In this post I’m going to follow up from my previous computer-related articles (about my computer, keyboard and controller) by reviewing my new monitor, the MSI Optix 32″ Curved AG321CR. I had some very specific requirements when I was hunting for a monitor and I’ll go into why I decided to buy this one, how it performs and who I’d recommend it to.

First of all, I wanted to choose a monitor that fitted my needs and that would go well with my current computer. When I was getting my computer the goal was to be able to run any modern game at 1080p at 60fps+ with all settings at maximum and I can easily get over 100fps with any of the Halo MCC games and around 80fps with the Witcher 3 (although I have modded it so that the quality of the visuals are higher than standard); these statistics were important in choosing the monitor because I needed to determine what the perfect resolution and refresh rate would be. Given that my computer would struggle to run 1440p at a respectable frame rate without lowering the graphics settings it was obvious that I needed a 1080p monitor (I briefly looked into getting one with a higher resolution in case I upgraded my computer but 1080p will look better on a native 1080p display than it will on a 1440p or 4K display because there’s no up-scaling). Now I had to decide on the appropriate refresh rate given a choice of anywhere between 60hz and 240hz. Refresh rate is the number of times a screen displays a new image per second, so if I have a 240hz display I can see up to 240 fps but if I have a 60hz display my graphics card may be able to run 240fps but I will only see 60fps (which can lead to screen tearing and other problems). This meant that I required a minimum of 120hz and preferably higher in order to actually see all the frames my graphics card was putting out. The third important spec was the response time which can vary from 1ms to 10ms+ depending on the monitor. My understanding from scouring articles and forums is that 1ms is perfect (and easily available) but that you probably won’t notice any difference between a 1ms and a 5ms response time, so if I could find a monitor which fulfilled my other requirements and had a 1ms response time then great! If not, so long as it wasn’t above 5ms I’d get it anyway.

Having decided on all the nitty-gritty specs it was time to figure out things like size and additional features. I knew that I wanted to use the monitor as a TV at university as well as for gaming, so the size had to be large enough that I could comfortably watch something from my bed (say about 2m away) but not too large for any student accommodation – this meant that I needed something in the 26″-40″ range – preferably on the larger side – and I found out that when it comes to 1080p monitors, most don’t go over 32″ because the bigger the display the more pixelated the image will look. Moving onto additional features, I already had a good music system and therefore no need for built-in speakers (which a lot of monitors seem to have). I also wanted at least 2 HDMI 1.4/DisplayPort 1.2 ports so that I could use the monitor with both my gaming computer and laptop without having to unplug either (and both of those ports are good enough to display the required fps and resolution). Many curved monitors are now available quite cheaply and having tried a few in the past, part of me really wanted one as they felt much more immersive than a traditional flat screen. Finally (having an AMD Sapphire Radeon RX 570 ITX graphics card), one really useful display feature is AMD FreeSync which synchronises the monitor’s refresh rate with the graphics card’s frame rate to reduce or eliminate visual artefacts like input latency, screen tearing or stuttering. Given that most gaming monitors have FreeSync, I added it to my list of requirements which now included:

  • 1080p resolution
  • 120-240hz refresh rate
  • 1-5ms response time
  • 32″ size
  • 2x HDMI 1.4/DisplayPort 1.2 ports
  • No speakers
  • Curved (if possible)
  • AMD FreeSync compatible

Having searched around for some good deals I settled on the MSI Optix AG321CR Full HD 32″ Curved LCD Gaming Monitor. It met or surpassed all of my requirements and came in at £249 from Currys PC World, a price I couldn’t beat looking anywhere else. It arrived quickly and in the past month I’ve tuned it, adjusted all the settings and got it working as it should; I am very happy with my decision and it performs even better than I expected. The colours are rich and the blacks are deep (although the MSI software is atrocious, I would recommend adjusting colour and sharpness with the AMD Radeon software instead). The response time of 1ms makes a very noticeable difference from playing on the TV, especially with games like Halo where reaction times are vital. The 165hz is spot on with Halo, Doom and the Witcher 3 all running much smoother than before without that jerkiness you get at sub-60fps. Finally, the monitor has AMD FreeSync Premium and (while it could partly be the high refresh rate) I’ve experienced zero stuttering or screen tearing in any game, something I could not have laid claim to before. If you’re looking for a new gaming monitor that won’t break the bank, your computer isn’t up to running 1440p and you want gaming-quality specifications to go with an AMD graphics card then this monitor is for you!

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