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TR's April 2015 peripheral staff picks

Monitors, mice, and keyboards, oh my

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Welcome to the April 2015 edition of TR's peripheral guide. If you've put together a PC using our System Guide, and you're wondering what keyboard, mouse, or monitor to pair with your shiny new system, this is the place to be.

We've had a number of worthy keyboards, mice, and displays pass through our labs since our last update, so it's time for a refresh. Most notably, the first displays with AMD's FreeSync technology are finding their way onto store shelves. FreeSync promises a slightly cheaper way to enter the world of variable-refresh-rate displays, assuming your PC has a compatible Radeon graphics card.

Where possible, we're recommending stuff that we've personally reviewed, but the vast world of PC hardware keeps us from touching every single product out there. If there's a hole in our coverage, we'll turn to reliable external sources for perspective.

If you like this article, don't miss the rest of our guide series: our main System Guide, in which we recommend internal components and custom PC builds; our how-to-build-a-PC guide, where we walk readers (and viewers) through the PC assembly process; and our mobile staff picks, where we talk about our favorite notebooks and tablets.

Our guides are sponsored by Newegg, so we'll be using links to their product pages throughout this article. You can (and should!) support TR by using these links to purchase the products we recommend. If Newegg doesn't stock an item we want to recommend, we'll link to other resellers as needed.

Where would we be without displays? Not reading this guide, that's for sure. In general, a good display should have an IPS panel with accurate color reproduction, wide viewing angles, and a decent complement of inputs. The dreaded TN panel is getting much better, however, and we've recently reviewed a couple of premium TN displays that hang right with IPS panels for overall quality.

The most notable development in displays of late is the emergence of variable-refresh-rate (or VRR) technology, which greatly reduces unpleasant graphical artifacts like tearing and lag. VRR tech allows for buttery-smooth animation in cases where fixed-refresh displays can make animation seem choppy.

Unfortunately, there's no universal standard for VRR displays yet. Nvidia is off in one corner with its proprietary G-Sync tech, while AMD and the VESA standards body are sort of mushed together in another with FreeSync and the Adaptive-Sync standard. What's worse, G-Sync monitors will only work with some Nvidia GeForce graphics cards right now, and FreeSync only works with compatible AMD Radeon cards. Yeah, it's a bit of a headache, but the result is so, so worth it.

You might also be thinking about a 4K monitor in the near future. We're happy to report that some of the issues with 4K monitors seem to be smoothing out a bit. For example, dual-tile displays are now pretty rare. More new 4K monitors seem to be using DisplayPort's single-stream transport feature, which means that the monitor appears to PC firmware, Windows, and games as a single 3840x2160 display, rather than as a pair of lower-res displays. That avoids a lot of headaches, and it's a feature worth seeking out.

Variable-refresh-rate displays

Product Type Price
Acer XB280HK 28" 3840x2160 TN, G-Sync $759.99
Acer XB270HU 27" 2560x1440 IPS, G-Sync $799.99
Asus ROG Swift PG278Q 27" 2560x1440 TN, G-Sync $779.99
BenQ XL2730Z 27" 2560x1440 TN, FreeSync $599.99

G-Sync at 4K: Acer XB280HK
For those who want to live on the bleeding edge of both resolution and VRR tech at once, Acer's XB280HK is the only way to get there as of this writing. This 28", 4K display features a TN panel with a 1-ms response time and a maximum refresh rate of 60 Hz. The XB280HK also comes with a fully-adjustable stand and a built-in USB 3.0 hub.

If you're turned off by the idea of a TN panel in a display this expensive, we'd encourage you to take a second look. We've found that premium TN panels are very nearly as good as the average IPS displays these days, so there's no reason to dismiss the XB280HK based on its panel tech alone. If you're still not convinced, check out the Acer XB270HU below.

G-Sync and IPS: Acer XB270HU
If the TN panel in the XB280HK above is a deal-breaker, Acer's XB270HU is a fine alternative. It's a 27", 2560x1440 display with an IPS panel. The IPS tech does increase response time to 4 ms, but the XB270HU comes with a fast 144 Hz refresh rate, too.  Like its 4K stablemate, the XB270HU comes tricked-out with a height- and tilt-adjustable stand and a built-in USB 3.0 hub.

An Asus alternative with G-Sync: Asus ROG Swift PG278Q
Should either of the Acer displays we recommend be out of stock, or should you dislike their styling, Asus' ROG Swift PG278Q is an excellent display in its own right. This G-Sync-equipped screen features a 27", 2560x1440 TN panel with a 1 ms response time and a 144 Hz maximum refresh rate. It also features a fancy OSD control system and a chiseled, angular exterior that makes a statement on the desk. Its lower resolution versus Acer's XB280HK may be easier to drive for some systems, too.

The first FreeSync display: BenQ's XL2730Z 
If you're a Radeon owner who's gotten a little green with envy reading about Nvidia's G-Sync displays, the wait is over. AMD's FreeSync tech is making its way onto the market. BenQ's XL2730Z is one of the first such monitors to hit store shelves. In our review, we found that it provides the same buttery-smooth experience as G-Sync displays do.

The XL2730Z uses a 27" TN panel with a 2560x1440 resolution and a 1-ms response time, which is all well and good. Just be sure to disable the XL2730Z's "black equalizer" setting, which messes around with the display's gamma to the detriment of image quality.