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A second monitor can make work or school much more productive and you don't have to pay much to get a decent model from Dell, LG, BenQ, Samsung or others.

Lori Grunin, Joshua Goldman July 26, 2021 1:15 p.m. PT
  • LG 27MK600M-B 27-inch FHD IPS FreeSync display Jump to details $260 at Amazon
  • BenQ EW2780 27-inch FHD IPS FreeSync display Jump to details $200 at Adorama
  • Samsung T35F 27-inch FHD IPS monitor Jump to details $200 at Best Buy
  • Dell SE2719HR 27-inch FHD IPS FreeSync display Jump to details $200 at Best Buy
  • Lepow Z1-Gamut 15.6-inch FHD Portable USB-C Display A movable choice on the cheap Jump to details $200 at Amazon

If you're in need of a new monitor but you're on a tight budget, don't worry. You don't have to spend a fortune to find a decent model that will meet your needs for work or school. You can find a reasonable screen among our picks for the best monitors under $200. But act fast if you find a cheap monitor you want -- they go in and out of stock like crazy, thanks to so many people now working from home.

Before we dig in, there are a few things to keep in mind: When buying a budget monitor, you should absolutely check out the listing of what's in the box. Make sure it's not missing items that would drive the price above that threshold, like a stand or appropriate cables. The stand might not be an issue if you're planning to use the VESA mount to put it on a wall or arm. But in that case, you should ensure the mount screws on the back of the monitor match yours: The bulk of these have 100-by-100-mm mounts, though in some cases, they don't support a VESA mount at all.

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Got a Mac? If it's an old MacBook Pro and has an HDMI port, or an iMac or Mac Mini, you won't have a problem. MacBooks with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections will require an adapter or cable with conversion built-in. You may also need to fiddle with the resolution and scaling settings in Mac OS, since it natively prefers a 16:10 aspect ratio, not the 16:9 aspect ratio that's much more popular on Windows.

Read more: How to buy a monitor for gaming or working from home

Unless you're a hardcore gamer or creative professional, many of the most technical specs -- latency and color gamut, for example -- won't really matter to you. You should always take them with a grain of salt, anyway.

For the money, you can generally expect to get:

  • A maximum of 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution (dubbed by marketers as "Full HD resolution" and also referred to as 1080p or 2K for its roughly 2,000 pixels across). Below 27 inches, that's fine. At 27 inches or larger, it's not great except in one important case. Essentially, the reason you buy a 27-inch monitor over a 24-inch is usually because you want to fit more onto it. But if it's using the same number of pixels, it just makes everything bigger -- it doesn't put more on the screen. And because it's spreading them across a bigger screen, some people (like me) may get annoyed at seeing the pixel grid. I find a pixel density (the number of pixels per inch, or ppi) of at least 90 a good balance, but YMMV. The exception? If you actually need things like text to be bigger, such as if you have impaired vision.
  • A stand that lets you tilt the computer monitor, not raise or lower it.
  • While there might be one or two larger, the monitors go mostly up to 27 inches.
  • Between 250 and 350 nits of brightness. That should be fine for most uses.
  • Up to 75Hz refresh rate for an IPS (which stands for in-plane switching) monitor or 144Hz refresh rate for a TN (twisted nematic). A high refresh rate matters if you're planning to play a lot of FPS, racing, fighting or other motion-sensitive gaming. An IPS monitor is better for general-purpose use, since it's superior for off-angle viewing and typically has better color. But the fastest IPS monitor you'll find for the money is 75Hz. A TN monitor is better for fast gaming and a better gaming experience; it has a higher contrast ratio, but poorer viewing angle -- color accuracy and contrast changes as you move further from looking straight-on. 
  • If it comes with built-in speakers, don't assume they're a replacement for real standalone versions. They're occasionally better than expected, but think of the speakers as a nice perk for basic system sounds or videoconferencing and consider it a windfall if they're satisfactory for entertainment. (I've been relatively impressed with the speakers in BenQ's EW series.)
  • A lot of these cheap monitors support AMD's adaptive refresh FreeSync technology, which works with AMD's graphics processors for syncing game frame rates with the display.
  • A curved monitor, which can make a wide display fit into your field of view without requiring you to sit too far back, isn't worth paying more for in monitors 27 inches or smaller; then the bezels are too far within your field of view. One potential exception is if you plan to span across three identical monitors for gameplay. Then they wrap around you better than three flat screens.

