AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Review

ccokeman - 2013-09-11 16:42:37 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: September 24, 2013
Price: $3500 + Video cards

AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Introduction:

The thought of running the latest games using a resolution of 2560 x 1600 or, more commonly now, 2560 x 1440 has traditionally been rarified air due to the cost of the displays and eventually the graphics card(s) needed to run the resolutions. I can't lie when I say that playing the latest games with the visual quality turned up at 2560 x 1600 looks absolutely great. Even though the majority of gamers are playing at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 or lower, there is still that group on the bleeding edge of excess (insanity) that builds systems using only the highest end components to get the absolute highest end gaming solution. When you push three, 30-inch monitors in a 7680 x 1600 or 4800 x 2560 resolution in a Surround or Eyefinity panel, you know you are on the edge and will need the best hardware to cope with the amount of pixels being pushed. At least if you want to enjoy playable frame rates.

At this point 27-inch monitors with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 are becoming more attractively priced, at prices as low as $300 for some of the Korean-built IPS panels. These panels are definitely a hit due to the high resolution and modest price points they offer when compared to 30-inch panels that can set you back over $1000, so you can see just why they are attractive.

With that being said, 4K televisions and monitors are making a push for mainstream. Earlier this year we saw some debuts at CES that provided jaw dropping visual clarity when coupled with Ultra HD content. The problem with gaming with one of these televisions or large panels was that we were locked into a 30Hz refresh rate on the panel that resulted in tearing and a less than satisfying gaming experience. Part of this comes from the nature of the beast that uses a tiled configuration to make up the overall resolution of the monitor. The rest comes from the lower refresh rate. But there is a solution with ASUS' new PQ321Q 31.5-inch 3840 x 2160 panel that runs with a 60Hz refresh rate and is designed not only for the discerning professional but also the upper end gamer that is willing to shell out the coin needed to get the latest high end gaming experiences.

Currently priced at the high end of the spectrum at $3500, this 4K panel from ASUS is not for the user with a budget build in mind. That being said the premise of this article is to see how well upper end cards from NVIDIA and AMD perform when gaming using a 4K resolution in both a single and dual card configuration. For AMD we will use our XFX HD 7970 Black Edition cards and the NVIDIA camp will be represented by the GTX 770.

AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Closer Look:

The first piece of the 4K puzzle you need is a display that natively runs a 4K resolution. For this task we have ASUS' PQ321Q UHD 3840 x 2160 capable display. A diagonal measurement of 31.5 inches with a 16:9 aspect ratio makes this a large display any way you look at it. The anti-glare LED back lit Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide (IGZO) panel supports the use of smaller transistors than what you see in use with amorphous silicon. Using smaller transistors leads to smaller pixels, which in turn leads to greater image quality due to the greater pixel density. Showing 140 pixels per inch, you effectively get four times the pixel density than a 1920 x 1080 display or eight million plus pixels on the screen. By using this type of panel you get an increased viewing angle of 176 degrees, support for 10-bit RGB color, and reduced power consumption of 93 watts with an ultra low power state that uses just one watt when in standby mode. 








Like I said, this is a large monitor that measures 29.5 x 19.25 x 10.07 inches, so you will need some desktop real estate to place it. The panel itself is only 1.25 inches deep so the balance of the depth is taken up with the mounting stand. The stand allows the monitor to move up and down as well as tilt +25 to -5 degrees. The panel does support the use of a VESA 200mm x 200mm wall mounting option as well, if the stand does not meet your needs. Connectivity options include a pair of HDMI 1.4 ports, a single DisplayPort 1.2 port with a built in MST hub to supply both scalers with an image. A USB port is also included to allow for firmware updates. Under the USB port are an audio input port and headphone port, both of which use a 3.5mm mini jack. A power brick is used to supply the current needs of the PQ321Q and plugs in under the right side of the panel opposite the display inputs. The buttons used to power on the PQ321Q and navigate through the OSD are on the upper right side of the panel.




While I could go full bore on the video cards, I chose to go not so high on the NVIDIA side with a pair of GTX 770s and a pair of well used XFX HD 7970 Black Edition cards to use in my performance comparisons. The HD 7970 is at the top of AMD's current product stack while the GTX 770 sits below the GTX Titan and GTX 780. Each of these cards will deliver playable frame rates at 2560 x 1600, so it's only natural to see how they compare at 3840 x 2160.


Since this monitor is newer tech, let's see what it takes to get it up and running.

AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Closer Look:

Setting up the display configuration is not quite as simple as you would imagine. Instead of hooking up a single DL-DVI cable and calling it done, there is a little bit more that has to be done based on the fact that this is a tiled monitor that is seen by the GPU and software as pair of panels instead of a single panel. In essence this is what you have. The initial and current crop of 4K tiled monitors use two 1920 x 2160 panels stitched together to form the display surface because there are no scalers available that support 4K resolution. To get a single, large surface you have to use the multi monitor configurations available with each manufacturers products. For AMD it is Eyefinity and with NVIDIA you use Surround. Using this UHD monitor will require that you connect a pair of HDMI 1.4 connections or a single DisplayPort connection with the panel in MST mode to take advantage of the Multi Stream Transport hub built into the PQ321Q. One thing that needs to be set up regardless of the type of GPU is the the screen refresh rate. The default rate is 30Hz; you will need to manually change this in the advanced display properties panel to enable it for use in game.
















