Computer monitors buying guide

A good quality monitor can last longer than your computer, and see you through two or three upgrades.
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01.Monitor buying guide


There are two types of monitor available for home desktops: LCD and CRT.

  • CRT (Cathode-ray tube) monitors are large and bulky, but they’re also cheap. Some CRT monitors have "flat screen" technology (see Flat or curved?), known by various names.
  • LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors used to be found mainly on laptop computers but are now also commonly packaged with desktop computers. They are still more expensive than CRTs, although prices have dropped considerably in the last few years. They use much less electricity than CRT models, and their flat screen takes up much less desk space.

Please note: this information was current as of March 2005 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

What to look for


Monitor size is measured diagonally, usually in inches. Larger monitors provide a larger working area for your desktop and are easier to read text. The monitor casing and surround are generally about 1 inch larger than the stated monitor size, and they are as deep as they are wide, so expect a 17-inch CRT monitor to need a space about 18-19 inches high, wide and deep. Some models come with a “short neck” which can reduce the total space required.

LCD monitors have much smaller space requirements — no matter what their diagonal size is, they will only be a few inches deep.


Most new computers come with a 15 or 17-inch LCD monitor. A 17-inch LCD monitor costs around $300 – $650. Larger monitors come with correspondingly higher price tags — a 19-inch LCD monitor is likely to set you back between $700 - $1400, and a good 21-inch LCD monitor will cost you close to $2000 or more.

CRT monitors are considerably cheaper — you can find 17-inch CRTs for less than $200.

Refresh rate

The refresh rate defines how often the screen image is refreshed (ie redrawn) each second. It's also known as the frequency.

To avoid flicker and eyestrain, a vertical refresh rate above 60 Hertz (Hz) is recommended, and 75Hz or higher is considered a good refresh rate. Having a monitor which can adjust and optimise refresh rate, or be set to different refresh rate levels is advantageous, particularly for game playing.


Resolution determines the number of pixels (picture elements) that are used to draw your screen image. The more pixels, the more detail you will see, and the smaller individual items on your screen will appear. Most monitors are capable of a range of resolutions, from 640 x 480 pixels, through to 3200 x 2400. The appropriate resolution generally depends on the size of the monitor, or on the amount of available video memory. A resolution of 1024 x 768 is suited to a 17-inch monitor, for example.

As resolution and refresh rate combine for picture quality, look to see what the highest resolution is at 85MHz refresh rate. Occasionally, resolution is listed as “VGA” (640 x 480) “SVGA” (800 x 600) or “XVGA” (1024x 768)

Dot pitch

The 'dot pitch' is the distance between adjacent sets of red/blue/green dots that make up your monitor screen, measured in mm.

Lower numbers are usually better, as they indicate a sharper picture. Dot pitch may be measured vertically, horizontally or even diagonally; it pays to check which measurement is being quoted. A 17-inch monitor with a horizontal dot pitch of around .20-.26 is considered good, but always check the display.


Adjusting your monitor for best effect requires fine tuning controls — usually these are handled by an on-screen menu, and buttons on the face of the monitor that let you adjust contrast, brightness, horizontal and vertical alignment, and so on. Test out the monitor adjustment before buying to be certain that it’s easy to use.

Power consumption

Several factors contribute to the overall power consumption of your monitor. Monitors consume a lot of energy, but an energy star compliant monitor can turn itself off while not in use, reducing your power consumption. You may also want to check the electromagnetic emissions — Swedish TCO or MPR II certification classifies monitors as “low emission” — the MPR II certification meets stricter guidelines.

Onboard features

Some monitors have audio speakers and audio capability built in, others have USB ports, or attachments for other gadgets. This can be a way to add extra capability to a basic system, but often they are unnecessary additions.


Most monitors will come with a three-year warranty, and at minimum they should have a one-year warranty.

Some manufacturers of LCD monitors also include a separate 'dead pixel policy'. Dead or bad pixels are pixels that are permanently on or off. They look like small black, white or coloured dots on the screen and can be distracting if they're in the middle of the viewing area or you view a lot of graphics. Dead pixel policies allow a certain number of faulty pixels before you're entitled to a replacement product.

Many pixel policies are well hidden. Some manufacturers provide details on their websites or in product manuals. If you can't find any information, call the manufacturer.



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