720p vs 1080p vs 1440p vs 4K Compared: We'll Leave 8K Out as it's Not Practical for 99.9754% of Gamers
Published: Oct 22, 2018
One of the first things to consider when planning a new gaming desktop build is what resolution you’ll be playing at as it plays a huge role in how powerful of a system you’ll need. In our recommended PC builds you'll see that we categorize our suggested gaming builds by resolution because your PC gaming resolution is the biggest factor in how much you need to spend.
Firstly for the true beginners here, you may be wondering what resolution actually is? Resolution refers to the amount of pixels rendered on a screen. When you choose a monitor for your gaming PC setup, you have to decide which resolution monitor you want to get, as while you can change the resolution of a monitor, you ideally want to stick a monitor's native resolution. But why is the screen resolution important in gaming?
Higher resolutions render more pixels on screen, which results in better quality images. This comes at the expense of taxing your computer hardware more, so the higher the resolution you play in the more powerful (and therefore more expensive) of a gaming computer you'll need to be able to run that resolution at a smooth, playable performance level. If your PC is not powerful enough to run a certain resolution, your performance will suffer and you'll get on-screen lag or slowdowns which can get in the way of your enjoyment of the game.
Plus, as well as needing better (read: faster) PC components for higher resolutions, you’ll also need a monitor that supports that resolution, and high resolution monitors can range from quite a bit more expensive to insanely more expensive. For example, 4K monitors aren't cheap.
4K is the pinnacle of modern gaming in 2018 and a sight to behold assuming your hardware can keep up
What is 1080p Resolution? Is It Enough for Gaming?
1080p, also known as FHD (Full HD) has 1920 x 1080 pixels on-screen and is the common standard these days and the most popular resolution among gamers. In this era of gaming it has the best quality to price ratio. In other words, 1080p/FHD is the sweet spot. If you're on a budget, or looking to get the highest frame-rate possible for use on a high refresh rate monitor such as 120/144Hz, stick with 1080p. It's still a good quality gaming experience.
What is 1440p Resolution?
The next step up in resolution from 1080p is called 1440p which is also sometimes referred to as either QHD or WQHD, and has 2560 x 1440 pixels on screen for even higher quality graphics. If you’re wondering, the Q means that it has 4 times (Q = a quarter) the pixels of HD/720p (not to be confused with FHD). As for the W which some people use when referring to it, that simply means Wide as it’s a wide resolution format, however it’s unnecessary to include the W to denote it as a wide resolution because all the resolutions are wide.
1440p takes a more powerful PC to run real well than 1080p, but not by too much in many games, so one day it'll overtake 1080p as the sweet spot. Some will argue that in 2018 1440p already is the sweet spot, assuming you're not on a super tight budget when building your PC.
What is 4K Resolution?
Moving on from 1440p and there’s 4K which is 3840 x 2160 pixels, and also called 4K UHD. Whilst 1440p performance is quite doable if you have a nice amount to spend on your rig (ie over $1000 at the least), 4K is generally not recommended as its requirements are just too high for the average gamer and a decent 4K monitor will cost you a lot.
By all means, opt for a 4K gaming rig if you have the cash to splash, but just know what you’re getting yourself into - especially if you’re a picky gamer and not just wanting playable 4K performance but you’re aiming for a super smooth playing experience in demanding modern titles.
What is 720p Resolution?
As for dropping down from 1080p, you have 720p which is also known as HD (1280 x 720 pixels) which used to be the PC standard back in the day, this might be worth considering if you’re building a real cheap entry-level gaming PC build and/or if you don’t mind lower quality graphics. Some games are absolutely fine in lower resolutions such as 720p, and in some eSports titles you'll find some players preferring to sacrifice graphics quality to get a higher, smoother frame rate. For most gamers though, assuming your budget is at least the standard mark of around $400-$500 and higher for your new computer, you should probably just stick with 1080p as it’s very achievable to get good performance in 1080p these days.
1080p, 1440p, 4K and poor old 720p are the 4 most popular PC gaming resolutions right now, but which is the most popular resolution in 2018? Glad you asked.
After that you have the rarities such as those using a different aspect ratio and resolution of like 900p (hey, if it works for you and your game supports then go for it), and the crazy (smart?) gamers lucky enough to afford a monster $3000-$5000+ gaming monster capable of a mega 8K resolution.
Simply put, yes. 4K has so many more pixels on screen than 1080p, which makes for a much higher quality image. Of course, this obviously comes at a cost in needing much better hardware, so a high resolution like 4K is out of reach for many PC builders especially if you're on a budget. 1080p and 1440p is absolutely fine in 2018, and still provide great graphics as there's still a heck of a lot of pixels being rendered in those resolutions. But if you have the cash to splash on your gaming desktop build and you want the most immersive, highest-quality graphics possible, then once you game on a high resolution like 4K it'll be hard to downgrade back to 1080p or so 'cause it's simply beautiful.
