One of the biggest announcements at CES 2021 seemed to come and go without much fanfare. Overshadowed by Nvidia’s debut of its RTX 3000-series graphics chips for laptops, you might have missed hearing that a growing number of manufacturers are finally building fast-refreshing QHD screens into their portable gaming machines.
Standalone QHD (1440p) monitors are a popular choice for discerning gamers who use desktop computers for several reasons. First, the displays are often more affordable and feature-packed than most 4K monitors while looking nearly as good. And importantly, modern high-end graphics cards, like the AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and Nvidia RTX 3080 (and even some last-gen products), run games very well at QHD.
Frustratingly and inexplicably, though, QHD hasn’t been an option if you want one built into your gaming laptop. You’ve had a choice of either 1080p or 4K or the option to output to a 1440p monitor that you purchase separately. That’s changing for 2021, and perhaps at the perfect time, as machines powered by RTX 3000-series and AMD’s incoming RDNA 2 graphics chips will take full advantage of QHD.
Acer’s Nitro 5 has the option for a QHD display. Image: Acer
I’m still of the opinion that 1080p looks fine for most use cases, but I won’t argue that displaying games in 1080p with relatively smooth performance is a low hurdle for even midrange laptop hardware to clear. On the other hand, playing the latest AAA games at 4K resolution with all of the graphical settings set to max is at once impressive and mediocre, with frame rates frequently dipping into the unplayable zone. QHD screens in powerful laptops can offer great visual fidelity with hardware that should have no issue keeping up.
Razer’s Blade 15 is one of a few laptops announced at CES 2021 that will let you add a QHD screen to your order, and I was pleased to see that doing so won’t add all that much to the grand total. For $2,199 ($200 more than the model that features an FHD 144Hz panel), you get a machine with a QHD IPS screen with a 165Hz refresh rate, along with the new Nvidia RTX 3070 and a six-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor. This price is on par with many current laptops equipped with last-gen parts and a fast-refreshing 1080p screen.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see gaming laptops with QHD screens falling below the sub-$2K price point this year. Acer’s Nitro 5 for 2021 will also have the option to be configured with a QHD screen, and I’m sure many other OEMs will follow suit.
I’m not yet able to tell you what kind of performance Nvidia’s RTX 3000-series delivers on new laptops until later in the month. But if you’re used to gaming on a 1080p monitor, seeing it all running on a more pixel-dense QHD screen could be revelatory.