface tablet

Microsoft is introducing a new Dynamic Refresh Rate (DRR) feature in Windows 11 that’s designed to save laptop battery life and boost refresh rates when they’re really needed.

A number of laptops now ship with 120Hz and beyond displays, which make Windows feel a lot smoother across scrolling, animations, and inking. While the added smoothness feels great, running at higher refresh rates takes its toll on battery life.

In Windows 10 you have to decide between 60Hz and 120Hz on a laptop, and it’s a static choice. Microsoft is now building DRR into Windows 11, which will allow a laptop to dynamically adjust its refresh rate. “This means that Windows 11 will seamlessly switch between a lower refresh rate and a higher refresh rate based on what you’re doing on your PC,” explains Ana Marta, a program manager on the graphics team at Microsoft.

You’ll need a laptop that supports DRR and 120Hz or above refresh rates, and the feature will mean that regular tasks like writing emails or documents will run at 60Hz, and then DRR will kick in and boost the screen to 120Hz for inking and scrolling. Apps will need to support DRR, and during the Windows 11 preview DRR is limited to just Office for the scrolling boost. Office, Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Whiteboard, Microsoft Photos, Snip & Sketch, Drawboard PDF, Microsoft Sticky Notes, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft To Do, and Inkodo will all support DRR for inking, too.

The new DRR option in Windows 11.
Image: Microsoft

DRR shouldn’t be confused with VRR (variable refresh rate), particularly because DRR doesn’t apply to games and is focused purely on Windows apps. Windows 11 will be a requirement for DRR, alongside a laptop that supports a variable refresh rate of at least 120Hz. You’ll also need a new graphics driver (WDDM 3.0), and Microsoft says it’s working with its graphics display partners to enable DRR on a variety of devices running the Windows 11 preview.

Where DRR looks like a natural fit is with Microsoft’s Surface line of hardware, particularly thanks to Microsoft’s focus on enabling DRR in inking scenarios. No Surface devices currently ship with a 120Hz display, but this could be an early sign that Microsoft may finally deliver a Surface tablet display that can compete with Apple’s ProMotion displays on the iPad.