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Everything You Need to Know About 4K Gaming PCs

Everything You Need to Know About 4K Gaming PCs

Jolene Dobbin
You just went out and got a fancy new 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) monitor so you can play Fortnite Battle Royale in UHD. But don’t forget about your gaming PC. You need to know if it even supports 4K and what cords and peripherals you'll want to invest in to make the most of your 4K gaming experience. Here we’ll take a look into what you need to know about 4K gaming.

What is 4K gaming?

Even if you’re not an experienced gamer, you’ve most likely come across the term “4K gaming.” But you may or may not know exactly what it stands for. We’re here to help clear that up.

4K or UHD

4K gaming refers to the resolution of the monitor that is running at 4K, which is also another word for Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution. UHD resolution is a display that features 3840 x 2160 pixels, which are the dimensions cited as width by height (W x H).

FHD or 1080p

The width of 3,840 pixels is close to 4,000, which is where the “4K” comes from. UHD (or 4K) equates into more than 8 million pixels and 4 times the resolution of Full High Definition (FHD), which is 1920 x 1080 pixels. FHD is also called “1080p” gaming.

7 things to consider for 4K gaming

While 1080p (or FHD) gaming has been the gaming standard bearer for a long time, 4K (UHD) gaming is beginning to usurp its position as the technology becomes more accessible, consistent, and less expensive. And though it is a key component, a monitor’s resolution is not the only element that’s important for 4K gaming.
Other important elements to consider include:
  • Monitor refresh rate
  • Connectors
  • Graphics card (GPU)
  • Memory
  • Processor (CPU)
  • Access

1. Monitor resolution

A 4K (or UHD) gaming monitor has 8.3 million-plus pixels, which results in clear, sharp, and vibrant color images with more detail that those with lower resolutions. UHD resolutions are especially noticeable on gaming monitors that are 27-inches wide or higher.
This should be the minimum size if you’re getting a 4K monitor. The reason is that anything smaller than 27-inches won’t fit all of those pixels in the screens and there is a lot of crowding and cramming, so you won’t be able to see images as clearly and sharply as you should.
Conversely, monitors with Full HD (or 1080p) resolution should ideally be approximately no wider than 24-inches for viewing crystal-clear images.

2. Monitor refresh rate

An essential component of 4K gaming is not just the monitor’s resolution, but also its refresh rate. The refresh rate of a monitor refers to the amount of times per second, expressed in Hertz (Hz) that it updates on-screen images. So, for instance, a monitor with a 75 Hz refresh rate means that the display refreshes images 75 times per second.
In fact, this number represents a pretty decent refresh rate since the standard for many monitors nowadays is 60 Hz. Be aware, though, that 75 Hz may not be fast enough to help you keep up with speedy gaming applications that quite often need rates of 144 Hz or higher. A higher refresh rate results in a smoother picture and enhanced responsiveness and, in fact, refresh rates within the range of 60 Hz to 144 Hz are considered to be ideal for gaming, with the higher-end reserved for competitive gaming.

The HP OMEN X Emperium 65-inch big format gaming display is one such monitor. This giant is perfect for 4K gaming with a 4K (or UHD) native resolution and a high-end refresh rate of up to 144 Hz, overclocked.

Most 4K monitors are available with refresh rates in the 60 Hz to 75 Hz range. So if you are looking to play graphically intense games at rates that are closer to 144 Hz then you may either need to go with an FHD (1080p) or Quad HD (QHD) monitor at 1440 pixels.
For example, the HP OMEN X 2S 15 laptop has a 15.6-inch diagonal 1080p resolution with a 144 Hz refresh rate or an optional 15.6-inch diagonal 4K (2160p) with a 240 Hz refresh rate IPS anti-glare micro-edge WLED-backlit display. This innovative 4K gaming laptop is also the world’s first dual-screen gaming laptop, with an integrated, industry-first 6-inch 1080p resolution touch screen mounted right on the keyboard.

