Best Cheap Monitors
Monitors often are little more than an afterthought for home computer users. After all, many computer manufacturers and electronics retailers give away flat-panel displays as part of a desktop package. The packages aren't a bad deal, but not everyone needs a new monitor with a new PC, and there are plenty of users who simply want to replace their old monitor with a new, cheap monitor or add a second one to their work station. Given the variety and quality available, you'll have no trouble finding a good monitor in the $125-$200 range.
Cheap Monitors Buying Guide
Some of the most familiar names in monitors include Acer, Asus, Dell, AOC, and Benq. Our favorite cheap monitors are the Dell UltraSharp U2312HM (starting at $190) and the AOC i2367fh (starting at $160).
What We Looked For in the Specs
Panel Technology.There are different types of display panels for cheap monitors. The two most common are IPS (in-plane switching) and TN (twisted nematic). IPS technology has been around for a while but used to be too pricey for budget monitors. A much cheaper version of IPS technology is now available for widescreen monitors in the under-$200 range, including two of the best cheap monitors: the Dell UltraSharp U2312 and the AOC i2367fh. TN-based displays, such as the Acer G246HL, still command a share of the market.
IPS is superior to TN in most respects because it provides greater color uniformity and image accuracy as well as wider viewing angles. TN displays are known for their rapid response times, as well as good contrast ratios, as they are better able to produce very dark black levels and accurate grayscales.
One of the monitors on our list of top picks, the BenQ GW2450, uses a VA (vertical alignment) panel. An expert at Top Ten Reviews notes that this type of panel has better color quality and wider viewing angles than typical TN monitors and faster response times and deeper black levels than typical IPS monitors.
Native Resolution.This term refers to the resolution at which images look best on a particular monitor; always set your computer and monitor to the native resolution. Monitors with higher native resolutions display sharper images than those with lower resolutions. All of our budget picks feature a native resolution of 1920x1080, which is the same resolution as a 1080p high-definition television. This is no accident, as these specs let you watch high-definition movies on the monitor if your computer has a DVD or Blu-ray drive.
Screen Size.Display size is one of the first features that attract shoppers' attention. The current generation of flat-screen monitors range in size from about 17 inches to a giant 65 inches, although smaller screens designed for on-the-go use also are available.
Large monitors are tempting, but consider a few things before buying one. First, the larger the monitor, the more expensive it will be. Second, if you have a small work area or sit fairly close to the screen, a large monitor may be overwhelming. Monitors up to 24 inches offer a large amount of screen real estate and fall within the Cheapism niche; all of the cheap monitors we researched are either 23 or 24 inches.
What We Ignored in the Specs
Dynamic Contrast Ratio.A monitor's contrast ratio is the relationship between the deepest dark levels a monitor can display and the brightest white levels. Contrast ratios can be measured a couple of ways. The most accurate measure is a static or "native" contrast ratio, which is typically about 1000:1 in most monitors. The BenQ GW2450 has an especially high native contrast ratio of 3000:1.
However, the most common contrast ratio measurement you'll see in the specifications is a dynamic contrast ratio. Manufacturers can manipulate this number to ridiculous proportions, to the point that it really has no meaning. For example, the Acer T232HL touchscreen display lists its contrast ratio as 100,000,000:1, and the AOC i2368fh claims its contrast ratio is 50,000,000:1. Go by a monitor's static contrast ratio -- if you can find it in the specs -- and ignore the dynamic contrast ratio.