Finding the best computer monitor for your needs is already hard enough, but as soon as you decide to go for one that’s suited for gaming, there are a ton of additional factors and features to consider. What are refresh rates? What’s the difference between NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FreeSync? Those are just some of the questions this guide aims to answer, and, in the process, help you find the best gaming monitor for your budget.
LCD vs OLED
When shopping for a new gaming monitor, you first need to decide if you want to go with a screen that has an LCD or OLED panel. For most people, that choice will come down to price; OLED gaming monitors are significantly more expensive than their LCD counterparts. But even if money isn’t a concern, the choice might not be as straightforward as you think.
LCD monitors come in three different varieties: twisted nematic (TN), vertical alignment (VA) or in-plane switching (IPS). Without getting too technical, each panel type has its own set of quirks. For the most part, you want to avoid TN monitors unless you’re strapped for cash or want a monitor with the fastest possible refresh rate. TN screens feature the worst viewing angles, contrast ratios and colors of the bunch. After using an IPS monitor for many years and testing an OLED monitor for this guide, I can’t go back to a TN panel.
The differences between VA and IPS panels are more subtle. Historically, VA gaming monitors have featured slower pixel response times than their TN and IPS counterparts, leading to unsightly image smearing. However, that’s improved in recent years. VA panels also frequently sport better contrast ratios than both TN and IPS screens. They’re not dramatically better than their IPS siblings on that front, but when contrast ratios aren’t an inherent strength of LCDs, every bit helps.
On the other hand, IPS panels excel at color accuracy and many offer refresh rates and response times that are as fast as the fastest TN panels. The majority of LCD gaming monitors on the market today feature IPS panels, though you will frequently find VA screens on ultrawide monitors.
In many ways, OLED is the superior display tech. There’s something transformational about the ability of organic light-emitting diodes to produce true blacks. Simply put, every game looks better when there’s no backlight to wash out shadow details. Moreover, if you buy an OLED monitor, you can experience something PC gamers have been missing out on for a while: proper HDR gaming.
Unfortunately, OLED screens also come with a few noteworthy drawbacks. One big one is text legibility. Almost all OLEDs feature sub-pixel layouts that produce noticeable text fringing in Windows. It’s not an issue you will see when gaming, but it does mean they aren’t the best for productivity.
Another issue — and everyone’s favorite topic of conversation whenever OLEDs come up — is burn-in. Organic light-emitting diodes can get “stuck” if they display the same image for long periods of time. Every OLED gaming monitor you can buy in 2023 comes with features designed to prevent burn-in and other image retention issues, but those displays haven’t been on the market long enough for us to know how they handle all the static elements that come with Windows. When you consider those drawbacks, OLEDs are great for gaming but they’re less ideal for everyday PC use.
Screen size, resolution and aspect ratio
After deciding where you fall on the LCD vs OLED debate, you can start thinking about the size of your future gaming monitor. Personal preference and the limitations of your gaming space will play a big part here, but there are also a few technical considerations. I recommend you think about size in conjunction with resolution and aspect ratio.
A 1440p monitor has 78 percent more pixels than a 1080p screen, and a 4K display has more than twice as many pixels as a QHD panel. As the size of a monitor increases, pixel density decreases unless you also increase resolution. For that reason, there tend to be sweet spots between size and resolution. For instance, I wouldn’t recommend buying a FHD monitor that is larger than 24-inches or a QHD one bigger than 27 inches. Conversely, text and interface elements on a 4K monitor can look tiny without scaling on panels smaller than 32 inches.
You also need to consider the performance costs of running games at higher resolutions. The latest entry-level GPUs can comfortably run most modern games at 1080p and 60 frames per second. They can even render some competitive titles at 120 frames per second and higher — but push them to run those same games at 1440p and beyond, and you’re bound to run into problems. And as you’ll see in a moment, a consistently high frame rate is vital to getting the most out of the latest gaming monitors.
If your budget allows for it, 1440p offers the best balance between visual clarity and gaming performance. As for 1080p and 4K, I would only consider the former if you’re on a tight budget or you exclusively play competitive shooters like Valorant and Overwatch 2. For most people, the user experience and productivity benefits of QHD far outweigh the performance gains you get from going with a lower resolution screen.
Before the end of last year, I would have said 4K was not a viable resolution for PC gaming, but then NVIDIA came out with its 40 series GPUs. With those video cards offering the company’s DLSS 3 frame generation technology, there’s a case to be made that the technology is finally there to play 4K games at a reasonable frame rate, particularly if you exclusively play big, AAA single-player games like Control and Cyberpunk 2077 or enjoy strategy games like the Total War series. However, even with frame generation, you will need a GPU like the $1,099 RTX 4080 or $1,599 RTX 4090 to drive a 4K display. Plus, 4K gaming monitors tend to cost more than their 1440p counterparts.
