For PC gamers, the most important component is the graphics card we choose to jam into our machines. But without a quality screen to go with it, we're not going to be getting the best out of that GPU. So what makes a "gaming" monitor worth the money? What makes it better than the average LCD? We tested more than a dozen monitors to find the best, with the right balance of resolution, refresh rate, color quality and viewing angles.
Update 12/15/2015: We now have a pick for the best FreeSync gaming monitor. For Nvidia users, we've still got our eye on the Acer Predator XB1 and Asus PG279Q.
Update 11/6/2015: Asus and Acer have near-identical G-Sync monitors releasing in November that are both strong candidates for the best gaming monitor. We'll be checking them out, so stay tuned.
The best gaming monitor
- Combines 1440p with 144Hz refresh rate
- G-Sync eliminates screen tearing and need for V-Sync
- First-ever 144Hz IPS screen
- Extremely fast refresh, low input lag for an IPS screen
- Requires an Nvidia graphics card to use G-Sync
The Acer XB270HU is simply the best gaming monitor you can buy right now. For years, gamers have been forced to make a choice between picture quality and refresh rate. Cheaper, faster TN panels delivered fast refresh speeds up to 144 Hz, while IPS screens offered more vibrant colors and dramatically better viewing angles, but at much slower refresh rates. Finally, with the XB270HU, that’s a problem of the past: Acer is the first company to pair an IPS screen with a 144 Hz refresh rate, which is why this monitor has replaced our previous favorite, the Asus RoG Swift.
We wrote that the RoG Swift was “dangerously close to being the perfect gaming display thanks to the sheer amount of tech it has shoved into its slimline chassis,” and the Acer XB270HU fits the same description. It offers a 144 Hz refresh with low input lag, Nvidia G-Sync support for variable refresh, and a beautiful, vibrant IPS screen.
The best FreeSync monitor
- IPS, 144Hz, 2560x1440
- Very good picture quality out of the box
- Cheaper than competing G-Sync monitors
- Adaptive refresh range is only 35-90Hz
- No blur reduction mode
Right now there's really no competition for the Asus MG279Q: this is absolutely the best monitor for AMD users who want a FreeSync display. It's a 1440p IPS screen that can refresh up to 144Hz, like our favorite monitor above. But because it uses the open FreeSync technology instead of G-Sync, it's considerably cheaper.
Thanks to that IPS screen, colors look great even from off-angles. The base is sturdy (and allows for lots of tilting, pivoting, and height adjustments) and the bezel is fairly thin, which is nice for a 27-inch monitor that’s already taking up a good deal of space. The on-screen menu is easy to navigate thanks to a joystick nub on the rear of the display. Like most other gaming displays, it also has a light anti-gloss coating, which I like; some older IPS displays went too heavy on the coating and affected image quality, but the MG279Q doesn’t have that problem.
The best 1080p monitor for gaming
- IPS screen has vibrant colors and great viewing angles
- Limited to 60 Hz refresh
- No G-Sync or FreeSync
This 22-inch Viewsonic screen is probably the most controversial choice in this whole test. It’s a small display, isn’t boasting any 144Hz refresh rate and the chassis isn’t particularly nice. So why's it our favorite 1080p gaming monitor? Becuase it has a decent IPS panel inside that minimal bezel. More importantly, it’s an astoundingly good value. The Viewsonic VX2263Smhl is only $140 on Amazon.
I’ve been recommending Viewsonic’s VX2370Smh in the PC Gamer Rig of our mashed-up-dead-tree counterpart, but it is becoming harder and harder to track that 23-inch IPS screen down. This slightly smaller version is only a few months old, and is almost as cheap.
The best 4K monitor for gaming
- G-Sync eliminates screen tearing
- Newer TN panel has good horizontal viewing angles
- Relatively affordable for a 4K G-Sync monitor
- Requires an Nvidia graphics card to use G-Sync
- 4K gaming requires a ton of expensive GPU power
- 4K scaling at 28 inches isn't great in Windows 7/8
For the same price as the Asus Swift you can actually pick up the very first 4K monitor with G-Sync built in, the $800 Acer XB280HK. Your excitement levels about such a thing are going to be entirely bound up in just how powerful a graphics array you have in your PC, and whether it’s an Nvidia-based setup.
One of the biggest issues with gaming on 4K monitors is that you need a colossal amount of rendering power to game at decent frame rates at such high resolution. And arguably the best hardware for 4K gaming resides in the top AMD graphics cards, mostly thanks to their far speedier memory interfaces. When you're chucking around so many more pixels you need that extra bandwidth, something which Maxwell's augmented 256-bit bus struggles with.
