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Display and GPU Guide

Displays

 
Desktop Displays

For nine years, Information Systems & Computing (ISC) recommended a 17-inch cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor as the desktop standard. Beginning with the 2007-2008 desktop recommendations, the display standard changed to a 19-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) and, for the 2022-2023 desktop recommendations, a 24-inch display is specified. While ISC believes that the 24-inch LCD standard will suit the needs of most users, it's important to be aware of other considerations that may influence your specific requirements.

ISC recommends purchasing displays that specify a 16ms or lower response time (gray-to-gray) and using a digital video input, such as DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, USB-C, or HDMI, to reduce the effects of input lag—typically appearing as “smearing” or “ghosting” when on-screen items are in motion. Most users are also well served by monitors using in-plane switching (IPS) display technology. IPS panels are often regarded as having significantly better color reproduction capabilities and viewing angles than competing technologies, and they are suitable for office use and for visual media where accuracy is paramount.

ISC strongly recommends purchasing displays toward the higher end of the market, especially since it is common practice at the University to retain the same display for two system life cycles. Displays should support at least Full HD resolution, though higher resolutions such as WQHD may be appropriate for many users. ISC has had good experiences with Dell's UltraSharp and Professional displays and with Lenovo's ThinkVision displays. Displays from LG and Viewsonic also have a good reputation at Penn.

Notebook Displays

Notebook displays are necessarily constrained by size, with about 90% being in the 13-inch to 16-inch range. ISC believes that resolution is important, and specifies a minimum of Full HD for all but value systems. Brightness is also relevant for notebook displays, and ISC recommends a minimum of 250 nits for both mid-weight and lightweight systems. In general, there is more variance in notebook displays available from Dell and Lenovo than there is in those from Apple and Microsoft.

GPUs

GPU refers to the graphics processing unit, which is seen either as a portion of a microprocessor (integrated graphics) or a separate card (discrete graphics).

Desktop GPUs

For many years, ISC recommended purchasing desktop systems with discrete graphics cards. While discrete graphics cards can provide significantly higher performance than most integrated graphics solutions, Intel's and AMD’s recent mid-range to high-end integrated graphics (designated UHD 630, Iris Xe, or Radeon Graphics) have mostly eliminated this advantage for typical office and light visual media work. Thus, for FY2023 the recommendation is for a discrete video card or capable integrated graphics (UHD 630, Iris Xe, or Radeon Graphics). This recommendation does not apply to lower-end integrated graphics such as HD 610 or Vega 3, which are insufficient for University use.

Since discrete graphics cards have their own processor and memory, they can offer more power and do not need to share the system's main memory. This architecture provides a better user experience and support for highly graphics-intensive applications such as AutoCAD, LightWave 3D, and Maya. Discrete graphics cards also sometimes allow more flexibility when using multiple displays. For certified workstations, ISC recommends AMD’s FirePro or NVIDIA’s Quadro graphics cards, which are designed to accelerate graphically intensive applications while offering more flexible color output for better accuracy and calibration with high-end displays.

As is true in many things related to personal computing, Apple is an exception to much that was stated in the two previous paragraphs. With the move of all mainstream Macs to Apple's own M1 series of processors, there is currently no macOS option for discrete graphics cards with these new chips. ISC regards the integrated graphics included with the M1 processor used in the Mac mini and iMac as competitive with capable Intel or AMD integrated graphics. The integrated graphics included with the Mac Studio's M1 Max and M1 Ultra processors are approximately equivalent to mid-range discrete graphics cards from AMD and NVIDIA.

For most administrative systems, ISC believes that the integrated graphics available on the Apple Mac mini, the Apple iMac, the Dell OptiPlex 7000, and the Lenovo ThinkCentre M90 are appropriate choices.

Notebook GPUs

Almost all mainstream notebooks use integrated graphics, with discrete graphics cards only seen in certified workstations and gaming systems. As is true with desktops, ISC suggests capable integrated graphics, including Intel UHD 630, Intel Iris Xe, AMD Radeon Graphics, and all Apple integrated graphics.

Additional Information

Dell's displays website.

Lenovo's displays website.