If you’re in need of a new monitor but you’re on a tight budget, it’s not as easy to find one as it used to be. While we’ve passed the shortages caused by the initial spike in demand at the beginning of the pandemic, when a huge number of people began to work from home, I’m beginning to see rising prices likely due to the pandemic-driven shipping delays and component shortages. Now even a ‘meh’ 24-inch monitor to meet your needs for work or school can run you over $150.
Before you dig in, there are a few things to keep in mind: When buying a budget monitor, you should absolutely check out the listing of what’s in the box. Make sure it’s not missing items that would drive the price above that “cheap monitor” threshold, like a stand or appropriate cables. The stand might not be an issue if you’re planning to use the VESA mount to put it on a wall or arm. But in that case, you should ensure the mount screws on the back of the monitor match yours: The bulk of these have 100-by-100-mm mounts, though in some cases, they have 200×200, 75×75 or don’t support a VESA mount at all.
Got a Mac? If it’s an old MacBook Pro and has an HDMI port, or an iMac or Mac Mini, you won’t have a problem. MacBooks with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections will require an adapter or cable with conversion built-in because they won’t have a dedicated display port. You may also need to fiddle with the resolution and scaling settings in Mac OS, since it natively prefers a 16:10 aspect ratio, not the 16:9 aspect ratio that’s much more popular on Windows.
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Unless you’re a hardcore gamer or creative professional, many of the most technical specs — latency and color gamut, for example — won’t really matter to you (though many of these could serve as a budget gaming monitor). You should always take them with a grain of salt, anyway.
For the money, you can generally expect to get:
- A maximum of 1,920×1,080-pixel screen resolution (dubbed by marketers as “Full HD resolution” and also referred to as 1080p or 2K for its roughly 2,000 pixels across). Below 27 inches, that’s fine. At 27 inches or larger, it’s not great except in one important case. Essentially, the reason you buy a 27-inch monitor over a 24-inch is usually because you want to fit more on to it. But if it’s using the same number of pixels, it just makes everything bigger — it doesn’t put more on the screen. And because it’s spreading them across a bigger screen, some people (like me) may get annoyed at seeing the pixel grid. I find a pixel density (the number of pixels per inch, or ppi) of at least 90 a good balance, but YMMV. The exception? If you actually need things like text to be bigger, such as if you have impaired vision.
- A stand that lets you tilt the computer monitor, not raise or lower it. We want to reduce eye strain and optimize ergonomics wherever possible.
- While there might be one or two larger, the monitors go mostly up to 27 inches.
- Between 250 and 350 nits of brightness. That should be fine for most uses.
- Up to 75Hz refresh rate for an IPS (which stands for in-plane switching) monitor or 144Hz refresh rate for a TN (twisted nematic). A high refresh rate matters if you’re planning to play a lot of FPS, racing, fighting or other motion-sensitive gaming. An IPS monitor is better for general-purpose use, since it’s superior for off-angle viewing and typically has better color. But the fastest IPS monitor you’ll find for the money is 75Hz. A TN monitor is better for fast gaming and a better gaming experience; it has a higher contrast ratio, but poorer viewing angle — color accuracy and contrast changes as you move further from looking straight-on.
- If it comes with built-in speakers, don’t assume they’re a replacement for real standalone versions. They’re occasionally better than expected, but think of the speakers as a nice perk for basic system sounds or videoconferencing and consider it a windfall if they’re satisfactory for entertainment. (I’ve been relatively impressed with the speakers in BenQ’s EW series.)
- A lot of these cheap monitors support AMD’s adaptive refresh FreeSync technology, which works with AMD’s graphics processors for syncing game frame rates with the display.
- A curved monitor, which can make a wide display fit into your field of view without requiring you to sit too far back, isn’t worth paying more for in monitors 27 inches or smaller; then the bezels are too far within your field of view. One potential exception is if you plan to span across three identical monitors for gameplay. Then they wrap around you better than three flat screens.
Upping your budget to between $200 and $300 will bring more 32-inch screen size options and 2,560×1,440 resolution. And, of course, the more you’re willing to spend, the more you’re likely to find something in stock and ready to ship.
