Gaming monitor resolutions explained: 1080, 4K, 1440, 60 FPS and everything you need to know before buying a monitor for games

It’s always a strange year when new consoles are coming, especially if you’re a PC gamer, because you want to make sure that the box that you’ve been upgrading and optimizing, over so many years, is able to run the latest games, year after year.

So when facts are being spewed of the Xbox Series X and the PS5 being able to run games at a 4K resolution at 60 frames a second, that temptation rises to try out a very recent game on your PC, and to see how it runs.

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But the first point of call, at least when it comes to this article, is the monitor. It’s great if it outputs in a 1080 resolution, but what about 4K? What’s 1440?

There’s a lot of confusion as to what stands as the ideal set-up for games. We have already published a guide about the best monitors to buy for working from home, but we want to go one step further here.

This is a guide in explaining that 4K is simply not there yet for PC gaming, and why 1440 is your best scenario to go for when upgrading, or looking at a new setup...

Refresh Rate

First of all, we need to explain refresh rates. A refresh rate is how many times the monitor’s image changes, and the more times the image can update itself over one second, the smoother the overall image will look.

So if you’re seeing monitors with refresh rates of 144Hz, you will be able to play games such as Warzone and even Streets of Rage 4 to display at a more responsive experience.

The best comparison are the iPad Pro models. They have a feature called ‘ProMotion’, which can refresh the image up to 120Hz. Once you compare this with an older model, or an iPad that’s not the ‘pro’ variant, you will be able to see the difference; it’s night and day.

So when looking for a monitor, definitely check to see what its refresh rate is!

The standard 1080

This is the common standard these days, and so your resolution should be the minimum in 2020 for your monitor. At 1920 x1080 you get a good-quality image, crisp and clear, and most PC set-ups are able to run the majority of games at this resolution at well over the 60 frames a second.

There’s not much more to say here, as this is really the common standard, and if you’re reading this, you’re more than aware of what 1080 displays as.

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Are 4K gaming monitors the future?

This is seen as the true successor to 1080, and it is. The upcoming consoles of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are touting games to be played in 4K at 60 frames a second, and even though it’s a tantalising thought to do this on our PC’s, it’s simply not possible just yet.

One needs to remember that the consoles are using a GPU chipset that hasn’t been released yet. It’s based on a chipset that’s due to come out next year, which we mentioned when we published a how-to of building a PC to almost-mirror the new consoles.

Even running games in 4K on a 4K monitor can be a massive strain on the latest cards, such as the NVIDIA 2070 Super, which the video above demonstrates running games such as Battlefield 5 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at just over 50 frames.

Granted, Forza Horizon 4 and Hitman 2 run in 4K around 90 frames, but that’s on the highest-spec GPU currently out there, that’s simply at a price not available to most, especially during these times.

Let’s also not factor in the refresh rate to this as well; the combination of the frame rate, the 4K resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate, it’s simply not 4K’s time to shine.

The time isn’t now. There’s really no benefit to have a game run in 4K on a PC, especially with the graphics cards currently available. Wait until next year at the least, that’s when 4K may be running games that’s way over 60 frames a second than they do currently.

READ MORE: PS5 visual output explained - do you need a 4K TV?

1440 is just right

This can be seen as the middle-ground, the final step before 4K is fully-realised for PCs. Monitors that are larger than 24-inches are beginning to factor in a 1440p resolution with a 120hz refresh rate, and many graphics cards out there are able to run games at 60 frames at a minimum, while staying to a high refresh rate within this resolution.

It brings great benefits, but it does depend on other factors too. Let's not forget, 1440p is a resolution of 2560 x1440, a much sharper resolution than 1080, and a world apart from 720. A mid-range graphics card will be recommended to push those pixels out onto a monitor, while being able to run an intensive game such as Warzone at a great framerate.

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Make sure that you have a GPU such as the GeForce 2060 Super to handle this. If you’re going to attempt to run an integrated GPU such as an AMD Vega at this resolution, all the best to you.

Currently, 1440p is a great standard to be at, and it can really help bide your time until 4K becomes more accessible as newer graphics cards are introduced.

All in all, if you want the right balance in 2020, a monitor that can display a 1440p resolution with a high-refresh rate will be the best method for your setup. Just make sure that you’ve got the GPU to back it up.

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