A Guide to 1080p vs 1440p: What’s Better for Gaming?

Gamers that have experience building or customizing computers understand the necessity of compromise. There’s rarely a way to get everything you want, and most computer builders learn they have to make concessions to get what they want. And while the big distinction in TVs is 1080p vs. 4K, gamers have a solution that falls somewhere in between: 1440p.

With higher resolution 4K screen monitors still very expensive, these lower two resolutions are the best option, and it’s not just a factor of price as to which is better. Let’s get into those factors you should look to.

Understanding Monitor Resolutions

If you’ve ever been shopping for a monitor, you’ve probably seen specifications like 2560×1440 or 1920×1080. This is really just a more complicated way of saying 1080p or 1440p. Whether you’re using the 2560 x 1440 or 1440p designation, the numbering accomplishes the same goal: telling you how many pixels can be displayed on your screen. The first number represents the horizontal resolution, while the second represents the vertical resolution. So a 2,560 x 1,440 monitor can display 2560 horizontal pixels and 1440 vertical pixels for a total of nearly 3.7 million pixels.

Since we multiply both numbers rather than just compare them head to head, you can recognize that the relatively modest increase in both vertical and horizontal resolution results in nearly double the amount of detail. In other words, if everything else is equal, you can always expect a 1440p monitor to win in a competition between 1080p vs 1440p monitors. That said, things are almost never equal, and we’ll help you look at those mitigating factors you should pay attention to below.

Hardware Limitations

The biggest issue when deciding whether you want a 1440p monitor is whether or not your computer can handle it. Primarily, that’s going to come down to the quality of your central processor and also your graphics card. We’ve already broken down the shopping process for both in greater detail elsewhere, but if you already have a machine put together, you’re largely going to be stuck with what you have.

If that’s the case, you’re going to want to determine exactly whether your hardware can even handle 1440p. Developers will often have minimum spec listings for their games, and while that can be a great starting point for figuring out the power of your computer, gamers who need more precise graphics analysis for the unique specifications of their gaming PC can find numerous resources that allow you to plug in the specs on your computer and determine performance across different games using the same control variables.

We’re partial to PCGameBenchmark, but it’s one of only many resources available. It can provide you with detailed information on how your PC will perform in terms of graphics on practically any game on the market and also compare your specs to the average. We recommend that you make note of important information like what refresh rate levels can be achieved at what resolutions.
If you want even more precise results than PCGameBenchmark can provide you, we suggest booting up your favorite games and testing them for yourself.

Many games come with benchmark testing tools built in, and there are third party programs for those that can’t. If you can get precise real world data about your computer’s efficiency in a few games, you can better compare your gaming experience across a wider variety of gaming platforms.

Screen Size

Once you have a sketch of refresh rate and other specs for your computer, it’s time to take account of one more metric: the size of the screen. Since resolutions are measured in a raw number of pixels, that means that larger screens are going to need higher resolutions to display the same proportionate quality in terms of gaming graphics. A 720p resolution may look crystal clear on a tablet screen, but it will look embarrassingly pixelated on a 32 inch display.

To help contextualize this, manufacturers and reviewers use a measurement called pixel density, which is measured in Pixels Per Inch. The closer you hold a screen to your face, and the smaller it is, the greater pixel density you’re going to find. Fortunately, this is largely proportionate, since gamers will usually sit a distance proportionate to the size of the screen, but it can be more complicated depending on what you plan on using your monitor for.

For the most part, you don’t need to worry about that complexity. Instead, there are some easy benchmarks towards what resolution you should look for depending on your screen size. A monitor in the range of 24 to 27 inches should suit a 1080p monitor just find, but the ideal size for 1440p resolution is 27 inches, and we think serious gamers need at least 1440p if you want the best gaming graphics on a monitor 30 inches or larger.

Monitor Hardware Limitations

You should have a decent amount of data at your fingertips now, but there’s one more vector that you’ll also need before you can really look at what a monitor offers – the listed specifications. If you’ve ever browsed through one of our monitor shopping guides, you’ll recognize that there’s consistency across the spec listings. You’ll also probably notice that some of these specs tend to balance out proportionately to one another.

In other words, a monitor that emphasizes a high resolution, consistent color reproduction, and wide viewing angles is going to be a little leaner in terms of the important performance specs. And a monitor that places an emphasis on a higher refresh rate and lower input lag will probably not help you make the most of your gaming graphics card in terms of resolution. Even if your gaming rig is a total beast, it could very easily get kneecapped by a weakly performing monitor.

For that reason, you’ll want to keep an eye on those same specs you should have prioritized when determining the power of your computer: refresh rate, input lag, response time, and color reproduction. If you find a monitor that falls dramatically behind your PC specs in any of these one categories, it may be worthwhile to save up a little more and start looking at monitors that can achieve both the high refresh rates and higher resolution your computer is capable of delivering.

Performance vs. Resolution

Now it’s time to get to those compromises we talked about at the beginning of the article. You’ll find monitors that offer incredibly high performance specs, monitors that offer the best resolutions around, and monitors that fall in the middle of the two. What you’re very unlikely to find are monitors that offer the best of both worlds. A higher resolution will mean a drop in frame rate, and vice versa.

Fortunately, even more specialized panels are often not all or nothing in terms of the opposite ends of the equation. And 1080p and 1440p monitors both have an advantage over 4K gaming in that they don’t force you to invest thousands of dollars or wrestle with sub-par gaming performance for the sake of great looking graphics. So when you start comparing those performance benchmarks, what should you aim for?

If you’re a more casual gamer or someone who focuses more on single player experiences, you should be fine gaming with a 60 Hz refresh rate, and you can comfortably get that for a decently priced 1440p monitor. If you’re a more competitive gamer (and you aren’t willing to spend a fortune), you may want to turn your attention instead towards a 1080p display. 1080p manages to maintain peppy frame rates of 144 or even 240 Hz even when running at a maximum 1080p resolution, and they tend to be cheaper. The cost of 1440p capabilities is much greater than the cost of high refresh rates.

Wrapping Up

So what’s the final verdict on 1440p vs. 1080p resolution? 1440p looks better than 1080p, but the difference might not be noticeable unless your screen is at least 25 inches in size. And if you want a 1440p monitor that can also keep pace with a 1080p monitor in terms of raw performance, you’re going to spend a lot of money for the privilege.

In either case, this is a circumstance where a little research can bring you a long way. Our monitor review guides make sure that you have all of the relevant specs front and center, and with the use of the guide, you can quickly transform those numbers into actionable intelligence. Whether you decide to buy a 1440p or 1080p model,