The best widescreen gaming monitor
- Extra wide screen adds an extra degree of immersion to games
- IPS panel provides beautiful colors and viewing angles
- 3440x1440 resolution will be demanding on most graphics cards
The AOC U3477Pqu very nearly took the overall award for the best gaming monitor from the Asus RoG Swift. I am still quite torn over which should actually get the full honours, but for now the gorgeous 34-inch AOC will have to make do with the tag as the best widescreen gaming monitor. And boy, is it wide.
The 34-inch span across its diagonal is measured with a 21:9 aspect ratio, making it the same height as the Swift but almost a third again as wide. The 3440 x 1440 native resolution isn’t as demanding on the GPU as a move up to 4K would be, but I would argue that it’s a far more dramatic change to your gaming experience. For the better.
How we test gaming monitors and others we tested
The search for the best gaming monitor is a tough challenge. There's no perfect screen, and there's a whole lot of exciting new technology being squeezed into current monitors, so finding a panel that combines everything is an impossible mission. A mission so impossible (because 70’s TV shows have taught us there are gradations of impossibility), we might need to get Leonard Nimoy and Tom Cruise on the case.
You might be reading this on a slow, dull, washed-out TN panel. Our eyeballs are lazy, and they quickly become used to whatever panel they're looking at. Why upgrade? Because a good gaming monitor will improve your gaming experience just as much as a new graphics card. And it will last longer.
Seeing Elite: Dangerous or Far Cry 4 running on a high-res, 144Hz G-Sync screen will make you question why it's taken you so long to make the change. A great panel will likely outlast your entire PC. Possibly twice over. I’m running a decade-old 2560 x 1600 Dell 30-inch panel on our test bench and it still looks great.
Is that titanic monitor the best gaming panel around right now? Of course not. The best gaming monitors right now are the Asus Republic of Gamers Swift PG278Q and the AOC U3477Pqu. They are both expensive screens, but both offer something unique, each with their own positives and slight drawbacks.
There are three main types of panel technology: twisted nematic (TN) vertical alignment (VA) and in-plane switching (IPS).
TN: The most common panels. Cheap, mature tech. Fast: Screens with sub-4ms pixel responses are TN. Generally the worst image quality and often poor, washed-out colour reproduction and weak viewing angles.
VA: Cheaper than IPS, with better image quality and viewing angles than TN monitors. The colours will generally be better than TN, but dimmer than IPS. VA panels do have great contrast ratios.
IPS: The expensive option, with fantastic colour reproduction, image quality and viewing angles. The downside is they require brighter backlights and consume more power, and have slower pixel response times. The difference between 1ms and 5ms response can be difficult to see, so they can still make fantastic gaming monitors.
The Asus RoG Swift PG278Q has a 1ms pixel response, 144Hz refresh rate and instant-on capabilities. It’s the fastest gaming screen in existence. The 2560 x 1440 panel uses Nvidia’s G-Sync technology to smoothly sync the panel's refresh rate to the graphics card's. Paired with a GeForce GPU, this is the best gaming monitor around.
But then the AOC U3477Pqu has a stunning IPS panel and an utterly immersive and vision-filling 21:9 aspect ratio. With a native resolution of 3440 x 1440, it’s crisper and more vibrant than the Swift’s weaker panel, and when you’ve got proper widescreen content it’s more dramatic than anything I’ve had sat on my desk.
Testing gaming monitors
There are two main ways to test out our screens to determine the best gaming monitor. The first is by playing games on it. Obv.
Subjectively testing the gaming performance of each panel isn’t necessarily going to give you the lowdown on the specifics of a particular screen, but will let you test the functioning aspect ratio, native resolution and any particular gamer-centric technologies they’re sporting.
Side-by-side comparative testing in this manner is also incredibly valuable for keying into the sometimes subtle differences between each panel. When you use a screen in isolation it’s easy to become blind to its comparative faults as you simply get used to them. Testing screens back-to-back allows us to discover and highlight specific issues between them.
You can do more objective testing using the LCD calibration pages here. This site offers several test screens you can bring up on any web connected panel to make reliable qualitative assessments. The days of actual retail space for such things are dwindling, but if you can get a look at a screen before purchasing it, plugging a notebook or such into it and checking out the Lagom pages is very handy.
We tested a huge range of monitors to get a bead on the best panels to recommend, so we can be confident in our choice of the best gaming monitor.