A few words on frame rates

Refresh rate is different from frame rate, which measures the frequency that consecutive images (or frames) appear on screen. A frame is one single, motionless image. Frame rates are expressed in frames per second (fps). The major difference between refresh rate and frame rate is that the refresh rate (Hz) is the number of times that the monitor is refreshing the images on the screen each second, while the frame rate (fps) is the number of actual frames that your computer is drawing each second.
Your monitor’s refresh rate (Hz) doesn’t affect the frame rate (fps) that your computer outputs. However, if the frame rate (fps) is higher than the refresh rate (Hz), then your monitor may not be able to display all the images that your computer is actually creating. So it would be preferable to choose a monitor with a refresh rate (Hz) that’s equal to or greater than its frame rate (fps).
A frame rate of 60 fps is often the perfect rate for most games, although you may be aiming higher if you’re playing competitive multiplayer, first-person shooter (FPS), or eSports games.
If you’re a more casual, less competitive gamer, then a refresh rate of 144 Hz won’t matter as much to you. If you are looking to achieve higher frame rates (and refresh rates), then you may need to go with a monitor with a lower resolution than 4K since it’s challenging for a monitor to draw all those images, that fast, for that large a number of pixels.
But if you absolutely must have higher frame rates while using a 4K display, another option is to choose a powerful graphics card (GPU) and/or a monitor that uses G-Sync or FreeSync technologies. We’ll touch on those technologies below.

3. Connectors

Monitors use either DisplayPort or HDMI connectors for video and audio input. Although both DisplayPort and HDMI are backwards compatible and can transfer audio and support 4K gaming, they differ in refresh rates. DisplayPort 1.4 can support 4K with a refresh rate of up to 120 Hz. HDMI versions 1.4 and 2.0 support 4K at lower refresh rates of, respectively, 30 Hz and 60 Hz.
Even though DisplayPort 1.4 can support refresh rates of up to 120 Hz, that capped amount means that 4K video streams transferring at refresh rates that are higher (say, at 144 Hz) will be downgraded somewhat in terms of visual quality. This may make a difference in certain games that display text or Heads Up Display (HUD) information - the HUD is the display area that lets you see important stats for your character - which might appear blurry.
So if you are running a monitor that supports 144 Hz refresh rates, be sure to run your 4K PC games at 120 Hz if you’re looking for visually smooth gaming.

4. Graphics card (GPU)

The graphics processing unit (GPU) is also referred to as the graphics, or video, card. It may be the most critical component of a 4K gaming computer, as it’s a specialized electronic circuit that’s responsible for managing and enhancing the performance and speed of videos, images, and animation. Unlike the central processing unit (CPU), which we will talk about later, which uses multiple cores for sequential processing, the GPU is a single-chip processor that’s created for multi-tasking. It has hundreds to thousands of smaller cores that handle thousands of threads (instructions) simultaneously.
Gaming in 4K requires four times the processing power of 1080p gaming at 60 fps. So it’s important to have a powerfully performing 4K gaming graphics card with the specs to run 4K appropriately: processing power, speed, memory, visual acuity, and more.
Look for cards that offer at least 8GB of video memory (vRAM), which helps process 4K gaming graphics as efficiently as possible.

Compatible with motherboard

In addition, be sure to check the form factor specs - including width, height, and length - on the graphics card. They are available in configurations including full height, half height, dual slot, single slot, and more, and it’s important to buy one that will fit in your gaming PC’s motherboard.

Compatible with monitor

Another checklist item is to ensure that your graphics card matches your monitor’s requirements. For example, if you have a 4K monitor, you will need a graphics card that is just as powerful. Both NVIDIA GeForce and AMD Radeon provide a few excellent options for 4K gaming graphics cards.

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and GTX 1080

The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is arguably the best premium graphics card available today when it comes to speed, performance, and realistic visual capabilities. Built on the NVIDIA Turing architecture, which is currently the world’s most advanced GPU architecture, the RTX 2080 Ti is also the first GPU that’s capable of real-time ray tracing. Ray tracing creates an image by tracing the path of simulated light, thus producing images that are far more enhanced than those using traditional rendering techniques.
Ideal for high-performing 4K gaming, the RTX 2080 Ti has a huge amount of video RAM - 11GB of GDDR6 memory, which is currently the world’s fastest - and incredibly fast 14 Gbps memory speed. This card lets you play even the most demanding triple-A (AAA) games on maximum settings with 60-plus fps.

An advanced gaming GPU, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 is one of the highest performing in the GTX 10 series. It’s built on the NVIDIA Pascal architecture, which is one of the more powerful computing architectures ever created inside a GPU. It offers significant improvements compared to older architectures in performance, power consumption, and heat generation. The GTX 1080 features GDDR5X high-bandwidth video memory of 8GB and a memory speed of 10 Gbps.

