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Asus' $4,000 4K monitor goes on sale this month, pushes Retina MacBook to its breaking point

Asus' $4,000 4K monitor goes on sale this month, pushes Retina MacBook to its breaking point


Inadequate graphics support could prove a bigger hurdle than the price

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There's no denying that Asus has a real technological marvel on its hands with the newly introduced 31.5-inch 4K monitor that's gracing its Computex 2013 stand. This stunningly sharp IGZO panel can output images and video at a resolution of 3840 x 2160, and what's more, its US release is scheduled for before the end of this month — a true rarity for Ultra HD panels of any screen size. It does, however, come with a significant and somewhat surprising downside. It's not just the price, which Asus told us today will be in the vicinity of $4,000, making the PQ321 unaffordable for all but the most zealous or resolution-needy among us. Users of high-end laptops are liable to find themselves with an even bigger issue on the horizon.

Asus exposes the downside of being too far ahead of one's time

Of course, the target demographic for this new display can be presumed to have beefy desktop machines, but we couldn't resist connecting a 2012 MacBook Pro with Retina display to see how it handled Asus' new screen. In spite of the presence of a 4K-capable GeForce GT 650M discrete GPU inside the 15-inch MacBook, the best we could do was scale up the laptop's content to the 4K resolution (an OS X limitation). Even then, tangible lag was introduced when working in more demanding applications like Adobe's Lightroom, while the mouse cursor also exhibited a troublingly low refresh rate.

4K video content from YouTube was processed well by the Nvidia graphics chip, exhibiting no slowdown, but then it was also being downscaled to the GPU's resolution. To its credit, the PQ321 monitor actually does a very admirable job of scaling the content back up, though the overall user experience isn't one we can recommend. The MacBook Pro's GPU earned plaudits with its multi-monitor support last year, but it struggled most evidently when required to drive both the Retina display and Asus' pixel-rich panel.

Intel's new Haswell processors promise to rectify this ailment, having made 4K support a headline feature of their integrated GPU, but that will do little to console owners of Apple's current-gen best-in-class. What's more, the MacBook Pro we tested here is one of the higher-specced devices on the market, and it's highly doubtful that many people will have laptops capable of reliably satisfying the requirements of Asus' monitor. This is a hurdle likely to be overcome long before the PQ321's price dips to levels affordable to mere mortals, but until then, the usual virtue of being ahead of one's time will be a vice for anyone looking to extend their mobile computer with this 31.5-inch stunner.

N.B. - Asus graciously gave us a few minutes to try out its new display on the Computex show floor, but ascertaining the full set of compatible use scenarios will require more extensive testing in a full review.

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