Monitor Buying Guide: What To Look For

Posted on July 10, 2010


Most people looking at a new computer don’t think much of the monitor. Some might want a specific size, but that’s about it. In reality, there are so many different choices that it is hard to find the one that’s just right for you. I hope to help you find the one that fits you best in this post.

Some obvious things took for when buying a new monitor are price and size. Set a price that you won’t go over, no matter what, and stick to it. Then choose a size range. Make sure it fits on your desk and won’t be too small for your needs. The best way to find a good size is to measure your desk space and see just how much space you have. You’ll be amazed to find that you often don’t have near as much space as you thought!

Next, set a preferred resolution. On a PC, I would recommend having at least 800 pixels height wise, and at least 1024 wide. Why? Well, most webpages are 1024 pixels wide or thinner. If you get a monitor wide enough to accommodate this standard, you won’t have to do much side scrolling, which is a pain. As for the height, 800 is a bit on the small size. Why? Well, most webpages are set at a standard width, but their heights are never the same. Having a tall monitor will make it easier to see more of the webpage at a time.

On a Mac, the recommended resolution is a bit different. Since you have the dock AND menubar, you have to remember that they will always be taking a little screen real estate. Of course, you can just tell the dock to hide itself automatically, but many people don’t like this and just can’t live with it. For height, I’d recommend at LEAST 800. I would personally start at 900, just because I know that you really want all the height you can get. For width, I’d again recommend at least 1024. 1280 is a pretty nice width, and anything over that is acceptable as well.

Of course, there are sizes that are just too big for most people. Anything over 1600 wide or 1280 high is just overkill. How much space do you really need? Unless you’re a writer, graphic designer, web designer, or programmer, you really don’t need all that space. Add in the fact that the higher resolution it is, the larger the monitor itself will most likely be.

Next, be sure to find the type of video output your computer has. Does it use VGA, DVI, or HDMI? Most use VGA, and the other two are just on certain video cards. Remember, this is probably the most important thing to look for, as if it is incompatible, you won’t be able to use it with your computer!

Next, choose a few styles you like. Do you want glossy or matte? I’d recommend matte, simply because you don’t have to worry about as much glare as you would with a glossy display. Glossy displays are also fingerprint magnets. If you’re a neat freak, I’d recommend staying away from glossy displays at all costs. On the other hand, glossy displays often show more vibrant colors than their matte counterparts. If you aren’t sure which kind you like, go with a glossy display. If you can’t stand the reflection or the fingerprints, buy a matte cover to go over the display.

Of course, you’ll want to check out the design of the monitors themselves. What kind of base do you want? Do you want an inverted V design, or a round base? Do you want the monitor to be an A-shaped design, with legs that extend behind the monitor? Think about your desk space again. I’d recommend the inverted V design, simply because it has the smallest footprint and allows you to save all that precious desk space for other gadgets. They also look more attractive and are generally very sturdy. Another good design is the design found on current iMacs. The single leg that comes down from the center of the monitor, much like the inverted V design, provides stability and looks pretty cool at the same time. Add in the fact that you can put stuff in the nook it provides, and it becomes a quite a reasonable option.

Finally, decide on what kind of bezel you’d like. Do you want a glossy black bezel, or smooth silver? I’d recommend a dark, matte bezel. This type of bezel doesn’t reflect any light and helps you focus on the actual screen.

As for specific monitors, I can’t recommend many, as I haven’t had much experience with LCD screens. My current monitor is a Dell E176FP, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Its resolution is 1280×1024, which translates to a 5:4 aspect ratio. Yikes. Web pages look beautiful on this screen, but watching widescreen videos on it is just awkward, what with all the black space above and below the video. If you were to make videos using screen capture software, I would advise against it. While it is great for web pages and normal work, it’s horrible for trying to capture. Most video sites have 16:9 aspect ratio boxes. At 5:4, you will get TONS of black space on the left and right of the video. If you do any screen recording with this monitor, you have to make good use of the zoom tool in your editor.

So let’s recap. What should you decide on first? Price and size. Next, choose your preferred resolution and aspect ratio. (Most are either 16:10 or 16:9. You won’t notice much of a difference between the two.) Next, find the type of video it uses. VGA, DVI, or HDMI? Next, choose a screen type. Glossy or matte? Finally, choose a stand style and bezel style. Hopefully you’ll find the monitor that is just right for you!

Gavin Roskamp – GTT

You can see more of Gavin’s work at his site,

Editors note: When it comes down to monitor brands, I recommend Dell. Great quality, price, and style. I use a Dell Ultrasharp 2208WFP 22″ running at 1680 x 1050.

Posted in: Tips