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TR's October 2016 peripheral staff picks

The only thing that's changed is everything

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Welcome to the October 2016 edition of our peripheral staff picks, where we recommend the best monitors, mice, keyboards, and more to complement your PC. If you're loading up your shopping cart with stuff from our latest System Guide and you want to finish off your system with some worthy peripherals to match, this is the place to be.

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 PC components and custom 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, phones, 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.

Monitors: an introduction
If you're considering a monitor upgrade right now, you may be wondering whether to choose a 60Hz 4K monitor or a high-refresh-rate, lower-resolution display. Most of our staff has experienced the same conundrum. Our take from looking at both types of displays is that most people will be happiest with a lower-resolution, higher-refresh-rate monitor unless they specifically need the extra pixels from a 4K screen.

4K monitors do have some advantages. To start, a 4K display is like having four 1080p screens on one panel. That's insane information density, and if your work involves coding, media editing, or research, being able to have tons of information on hand at once can be life-changing. If you need that kind of Ozymandias-like density, 27" is about the minimum panel size where running 4K displays at 1X scaling is useful. A 32" or larger panel might be ideal. If you choose a smaller 4K display like a 24" screen, you can enjoy Apple Retina Display-like crispness for text using Windows' built-in resolution scaling—and you'll need to take advantage of that feature, since reading text at 1x scaling on a 24" 4K display will be next to impossible for even the most eagle-eyed out there.

In the past, Windows 7 and 8.1's resolution scaling didn't work all that well, so scaling up content to avoid eyestrain wasn't an ideal way to live with those high-PPI displays. Windows 10, however, does a decent enough job of upscaling your applications that we're comfortable recommending a 4K display if you don't need high refresh rates for gaming.

Not all applications or web pages have been updated to look good when they're scaled up, though. You're also going to need a top-end graphics card like a GeForce GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 to drive games at anything approaching 60 FPS at 4K, too. Cursory observation on our part indicates it's not easy to distinguish between games running at 4K and 2560x1440 on the same 27" screen, but using a lower resolution doesn't save games from running into the display's 60Hz refresh-rate cap or falling out of its narrow variable-refresh-rate range.

If gaming is your thing, we think it's better to choose a lower-resolution, high-refresh-rate monitor for displaying one's exploits right now. That's especially true if you've got a powerful graphics card running older titles. Motion on a high-refresh-rate display just looks smoother (sometimes stunningly so), and the extra speed can make games feel more responsive, especially twitchy first-person shooters.

With that in mind, we think the the best of all worlds for gaming displays right now is a 144Hz, 2560x1440, variable-refresh-rate (VRR) display powered by Nvidia's G-Sync or AMD's FreeSync tech. These displays offer buttery-smooth motion at lower framerates thanks to their VRR mojo, and they can also provide smoother motion with higher frame rates when a graphics card is really churning out the pixels. You really should consider pairing one of these displays with that GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 you've got on your shopping list if you're looking for the best gaming experience possible.

Ultrawide monitors are increasingly popular choices for many, too. If you simply want a wider-than-normal display without going to dual monitors, a 34" ultrawide screen provides more horizontal space for side-by-side windows than a conventional 16:9 display does. Ultrawide curved displays can provide a more immersive view of whatever's on screen, since they gently wrap around the viewer's field of vision. That's great for games and multi-monitor setups, but it's not so good for applications like graphics editing where straight lines need to be straight.

We'd skip larger ultrawide screens with 1080 vertical pixels, too. The low pixel density of these large screens doesn't look as good as that of an ultrawide with a 1440-pixel vertical resolution. With those introductions out of the way, let's get to our recommendations.