I made a 4K mistake

I sit in front of a computer at least 8 hours a day on most days, and making sure I have enough monitor real estate can save me time (and can reduce my stress level).

I have a fairly typical dual monitor setup. A pair of 1080P screens side-by-side, nothing incredibly sexy, but it gets the job done. Behind the scenes my Macbook Pro driving it all.

Every so often I need to unplug my laptop and take it on the go. I’m reminded of how gorgeous that retina display is. Everything is so crisp and vivid, and most of the time it goes unused.

I really want a sexy high-res display as my primary monitor. The solution, I thought, was a 4K display.

Math time

A standard 1080P monitor is 1920 x 1080 just over 2 million pixels on the screen (2K). A 4K display is 3840 x 2160, or just over 8 million pixels on the screen.

I’ve been lusting over having a large, super high resolution monitor for a while. The prices have started to drop to the point where they are fairly approchable. When an LG 27" 4K display went on sale, I snapped it up.

Difficulty

A lot of technology has a slow evolutionary process. We don’t typically upgrade everything, so you are restricted to the lowest common denominator.

My laptop is a 4 year old computer, with a low-end graphics chipset. After buying an adaptor I was able to trigger the 4K mode on the monitor. I was restricted to 30Hz (which is a really slow refresh rate).

If I was only restricted to frame rate, I could “make it work” until I finally got around to upgrading my computer.

Resolution Dependence

Unfortunately, the Mac UI is still resolution dependent. The UI is happiest at around 100 dpi. My 1080P monitors display at 96 dpi.

Running as a retina monitor, the 4k display ends up at 80 dpi. Everything is crisp, but a little too large (and running at 30Hz which is a little annoying).

Running at its natural resolution, the display ends up at 160 dpi, which is just too small to be useful.

I dropped the resolution of the display to 2460 x 1440 (108 dpi), but it’s not a natural resolution for the monitor so things are a bit fuzzy.

Failure and where to go from here

In the end, 4k at 27" doesn’t make sense on a Mac. I made the mistake of buying a monitor that was too big to get my “sexy pixels” but too small to take advantage of the higher resolution of 4k.

4k at 23" makes sense if you want a sexy retina display. At 27" you want WQHD (2560 x 1440). To take advantage of 4k on a work computer, it would need to be enormous (40" or larger).

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