What to Look for in a Gaming Monitor in 2020

The processor, graphics card, hard drive, and memory work in unison to create a balanced gaming system, but your monitor is equally important in facilitating that balance. Your monitor allows you to realize the performance that you’ve optimized through component selection. If you’ve already invested in a powerful pre-built system for better performance —, or are thinking of building your own custom PC —, upgrading your monitor to extract the full value of your hardware is worth considering.1

But upgrade to what? A short visit to any online vendor will confirm that monitors and displays come in a vast range of varying specifications, some of which include:

  • Resolution
  • Screen size
  • Refresh rate
  • Response time
  • Panel type

If you’re interested in diving deep on every spec you’ll come across in the monitor market, check out our full guide to monitors. But if you’re just trying to get to a decision today, read on.

While many of these factors are a matter of personal preference, some game genres take advantage of certain features more than others. It’s good to know what these specs mean when choosing your next monitor, beginning with the two specs that rely on computer hardware the most: Resolution and refresh rate.

To help you with the process of choosing your next display, we’ll be looking at how these features are implemented in gaming monitors, and what you should consider before making your purchase. Just remember that monitors with the same specs may have different manufacturer-specific features, such as IO, lighting, ergonomics, and more, which we won’t be touching on here.

The First Upgrade: Taking Advantage of Higher Frame Rates with a Faster Refresh Rate Monitor

1080p 144Hz
A 1080p resolution display with a 144Hz refresh rate has an inherent advantage over 1080p 60Hz monitors: A higher refresh rate. Higher refresh rate panel technology has become a defining characteristic of gaming monitors, meaning that entry-level 144Hz displays are affordable, widely available, and offer a variety of ergonomic options. (Displays with refresh rates between 120 and 180 are also available, but 144Hz is currently the most common.)

The main reason to upgrade to 144Hz is that a faster refresh rate lets you take advantage of higher frame rates. Gaming PCs are capable of generating a high number of frames per second (FPS), but without upgrading your monitor, you might not be able to see them. A 144Hz monitor can display up to 144 FPS, more than double that of a standard 60Hz panel, which is capped at displaying 60 FPS. To put it another way, a low refresh rate monitor bottlenecks the frame rate you see, but monitors with higher refresh rates enhance your gaming experience. Your computer might be capable of pushing over 100 FPS, but if you’re using a 60Hz display, you won’t be able to see those extra frames. To learn more about how to get a higher frame rate, click here.

Understandably, high refresh rate displays are the monitors of choice for competitive gamers, and many players believe that gaming on a 144Hz monitor provides a competitive edge.

“Going from a 60Hz monitor to a 144Hz monitor helped me greatly in terms of being able to see things quicker on the screen, and being able to physically react quicker to what I’m seeing,” professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive* player Tyler “Adaro” Oliver told Eve Tech*.

In CS:GO*’s Dust2 map, for example, there is a narrow slit in a pair of double doors that snipers like to peep through. The catch is that they have to be quick; it only takes a few milliseconds for the opponent to leap past. That’s where a higher refresh rate can help. A player on a 1080p 144Hz monitor will see twice as many frames as a player using a 1080p 60Hz, giving them a better chance to land a hit. The difference may seem negligible, but in a fast-paced game like CS:GO*, every frame counts.

Even if you’re not into competitive titles, a higher refresh rate facilitates a better gameplay experience. As more frames appear on-screen, the image quality appears smoother, and movement is more fluid. Playing games at higher than 60 FPS is one of the most prominent advantages of gaming on PC.

The Next Level: Better Resolution and Refresh Rate

1440p 144Hz
In addition to the benefits associated with a higher refresh rate, a 1440p 144Hz monitor nets you a higher resolution for sharper image quality.

You’ll notice the advantages of 1440p right away, whether in-game or out. The windows, icons, and taskbars all scale providing more usable screen real estate, which is great for productivity. But the ability to fit more information on-screen isn’t limited to the desktop; this space-saving effect carries over into games with scalable user interfaces. For example, in World of Warcraft*, the user interface will take up less of the screen at a higher resolution. That means you’ll be able to see more of the world of Azeroth*, and less of the UI obscuring your view while out on a raid.

One point to consider: As resolution increases, your hardware has to work harder, and this could mean lower FPS. If you upgrade from a 1080p 144Hz monitor to a 1440p 144Hz monitor, you will potentially need to upgrade your system to maintain the same frame rate.

1080p 240Hz
Monitors with very high refresh rates, like 1080p 240Hz displays, can display 240 FPS, which is four times as many frames per second as a baseline 60Hz monitor. To revisit the CS:GO* example of the sniper peaking through the crack, a player on a 240Hz monitor would have four times the amount of visual information to track their target, and almost twice as much as players on a 144Hz monitor. This could be an advantage, but online communities are divided about the improvement provided by monitors over 144Hz. It’s worth checking one out in person to see how much of a difference it might make for you.

Again, keep in mind that this level of performance is resource-intensive. If you want to take full advantage of a 240Hz monitor, you’ll need a system that can deliver roughly 240 FPS in your favorite games.

Advanced Upgrades: Ultrawide Monitors and 4K Gaming

Ultrawide 100Hz+
Ultrawide monitors stretch the screen size to great lengths, literally. Whereas most standard displays have an aspect ratio of 16:9 — or a width and height proportional of sixteen by nine units of measurement — ultrawides boast aspect ratios of 21:9, or even 32:9. These come in a vertical resolution consistent with 1080p and 1440p, with additional screen real estate on the side. Look for an ultrawide monitor with a high refresh rate if you’re interested in this option for gaming.

The benefit of extended displays is relatively obvious: You can see more of the game. Ultrawide monitors provide players with a wider field of view, expanding the visible landscape of the game world substantially. For example, a 32:9 display is the equivalent of two 16:9 monitors side by side, only without bezels to disrupt your field of view, and with fewer cables getting in the way.

One caveat to going ultrawide is that not all games support this wider viewing format, though there are quite a few that do. Mortal Kombat* 11Dirt Rally*, and Destiny 2* (among many others) all natively support wider aspect ratios, and mods exist for many games that lack native support. If you decide to go with an ultrawide display, double check to see if your favorite games support the aspect ratio of the monitor you are considering.

Ultrawides are generally great for multi-tasking outside of gaming, but be aware that there might be a learning curve when managing windows across the extra screen real estate.

4K 120Hz
The standard resolution for 16:9 monitors have begun to transition from 1080p (1920 x 1080) to 1440p (2560 x 1440), but the standard will continue to improve, with 4K (3840 x 2160) technology being the successor to 1440p. While 4K monitors are already widely available, models with high refresh rates are just starting to appear on the market. While the monitor tech is new, driving 4K at 120 FPS in popular titles is only possible on the best in computer hardware. As of right now, these displays are very much on the cutting edge, which means they can be expensive, loaded with premium features, and limited in both availability and variety. This should change in the next few years.

Improve Your Gaming Experience with a Monitor Upgrade

In the future, gaming monitors will continue to improve the way we experience games. Technologies like OLED*, HDR*, and 8K resolutions are on the way.

In the meantime, there are plenty of great choices currently available. Whether you want to play at a higher resolution, with a faster refresh rate, or both, upgrading to a new monitor can have a sizeable impact on your gaming experience.

Whatever upgrade you choose, make sure the choice aligns with the capabilities of your hardware, as monitor upgrades tend to require a more powerful computer. Upgrading your monitor could be a step towards building your optimal gaming desk setup.

Product and Performance Information

1*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.