We think a gaming monitor is a serious investment, and it's worth spending money now on something like the Asus RoG Swift or the AOC ultrawide. They'll both make your gaming experience better and still be great monitors years from now. But if you don't have that much to spend, there are some good alternatives below.
Some of these are still great monitors, but not the best. For example, check out the Ben-Q GW2765HT for a more affordable 27-inch IPS monitor, without the RoG Swift's amazing refresh rate or G-Sync.
This 32-inch panel was our very first taste of 4K, and it is an utterly superlative panel. But while it’s price has halved since launch it’s still around $1,500 (£1,500), which is still too much.
This was one of the first affordable 4K monitors we saw and is still quite beguiling. It is though running the same 28-inch TN panel as the Iiyama 4K we love and is a good bit more expensive at $560.
It’s pretty much the same situation for AOC’s affordable 4K panel. It’s almost as good as the Iiyama panel, but more expensive and lacks the Acer’s G-Sync extras.
This big-screen, 32-inch Samsung screen had all the hallmarks of a quality monitor. The VA screen tech should be better than TN and its 2560 x 1440 res is great for gaming...but it’s one of the poorest Samsung panels I’ve seen with terrible viewing angle problems.
Again, it’s all down to price. I’ve got a feeling this is the exact same panel as in the other 34-inch 21:9 panel I’ve tested, but it’s got some extra Apple-pleasing Thunderbolt connectivity which bumps up the price without offering us much in return. Not worth the $900.
I’m actually rather taken by this BenQ panel. It’s a good price at $440 (£275) and offers a lovely 2560 x 1440 IPS panel with BenQ’s quality controls and chassis. A good 27-inch IPS option for gamers.
Iiyama Prolite GB2773HS:
If you can’t power a high-resolution monitor, but still want a bigger screen you can have a 27-inch 1080p panel instead. That said, we don't recommend it—pixel density is simply too low. This Iiyama’s also benefitting from a 144Hz TN panel too, but it’s got terrible white saturation levels and is super-expensive in the US.
The 27-inch AOC is running along the same lines as the Iiyama above. It’s a big, 1080p panel with a 144Hz refresh rate. But that TN screen is as bleached as the bones in Death Valley.
Iiyama Prolite GB2488HSU:
With possibly the worst TN panel I’ve ever seen, this Iiyama screen is beyond recommending even with a 144Hz display. The main issue is that it’s just so washed out, even without the brightness set at 100%.
This was almost my favourite 1080p gaming screen, and only misses out because I baulk at spending $450 (£330) on a 24-inch TN display. That said it is a lovely TN panel, almost as good as the current affordable 4K screens, and has both the G-Sync tech and a 144Hz refresh rate. The cheaper Viewsonic IPS though gets our vote for its sheer value.
And speaking of Viewsonic… This little 24-inch, 1080p panel is rocking the buttery-smooth 144Hz refresh rate, but still feels just a little too pricey for a wee TN panel.
The VG2438sm is a rarity both in this test and in real-life. It’s rocking a 16:10 aspect ratio giving you more height to your display. At 30-inches that works great with our old Dell 3007WFP, but at 24-inches this aspect ratio just feels a tad boxy to make a good gaming monitor.
Obviously this isn’t a complete list of every single monitor available—I don’t have the desk-space for them all!—but we’ve covered a wide variety of different panel technologies, sizes, aspect ratios and manufacturers.
Right now the Asus RoG Swift PG278Q is our number one choice, with the AOC U3477Pqu just behind with its mega-wide aspect ratio. But we’re still waiting on the perfect panel. For my money that would be a 21:9, 34-inch IPS panel, running at 144Hz with either G-Sync or FreeSync capabilities.
A guy can dream, can’t he?
There are some fascinating screens coming soon—there’s a 40-inch 4K Phillips monitor with a 60Hz refresh, a VA panel and a single stream connection to ease driver problems. That is big for a desktop monitor, but its pixel pitch will be about the same as a 27-inch 1440p monitor and ought to mean this is one 4K monitor we wont have to scale in Windows.
I’m also jonesing for one of LG’s curved 21:9 34-inch screens, but their price is utterly prohibitive for the vast majority of us. New monitors will doubtless be announced at CES in January.
The monitor landscape is moving pretty fast, and new panels will soon arrive and we’ll make sure we take a look at the very best on offer. If there are some we simply must check out, let us know in the comments. We'll be updating this guide as we game on new screens.
A note on affiliates: some of our stories, like this one, include affiliate links to stores like Amazon. These online stores share a small amount of revenue with us if you buy something through one of these links, which helps support our work evaluating PC components.