AMD Radeon VII and Vega 64

The AMD Radeon VII is AMD's elite, highest-performing, and most advanced graphics card to date. It’s the world’s first 7nm gaming GPU built on the Vega 20 architecture. With 16GB of HBM2 memory, and a huge 1TB/s of memory bandwidth, the Radeon VII has the perfect combination of memory and speed to play some of the most demanding AAA games.
One of AMD’s high-end graphics cards, the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 has 8GB of HBM2 memory and 484 GB/s memory bandwidth. While it’s a top performer at both 1080p and 1440p resolutions, it also runs 4K gaming applications at high settings.

G-Sync and FreeSync

Both NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FreeSync are proprietary technologies that synchronize the refresh rates of your graphics card and monitor to help eliminate or reduce glitches such as screen tearing, stuttering, and lag.
This can make a huge difference in smoothing out your gameplay because even the highest-performing of graphics cards can’t always reach that sweet spot of 60 fps in games while running at 4K. You’ll often find either G-Sync or FreeSync in higher-end monitors. Keep an eye out for which of these technologies your monitor supports before buying a new graphics card (or vice versa).

5. Memory

Even though memory requirements aren’t as important as other components, having enough fast, reliable memory is essential when it comes to 4K gaming. Although memory (RAM) is available in different types, most motherboards use DDR3 or DDR4.
For most gaming applications, 4K included, 16GB is typically a more-than-sufficient amount. However, if you’re running other more memory-intensive applications in addition to gaming, such as 3D modeling or video editing, then you may want to ramp up to 32GB.

6. Processor/CPU

The central processing unit (CPU) is also referred to as the “processor.” It’s often considered the “brain” of your PC as it receives, processes, and controls all of the data that travels through your system.
CPUs may or may not be as important as the GPU (or graphics card), depending on which type of game you’re playing and what it requires of your system. The CPU, nonetheless, is assigned certain in-game responsibilities that the GPU just isn’t that capable of carrying out (e.g., the artificial intelligence [AI] functionality of non-player characters [NPCs]).
A CPU “core” is also another word for the CPU or processor, and CPUs have between two and 28 cores that each focus on one singular, unique task; CPUs with more cores are more efficient than those with less.
If you’re playing on a monitor with a high-refresh rate, from FHD all the way up to UHD (4K) resolutions, then multi-core processors are especially necessary. Multi-cores in general are becoming more popular and de rigueur for 4K gaming, and in fact some of today’s intensive multiplayer games, first-person shooters (FPS), and open world games require at least quad-core processors to play them effectively.
Multi-core CPUs are also necessary if you’ve got a 4K gaming system with a powerful GPU, since the CPU supplies data to the GPU and must therefore keep up with the GPU’s processing power. If it cannot do this, then there is a chance that bottlenecking can occur, which can lead to less-than-ideal gaming performances.
Both Intel and AMD offer a number of quad-core (and higher) processors that can help run 4K gaming applications.

AMD Ryzen 5 2600X and Ryzen 7 2700X

The second-generation AMD Ryzen 5 2600X is one of best CPUs for gaming applications; it provides 6 cores and 12 threads for outstanding performance at a very decent average price of about $220. The AMD Ryzen 7 2700X is a top-performing, outstanding CPU that offers 8 cores and 16 threads. These stats make it perfect for playing and streaming resource-hungry AAA and multithreaded games.

Intel Core i5-8600K and i7-8700K

Based on Intel's Skylake architecture, the Intel Core i5-8600K is one of the best CPUs for gaming. It features 6 cores and 6 threads, as well as exceptional overclocking capabilities, which lets you adjust your PC’s memory, power, and core for enhanced performance and gameplay.
The Intel Core i7-8700K is part of the 8th Generation Intel Core i7 processors, and one of Intel’s fastest family of processors. It’s a 6-core processor with 12 threads from Intel Hyper-Threading Technology, which provides two threads per physical core, enabling it to finish tasks faster by allowing parallel processing.
The HP OMEN Obelisk desktop 4K gaming computer features the latest Intel and AMD CPUs. It lets you configure up to a 6-core Intel Core i7 CPU (i7-8700), or up to an 8-core 2nd Generation AMD Ryzen CPU (Ryzen 7 2700).

7. Access

Keep in mind any future needs for either upgrading or customizing your 4K gaming computer, particularly if you want to play games that may have more advanced performance requirements. You’ll need to ensure that the chassis of your gaming PC adheres to industry standards and enables you to expand.

For example, the HP OMEN X desktop PC 4k gaming PC has an easily accessible and upgradeable case, allowing you to customize the desktop’s chassis to meet future performance demands. With support for micro-ATX motherboard builds, it also lets you upgrade with most aftermarket parts.
About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.

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