Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new picks for 2016.
Desktops serve smaller and smaller niches these days, but avid gamers, video editors and hard-core keyboard tappers still lean on their upgradable nature to provide an optimal experience. And, every laptop north of $500 can be considered a desktop replacement, as most include a full-size HDMI port, a Thunderbolt socket, or a DisplayPort connector. So as much as we love the portability of a compact, lightweight laptop, there’s nothing quite like stretching one’s screen real estate when situated at home or in the office. Regardless of whether you’re angling to connect a new screen to a desktop or something far smaller, these options are sure to please the retinas.
Additional Contribution by Tucker Bowe
Acer Predator X34
Best Curved Screen: Fair warning — you’re going to need a (very) spacious desk to properly accommodate this one. Spanning 34-inches diagonally, the Acer Predator is a gaming monitor that claims to “completely immerse” the gamer into the game. The 21:9 ultrawide aspect ratio is perfect for watching flicks, and the 3,440 x 1,440-pixel resolution isn’t shabby. Plus, about every connection on the planet is available, making it a great option for those who use multiple machines.
Best Gamer-Focused Monitor: Gamers have long dictated the features found on high-end towers and LCDs. Not long ago, NVIDIA rolled out G-Sync technology that put the kibosh on lag, screen tearing and stuttering, and now, Philips is integrating that technology into its latest 27-inch panel. The 1080p resolution won’t break any records, but that enables the screen to refresh faster and in concert with more machines. The industry-leading 144Hz refresh rate and 1-millisecond response time are both impressive given the low price, but be aware that you’ll need a DisplayPort cable to get this guy going. (Sorry, HDMI fans.)
Best 4K Screen on a Budget: You don’t have to drop a grand for good 4K, and the Asus PB279Q is Exhibit A for quality in value. Its 27 inch-screen has 3840 x 2160 UHD resolution and, for 4K, the monitor supports DisplayPort 1.2, Mini-DisplayPort and four HDMI 1.4 ports. It’s also backed by a three year warranty, just in case pixels drop.
Dell UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD 5K
Best 5K Monitor: The vast majority of the planet isn’t even aboard the 4K bandwagon, and already Dell’s shipping a 5K screen. For those who place the ultimate priority on pixel density, this 28-incher offers a class-leading 5,120 x 2,880-pixel resolution. It’s worth noting that the panel also covers 99 percent of the AdobeRGB spectrum and offers 100 percent sRGB coverage, making it ideal for illustrators who insist on color accuracy. A pair of Harman Kardon speakers rounds things out, but rest assured that you’ll be paying dearly to be the first on your block (or perhaps your town) to put a 5K monitor on your desk.
Apple Thunderbolt Display
Best for Apple-ites: It’s a bit long in the tooth, but those who prefer seamless over all else need not look further than Apple’s Thunderbolt Display. That is, of course, assuming you’ll be powering it with an Apple computer. The color profiles are synced perfectly with Apple’s laptop displays, so photo editors tackling projects on the go can actually trust their displays at home. To boot, the screen supports daisy-chaining, enabling a three-year-old MacBook Air to run two 27-inch Thunderbolt Displays from its sole Thunderbolt port. Retail puts this guy at $999, but given its age, it’s easy to find one for under $800 in Apple’s refurbished department.
Best for Graphics Professionals: If you’re looking for a beautiful 4K monitor, look no father than the 32-inch PA328Q. Its display has a native 3,840 x 2,160-pixel (4K) resolution and the monitor touts numerous connectivity ports (HDMI, DisplayPort 1.2, and MHL 3.0), so you can hook up multiple devices to the 4K glory. Yes, it’s over $1,200, but the panel offers the luxury of a 12-bit lookup table with a full swath of advanced color settings so users can calibrate the display exactly the way they want.
Dell 2314T Touch Monitor
Best Affordable Touchscreen: The Dell P2314T is more than what meets the eye. Its 23-inch, full HD 1920 x 1080 display recognizes 10 points of touch at once — so yes, every single one of your fingers can be acknowledged by the screen. And it comes with an “ergonomic stand” to optimize hand (and screen) positioning. Additionally, the monitor comes with a three year warranty and has VGA, USB, DP, HDMI, MHL ports to connect any of your devices.