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Buying Your New Monitor, Part One: What to Get

By Nathan Edwards

If I were buying a new monitor today, I’d get one of two things: either a 24-inch, 1920x1200 IPS panel from Dell or Asus, or a 27-inch, 2560x1440 IPS panel from a Korean vendor. Here’s why.

As with every component of your PC system, the type of monitor you should get depends on what you’re going to use it for. I use mine for writing, gaming, and some light photo editing--all areas where IPS panels excel. In general, I think most people should get IPS monitors for their primary computers, unless you’re really into 3D gaming or play a lot of competitive first-person shooters.

If I were buying a new monitor today, I’d get one of two things: either a 24-inch, 1920x1200 IPS panel from Dell or Asus, or a 27-inch, 2560x1440 IPS panel from a Korean vendor. Here’s why, and what each of those options represents.

New Resolutions

Your new monitor should have a resolution of at least 1920x1080, or 1920x1200 if you can get it. 1920x1080 is standard 16:9 aspect ratio and it’s the same resolution as an HDTV, so you can watch Blu-Ray and other high-def content at its native resolution without letterboxing. It is the ideal media resolution. 1920x1200 panels used to be more common in computer monitors. These have a 16:10 aspect ratio, and many people who work on computers find the extra 120 vertical lines handy, because they let you fit more information--like text on web pages and photos--on the monitor. I’d personally get a 1920x1200 monitor over a 1920x1080 monitor if I could.

A mid-range graphics card like a GeForce 660 Ti is more than enough to run a single 1920x1080 monitor at high quality settings for most games.

For a 1920x1200 panel, you really don’t need a monitor bigger than 24 inches diagonally. A 27-inch 1920x1080 panel has the exact same number of pixels as a 24-inch 1920x1080 panel; the 27-inch is just bigger and much more expensive.

Not to be constrained by standard aspect ratios like 16:9 and 16:10, Dell, Philips, and LG have introduced monitors based on the same 21:9 aspect ratio 2560x1080 panel. The Dell UltraSharp U2913WM, ($700), LG EA93 UltraWide (not yet released), and Asus MX299Q ($600, not yet released) are all IPS panels with a 29-inch diagonal. The panel makers say the aspect ratio is great for watching movies without any letterboxing, and a wider screen is certainly better for multitasking, but for the money you can get a 27-inch 2560x1440 panel and get more usable vertical space in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which has wider application and gaming support. Or you could get two 24-inch 1920x1080 panels, though then you'd have to contend with a bezel in the middle of your workspace. The 21:9 panels could be an interesting alternative to dual-monitor setups for some people, but I'd stick with the 27-inch 2560x1440 panel and get more screen real estate for the same price.

IPS vs. TN

IPS stands for in-plane switching, and it refers to a certain type of LCD technology common in monitors. IPS panels have excellent color fidelity (meaning the colors you see on the screen are closer to the actual colors they are supposed to represent) and fairly quick response times, as well as wide viewing angles. There are other types of LCDs used in computer monitors, but the most common alternatives use TN, or twisted nematic, panels.

The disadvantage of IPS panels is that they are more expensive than TN panels, which have quicker response times but, due to the limitations of twisted-nematic technology, can’t display as nearly as many colors as your graphics card can output. They also have worse viewing angles than IPS panels. If you’ve ever had to tilt your laptop screen forward while watching a movie on your laptop, you’ve experienced the limited viewing angle of a TN monitor.

IPS panels used to be much more expensive than TN panels, and they are still more expensive, but the price has gone down far enough that you can get a good IPS monitor now for the price of a decent TN panel a few years ago.

What About Touch?

Should you get a touchscreen monitor for Windows 8? Probably not on a desktop. Touchscreens make sense on laptops, where the screen is only a few inches from the keyboard (and the keyboard and trackpad aren’t as good as a dedicated desktop keyboard/mouse), but on a desktop it’s likely to lead to arm fatigue.

The Sweet Spot

I would get the Asus PA248Q, which goes for about $330 with shipping, or the Dell Ultrasharp U2412M (currently around $370 on Amazon). This is based on my personal experience with these monitors as well as the recommendation of The Wirecutter, which in turn is based on reviews and recommendations from many experts as well as users (Disclosure: I, as well as fellow contributor Wes Fenlon write for The Wirecutter as well as Tested).

