Monitor Mess - looking for help

v.i.p.e.r

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Apr 22, 2012
19
4
Hi,

I'm currently thinking of buying a Mac mini and two 27" or 32" inch screens for my home office.
The Mac mini is a quite easy decision - but the monitor decision is a really big mess for me.

I really do not understand what is a good resolution for a normal User like me.
Could someone explain to me what resolutions + scaling is good to aim for and why?

best
 

Spectrum

macrumors 65816
Mar 23, 2005
1,342
703
Never quite sure
What screen have you used so far?

For desktops, Apple define a Retina display as 220 Pixels per inch. Normally, Apple defaults to run these at a 2x setting, resulting in an effective PPI of 110, but with much smoother font rendering than a standard 110 PPI display.

For a 27 inch display, a standard 1x resolution is 2560x1440 resolution. E.g. Dell U2711 etc
A standard 2x display is a '5K' display with 5120x2880 resolution. E.g. retina iMac and LG superfine.

The potential problem with a 2x Retina display is that they have 4x the number of pixels, and thus take 4x the graphics power. As a result, if you are sensitive to smooth user interface animations, you may find that animations like window resizing, full screen etc, on the Retina display are a little 'choppy' with frame rate dropping from 60 frames per second to 30 or even lower. For integrated graphics, more RAM has been reported to improve performance. Also a dedicated graphics card will help a lot.

Note: some people prefer smaller font rendering than 110 PPI, and some prefer larger e.g. 95 PPI.

95 PPI is the default for a 1920x1200 or 1920x1080 24 inch monitor.
These are ideal as new '4K' monitors (3840x2160) run at 2x scaling to get the same 95 PPI, but smoother fonts.
Again, the stress on the GPU is 4x that of a 1x monitor, but still about half the total number of pixels as a 5K display.

Finally, you could chose a 4K 27 inch (or larger) display. Here is gets a bit more complicated.

At 1x scaling (3840x2160 effective resolution), the PPI will like be too high for many users. The fonts will be pretty small. But some users like it.

Additionally, at default 2x 'retina' scaling, the effective PPI, will be too low, with very large fonts, the same as a 27 inch or 32 inch 1920x1080 monitor.

In these instances, macOS enables scaling factors like 1.5x, where the final apparent resolution is 2560x1440, so that fonts are the same size as if it were a 110 PPI 27 inch monitor, but is using all the pixels of a 3840x2160 to display them.

These solutions are generally not quite as sharp as pure 1x or 2x scaling. But again, user opinions differ.

Note, using scaling like 1.5 x is the most taxing option for the GPU, because in an intermediate step, the final screen res is first rendered in a buffer at 2x the horizontal resolution (4x the number of pixels), and then scaled to the correct target resolution.

So for example, to display 2560x1440 on a 4K display, macOS first renders a 5120x2880 '2x' image, and then scales this down to 3840x2160. The result is a very nice looking image, but a lot of GPU calculations, which can make user interface animations like window resizing drop frames.

Summary:

1. If you want the fastest and smoothest user interface with integrated graphics and multiple displays, then choose standard 1x displays like 2560x1440 in 27 inch or 32 inch sizes (depending on what final font size you like), or 1920x1200 24 inch.

2. If you want retina quality font rendering and care about smooth UI, choose a 4K display and add more ram. Scaling should still be fine.

3. If you plan to run more than one 4K display, or also a 5K display, and maybe at scaled resolutions, then probably expect to need a dedicated eGPU: if you want really smooth user interface, then remember that each 4K or 5K display is equivalent to 4 displays that were considered quite large only 4-5 years ago. This is a lot of pixels to push around, so one can't expect miracles from the integrated graphics unfortunately. Having said that...reports indicate that the UHD630 actually works reasonably well!
 
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Fishrrman

macrumors P6
Feb 20, 2009
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It might be worth mention that for some folks with "older eyes" (like me) -prefer- a display that is 27"/1080p. It's what I'm using right now. For me, to discern text displayed at normal font sizes, the "slightly larger" image makes it readable.

I have both a non-retina and a retina MacBook Pro, and can perceive little difference between them in terms of display quality. But again, that's just me.

For me, 1440p on a 32" display is where I'm thinking of going, with a 2018 Mini. Again, I want "larger pixel sizes".
A 32" running 5k in HiDPI mode would be something I'd consider, except I don't believe any display makers have the combination...
 

jev425

macrumors 6502
Sep 12, 2014
411
92
Seattle, WA
When I bought my make mini I went out and got a 27” 4K monitor. Everything looked great but text was too small, so I scaled it to 1440 which still looked nice but things began to lag a bit. Ended up returning the monitor and now have a 27” 1440 display that works great for me(nice text size) and everything runs smoothly on the native resolution of the display. Probably going to go buy another to have a dual setup.
 
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wdwpsu

macrumors member
Dec 20, 2017
64
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Orlando
When I bought my make mini I went out and got a 27” 4K monitor. Everything looked great but text was too small, so I scaled it to 1440 which still looked nice but things began to lag a bit. Ended up returning the monitor and now have a 27” 1440 display that works great for me(nice text size) and everything runs smoothly on the native resolution of the display. Probably going to go buy another to have a dual setup.
How much memory on your macmini?
 

Spectrum

macrumors 65816
Mar 23, 2005
1,342
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Never quite sure
It might be worth mention that for some folks with "older eyes" (like me) -prefer- a display that is 27"/1080p. It's what I'm using right now. For me, to discern text displayed at normal font sizes, the "slightly larger" image makes it readable.

I have both a non-retina and a retina MacBook Pro, and can perceive little difference between them in terms of display quality. But again, that's just me.

For me, 1440p on a 32" display is where I'm thinking of going, with a 2018 Mini. Again, I want "larger pixel sizes".
A 32" running 5k in HiDPI mode would be something I'd consider, except I don't believe any display makers have the combination...
I know exactly what you mean. There are no 5K 32 inch yet. I suspect they may be very pricey when they arrive (look at the price of the 8K 32 inch Dell and split the difference...). For your (and my) eyes, I reckon 4K scaled to look like 2560x 1440 on a 32 inch display will be pretty good. And is fairly easy on the GPU.

Notably, following a bad LG display experience in an Apple Store (reported elsewhere here) I've now recently turned OFF the default font-smoothing in macOS Sierra (system Prefs), and counterintuitively, I find that the fonts actually look a lot smoother and more 'retina-display' like even though I am using a 1x 2560x1440 monitor!

If you've not tried it already, give it a go - your iGPU will thank you for it! 8-}
 
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v.i.p.e.r

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Apr 22, 2012
19
4
HEy,
really appreciate all the nice replies!
Thank you so far.

I think I will end up in giving it a try and compare 4k side by side with 255x1440
 

Spectrum

macrumors 65816
Mar 23, 2005
1,342
703
Never quite sure
I wanted to add - For those considering a 4K display:

A 32 inch 4K at 3840x2160 unscaled (1x) resolution is 138 PPI. This is the same as:
A 27 inch set at 3200x1800 scaling (the highest-res 'More Space' setting on a 5K iMac)
A 24 inch set at ~3008x1692 scaling
A 21.5 inch set at 2560x1440 scaling (the highest-res 'More Space' setting on a 4K iMac)

So for anyone that currently uses the high-res settings on a 4K or 5K iMac, then a 32 inch 4K display set at Native (1x) scaling gives exactly the same size fonts and UI elements.