Already blew most of your budget on a graphics card in 2022? Getting a great price on a high-refresh gaming monitor might help ease the pain. These are the best we've tested.
Fast-reaction games like Valorant(Opens in a new window) and Apex Legends keep soaring in popularity—and so does the demand for the highest possible frame rates to stay competitive. To that end, more gamers than ever are wondering where they can get an ace of a gaming monitor for the right price, packing a high refresh rate and low input lag.
Here at PCMag, we’ve been exhaustively testing budget gaming monitors across a range of resolutions to find the best models out there. We evaluate everything from the build quality of the panel down to every last gaming feature included. While the depth of features can be thin in the budget aisle at times, every model we’ve included here has earned its spot on our pick list.
We’ll get into pricing—and what “budget” or “cheap” means, in a larger sense—a bit further on in this guide. But first: What exactly should you look for in a budget gaming monitor? And how to get the best balance of performance, design, and game-day extras? Let’s break it down.
When it comes to budget gaming monitors, the size of your panel and its resolution are intertwined. Native resolution has traditionally been limited to 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) in monitors under 32 inches in panel size.
That’s changing, though, as more manufacturers broaden their range of available models. We’ve been able to include both 1440p (2,560 by 1,440 pixels) and 4K (3,840 by 2,160 pixels) options in this roundup, and that diversity will only continue to grow as the economics of panel production follow the natural curve of tech product cycles: bigger, better, cheaper. While elite 4K concept monitors shown off at 2022’s CES, like the upcoming 55-inch Samsung Odyssey Ark, will remain solidly on the multi-kilobuck bleeding edge, the largest segment of the gaming-display market by purchase volume is the budget gamer panel.
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In our testing across the budget gaming monitor market over the past few years, we’ve seen three size categories take hold as staples: 24-inch, 27-inch, and 32-inch. While other size offerings lie above and below those goalposts, these three are the most commonly produced by many of the major manufacturers, with 25-inchers as an occasional interloper.
Who wants the smaller sizes? Space-strapped folks, sure, but also a surprising contingent: esports professionals. In general, we recommend starting any serious gaming career by looking at 24-inch panels, as this is the most popular option for esports pros around the world. It’s considered just large enough to fill your field of vision, but not so large that you lose details on the periphery. If you take your multiplayer matches seriously, 24-inchers are a pro-approved starting point, and some might argue exactly as large as you should go.
For those who want a slightly more cinematic experience and play a mix of AAA titles and low-intensity multiplayer games (and who also watch a lot of content at their desks), the 27-inch and 32-inch brackets fill their respective roles better, in our opinion. Generally speaking, however, expect to pay more at these size tiers. The economics of panel production in the current marketplace, along with the raw cost of materials, both can have an effect on the final list price of a monitor.
Perhaps the most determinate factor in the price of your next gaming monitor, though, is the type of panel packed inside. Let’s get into that.
The reason we didn’t present you with a straight pricing chart above—one that tells you specifically what you should expect to spend for what size of panel—is because the type of panel also helps determine a gaming monitor’s price range. As you shop, you’ll see several different panel technologies out there, and each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Twisted Nematic (TN): TN panels are often the most affordable of all the types we’ll discuss in this section. They are popular among gamers because they offer fast pixel response times and refresh rates. The downsides of TN? TN panels can exhibit low brightness levels and poor contrast, and they aren’t generally a good choice for general content watching or if you want AAA games to “pop,” as it were. Think of TN’s role as the ultimate budget driver for games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or League of Legends, and not a whole lot more.
Vertical Alignment (VA): VA screens are known for their high native contrast ratios, robust colors, and ability to display deep blacks. But they are also known to produce noticeable ghosting effects, which can mar multiplayer gaming performance. If you’re more of a AAA gamer who doesn’t need response times that break records, and who prefers color vividness to outright speed, VA will be your best bet in the budget segment.
In-Plane Switching (IPS). IPS panels provide the best all-around color quality, as well as strong grayscale performance and wide viewing angles. But they can’t match the pixel response of TN panels and can be subject to motion artifacts. They are the best general-use panel type, but discriminating gamers and competitive esports types may take issue with IPS panels.
Fast IPS (FIPS). Some newer technology changed the IPS narrative in 2019, when LG developed a new IPS panel type, which various monitor makers may dub “Nano IPS” or “Fast IPS” or something else, depending on the company. FIPS claims 1-millisecond gray-to-gray response time with overdrive turned on. These panels use a thin layer of nanoparticles applied to the display’s backlight that enables wider color-gamut coverage and reduces response times, a combination that makes them the now-dominant choice for almost every midrange and premium gaming monitor in 2022. If you have room in your budget, they offer the best balance of gaming performance to image quality nowadays.
For the true budget gamer, if you spot any FIPS or Nano IPS monitor on sale and it fits within your price range, push it to the top of your list. Even the worst FIPS- or Nano IPS-backed panels we’ve tested are well ahead of the best VA or TN panels in color quality, response times, and input lag figures.