Upping your budget to between $200 and $300 will bring more 32-inch screen size options and 2,560x1,440 resolution. And, of course, the more you're willing to spend, the more you're likely to find something in stock and ready to ship.

Read more: Best speakerphone for working from home

LG 27MK600M-B 27-inch FHD IPS FreeSync display

LG

The LG is a solid, attractive general-purpose choice with some gaming perks. Though I'd hardly call it a gaming monitor, it has features for a good gaming experience, such as the ability to overdrive the response time, a 1ms motion-blur reduction mode and an optional center crosshair. It's slightly brighter than most, and there's a Photo mode that seems to improve the color accuracy. It's got a VGA connector in addition to the two HDMIs (though that's not uncommon in this price range) if you've got a really old device to connect.

There's also an 27ML600M-B, which seems to be the identical monitor and costs the same.

$260 at Amazon

BenQ EW2780 27-inch FHD IPS FreeSync display

Lori Grunin/CNET

If you want a cheap, attractive FHD monitor with built-in speakers that don't suck, this should be on your short list. They're hardly audiophile quality, but they're decent enough for watching movies, streaming music while you work or listening to podcasts, and they can get loud enough (without distortion) to hear from a fair distance away. And possibly loud enough to annoy your upstairs neighbors (who are annoying you by galloping around 24/7). It's got three HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 -- most cheap monitors have two at most -- though most people really don't need that many. Other perks include 75Hz refresh with AMD FreeSync technology, audio profiles, the ability to change gamma and a mode that maps colors to compensate for color blindness. It's not an HDR monitor, but it can fake it as well as possible given its technological constraints.

Despite all the setting options, the screen isn't that bright and the onscreen display can be frustratingly wonky. Plus, you can only tilt, not raise or lower the screen.

This one whips in and out of stock, so if you see it and want it, get it. 

$200 at Adorama

Samsung T35F 27-inch FHD IPS monitor

Samsung

If you are looking for budget gaming monitors, this budget FHD monitor's 75Hz refresh gives you a little latitude for gaming and has an in-plane switching panel for better color and viewing angle in the sea of VA competitors; plus, this cheap gaming monitor option is pretty attractive with thin bezels and a stand that's less clunky-looking than some. You'll get an HDMI cable in the box, and it has a 100x100 VESA mount. There are some drawbacks, such as some backlight bleed that buyers have noticed, and it has an HDMI 1.4 connection instead of 2.0 (if you care), plus the stand only allows the screen to tilt, not raise or lower.

$200 at Best Buy

Dell SE2719HR 27-inch FHD IPS FreeSync display

Josh Goldman/CNET

This LED monitor is a good option for a dual monitor setup if you're fed up with eye strain and squinting at your work on a small laptop screen. The display's thin bezels and built-in power supply make it streamlined and tidy, and you're pretty much looking at all screen. The base does allow it to tilt -- there's no height adjustment -- and has a hole for cable management so you can pass its power cord and a VGA or HDMI cable through to the inputs in back (power and HDMI cables are included). 

Along with the screen size and design, you're getting a 75Hz refresh rate, 4ms response time and FreeSync support, which makes this a bit better for gaming and fast-moving video than your average office monitor. On the other hand, unexciting color performance and seemingly lower-than-spec brightness undercut it solely for that use. It's fine for mixed use even if it doesn't excel in any area. Also, that's about the end of the road for features, so if you want things like built-in speakers or a webcam or VESA mounting holes you'll have to look elsewhere.

There's a similar 24-inch screen size model if you're looking for something smaller and less expensive -- just $130 at Amazon.

$200 at Best Buy

Lepow Z1-Gamut 15.6-inch FHD Portable USB-C Display

A movable choice on the cheap

Lepow

The Lepow is versatile for the money, with HDMI and USB-C connectivity, two built-in speakers, a built-in cover and stand combo and the option to switch between portrait and landscape modes. It works as promised and looks good for both work and gaming. While it's not going to replace a wide-color-gamut display costing hundreds of dollars more, it's more than fine for general use. The design is great for instantly creating a dual-display workspace with a single USB-C cable. Plus, kids can easily hook up our Nintendo Switch to it for gaming. If you need something portable or you simply don't have room for a regular external display, this is worth the investment. 

$200 at Amazon

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