Manually setting the Win9x refresh rate

Occasionally a monitor will go goofy on you when Windows decides to use a weird refresh rate that the monitor won’t support. Sometimes Windows (especially Windows 95) just flat refuses to work with a really old VGA monitor because it insists on using something other than 60 Hz. Or maybe Win9x just isn’t using the highest rate your monitor supports. In NT, you can manually set the refresh rate. In 95 or 98, you have to go spelunking. Boot in safe mode, which uses boring but safe 640×480, 60 Hz. Set the resolution to something you know works. Then open Regedit and navigate to HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\Class\Display.

Many installations will have multiple forks at Display, starting at 0000. The highest number is the active video card. Select it and navigate to Default\RefreshRate. It will probably be set either to -1 or 0. Change that value to 60 to get a safe 60 Hz rate.

To improve your display, change it to a rate your monitor supports at your desired resolution. Remember, refresh rate comes at the expense of resolution. Some monitors advertise obscenely high rates, but those will generally only work at 640×480. Most monitors top out at 85 Hz (at best) at usable resolutions. Check your documentation that came with your monitor if you’re not certain.

Be careful–overdriving your monitor or your video card can seriously damage one or the other, and I can’t take any responsibility for that.

I used this trick to get Windows to work with a number of really early VGA monitors. For the software I was wanting to run, they were perfectly adequate.

The Uwe Sieber Utilities

German programmer Uwe Sieber has assembled a great collection of DOS and Windows 9x utilities. I know I’ve mentioned them before, but they warrant another mention. If you need mouse and CD-ROM drivers that occupy as little memory as possible, if you need to wipe a hard disk totally clean and your disk manufacturer doesn’t provide such a utility, or if you need to analyze Windows’ bootlogs, Uwe’s place is the place to go.