If you’re a gamer who is looking to improve the visual experience of their gameplay, or even to gain an advantage over their competitors, you might want to look into upgrading your monitor. In this guide, we’ll go over what to look for in a gaming monitor so that you’ll have a better idea of how to find an option that works for you.
In an effort to simplify this guide, we’ve broken it down into each of the most important features and things to consider when purchasing a new monitor for gaming.
Table of Contents
Before Choosing A Monitor, Make Sure You Consider What Graphics Card You Have
The very first thing to consider in your search for a new gaming monitor, is A) how much you have to spend, and B) the graphics card you have (or are planning on buying.)
These two factors will be the biggest dictators in what monitor you can get.
Your budget doesn’t really take much explaining. If you have $500 to spend on a gaming monitor, you won’t be looking at $600 or $700 monitors.
That’s pretty simple.
However, a lot of gamers overlook the importance of their graphics card in determining what kind of monitor they can get.
If you have a budget-friendly graphics card and you pair it with a high-resolution and/or high refresh-rate monitor, your in-game performance is going to suffer.
The better the monitor you are considering, the better the graphics card you need in order to accommodate it. You can’t run today’s top games on a 4K monitor if you are using a $150 graphics card.
And, on the flip side, if you choose a cheap monitor and pair it with a high-end graphics card, you will be wasting your graphics card’s potential.
After you have a good idea of what type of monitor you can pair with your GPU, then you can start considering some other important monitor features. We’ve listed those below.
I. Monitor Resolution
Monitors are essentially just a bunch of tiny pixels that display different colors at different shades. And, all of the pixels on a monitor combine to produce one large single image. The more pixels your monitor has, the better the quality of image it will display.
A monitor’s resolution tells you how many pixels it has. For instance, a 1920×1080 (1080P) monitor is 1,920 pixels wide and 1,080 pixels tall. And, obviously, 1440P and 4K monitors have even more pixels in them.
Again, the more pixels a monitor has, the better the image quality it will produce.
However, as expected, the more pixels a monitor has, the more expensive it will cost.
For gaming purposes, you’ll likely want to choose one of the following monitor resolutions:
There are, of course, lower monitor resolutions out there, but because 1080P monitors are so affordable and readily available now, there really is no reason to go lower than 1080P.
And, as the graphics card chart listed above shows, if you have a budget-friendly video card, you might be forced to choose a 1080P monitor. And, if that’s the case, that’s completely fine. 1080P is still a great resolution to play your favorite games at.
There’s also some more rare monitor resolutions out there that should be noted, too…
1080P UW (2560×1080)
1600P (2560 x 1600)
1440P UW (3440×1440)
I actually have a 1200P monitor as the taller monitor height helps out a bunch for content creation and office-type work (and is good for gaming as well.)
And, ultrawide monitors are becoming more and more popular, especially for gaming.
So, before you decide what monitor resolution you want from your monitor, you should probably ask yourself the following questions:
- How much do you want to spend on your monitor?
- What graphics card do you have?
- What kind of games do you play?
- Would you rather have more screen real estate or a better image quality?
Now, let’s just run through those questions really quick…
Again, your budget and your graphics card will be the first determining factors on what type of monitor you can get.
After that, you’ll want to consider what types of games you play.
If you mainly play games like League of Legends, or Dota 2, or Fortnite, you’re not going to really see a big difference in playing those games at higher resolutions, because those are games that aren’t designed to have incredible visuals.
Instead, they’re designed around their competitive nature. And, so you could save some money and get a 1080P monitor and not notice a huge difference.
On the other hand, if you’re playing games that can provide incredible visuals (like The Witcher 3, or Battlefield 1, or Forza 7), then getting a higher resolution monitor would make sense so that you can take advantage of the better picture quality.
Finally, you’ll need to decide whether you want a higher resolution monitor or more screen real estate.
We’ll talk about screen size in a moment, but, generally speaking, the larger the monitor you get, the more it’s going to cost. So, if you have a specific budget set, you’ll have to decide what is more important…
Lower resolution and more screen, or higher resolution and less screen.
Of course, if you have an unlimited budget, then you can get a big screen and a higher resolution. And, everyone will envy you for it…
II. Refresh Rate
With competitive gaming on the rise, more and more gamers are looking for every advantage they can find. And, one of those advantages is to use a monitor with a higher refresh rate.
But, before we dive into why refresh rate is an important monitor feature to consider for gamers, let’s first explain what monitor refresh rate is…
What is Refresh Rate
So, we know that a monitor’s resolution tells us how many pixels the screen has on it. And, we know that all of those pixels combine to create one image on our monitor.
If you know anything about motion picture, you’ll also know what videos (whether movies, shows, or games) are really just thousands of still pictures played one after the other to create what appears to be motion.
And, for gaming, the quicker your monitor can switch to the next image (or “refresh” the frame), the smoother your gameplay will feel. And, it is a monitor’s refresh rate that will determine how quickly it can refresh the image (or frame).
A monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate will be able to “refresh” the image on the screen up to 60 times per second (depending on how powerful of a graphics card you have.)
High Refresh Rate = Advantage in Competitive Games
The advantage of having a higher refresh rate monitor for gaming is that users who have a high refresh rate monitor can react more quickly than can users who have a lower refresh rate monitor.