If you want an OLED monitor, your choices are more limited. It was only at the end of last year that LG began producing 27-inch OLED panels. What’s more, the first batch of 32-inch 4K OLED gaming monitors won’t arrive until next year. A few companies have released ultrawide monitors with Samsung QD-OLED panels, but expect to pay a hefty premium for one of those.
Speaking of ultrawides, note that not every game supports the 21:9 aspect ratio and fewer still support 32:9. When shopping for a curved monitor, a lower Radius, or ‘R’ number, indicates a more aggressive curve. So, a 1000R monitor is more curved than an 1800R one.
Refresh rates and response times
And now finally for the fun stuff. The entire reason to buy a gaming monitor is for their ability to draw more images than a traditional PC display. As you shop for a new screen, you will see models advertising refresh rates like 120Hz, 240Hz and 360Hz. The higher the refresh rate of a monitor, the more times it can update the image it displays on screen every second, thereby producing a smoother moving image. When it comes to games like Overwatch, Valorant and League of Legends, a faster refresh rate can give you a competitive edge, but even immersive single-player games can benefit.
A monitor with a 360Hz refresh rate will look better in motion than one with a 240Hz or 120Hz refresh rate, but there are diminishing returns. At 60Hz, the image you see on your monitor is updated every 16.67ms. At 120Hz, 240Hz and 360Hz, the gap between new frames shortens to 8.33ms, 4.17ms and 2.78ms, respectively. Put another way, although a 360Hz monitor can display 50 percent more frames than a 240Hz screen in a given time period, you will only see a speedup of 1.14ms between frame intervals. And all that depends on your GPU’s ability to render a consistent 360 frames per second.
Ultimately, a fast monitor will do you no good if you don’t have a graphics card that can keep up. For example, with a 1440p 360Hz monitor, you realistically need a GPU like the RTX 4070 or RTX 4080 to saturate that display while playing competitive games like Overwatch 2 and Valorant.
There’s also more to motion clarity than refresh rates alone. Just as important are response times, or the amount of time it takes for pixels to transition from one color to another and then back again. Monitors with slow response times tend to produce smearing that is distracting no matter what kind of game you’re playing. Unfortunately, response times are also one of the more opaque aspects of picking the best gaming monitor for your needs.
Many manufacturers claim their products feature 1ms gray-to-gray (GtG) response times, yet they don’t handle motion blur to the same standard. One of the reasons for that is that many companies tend to cherry pick GtG results that make their monitors look better on paper. The Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) recently created a new certification program to address that problem, but the grading system is unwieldy and, as far as I can tell, hasn’t had a lot of pickup from manufacturers.
For now, your best bet is to turn to resources like Rtings and Monitors Unboxed when shopping for a new gaming monitor. Both outlets conduct extensive testing of every screen they review, and present their findings and recommendations in a way that’s easy to understand.
FreeSync vs G-Sync
No matter how powerful your system, it will sometimes fail to maintain a consistent framerate. In fact, you should expect frame rate fluctuations when playing graphically-intensive games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Control. For those moments, you want a gaming display with adaptive sync. Otherwise, you can run into screen tearing.
Adaptive sync technologies come in a few flavors. The two you’re most likely to encounter are AMD FreeSync and NVIDIA G-Sync, and each has its own set of performance tiers. With G-Sync, for instance, they are – from lowest to highest – G-Sync Compatible, G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate.
The good news is that you don’t need to think too much about which adaptive sync technology a display supports. In the early days of the tech, it was rare to see a gaming monitor that offered both FreeSync and G-Sync, since including the latter meant a manufacturer had to equip their display with a dedicated processor from NVIDIA. That changed in 2019 when the company introduced its G-Sync Compatible certification. In 2023, if a monitor supports FreeSync, it is almost certainly G-Sync Compatible too, meaning you can enjoy tear-free gaming whether you’re using an AMD or NVIDIA GPU.
In fact, I would go so far as to say you shouldn’t make your purchasing decision based on the level of adaptive sync performance a monitor offers. As of the writing of this guide, the list of G-Sync Ultimate-certified displays is less than two dozen models long, and some are a few years old now.
Almost every gaming display on the market right now comes with at least one DisplayPort 1.4 connection, and that’s the port you will want to use to connect your new monitor to your graphics card. If you own a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S, it’s also worth looking out for monitors that come with HDMI 2.1 ports, as those will allow you to get the most out of your current generation console.
