4K Monitors Finally Get High Refresh Rates: What You’ll Need to Unlock Their Full Potential

The new slew of 4K, HDR, high refresh monitors are starting to trickle out after years of delay, and many gamers around the world are rejoicing that the era of high-speed 4K gaming is finally here. But not every PC out there is going to have the specs necessary to handle these monolithic monitors, so what will you need to get up and gaming at 4K 144Hz by the time one shows up on your doorstep?

The more discerning gaming hardware fans out there may have already noticed that even though 144Hz is impressive, with some panels out today that already approach 240Hz refresh rate, what’s the big deal?

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The difference here is that unlike the 240Hz monitors which are currently restricted to 1920 x 1080p resolution, until now 4K monitors have only been able to go up to a whopping 60Hz. This new line of monitors represents a generational jump in gaming technology, with the primary limiter being the cables at play behind the scenes.

See,¬†for a monitor to run a high resolution in combination with a high refresh rate, the pipe carrying all that information needs to be able to handle the huge amount of bandwidth being pumped through it accordingly. Right now the only display cable that can handle 4K 144Hz bandwidth is DisplayPort 1.4. HDMI 2.1 can’t do anything beyond 4K 60Hz, and even then it won’t support G-Sync or HDR either. (Both of which are available on the two monitors that came out this year.)

Talk to any hardcore multiplayer gamers though, and they’ll tell you the upgrade is most certainly worth it. There’s an ineffable buttery smoothness that comes with jumping from 60Hz to 144Hz, and when playing competitive titles like Counter Strike: Global Offensive or Rainbow Six: Siege, the increased refresh means you’ll see the enemy on your screen that many milliseconds before they see you.

Add 4K into the mix and you have a deadly combination. The increased pixel ratio means you’ll be able to make out the most minute details on screen, which in competitive environments can mean the difference between getting a headshot and a bodyshot. Rainbow Six is a game that especially benefits from this of type advantage, where the angles you need to hold to win a firefight against your opponent can quite literally be two pixels wide or less in some circumstances.

4K monitors that run at 144Hz mean gamers no longer have to compromise between high refresh rates and pixel density. But for all the benefits that you get out of these new monitors, the price of entry is equally high to match.

As many reviewers and game journalists have already pointed out, the ASUS ROG PG27UQ and Acer Predator X27 4K 144Hz G-Sync HDR monitors seem to be a bit like putting the cart before the horse. High refresh rates don’t amount to squat if you can’t actually achieve a high enough FPS rate to match, which means unless you own a rig that can run a 4K game at 144FPS and beyond, you’re likely better off spending your hard-earned $2,000 elsewhere.

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An extremely well-optimized game like CS:GO is one of the few titles out there in 2018 that can run beyond 144FPS on current GPUs like an Nvidia GTX 1080Ti. For more resource-intensive titles like Far Cry 5, however, the best you can expect is somewhere in the 100-120FPS range with the same card at 4K resolution. This means all that extra refresh from 100Hz up to 144Hz essentially goes to waste.

That said, many analysts expect Nvidia’s next range of RTX 20XX cards should be able to pick up the slack in this department. The new cards will have performance improvements of around 60% over the current generation, so running both competitive titles and graphically-intensive games at near or over 144FPS at 4K resolution theoretically shouldn’t be a problem.

You’ll also need an equally beefy CPU to support the throughput of a 4K 144FPS game, which means an Intel Core i7-6700K and above only. This aspect of the build is less important than the graphics card, but ultimately a big GPU will still be bottlenecked by the CPU if it’s below a certain generational mark.

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Only if you really, really need it, should you buy one. Right now the technology is still in its infancy, and there are many improvements that could still be made with second-generation releases. Not only that, but many people agree that the benefit you would get out of 4K resolution pretty much washes out on a mere 27″ monitor (the maximum size of both offerings on shelves right now).

Combine this with the hefty $2,000 pricetag, and you’ll quickly realize that this is a technology reserved for the few top-of-the-line PC gamers who have a good chunk of change to spare on their favorite hobby and also don’t mind taking the hit of being an early adopter.

If you compete in CS:GO tournaments and need that extra slight edge of 4K over 1440P (and have a rig to support the boost), by all means spend your money how you please. Otherwise, if you’re like the rest of us, you’re probably better off going with a slightly more manageable 2560 x 1440P 165Hz monitor like the ASUS ROG Switch PG279Q that costs 1/3 as much.

Image credit: Lr43_L1000489

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