Choosing a Gaming Computer – Part 1 – The Monitor

With all the new tech out (even if it is out of stock), knowing what to play games can be challenging

I had started talking about gaming tech before. Still, I got stuck trying to condense the message without losing too much info. So now a new approach! Do you just want to play games on the cheap? Grab a console. That’s easy. Want to make a gaming computer so that you can do other things? Let’s look at how to do that.

AMD or Intel? AMD or Nvidia? These questions are thrown around like crazy, with people wanting ‘The Best’ so they don’t have to think about it.

The problem with this mentality is you end up paying considerably more than you actually need to. And that money can be used elsewhere much more effectively.

Think of it this way – you want to drive a Lamborghini, but that cost! So you pick the car you have because it works well (hopefully). Buying a computer is no different. Sure, I have drooled over USD$5,000 laptops – but I would never buy one.

So today I am hoping to give you a simple breakdown at some top tier configurations to compare to what the shop tells you that you need!

Your monitor should dictate your choices.

This is a common mistake I see people make all the time. They spend thousands on top-tier hardware but buy a cheap monitor that can’t keep up with the rest of their hardware. They could have saved thousands if they looked at this component first.

Build your PC for the monitor you know you want to play on. If you have an ultra-fast 1080p monitor and that’s your screen of choice, don’t waste money on a graphics card with the best 4k performance.

If you have an older 1080p monitor that works at 60 fps, but you know you want to upgrade after you have bought your PC, look at a system that works well with that monitor.

It's the part of the computer you look at the most, and yet is constantly ignored

FPS – what’s the big deal?

Frames per second are how many times the screen can change the image. The higher the count, the smoother the experience. It’s hard to put into words.

What you need is a minimum, with a ‘sweet spot’. 60 FPS is what is considered the minimum for a smooth experience, and I do agree with this. The difference between playing at 30 FPS and 60 FPS are worlds apart. Going from 60 to 90 FPS can have that vague ‘nice’ feeling, and you need to be a pro to notice anything higher that isn’t a placebo.

So if you are reading this, you want to aim for at least 60 FPS, with 120 FPS an excellent target. If you aren’t playing for money and/or world renown, then this is a great baseline gaming experience. If you are playing competitively, then you already know what machines you need.

It’s hard to show the difference, but below is a video from Digital Storm that runs at 60 FPS next to the same scene running at 30 FPS. This is what you would see and hopefully demonstrate that ‘smoothness’ that people talk about.

So what’s the difference with the resolutions?

1080p is the size that most people are used to. This is 1920 x 1080 pixels. It takes the least amount of effort to put the pixels to this resolution, and they are easier to mass-produce, so the pricing is the most competitive.

If you have a sizeable 1080p screen (27″ and up) and sit close to the screen, you can ‘see the pixels’. This just means that you can see the blocks that make up the picture with the naked eye. If you are a competitive gamer (e.g. play Fortnite professionally), these screens can be refreshed very quickly. We are talking 300+ FPS.

So if you want the best responsiveness, 1080p is still the king. But monitors that will let you take advantage of crazy FPS routinely cost more than a ‘good’ 1440p monitor.

If you sit close enough to see the pixels, you can see how 'jaggy' the characters look at 1080p. Higher resolutions help without going into the more complicated 'pixel density'

4K screens give the ‘best’ visual representation because the blocks are so small you have to really try to see them. These screens have a resolution of 3840 × 2160. Some people look at this and think “So twice 1080p”, but that’s not correct. Remember, that x isn’t just for looks – your screen is a grid, so you multiply the numbers for the total number of pixels. 4K is actually 4x 1080p.

So 4K looks the best, but getting screens with a high refresh rate is very expensive. Pushing a 4K image requires quite a lot more horsepower, so you are looking only at high-end graphics cards to make the best of your 4K monitor.

Also, because you are on the ‘cutting edge’, performance levels drop off quicker at 4K gaming than other resolutions. If you want to be on the cutting edge, be prepared to replace/upgrade your system much more often (e.g. every 2 years).

If you look at just 'must have' hype tick boxes, this is the price you can expect to pay. The picture is gorgeous, but you can buy TV's for less that that!

The sweet spot is 1440p (sometimes called QHD or 2K). This resolution comes in at 2560 x 1440 and gives you a nicer picture without stressing your graphics card anywhere near as much as 4K.

Compared to 1080p monitors, 1440p screens are more expensive, but nowhere near the cost of a similar 4K screen. You can also get high refresh rates of these monitors without paying a massive premium, especially if you keep the upper limit around 120-144 Hz.

More image details, high refresh rated to handle all the FPS, and doesn't break the bank

What about Ultrawide monitors? Isn’t that what you use?

Yes, I do. And I love using that extra screen real estate. When I work, I have one monitor full of monitoring tools, and one screen with what I am actually working on. In my workflow, my 2 ultrawide monitors effectively give me 5 screens of applications open.

If you just want to game though, I would suggest sticking to the ‘standard’ resolutions. Ultrawide gaming is still very niche, and I need to continually drop my games monitor to 1440p to get the game working correctly. I was fortunate and scored a free gaming ultrawide monitor though, so yeah I will live with not using a quarter of my screen on a lot of games. The cost was right!

There are benefits to ultrawide monitors, but there is a lot to get used to as well

The drawbacks aren’t the end of the world, but it’s one of those situations where if you don’t know the issues going in, it’s hard to justify the cost. I got into ultrawide resolutions for work, and I would have bought a 1440p 2nd monitor just for gaming.

Ultrawide gaming takes more effort on your end to understand how everything works. Take my 1440p ultrawide screen – when I look at graphics card reviews, I need to look at a ‘guesstimate’ zone closer to the 4K results. Reviews don’t test in my screen resolution. Part of that is because a lot of games don’t support ultrawide resolutions properly.

Look at my comments on Blood Rage digital for an idea on some of the drawbacks of ultrawide gaming.

So what resolution do I want?

Here is where you need to decide what is right for you. No choice is wrong, only wrong for what you need it to do.

Best cost for the performance is 1080p with 120/144 Hz refresh rates. Lower-end graphics cards can hit these frame rates, and even if they don’t quite get there stay above the minimum 60 FPS you want easily.

For me, the sweet spot is 1440p/144 Hz. You get the cleaner image quality, high refresh rates, and don’t pay a fortune for it. If you drop the resolution to 1080p, it doesn’t look too bad. Dropping a 4k screen to a lower resolution to help rates can make for very fuzzy images.

There is a rule of thumb that your Graphics Card should be about half of your total PC build cost. I wish there was a way of doing such a guide for your monitor.

Think of it this way – 1080p can run with pretty much any computer, 1440p needs mid-range components (so more expensive PC) and 4K is the ‘best of the best’. There is a caveat to that ‘best of the best’, but that’s not for today.

This is why I say pick your monitor first – if you don’t want to play at 4K ultra graphics, don’t buy a computer designed to run 4K gaming!

Once you know what monitor you are looking for, you can start looking at what system you want and what costs to expect.

In part 2, I will talk about CPU core count and graphics card combinations that will let you play at that resolution comfortably and with a bit of headroom.

See you next week for that one!

Until then,

JohnHQLD
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