Organic Light Emitting Diode and Quantum Dot OLED (OLED, QD-OLED). OLED panels still remain squarely ultra-premium picks (QD-OLED hadn’t even been released at the time of this writing), and we don’t foresee them in budget models anytime soon. Just like with OLED televisions, these two ultra-beautiful panel types are inescapably expensive to produce (for now), and of the few OLED gaming monitors that even exist, options like the Alienware 55 OLED are anything but cost-conscious.
Gaming monitors at the budget level need to make compromises on aspects like panel type. But in 2022, many of the specs important to gaming monitors that have usually been strong only on premium models—input lag and pixel response time, for starters—have gotten a lot better with the budget set of late. (Our overall gaming monitors guide gets deeper into the background of what these specs mean.)
Some of the best budget monitors we’ve tested in the past year also have some of the lowest input-lag figures. Also, while models with ultra-high refresh rates, like the $499-list Acer Nitro XV252Q F (a 390Hz model), remain a bit pricey despite their 1080p native resolution, others like the BenQ Mobiuz EX2510S in our pick list come in under $300, while putting up stellar gaming performance results across the board.
Overall, in the budget tier for gaming monitors—which starts to transition into mid-tier around $350 to $400 these days, depending on who you ask and what screen size you are talking about—you should set your spec expectations as follows. For refresh rate, expect the spec to be from 100Hz to 165Hz, though some 200Hz and 240Hz models go on sale every now and then and create exceptions to the rule.
Then there’s response time: In 2022, your new budget panel should maintain gray-to-gray response times of 1-millisecond (1ms) or less. And as for input-lag figures, they can drift below 3ms comfortably without hurting your wallet too much (or your multiplayer ranking, if you’re an esports hound).
Before we close out this guide, know that two other features can pump up the cost of a gaming monitor, but you might want them anyway: support for an adaptive sync anti-screen-tearing technology, as well as for high-dynamic range (HDR) content.
Adaptive sync encompasses a couple of technologies from AMD (FreeSync) and Nvidia (G-Sync), the two big video card makers. Adaptive sync’s job is to smooth out distracting “screen tearing,” which is misaligned, partially drawn portions of your screen that occasionally occur. FreeSync and G-Sync each come in one of several “levels” of capability, depending on the monitor.
Where you do see adaptive sync in a budget monitor at all (not all have it), AMD’s FreeSync tends to be more common. The upper levels of G-Sync, like G-Sync Ultimate (which require specialized circuitry in the monitor), cost extra and aren’t in budget monitors. Your make of graphics card determines which of these you can use, but know that some FreeSync monitors, which demand an AMD Radeon card, are also what’s called “G-Sync Compatible,” which means they will work with GeForce cards, too. Nvidia maintains a list of G-Sync Compatible monitors here(Opens in a new window). (See our general gaming monitors guide for more on these technologies.) For a budget gaming monitor, you’ll want to make sure you have adaptive sync support that matches your video card’s.
HDR is less essential a creature comfort for gamers, more geared toward enhancing color and brightness. HDR specs are defined by their own set of “levels” that express the intensity of the effect, and higher HDR specs tend to reflect how expensive your monitor might get.
You will see “HDR 400”-rated monitors floating around the budget-display category, but more often than not, you’re better off without it, or at least not paying more for it. HDR doesn’t start producing eye-popping visuals until the HDR 600 mark, and it’s only really worth the ticket price at HDR 1000 and above, to our eyes. We’ve laid eyes on a lot of “budget HDR” panels over the past few years, and while a few monitors on our pick list do HDR 400, they have strong reasons to be there beyond the HDR support. (See much more about monitor HDR in Windows in our primer.)
Our general buying advice in this department? Go for the highest rating of compatible adaptive sync you can fit within your budget, and mostly ignore HDR as a sideshow. We’ve yet to see an HDR 400 budget monitor that merits an “HDR” designation at all. Conversely, plenty of budget gaming panels with FreeSync 2 or G-Sync Compatible badges are great entry points for aspiring esports pros, or those who want a little more smoothness in their AAA gaming experience.
Finding the best budget gaming monitor in 2022 is all about compromise, but that’s no bad thing. Balancing the right panel type at the right size, with the right refresh rate, will come down to personal preference and the kinds of games you like to play most. The chart below comprises the best models on the market we’ve reviewed, which you can use to jump-start your journey.
For more of our monitor picks, check out our top gaming monitors overall, regardless of price level. Gamers can also check out our top-picks coverage of other peripherals such as gaming keyboards and gaming mice to complete their PC gaming package.
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Chris Stobing is a hardware analyst at PCMag. He brings his experience benchmarking and reviewing consumer gadgets and PC hardware such as laptops, pre-built gaming systems, monitors, storage, and networking equipment to the team. Previously, he worked as a freelancer for Gadget Review and Digital Trends, spending his time there wading through seas of hardware at every turn. In his free time, you’ll find him shredding the local mountain on his snowboard, or using his now-defunct culinary degree to whip up a dish in the kitchen for friends.
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