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If you want the best that PC gaming has to offer, chances are a 4K monitor appeals to you. A 4K monitor allows for an unprecedented level of fidelity and detail, something that consoles simply cannot match. (While PS4 Pro and Xbox One X advertise 4K capabilities, they aren’t playing at true 4K– we’ll explain that later in the article if you’re curious.)
4K– also known as 4K Ultra HD– is defined in consumer electronics as a resolution of 3840 x 2160, or 2160p. This is a marked improvement over 1440p and 1080p and is equivalent to four 1080p images stitched together. Even if you can’t run your games at a full 4K resolution, a 4K display will also provide a much cleaner-looking desktop interface and easier-to-read text, which is a bonus for those who spend a lot of time working at their PC.
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Whether you’re looking for the cheapest 4K computer monitor you can find, or an unbeatable 4K 144 Hz gaming experience, we have you covered. Let’s dive into it.
Buying The Best 4K PC Monitor
If you aren’t familiar with all the specifications and technical terms we’ve been tossing around, that’s okay. With this section of the article, we have you covered, and we’ll make sure you have a better understanding of what you’re dealing with. In case you still have any lingering questions after reading this buying guide, feel free to comment below and ask for assistance– we’d be happy to help you.
For now, though, let’s answer the most pressing questions.
Screen Size and PPI
Screen size matters for more than just the physical space the screen occupies on your desk. Take two monitors with the same resolution, then shrink one down by a few inches. If you were to then look at these monitors side-by-side, you would realize that the smaller one looks even clearer, since the pixel density is much higher.
With this in mind, giving simple screen size and resolution measurements don’t tell the whole story about how clear a monitor will actually look in front of you. Taking into account common viewing distance, a monitor will look fairly unclear if it doesn’t meet at about ~90 PPI. 24-inch 1080p monitors meet this target just fine, but still, aren’t exactly high-fidelity.
With 4K monitors like the ones in this article, you’ll see that our PPI measurements far exceed that target. In common desktop usage, this will result in much sharper, clearer text, and a far-improved multitasking experience. In gaming, provided you have the graphics horsepower to back it, you’ll see a massive improvement in overall clarity and fidelity.
If you’re a gamer and want hardware capable of making the most of one of the monitors listed above, take a look at this section.
Upscaled 4K Hardware
- A PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. The former generally upscales from 1440p, and the latter generally upscales from 1800p. In rare scenarios, games will be played at native 4K on these devices. Still, if you get one of the HDR enabled monitors, then you’ll have an extremely crisp viewing experience.
- An RX 580 or GTX 1660. These cards are capable of native 4K at console-equivalent settings in many titles, or 1440p/1800p upscaling at higher settings.
- A GTX 1660 Ti or RTX 2060. Same as above, but with a higher trend toward 1800p.
Native 4K Hardware
- Nvidia: RTX 2070 and higher
- AMD: Radeon VII and higher
Refresh Rate and Display Overclocking
In this section, we’re going to discuss refresh rate. Quite a few monitors on this list have a refresh rate above 60 Hz, and if you aren’t familiar with display technology, you may not know what that means.
To put it simply, refresh rate counts the number of times a monitor refreshes in a second. This is measured in Hertz. It corresponds to the FPS (frames per second, or framerate) that the monitor can display. With a high refresh rate monitor, you’ll actually be able to see framerates above 60 FPS, which translates to a competitive advantage in many games.
- 60 Hz/60 FPS – The standard for a smooth experience. Most displays use this, but not all console games meet this performance target.
- 120 Hz/120 FPS – Super-smooth. Offers the greatest noticeable improvement over 60 Hz/FPS.
- 144 Hz/144 FPS – Hyper-smooth. A bit of a marginal improvement over 120, but still the industry standard. If every frame matters to you, a 144 Hz monitor is key.
G-Sync, FreeSync, and VRR
VRR stands for “Variable Refresh Rate”, and refers to technologies that adjust a monitor’s refresh rate on-the-fly to adjust to changes in framerate.
In scenarios where a monitor’s refresh rate doesn’t match with in-game framerate, screen-tearing is common. In the past, gamers used V-Sync to combat this problem, but it came at the cost of lower performance and higher input latency. With VRR technology, however, this same effect can be achieved at no performance or latency cost to the end user.
G-Sync and FreeSync are essentially identical VRR technologies, built into a monitor and supported by a graphics card. The only meaningful difference is that one corresponds to Nvidia and the other corresponds to AMD. Current-gen Nvidia GPUs can now use FreeSync, too, which means Nvidia users don’t need to worry about which monitor they choose. (This doesn’t go the other way around, unfortunately; AMD users cannot utilize G-Sync monitors.)
While we didn’t encounter this issue, some users are encountering flickering issues when using FreeSync. This is actually somewhat common in monitors, especially when using an HDMI cable instead of DisplayPort. We recommend using a DisplayPort cable with these monitors for ideal FreeSync performance. If you’re gaming on an Xbox One X, make sure you have an HDMI 2.0-rated cable, or turn off FreeSync to prevent flickering.
Response time measures the amount of time a pixel takes to “respond”, which usually means going from gray-to-gray. This is related to input lag, but doesn’t always tell the whole story.
In general, though, lower is better.
- 1-2 ms – The best, but only achievable by TN panels.
- 3-5 ms – Pretty solid, and the best an IPS panel can manage.
- 6+ ms – Not recommended in smaller displays (ie monitors). Will likely feel laggy.
Panel type refers to the type of panel the monitor is built with. We’ve listed the two relevant panel types that appear in this article below.
- TN – Faster response times, lower input latency. Comes at the cost of worse color reproduction and viewing angles. Recommended for competitive gamers.
- IPS – Far better color reproduction and viewing angles. Comes at a slight cost to input latency and response time. Recommended for most gamers.