Buying a gaming monitor on a budget

In this guide, we talk you through getting the best value gaming monitors depending on your budget and resolution without cutting quality.

a gaming monitor with someone playing a racing game
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gaming is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. However, the rising cost of electronics and computer parts is quickly becoming expensive. Many options and extras regarding gaming monitors can affect the price, so be sure to stay for information and tips on how to get a great monitor on a budget.

Which Screen Formats are Best?

There are three major panel types; Twisted Nematic (NM), which is the cheapest,  Vertical Alignment (VA), which is somewhat the middle ground and In-Plane Switching (IPS), which is generally more expensive. 

Twisted Nematic (TN)

Twisted Nematic displays are often the cheapest option when comparing monitors but generally have fast response times compared to other panel types, which is why many gamers love them. However, TN panels also provide the worst viewing angles and colour quality. 

Virtual Alignment (VA)

Virtual alignment monitors are the middle ground of monitors. They are generally slightly more expensive than a TN monitor but not too pricey. The viewing angles and colour quality are better than a TN monitor. They have lower refresh rates and response times. Virtual Alignment monitors are best suited for general use and work.

In-Plane Switching (IPS)

IPS are the cream of the crop compared to TN and VA monitors but are also the most expensive. It’s often said that IPS have a slower response time than TN monitors, but newer technology has massively improved their performance to the point where they equal or surpass a TN monitor in response times. IPS monitors have the best colour quality and viewing angles. So if you need the best monitor for gaming or professional work monitor, an IPS monitor is the way to go.  

Resolutions and Refresh Rates

4K HDR monitors are not feasible in affordable gaming because the computer you need even to take advantage of the resolution would land you in the £1000’s, and that's before the hefty price tag of a 4K HDR monitor. So with that in mind, forget 4K and aim for 1440p. A 1440p or QHD (quad high definition) will likely tack around £100 onto the price of a 1080p monitor, but the difference is massive. But a 120hz 1080p monitor will look good if you are strapped for cash. 

144hz is fast becoming the new standard, but the difference between 120hz and 144hz is negligible. At the same time, anything above 144hz is wasted on anyone who isn’t on a professional gaming team. You’d be better off upgrading the resolution than the frequency past 144hz. That is, 1440p 120hz is a better value than 1080p 360hz. 

Adaptive Sync

Adaptive Sync is a screen technology developed by VESA (the authority on frame rate and frequency standards) that adjusts the display refresh rate to match your GPU’s frames on the fly. Each frame is displayed as soon as possible to prevent input lag, avoiding stuttering and screen tearing. It’s considered a must-have for first-person shooter gamers. Adaptive Sync is often marketed under FreeSync for AMD and G-Sync for Nvidia.

V-Sync

V-Sync or Vertical Sync is the original technology that syncs a game’s framerate to the monitor refresh rate to reduce screen tearing. When V-Sync is enabled on a monitor, it helps limit the frame rate output of the graphics card to the monitor’s refresh rate. This allows the monitor to avoid handling a higher FPS than it can manage, eliminating screen tearing. 

Monitor Size

Size isn’t everything. A larger screen means lower pixel density, leading to a less clear image. Sitting back on the sofa with a 42” TV works fine, but the difference is noticeable when you are only a few feet away from your monitor. So a slightly smaller screen is usually better for gaming at a desk on a monitor. Also, smaller generally means cheaper, which means you may be able to pick up a 1440p 120hz for £200-300  

Input Types

HDMI - HDMI inputs have quickly become the standard for video technology for a good reason. The most common input type is HDMI 2.0, which transfers 18gbps of data and generally tops out at 4K 60fps. The newer variant is HDMI 2.1, which you will find on newer game consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. The HDMI 2.1 cable is capable of up to 48gbps data transfer, which allows for 4K 120fps, the gold standard of current viewing quality. It can also be used for 8K, but such TVs are so rare that it’s barely worth mentioning.  

Display Port (DP) - Displayport inputs are common on monitors, especially gaming ones. A DP port generally has a clip that secures into the slot and isn’t found on games consoles or living room televisions, meaning they are pretty much a monitor-only input. The most common version for cheaper monitors is DP 1.4, which can easily handle 4K 120fps.  

Visual Graphics Array (VGA) - VGA inputs are practically extinct nowadays. Newer graphics cards and motherboards don’t have a VGA input slot, but you may still see them included in addition to HDMI on cheaper monitors. High-quality, more modern VGA can handle 1080p, but because practically all monitors and tech nowadays have HDMI, it's more practical to avoid a VGA monitor altogether. 

Digital Visual Interface (DVI) - Older than HDMI and DP but younger than VGA, the DVI input is starting to die out. It can achieve 1080p 144fps, and you may find it on a cheaper Twisted Nematic (TN) gaming monitor. A DVI monitor is still a valid option if you want higher frames but want to keep the cost down. 

Conclusion

My advice would be no less than 120hz/fps is needed for any gaming enthusiast. This means 1080p for the cheapest budget, 1440p more the mid-range and 4k is the expensive option. No more than 3ms response time (1ms is usually go to) HDR is great for image quality however, not all games have HDR compatibility, and it also raises the price. IPS panels have the best quality, and with new technology, the price is competitive with TN. 

Also, consider small comparison points such as having an adjustable stand, length of warranty and whether or not it has blue light-blocking technology, which is better for your eyes. You should also consider the energy rating as high-power 4K UHD gaming monitors consume a hefty amount of electricity. Learn more about how energy-efficient tech can save money in our energy-efficiency article.

If you don’t want to settle for 1080p but don’t have the budget for a 1440p or 4K monitor, consider purchasing a refurbished one, certified refurbished tech often comes with a warranty and a considerable saving. If you want to learn more, check out our guide to refurbished tech

Hopefully, by reading this guide, you will be more confident in choosing which monitor and how to save money by understanding the different features.

Nathan Walters
Editor

I joined MyVoucherCodes as a Deal Expert, searching the web and sourcing the best deals, discount codes and sales to benefit our readers. I decided to combine these money-saving skills with my love of writing and become an Editor, sharing what I have learned to help you get the most out of your money. Having been a student for four years, I understand the need to budget and get more for less.

In my spare time, I love playing video games and later writing reviews at GameReport. I also enjoy anything to do with technology and cool gadgets, and I'm constantly adding extras and components to my home gaming computer. Additionally, I love DIY, having worked in a tool store as a student, I have grown to enjoy fixing things, whether it’s my car or home.