Should I buy a 4K monitor for my gaming PC?
4K monitors first hit the mainstream in 2012, but price tags were eye-watering, costing early adopters multiple thousands of pounds to get ahead of the curve. But despite the years since then and prices coming down to far more reasonable levels, most gamers still don't use it. In the most recent Steam Hardware Survey, less than two percent of gamers have a 4K monitor.
But is it time we changed that? Should you buy a 4K monitor for your gaming PC? The answer to that question isn't easy, as it depends on the types of games you play, your budget, personal tastes, and whether you'll be working on the system too. It also depends just how powerful your gaming PC is, as even today, 4K is taxing.
Do you need a 4K gaming monitor?
The first step in deciding whether you should buy a 4K monitor or not is whether you actually need it. That might sound facetious since nobody really needs anything related to gaming, but there are very real reasons you might benefit from a 4K display versus ones of a lower resolution.
For starters, 4K monitors give you much more screen real estate. By increasing the number of pixels on your display, you create more physical space for windows, letting you see more on your screen at once. That can be just as handy for displaying enormous spreadsheets as it can be for seeing more of the map in your favourite RTS game. If you can simply fit more of your game's window onto your screen, you can have a competitive advantage. It can enhance productivity too, depending on the kind of work you do. Certainly, if you're working with higher resolution video for editing purposes, having a 4K monitor is a great help.
But 4K does mean that everything gets a lot smaller. You'll need to configure your desktop to show the icons at a larger size and some applications just don't scale well with ultra-high resolutions. There are also older games that don't support such a high resolution, which can mean black bars on your screen to make the game window fit properly, or blurring as you downgrade to below native resolution, or stretch the game across the display to make it fit.
But if you're sure the games you want to play all support 4K resolution without issue, or you're certain that it will improve your productivity, you need to answer another question before throwing down your wallet for the big buy.
Is your PC powerful enough for 4K?
4K resolution is tough on a gaming PC, whether you're playing a remastered older title like Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, or a stunning new release like Metro: Exodus. Raising the resolution from 1080p (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) to 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) means that your graphics card is having to render four times as many pixels as before. That's an enormous ask of even the most powerful of graphics cards. Especially if you're also using extra visual enhancements like anti-aliasing, or even the most GPU taxing technology of them all, ray tracing.
The processor in your PC doesn't matter too much for 4K, as even if you're running one of the most powerful graphics cards in the world, it will be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. You should still make sure that you have a decent CPU, as you don't want to spend a tonne of money on a graphics card and have the CPU slow it down, but a good GPU is a far more important consideration for 4K.
If you're thinking of buying a 4K monitor and you want to play modern games at least 60 FPS without lowering too many settings, you're going to need a high-end graphics card. At a minimum, we would suggest an Nvidia RTX 2060 Super, or an AMD RX 5700 XT. Neither of these cards will be consistent at that resolution in AAA games, and if you have the extra budget, you'll get a better 4K gaming experience with an RTX 2070 Super and up (the best 4K gaming card is the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti, by quite some margin), but you don't have to spend that much if you plan to play older games, or don't mind tweaking settings to make sure your frame rates stay comfortably playable.
Even if you're just planning to just watch some movies in 4K on your new display, you need to have a decent GPU for the job too. It doesn't have to be as high-end as if you're doing 4K gaming, as displaying a video is far easier than rendering 10s of frames per second at 4K resolution, but it does need to have a decent connector. The best 4K connector is DisplayPort, and ideally version 1.3 or later, which supports 4K resolution at higher refresh rates.
If you'd rather use HDMI, it needs to be HDMI 2.0 or later, as anything before that doesn't support 4K over 30 FPS without compression, which is a less than ideal experience.
Your money might be better spent elsewhere
4K is a great buzzword that manufacturers love as it seems like the next logical progression from the last big upgrade many people made: 1080p. But while 4K does look prettier than 1080p and can make a noticeable difference in your games and work, there are other technologies that we would argue are more impactful to your gaming and work experience.
Higher refresh rates, like 120Hz, 144Hz, or even 240Hz, can have a dramatic impact on games and normal desktop usage by increasing the rate with which the display updates, and therefore making them able to display higher frame rates correctly. It means your PC looks and feels smoother to use, and it reduces your input lag by a few milliseconds too, potentially making you more competitive in Esports titles.
While higher frame rates, especially if you're looking to go above 144Hz, are taxing on your PC in a similar manner to 4K, you are arguably making more of an impact on you, the player, by opting for a higher refresh rate instead. You can buy both technologies together, but those monitors can cost thousands for even modest sizes. There are also no GPUs in the world – even the venerable RTX 2080 Ti – that can output 144 frames per second at 4K resolution in the latest AAA games.
The sweet spot for many gamers is a 1440p (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) monitor with a high refresh rate. They're often comparably expensive to decent 4K screens, still, give you a resolution bump over 1080p that is a noticeable improvement, and they give you a smoother gaming experience to boot.
It depends on you
So, should you buy a 4K monitor for your gaming PC? It really depends on what you want to use it for. If you're going to be playing single-player games with expansive vistas or doing high-end video work and you have a powerful graphics card to run it all, then go right ahead. But if you're not, or you don't, and you want to get what many consider to be the best gaming experience you can buy at a reasonable cost, a 1440p display with a high refresh rate might be a better bet.
If you need any more help making your decision, please give our PC experts a call. They'll be happy to walk you through what it is you need to take the best advantage of a 4K monitor, or whether building a system designed for something else might be best for you. We're just a phone call away.