Both the Dell and the Asus are 24-inch 1920x1200 IPS panels. The Asus is a Super-IPS panel, which means it has a faster response time than the Dell’s--6ms versus 8ms. It also has an HDMI port, unlike the Dell. Both have DVI and DisplayPort, which are better than HDMI anyway. The Asus also has four USB 3.0 ports fed from a single USB 3.0 port on your computer--that’s still better than the Dell, which has four USB 2.0 ports.

The Asus is also presently cheaper than the Dell, so it gets my vote.

The Bold Move

I got the Yamakasi Catleap Q270 from an eBay seller for $310 last July. It’s a Korean import that uses the same 27-inch, 2560x1440 LG Super IPS panel as is used in the 27-inch iMac. I can never go back to 1920x1080. I love the gorgeous, high-resolution panel of the Catleap. I don’t love the stand, which is a step down from flimsy. I have since replaced the stand with an Ergotron MX VESA mount, which was a harrowing process. There’s no on-screen display or scaler, so unless your video card can output 2560x1440 from a dual-link DVI-D connection, you won’t see anything at all. And you have to do all your picture calibration with software. But you will not find a better quality screen for anywhere near the price. It’s fantastic for gaming and I haven’t noticed any ghosting at all.

Our own Wes Fenlon wrote a guide to buying one of these 27-inch Korean panels, and you should definitely read that if you’re considering one. He’s smarter than I am and got a model with a better stand (the Crossover 27Q). Monoprice is also selling monitors based on the same panel, but they’re sold out through at least March.

If you want a 27-inch 2560x1440 IPS panel but are leery of the sometimes-janky build quality and unclear support status of a Korean import, or you just want something with a scaler and more than just DVI-D for input, you should get a Dell UltraSharp U2713HM. They run about $650 right now and include HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB 3.0 ports in addition to DVI-D. Just ask Wes. The U2713HM has a color gamut of 99% of the sRGB space. It’s better for high-precision photo editing than gaming, though; the addition of a scaler increases the response time.

You’ll want a higher-end video card if you have a 2560x1440 panel, like a GTX 670 or Radeon 7970.

When NOT to go IPS

Many competitive gamers prefer 120Hz TN panels to absolutely minimize any potential input lag.

If you’re into 3D Gaming: One problem with IPS panels is that they’re often limited to a refresh rate of 60Hz. You need at least a 120Hz panel for 3D gaming, since each frame is rendered twice (once for each eye). Monitors like the Asus VG248QE have 144Hz refresh rates and 1ms response times and are optimized to for 3D gaming, specifically Nvidia’s 3DVision, which eats the lion’s share of 3D gaming on the PC. The VG248QE, like all 3D monitors, is a TN panel, so you lose out on the color accuracy and viewing angles of an IPS panel. You should probably only get a 3D panel if you’ll mostly be using your monitor for 3D gaming.

If you’re really into twitch gaming: I’m not a competitive FPS player, and while I’ve never noticed any ghosting or input lag with my 60Hz IPS panel, many competitive gamers prefer 120Hz TN panels to absolutely minimize any potential input lag. Again, though, if you use your monitor for more than just twitch gaming you will probably appreciate an IPS panel.

Reward Your Eyes

You can get a really great Super IPS monitor for under $400. For this price, you get a 24-inch 1920x1200 (or higher) display with great color depth and accuracy, decently low response rate, and wide viewing angles. This will be a great all-around monitor for nearly everyone, especially people building a primary desktop for gaming, office work, and media consumption. Pro graphic artists and twitch gamers, or those who prefer their gaming in 3D, may have better luck with other monitors, but a 24-inch 1920x1200 IPS monitor is the sweet spot for most people. The especially bold or flush will appreciate a 27-inch 2560x1440 monitor--a Korean import will have better response time but fewer inputs and less support, while the Dell UltraSharp has better housing build quality, more inputs, and a scaler so you can use it with a game console too.

Tune in next time as we discuss how to set up your brand-new monitor!