A word about HDR
As fast and responsive gaming monitors have become in recent years, there’s one area where progress has been frustratingly slow: HDR performance. The majority of gaming monitors currently on sale, including most high-end models, only meet VESA’s DisplayHDR 400 certification. As someone who owns one such monitor, let me tell you right now it’s not even worth turning on HDR on those screens. You will only be disappointed.
The good news is that things are getting better, albeit slowly. The release of Windows 11 did a lot to improve the state of HDR on PC, and more games are shipping with competent HDR modes, not just ones that increase the brightness of highlights. Unfortunately, if you want a proper HDR experience on PC, you will need to shell out for an OLED monitor.
Gaming monitor accessories
If you plan to spend a lot on a gaming monitor, I would recommend picking up an affordable colorimeter like the Spyder X Pro alongside your new purchase. A lot of gaming monitors come uncalibrated out of the box, so their colors won’t look quite right. It’s possible to get a decent image with the help of online recommendations and ICC profiles you can download from websites like Rtings, but every panel is different and needs its own set of adjustments to look its best.
I would also recommend a monitor arm if you want to improve the ergonomics of your setup. Many gaming monitors come with subpar stands that don’t offer the full range of adjustments people need to avoid bad posture. A monitor arm can help by offering a wider range of height, tilt and swivel options. Most 16:9 gaming monitors will work with VESA 100-compatible monitor arms. Vivo makes some great affordable options.
The best gaming monitor for most people: LG 27GP850-B
For most people, the LG 27GP850-B is all the gaming monitor they need. It features an excellent 27-inch, 1440p Nano IPS panel with a native 165Hz refresh rate, and the option to overclock to 180Hz. In addition to excellent pixel response times (1m GtG, according to LG), the 27GP850-B comes with a backlight strobing feature that can further improve motion clarity for GPUs that can maintain a frame rate above 120fps. It’s also FreeSync Premium and G-Sync Compatible certified.
If you can’t find the 27GP850-B at your local retailers, another good option is the LG 27GL83A-B. It’s a few years old now, but offers a 144Hz refresh rate, speedy response times and it’s at least $100 less than the 27GP850-B. I’ve been using the Dell version of this display since mid-2021 (sadly no longer available), and can’t imagine replacing it until OLED monitors become more affordable.
A compelling budget option: ViewSonic XG2431
For a more affordable option than either LG displays mentioned above, consider the ViewSonic XG2431. While its price has fluctuated in recent months, you can frequently find the XG2431 for less than $300. Coming in at 24-inches, it’s on the smaller side and only features a 1080p panel. However, it offers a 240Hz refresh rate. When you combine that with its lower resolution, the XG2431 is a great option for competitive gamers on a budget.
The best gaming monitor regardless of price: LG 27GR95QE-B
If money is no object and you enjoy a mix of immersive and competitive gaming, the LG 27GR95QE-B is the monitor to beat right now. It features a 27-inch 1440p OLED panel with a 240Hz refresh rate and sub-1ms pixel response times. In motion, the 27GR95QE-B performs a shade worse than the ASUS PG27AQM highlighted below, but, among dedicated gaming monitors, it is unmatched when it comes to HDR performance.
The 27GR95QE-B comes with all the usual issues associated with OLEDs, including the text legibility and burn-in concerns I mentioned above. It also doesn’t get very bright, maxing out at about 200 nits.
A few other companies produce 27-inch OLED monitors using the same panel as the 27GR95QE-B. Most notably, there’s ASUS with the PG27AQDM. It can get a fair bit brighter than the 27GR95QE-B, though it hasn’t been out long enough for people to carry out long-term testing to determine how that affects the longevity of the panel.
A high-end LCD option: ASUS PG27AQM
If the thought of spending $1,000 on an OLED monitor that could one day suffer from burn-in gives you pause, the ASUS PG27AQN is a safer high-end option. It’s one of the fastest gaming monitors on the market right now, offering an impressive 360Hz refresh rate, 1ms response times and a 27-inch QHD panel. It also comes with NVIDIA’s Reflex module, which you can use to see how your mouse, internal hardware and display contribute to your system’s overall latency. However, it is expensive, coming in at $1,049, but for that price, you get one of the gaming monitors on the market right now.
A high-end ultrawide option: Alienware AW3423DWF
For those set on an ultrawide monitor, one of the best options available right now is the AW3423DWF. I haven’t had a chance to test it, but Engadget Senior Editor Devindra Hardawar gave Alienware’s QD-OLED display a score of 92 when he reviewed it last May. At $1,299, the AW3423DWF is easily the most expensive screen on this list, but for that price you get a 21:9 gaming monitor with an up-to 175Hz refresh rate, 0.1ms response rate and HDR True Black 400 performance. The only thing it’s missing is an HDMI 2.1 port.