What Kind of Hardware does your PC Really Need for 4K Resolution?

by on October 18, 2014

by Stephan Jukic – October 18th, 2014

The bottom line is that running stuff at 4K resolutions on a PC is still hard. It’s going to get easier, just like running HD 1080p on PCs eventually got so common that it became standard, but for now, 4K resolution on your existing (not designed for 4K) desktop machine is something you need to work for and spend a bit extra on.

For starters, rigging a conventional PC for 4K is different. It requires different GPUs, video connections and overall specs. While buying HD 1080p and even slightly more pixel heavy 1440p monitors is a simple matter of making the purchase and connecting them to pretty much any modern PC without any additional mods, 4K monitors take things much, much further in terms of resolution and processing needs.

This is what makes 4K compatibility tricky and here are the things you need to know about making Ultra HD work on your machine, starting with the monitor itself.

The first problem many 4K monitors create is one of resolution relative to screen element scaling.

Windows desktop environments will often start to suffer from these kinds of scaling issues as soon as pixel densities on the monitor approach 200 per square inch (PPI).

While larger 4K PC screens with 30 inch display sizes only pack about 146 PPI, smaller 4K screens, going down below 27 inches start to approach pixel densities of 180 or more PPI.

Thus, for your windows machine, a bigger 4K screen is a better 4K screen, not just in visual terms but, as you can see, also in practical terms of correct screen element scaling.

Luckily, most independent 4K screens on the market today have display sizes of at least 28 inches anyhow.

The next major problem that 4K monitors often create is the issue of the refresh rate for on-screen visuals. In most modern PCs, refresh rates are kept at 60Hz, or 60 frames per second and this is not only the gold standard in the industry, it’s also the speed at which images need to refresh for smooth, fluid onscreen motion in games and videos.

The problem with 4K monitors and most PCs is that their sheer resolution places such strain on the PC’s chips at 60 frames per second that many manufacturers have automatically made the chips retreat to 30Hz refresh rates at 30 fps. While this is fine for ordinary viewing of mostly static elements like web pages and photos, it noticeably lowers the quality of video or gaming sequences.

Luckily however, this problem is slowly disappearing and many of the latest PC hardware and 4K monitors will by default run at 60Hz and 60 fps, so go for these instead of 30Hz Editions.

Two more major requirements for 4K PC resolution remain.

First, a 4K ready PC will definitely need some tough, powerful GPU technology built into it, or at least make use of lower caliber dual GPUs. This is critical for any machine that wants to render visuals and video with 8.3 million pixels inside them. And adequate GPUs aren’t exactly that common. So far, some of the best on the market, which are designed with 4K in mind, are the game cards sold by Nvidia under its GeForce GTX and Titan Z graphics cards. These or something as powerful as them are going to be crucial for video and games at 60 fps on your PC’s 4K monitor.

Nvidia GTX 4K Gaming GPUs

Nvidia’s GeForce GPUs are an excellent option for setting up a PC that handles 4K

And in addition to all that GPU computing power for the raw needs of 4K, you’ll also need a decent amount of video RAM working inside your machine. This means that, in addition to at least one extremely powerful GPU or dual powerful GPUs, your PC should also be equipped with at least 4GB of video RAM per Game card if it wants to have enough kick to send the video card images to the monitor quickly.

For this, the Nvidia GTX Titan game cards are good choices, since they provide both GPU processing and enough video RAM built right in.

Finally, we come down to the connectivity issues around 4K display. In order for that crucial 60 Hz/60 fps render rate to happen, you need a cable with the bandwidth of HDMI 2.0, but you can’t use HDMI 2.0 itself because, even if your screen supports it, no video card currently do.

Thus, in this case, what you’ll have to get is a DisplayPort 1.2 connection set up between PC and screen. DisplayPort is capable of video card support.

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  • Gecko
    April 16, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    HBM is all we need for 4k… I respect Nvidia but currently AMD wins out for 4k gaming.


    • Mitch
      June 22, 2016 at 8:19 am

      I agree. Currently running an overclocked Fury and hbm stretches vram so much farther, it’s beautiful. Loving that AMD is actually trying new technology vs throwing more gddr5 at the cards. (Not that that’s a bad thing, but new technology is always more welcome imo.)


    • BL
      October 31, 2016 at 6:48 am

      No they don’t running a single GTX 1080 at 4k just fine with ultra settings every game 40-50s fps.


  • M Kenyon
    September 18, 2017 at 6:15 am

    What about a Blu-Ray drive if we want to play 4k discs?


    • Stephen
      October 12, 2017 at 11:37 am

      Hey there M Kenyon, well this would depend heavily on the PC’s specs. Most PCs today with 4K monitors and even the latest specs don’t actually support 4K Blu-ray playback from UHD Blu-ray disc media. Even Netflix 4K streaming support is normally limited to PCs with specifics like Windows 10, i7 chipsets from Intel or GTX-10 GPU presence.


  • Bj
    October 11, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    AH Thx for telling about the refresh rate… I couldn’t play my 4k video properly, but now I know what the problem is…


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