Although, deciding which resolution to build your PC for and choosing between 1080p vs 4K (or between 1080p and 1440p, or 1440p and 4K) will also depend on the types of games you play as well. For example, in a game like CS:GO, Overwatch, Rocket League, DOTA 2 and League of Legends, where it's mostly about the fast-action gameplay rather than taking in breathtaking landscapes and graphics (glance around for a second in CS and you're bug squash), you could argue that the gaming resolution you're running doesn't matter so much and won't change your overall experience much (if at all) 'cause it's solely about the gameplay.
The Crysis series in 4K? Definitely worth it if you can afford it. But for CSGO? Definitely not needed.
Whereas on the other hand, in slower-paced, more deeper and immersive gaming experiences that have graphics as much a feature as the gameplay such as say, Crysis or The Witcher 3 just to name a couple off the top of my head, higher gaming resolutions make more of a difference on the experience. In other words, it's more appreciated and worth it when compared to other games where you wouldn't notice the difference in graphical detail as much. Just something to think about when choosing the right resolution for your gaming PC.
Let's get into optimal GPU and resolution pairings. As in, which screen resolution we generally recommended for a particular graphics card to get the smoothest performance in most games. Keep in mind these are merely suggestions and they assume you'll be using a standard 60Hz refresh-rate monitor and that you also like to have the in-game graphics settings generally turned up fairly high or maxed out. For example, we generally recommend 1440p for a GTX 1080, but that's not to say you can't run 4K fairly decently with this card...it's just that you won't get 60FPS on high/ultra in all games with a 1080 in 4K, therefore 1440p is probably your best bet for that card if you want the best performance in most games.
Also, higher refresh rate monitors (such as 120 or 144Hz and above) will require even more powerful GPUs than the ones below, whilst on the other hand you could get away with less powerful GPUs than the ones below if you don't mind lowering game settings down to get better performance. But yeah, for most gamers, the following GPU/resolution pairings are recommended as the ideal in terms best balance of graphics quality and performance in most games and most situations.
Best Resolution for a RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 2080, or GTX 1080 Ti?
Best Resolution for a RTX 2070, GTX 1080, GTX 1070, GTX 1070 Ti, or Vega 56/64?
Best Resolution for a RX 550, RX 560, RX 570 or RX 580?
Best Resolution for a GTX 1060, GTX 1050, GTX 1050 Ti, or GTX 1050?
Best Resolution for a GTX 1030, RX Vega 8 (Ryzen 2200G), RX Vega 11 (Ryzen 2400g) or Potato?
Some serious GPU firepower that's just not practical for the far majority. Meaning, to get playable and/or smooth performance in 8K you'll need to be packing a multi-GPU setup such as SLI 2080 or 2080 Ti's. 8K as a gaming resolution will one day be a mainstream thing, but in 2018 it's just a pipedream for most and just not practical at all. Plus, 4K gaming, if you can afford it, is super impressive as is and I'd easily be happy gaming in that res for at least the next decade.
Yes, ridiculous gaming resolutions like 16K are possible too, but we'll leave that to people like Linus in the below vid who have way more free time and disposable income than us mere mortals. Perhaps one day BGC will continue to grow to the point where we're large enough as an indie publication to be able to afford the ridiculous time and resources to do these kinds of outrageous over the top gaming experiments. I think it would be a ton of fun.
But for now, being the lean small business that we are, I'll stick to building budget-orientated rigs for our tutorials for the time being, although I do have a custom water-cooled gaming PC in the works to add some photos to the next update of that tutorial which has become one of the most well-received and trafficked guides on the site (which has been a nice bonus as it was in fact the most difficult, involved and time-consuming article to piece together in the site's history with a ton of little details to get right). Anyway, hopefully this guide helps you decide on choosing the best resolution for your gaming PC, and good luck.
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Former hobbyist game programmer turned tech enthusiast, Julz is the founder of BGC and has kept a keen eye on the latest in DIY gaming since starting the site in his spare time over a decade ago as an almost-laughably basic, unimpressive little site with a simple aim to try and make building a PC more accessible to the average gamer since most resources were far from noob friendly.
Over countless reinventions and reiterations to the quality and depth of content over the years, the site has steadily grown into the fairly expansive, comprehensive and constantly-updated PC building resource that it is today, now reaching and helping thousands of gamers and power users each and every month to more effectively plan optimal setups for their exact needs. His fav PC games of all time are HL1, WC3, C&C TS and SWKOTOR (OOT, Perfect Dark, DKC2 & MGS2 for consoles) and he promises never to speak in third-person again. You can learn more about the BGC mission here & how to support it.