The monitor is arguably the most important part of your Mac’s setup — after all, you can’t use any computer without it. Since you will be putting a lot of time into it, you want to invest wisely. Not only do you want a monitor that provides a pleasant experience, but the quality of the images on the screen can also affect your work.
However, choosing a new monitor can be daunting. Not only are there many manufacturers to choose from, but there are also many sizes, resolutions and features to consider – and when we say a lot, we mean a lot† We’re here to help you while you shop, and we’ve got some tips on what to look for in a monitor.
Apple sells displays for its Macs, and you could go with its offerings, but its displays are a lot more expensive than what third parties have. Buying from another company might mean you might not get a feature that Apple offers, but it might also be a feature you don’t need, depending on how you use the monitor. Note that there are compatibility issues for M1 Macs. We’ve got a guide to monitors for M1 Macs and what you need to know before you buy.
Fortunately, there are plenty of companies that have excellent monitors that you can use with your Mac without having to take out a second mortgage. Our sister publication, PCWorld, has tested several non-Apple displays and we list the top rated below. Here are our recommendations.
Best Mac Monitors: Recommendations
Acer K242HYL – Budget-Friendly General Purpose Monitor
You’ll be making some compromises for the price of this display, but it does well to hit the features that matter most, with good picture quality and motion response, as well as a few surprising extras like a 75Hz refresh rate.
Acer Nitro XV272 – Color accuracy on a budget
Acer’s Nitro XV272 costs more than many 1080p monitors, but its IPS, 165Hz display offers above-average picture quality, excellent color accuracy and motion performance, and a full range of monitor stand adjustments and a generous array of ports make it worth the cost.
Alienware AW3423DW – Ultra-wide with high refresh rate
The AW3423DW isn’t perfect, but the QD-OLED panel makes it a top-notch 34-inch ultra-wide monitor.
Apple Studio Display – Apple’s ‘affordable’ production monitor
As a production display, the Studio Display is an affordable alternative to the Pro Display XDR. Buyers will enjoy the beautiful design, good image quality and impressive spatial sound.
Read our full Studio Display review
Apple Pro Display XDR – Apple’s top monitor
Recommended retail price:
$4,999 (standard), $5,999 (nano-textured glass)
This is a stunning feat of engineering, and we found it hard to find fault with image quality and color output, but it’s very expensive and depending on how you configure it, could cost upwards of $5,000.
Read our full Pro Display XDR review
Asus ProArt PA279CV – 4K for the budget conscious
The Asus ProArt PA279CV targets content creators with accurate image quality and comprehensive connectivity – and it hits the mark.
Dell U3223QE – Big screen with 4K resolution
The Dell U3223QE uses LG’s IPS Black technology to deliver a premium, professional 31.5-inch 4K display with a built-in USB-C hub.
Gigabyte M27Q X – Affordable Media Monitor
Gigabyte’s M27Q X doesn’t look like much out of the box, but this 1440p/240Hz IPS panel delivers a fantastic media experience where it counts, with excellent motion clarity and stunning image quality.
Choosing a Mac monitor
Display technology is a bit of a mobile feast, with lots of confusing jargon and technical features to wade through, as well as a variety of different interfaces and cables used by Apple itself and the various monitor manufacturers. So it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the factors to consider when buying a monitor for your Mac.
Size isn’t everything, as the saying goes, but it’s a good place to start. Your decision will be influenced by how much desk space you have and how comfortably you use the screen. Some people think that a large screen is best, but then when they start using it daily, they find that it is too big. And the same goes for customers who think a small screen is best.
If you’re looking for a size to start with for your own personal research, we recommend 24 inches. That seems like a good size for most people, and it’s easy to go up or down from that point. Most people tend to go between 24 and 27 inches for home use.
For professionals – images, video, audio and even spreadsheets – a large screen will help you be more productive. Think 27 inches and above. You can fit more elements on the screen and you don’t have to waste time scrolling.
If on-screen real estate is valuable to you, consider a multi-screen setup. A smaller screen can be used for things like chatting, emailing, web, and more, while the larger screen is your main workspace. Or take screens of the same size and maximize the space.
Screen resolution can go hand in hand with screen size. Screen resolution refers to the number of pixels used to create what you see on the screen. The higher the resolution, the more details you can see. Larger screens usually have more resolution options, as well as the ability to support higher resolutions.
If you find two screens that are the same size but have a big difference in price, it’s often because of the screen resolution. High-resolution monitors are more expensive. For example, Apple’s Studio Display, $1,599, is 27 inches and has a high screen resolution of 5120×2880 (5K resolution). On the other hand, LG sells the 27-inch 27UK650-W, but it’s a 3840×2160 (4K) resolution screen for content creators, and it’s $350 – lower resolution, but $1,249 cheaper. (There are actually no other 27-inch 5K monitors available except for the $1,449 LG UltraFine 27MD5KL-B.)
So what screen resolution should you have? Here are a few suggestions; these are guidelines that you can adjust based on your preferences.
- For general use, such as web browsing, email, media viewing, small photo and video projects, and viewing: 1920×1080 or 2560×1440
- For more engaged content creation, productivity and media playback: 2560×1440 or 4K
- For professional-level content creation, productivity and media playback: 4K or higher
Connecting to a Mac
How a monitor connects to a Mac can be confusing. The traditional HDMI and DisplayPort connectors used by many monitors are being replaced or supplemented by USB-C and Thunderbolt ports. And while USB-C and Thunderbolt cables look similar, there are actually some key technical differences between them, so it’s important to check which ports your new monitor uses and make sure you buy the right cables and adapters.
Most recent Mac models have Thunderbolt ports, so if you’re buying a monitor that only has HDMI or DisplayPort interfaces, you’ll need an adapter to connect to the Mac. This can be a little confusing, but Apple does list the ports on the most recent Mac models so you can figure out what you need.
Apple also offers a guide to HDMI and DisplayPort technology, which covers Mac models dating back to 2008, so that should provide all the information you need for all the Macs you use at home or work. Less expensive monitors still tend to use HDMI and DisplayPort, and while it’s not too expensive to buy adapters to plug in your Mac, we think it’s worth future-proofing your new monitor by using it. buy one with at least one USB-C or Thunderbolt port.
If a display uses Thunderbolt to connect to the Mac, it may have additional USB-C or Thunderbolt ports so that the display can act as a hub. In this case, if you have a device that you want to connect to your Mac, you can plug it into one of the ports on the monitor, which is already connected to the Mac and probably in a more easily accessible location.
Read our article on connecting a second display to a Mac, which explains everything you need to know about determining which ports you have, which adapters you need, and how to set things up.
If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk looking at your beautiful new screen, you need to keep ergonomics in mind. Ability to tilt the monitor back and forth, rotate it for easy viewing, and adjust the monitor’s height to avoid back or neck pain.
As a rough guideline, there is a point about 2 to 3 inches from the top of the screen that should be eye level. Of course, eye height varies from person to person, so it is important that you can adjust the screen to your personal comfort. You may also prefer a monitor that doesn’t suffer from glare, or you’ll have to move the monitor (or your head) forever to compensate.
There are other considerations to make when shopping for a monitor. Many of these come down to personal preference or what you need for the job you do. They contain:
- Color space (gamut): The number of colors a monitor can display. Professionals need specific color spaces.
- Refresh rate: The frequency when a screen is refreshed. Higher rates produce smoother animations.
- webcam: Some screens have a built-in camera that you can use for FaceTime and other video conferencing apps, or to record yourself.
- Speakers: If you plan on watching or listening to media often, a good set of speakers will make for a better experience.
Cliff Joseph contributed to this article.