The promise of 4K has been realized over the last few years, with graphics cards growing more powerful while display prices fall. We’ve had 4K monitors, and the ability to drive them at 60fps, for a while now. But that’s as fast a refresh rate as you could get in 4K HDR. If you wanted something faster, you needed to drop the resolution. There are tons of 1440p monitors running at 144Hz, providing fast, smooth, responsive movement at a better-than-HD resolution. In the world of professional gaming, where ultra-fast reflexes require ultra-fast displays, 144Hz is the standard.
The next step in PC gaming is taking all those razor-sharp, 4K, HDR-rendered pixels and making them dance at 144Hz. If you aren’t aware, HDR, or high-dynamic range, lets displays show off contrast, color, and brightness like never before, making for an even more realistic picture. In fact, HDR is arguably more noticeable an upgrade than the bump in resolution.
As for the promise of 4K HDR 144Hz gaming, it’s been a long time coming, and as of this writing, hasn’t yet been realized. Two major manufacturers have 4K HDR 144Hz displays in the pipeline: Acer’s Predator X27 and the ASUS Republic of Gamers Swift PG27UG. Neither the Predator X27 nor the ROG Swift PG27UG are available for sale yet, even though April had been named as the possible release month for both displays. Both have what Nvidia calls “G-Sync HDR,” which is just Nvidia’s anti-screen tearing technology playing nicely with the High Dynamic Range standard.
Even though the monitors aren’t out just yet, 4K HDR 144Hz is inevitable, and if you want to upgrade to unparalleled levels of clarity and fluidity, there are some things you definitely need to know beforehand, which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you on your journey.
You’re Going to Need a Bigger PC
It takes an enormous amount of computing power to render games in 4K HDR at 144Hz. A solitary 1080Ti or Titan X shouldn’t have any problem running 4K at 60fps, but for higher framerates? You’re going to need a mutli-GPU set up.
Running a modern game on High or Ultra at framerates greater than 60fps in 4K will require two top-end graphics cards. That could start a domino effect with your current PC, requiring upgrades like power supply, cases, motherboards, and more.
It’s Going to Cost You a Lot of Money
On the off chance you can find a top-end graphics card at MSRP, and then find another one to match it for SLI or CLX, you’re going to need a lot of other expensive computer parts to even approach 4K gaming in excess of 60 frames per second. Your motherboard needs to support SLI or CLX, you’re going to need an expensive CPU, good ram, a really rugged power supply, and once you’ve assembled it, you’re still going to have to spend a couple thousand dollars on the displays themselves.
According to sources who uncovered European prices for the ASUS and the Acer monitors ahead of their official release, the displays will set you back anywhere from $2500 to $3000. Each. Granted, those are European prices, which generally run higher than stateside, but $2000 is probably where these monitors will settle once they finally come out.
Tack that onto the price of the PC required to get the full experience from your new monitor and you’re looking at a minimum of $4-5000, and that’s extremely conservative, requiring savvy and a lot of luck.
It’s Probably Not Worth It… Yet
Aside from the money and difficulty putting together the high-end parts required for such a massive build, the promise of 4K HDR G-Sync at 144Hz is still mostly a promise. Even if you’re able to afford all that computing power and can push it to the limits, you’re probably not going to find a lot of games supporting it. The SLI and CLX standard isn’t supported by every game out of the box, and even supported games still run into issues.
…the promise of 4K at 144Hz is still mostly a promise.
Plus all that power is going to put off a ton of heat, which means you need to be extremely aware of your cooling system. Multiple GPUs plus adequate cooling requires a quality power supply, a motherboard BIOS with excellent temperature monitoring, and a host of other requirements that generally don’t pop up until after you think you’ve gotten everything taken care of.
That being said, it won’t be long before 4K HDR G-Sync gaming at 144Hz becomes the new normal for power-users. Even when the displays release, the rigs required to run them will be the absolute top-of-the-line builds, basically supercars of the PC world. And in a year or two, they’ll be the hot rods of gaming, put together by core enthusiasts looking for top-end gaming. Eventually they’ll become closer to mainstream. It wasn’t too long ago when just running 4K resolutions at any frame rate was something only the most insanely expensive computers could handle.
Once they become the norm, we can all set our sites on 8K gaming.
Seth Macy is IGN’s tech and commerce editor. Follow him on Twitter @sethmacy.