So, in competitive online games (and especially shooters like CSGO), where every split second can mean the difference between getting the kill and getting killed (and, thus, between victory and defeat), higher refresh rate monitors have become incredibly popular—and almost necessary.
Is A High Refresh Rate Monitor for You?
But whether or not you need a high refresh rate monitor will come down to your own personal preferences.
For me, personally, I don’t play as competitively as I used to and I’ve become more of a casual gamer. So, I don’t really need a high refresh rate monitor and 60Hz is fine for me.
If you are a serious gamer and you play games where a high refresh rate could help, then you’ll definitely want to look into a high refresh rate gaming monitor.
Just note, though, that the same rule that applies to monitor resolution also applies to monitor refresh rate. And, that is that, the higher your refresh rate, the better the graphics card you’ll need in order to accommodate it.
Again, you can consult the chart in the first section to get an idea of what kind of monitor refresh rate your graphics card can handle.
III. Response Time
Response time is defined as the speed at which a single pixel on a monitor can change from the previous color to the new color. It differs from refresh rate in that, refresh rate deals with changing frames, whereas response time just deals with changing the individual pixels colors.
So, where a low refresh rate can cause your game to play “choppy” a low response time can cause your game to have a “motion blur” effect. Neither are ideal.
However, response time really isn’t a huge deal nowadays as most modern monitors come with response rates low enough (lower is better) to where they don’t cause a hindrance in a gameplay.
Generally speaking, for gaming, you probably want to avoid monitors with response times higher than 8ms. For the most part, though, most modern monitors have response times lower than 6ms.
Monitor response time is also affected by the panel technology of the monitor. Certain types of panel technology have lower response times than others (at the sacrifice of other features, though)…
IV. Panel Type
Before we jump into panel type, if you want a more thorough and complete guide on the different types of monitor panels and how they stack up against each other, I recommend reading our Monitor Display Guide.
There are three main panel types:
Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.
TN panels are the cheapest panel technology out there. They also offer the lowest response times (as low as 1ms) and, as such, are the most prevalent panel technology for gaming monitors. The downside of TN panels, though, is that they don’t have as good of picture quality and viewing angles.
IPS panels offer the best picture quality due to better viewing angles and color accuracy. They are, however, much more expensive than TN panels and they do come with higher response times (the best IPS panels have 4ms response times.) However, most users won’t notice a significant difference between a 1ms response time and a 4ms response time.
VA panels offer the best viewing angles and a superior picture quality to TN panels. However, VA panels have known issues with ghosting due to higher response time. They are also quite a bit more expensive than TN panels and come in closer to the price of IPS panels.
IPS panels are great if you have a large budget. Just know, though, that if your main concern is competitive gaming and you want to avoid the issues that come with high response time, you’ll need to spend even more to ensure you get an IPS panel that has a low enough response time to suit your needs.
If you’re a serious gamer who doesn’t have an unlimited budget, a TN panel with a faster response time (and faster refresh rate) is probably your best bet.
V. Freesync vs G-Sync
AMD’s Freesync and NVIDIA’s G-Sync are technologies that aim to eliminate screen tearing in gaming. To understand why these technologies are important, though, you first need to understand what screen tearing is.
Screen tearing is when your graphics card is out of sync with your monitor’s refresh rate and, as a result, your monitor ends up displaying portions of multiple frames, rather than whole frames separately as it is supposed to.
Both Freesync and G-Sync enable your monitor to refresh at a rate that matches your graphics card. However, both technologies work differently to accomplish this and both have their pros and cons.
First off, it’s important to understand that you can’t use AMD’s Freesync technology with an NVIDIA graphics card and you can’t use NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology with an AMD graphics card.
Freesync uses the Adaptive-Sync open standard, which makes it easier for monitor manufacturers to implement it, as no extra hardware is required. And, as a result, Freesync monitors are less expensive.
On the other hand, G-Sync relies on an actual physical chip inside of the monitor, which makes it more difficult for monitor manufacturer’s to integrate into their monitors. And, as a result, G-Sync monitors are more expensive.
Ultimately, though, both technologies are good. And, if you want a Freesync or G-Sync monitor, the choice will come down to A) how much you have to spend and/or B) which video card you want to go with.
Because, the downside of Freesync—despite being more affordable—is that right now, NVIDIA’s higher-end graphics cards are better than AMD’s. And, so, to choose Freesync over G-Sync also means to sacrifice on GPU performance.
On the flip side, if you go with G-Sync, you’ll have to pay a lot more for a G-Sync capable monitor.
Need Some More Help Choosing A Gaming Monitor?
This guide has gone over some of the more prominent monitor features that you should be aware of if you want to know what to look for in a gaming monitor.
However, if you just want some monitor recommendations, we’ve rated over 30 different monitors at various price points and feature sets in our Gaming Monitor Buyer’s Guide. So, if you’re looking for specific recommendations, that might be where you’ll want to go next.
3 thoughts on “What to Look for in a Gaming Monitor”
This article could use an update. VA and IPS panels now overlap a bit on response time and other features depending on the panel. Ultrawide is becoming pretty common. New GPUs have changed the landscape of AMD vs NVidia choices, as well as what’s appropriate for 4k gaming (and VR is a consideration now too). And most importantly, Freesync is now a standard that even NVidia supports.
Going from 60 to 75 hz felt like a huge improvement in CS: GO for me. I can only imagine how good a 120 hz monitor would feel.
I have 144hz. I am never going back below 120hz on my main monitor.