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If you are looking for budget gaming monitors, this budget FHD monitor’s 75Hz refresh gives you a little latitude for gaming and has an in-plane switching panel for better color and viewing angle in the sea of VA competitors; plus, this cheap gaming monitor option is pretty attractive with thin bezels and a stand that’s less clunky-looking than some. You’ll get an HDMI cable in the box, and it has a 100×100 VESA mount. There are some drawbacks, such as some backlight bleed that buyers have noticed, and it has an HDMI 1.4 connection instead of 2.0 (if you care), plus the stand only allows the screen to tilt, not raise or lower.
This comes in three confusing flavors, all based around the same 75Hz, 27-inch panel: the $190 S2721HN with two HDMI 1.4 ports and an audio line out, the $200 S2721H with those and a pair of 3w speakers and the $210 S2721HS which has a sleeker model of the stand, an HDMI 1.4 and a DisplayPort 1.2 connector. I think it’s worth $10 for the speakers; they may not be great, but I really miss them for system sounds and all the other incidental sounds I encounter over the course of the day.
These are newer versions of the last-generations S2719H-series we tested, but are, for the most part, just a lot prettier with some feature tweaks. Of that one, we said: This LED monitor is a good option for a dual monitor setup if you’re fed up with eye strain and squinting at your work on a small laptop screen. The display’s thin bezels and built-in power supply make it streamlined and tidy, and you’re pretty much looking at all screen. The base does allow it to tilt — there’s no height adjustment — and has a hole for cable management so you can pass its power cord and a VGA or HDMI cable through to the inputs in back (power and HDMI cables are included).
Along with the screen size and design, you’re getting a 75Hz refresh rate, 4ms response time and FreeSync support, which makes this a bit better for gaming and fast-moving video than your average office monitor. On the other hand, unexciting color performance and seemingly lower-than-spec brightness undercut it solely for that use. It’s fine for mixed use even if it doesn’t excel in any area.
There are three similar 24-inch screen size models if you’re looking for something smaller and less expensive — they range from $170 to $185 at Dell. And if you want a slightly less expensive or smaller option with the speakers, the 24-inch version is identical to my recommended model for $185.
The LG is a solid, attractive general-purpose choice with some gaming perks. Though I’d hardly call it a gaming monitor, it has features for a good gaming experience, such as AMD FreeSync support, the ability to overdrive the response time, a 1ms motion-blur reduction mode and an optional center crosshair. It’s slightly brighter than most, and there’s a Photo mode that seems to improve the color accuracy. It’s got a VGA connector in addition to the two HDMIs (though that’s not uncommon in this price range) if you’ve got a really old device to connect. The 24-inch is a smaller version of the 27-inch monitor we tested which has since been discontinued (though still available in places at a much higher price).
This looks to be a more recent follow-up to the 27MK600M-B we tested, with a different stand and a DisplayPort connection instead of the second HDMI. Like that one, it’s got some gaming perks, identical to the 24-inch LG I mentioned above.
Great monitors just over $200
This big ‘un doesn’t have ultraskinny bezels or a curved screen — it’s four years old — but when you consider its size, a 75Hz refresh rate and USB-C DisplayPort connector (as well as two HDMI 1.4 ports), you get a lot for the money. LG has been known to sell it for $200, but it’s normal price is $270, so I’m keeping it down here in case it drops again. It’s still a pretty good value for the features at the normal price. There’s a slightly more game-oriented model for $250, the 29WP60G-B, with FreeSync support, thinner bezels and a slightly sleeker design, but don’t get FOMO over the “HDR” you’ll see in the name; it has the same color and brightness specs as the cheaper model. LG has simply added decoding hardware that lets it more-or-less intelligently cram real HDR content to the dim, small gamut display, which is never pretty.
I don’t like curved 27-inch monitors or VA panels much, but in a sea of 75Hz options under $200, the Gigabyte is a refreshing 165Hz. That makes it a lot more suited to gaming than all the 75Hz models. It also has a greater-than-sRGB color gamut, low-power stereo speakers and a USB hub, which you rarely find together in this price class. The price has risen to $220, which is still less than its typical $250, and I’m leaving it here temporarily in case it comes back at the lower price.