Ask Dan: LCDs and video cards

Date: 27 April 2008
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


LCD quest

I am looking for a good value 22" wide LCD monitor (NON Glossy). It does not have to have speakers but I would like to be able to connect it to a TV (but that's not essential).

The main use for it is to run multiple applications on it.

Do you have any recommendations?


You'd probably be perfectly happy with the Viewsonic VA2226w, which Aus PC Market here in Australia sell for only $AU330 including Sydney metropolitan delivery. (Australian shoppers can click here to order one!)

Viewsonic list the VA2226w as having an "Anti-glare, hard-coating (3H)", which I'm 99% sure means it's a matte finish (my monster Dell has a "3H" coating as well), not the glossy coating you want to avoid.

[A reader's now pointed out that the "3H" is just a coating hardness rating, and says nothing about how the coating looks - a 3H coating can be shiny or matte.]

The difference, by the way, is that matte coatings will give the screen a distinctive "sparkly" appearance, which some people cannot abide but which other people greatly prefer to the much greater "mirror" effect of the non-sparkly glossy coatings. I've seen some people complain bitterly about the Dell 3H coating, but I don't mind it at all.

You're not going to find a decent 22-incher very much cheaper than that, except when Dell is having one of their big discount offers on the size of screen you're looking for. As I write this, they're not, so their 22-inchers still start from $AU399.

It's possible to find 22-inchers that're significantly cheaper than this - only about $250 delivered from an eBay dealer. That'll buy you a "Chi Mei" monitor with a panel in it that's probably not any worse than the ones in the bigger brands (Chi Mei are a major LCD panel manufacturer), but I think Chi Meis have a bit of a reputation for dropping dead after a year or two, and then repairs are a pain. Many people are very happy with them, though, so I wouldn't completely rule it out if you're really on a shoestring budget.

Note that at this lower end of the market you miss out on some features of fancier LCDs. You'll almost invariably, for instance, be getting a twisted nematic (TN) panel, which has much lousier wide-angle viewing performance than the In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels used in most more expensive screens.

This can be an issue as monitors get bigger, making your view angle to different parts of the screen more extreme. A 22 shouldn't really be a problem unless you're cruising around the room in your swivel chair, but if you want people to be able to lean on your desk and see what you're doing without the colour looking all weird to them, or if you intend to use the screen as a TV for more than one viewer, one or another variant of IPS will work much better than TN. If you've ever wondered why looking at one laptop screen from an angle gives you an almost normal image while another one looks totally trippy, this is why.

Cheap monitors are also very likely to have "six bit" panels, with only six bits of colour resolution for each of red, green and blue versus the eight or more bits needed for truly full colour reproduction.

Six-bit panels these days often do a very good job of dithering their limited palette to make it look like a proper 24-bit screen, so it can difficult to even notice the difference. But if you're going to do anything colour-critical, a 6-bit panel is not for you.

(There was actually a lawsuit over the six-bit panels Apple use for their MacBook Pros, which of course are quite often bought by graphic-design types.)

For ordinary business computing and gaming, though, a modern cheap six-bit TN panel will do just fine. One of the advantages of TN is that it has lightning-fast response; pretty much any LCD these days has pixel response more than fast enough for even demanding gamers (by gum, I remember when it was all fields 'round 'ere and I wuz reviewin' thousand-dollar fifteen-inch 30-millisecond LCDs...), but it's still nice to know that one thing you won't have to put up with if you buy a cheap LCD is blurriness when things are moving fast.

(For more info about LCD monitor specifications, check out this previous Ask Dan.)


Driving a giant

I have a 30-inch monitor and am looking for the best graphics card to go with it. The problem is with CrossFire and SLI, new and old models I have no idea what to go for. Some advice would be great.


This is one of those how-long-is-a-piece-of-string sorts of questions, because different games need different amounts of graphics-card power.

If you want to use high eye-candy settings in recent games like Crysis at the full 2560 by 1600 resolution of all of the 30-inch desktop monitors, then you'll need at least dual GeForce 8800 GT/GTS or 9800 GTX cards, or perhaps a Radeon HD 3870 X2. That still won't really get you there if you insist on turning everything up, but even triple-card setups won't do that.

(I wrote more about the new nine-series Nvidia cards and their ATI competition in the last Ask Dan.)

On the other hand, if you play older 3D games and can stand to not use 8X antialiasing and maximum anisotropic filtering et cetera, a single 8800 GT/GTS or Radeon HD 3870 will probably be fine.

People who've blown their budget buying the monitor - or just want to hang about until the top-end cards are cheaper, which is always a good idea - can of course just run their games at a lower-than-maximum resolution. If you like chunky but sharp pixels, then 1280 by 800 still looks impressive on a 30-inch screen, and can be driven by all sorts of old/budget cards with no trouble. Any other resolution with the same 16:10 aspect ratio will work too, and give you "free antialiasing" as the image is scaled fuzzily onto the screen.

(And, of course, if you only play 2D games, then any video card that has the dual-link DVI output that's necessary to run a 30-incher at full resolution will be more than fast enough.)

Australian shoppers can buy all kinds of monitors and video cards from Aus PC Market.
Click here to order!