Setting up the display for use with an NVIDIA GPU is fairly simple. Install the supporting driver (currently 327.23) and away you go to enjoy some Ultra High Definition gaming. Unless, of course, you are using a pair of GTX GPUs in an SLI configuration. In that case you will need to enable SLI technology in the NVIDIA control panel. Setting up the display for use with an AMD GPU is a bit more involved, since you have to manually go into the Catalyst Control Center and set up an Eyefinity 2x1 panel. After installing the latest driver from AMD, of course. Currently this is the 13.10 Beta that supports frame metering. Then once done you can move on to enjoy some 4K goodness, again if using a pair of HD 79XX GPUs in a CrossfireX configuration you will need to enable the technology in the CCC panel.


AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Specifications:

Panel Size: Wide Screen 31.5"(80.1 cm) 16:9
Color Saturation : 80%(NTSC)
Panel Type : IGZO
True Resolution : 3840x2160
Pixel Pitch : 0.182mm
Brightness(Max) : 350 cd/m2
Contrast Ratio (Max) : 800:1
Viewing Angle (CR?10) : 176°(H)/176°(V)
Response Time : 8ms (Gray to Gray)
Display Colors : 1073.7M (10bit)
Video Feature
Trace Free Technology
Color Temperature Selection : 18 levels
Gamma adjustment : Yes (Support Gamma)
HDCP support
Audio Features
Stereo Speakers : 2W x 2 Stereo RMS
Convenient Hotkey
Brightness Adjustment
Volume Adjustment
Input Selection
I/O Ports
Signal Input : HDMI x 2, DisplayPort, RS-232C
PC Audio Input : 3.5mm Mini-Jack
AV Audio Input : 3.5mm Mini-Jack
Earphone jack : 3.5mm Mini-Jack (for HDMI & DisplayPort Only)
Power Consumption
Power Consumption(Typical):93W
Power Saving Mode: <6W(Low Power < 1W)
Power Off Mode:<1W
Voltage:100-240V, 50/60 Hz
Mechanical Design
Chassis Colors : Black
Tilt : +25°~-5°
Swivel : Yes
Height Adjustment : Yes
VESA Wall Mounting : 200x200mm
Kensington lock
Phys. Dimension with Stand(WxHxD):750 x 489 x 256 mm
Box Dimension (WxHxD):990 x 558 x 230 mm
Net Weight (Esti.):13kg
Gross Weight (Esti.): 17kg
Cable Clamp
Power cord
Power adapter
DisplayPort cable
Warranty Card
RS-232C conversion cable
Setup Manual
Regulation Approval
FCC, ICES, RoHS, UL/cUL, WEEE, WHQL (Windows 8, Windows 7)
*Color Saturation is tested under CIE 1976 standard.


AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Features:


All information courtesy of ASUS @

AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

Testing how well the XFX HD 7970 and GTX 770 perform in both single and multi GPU configurations will consist of runniing each combination through a series of games, most of which are in the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. The one notable removal from the suite is Metro Last Light as both the AMD and NVIDIA cards had issues running this game through the Dual HDMI interface at 3840x2160. In Lieu of Metro Last Light I will add Splinter Cell Blacklist in its place.

The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustments will be made to the respective control panels during the testing to approximate the performance the end user can expect with a stock driver installation. The NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 327.19 drivers while AMD-based cards will be using the Catalyst 13.19 beta. The results generated in my testing reached by utilizing the latest FCAT tools to illustrate the true picture of the gaming experience. To do so will require a second PC setup to capture the data stream generated by the compared video cards.


Testing Setup:

FCAT Capture Setup:


Setting up the FCAT tools to be able to measure the output signal to the display creates some challenges in measuring the raw data just due to the screen size and is more along the lines of measuring the results when running a 5760 x 1080 resolution. You can take a look back at our introduction to FCAT or Frame Capture Analysis Tool for a more in depth look at the technology and hardware required to pull these results. While FRAPS is a valid measurement for what it does, it does not give an accurate picture of what is actually hitting the screen. For that reason we choose to stay with FCAT as our method for capturing FPS and illustrating anomalies in performance from one manufacturer to the other. To capture the data stream going to the PQ321Q the setup is a bit different than capturing the data at lower resolutions. Since we have a two monitor setup basically with the UHD panel, we can hook up the hardware-based capture solution as indicated below to keep the data stream at a manageable level.


Gaming Tests:

AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

This third installment of the Crysis franchise, developed by Crytek and distributed by Electronic Arts, uses the CryEngine 3 game engine, and requires a DirectX 11 ready video card and operating system due to its demanding graphics engine.



















Starting with Crysis, you can see that the two cards I used for this test struggle to play Crysis 3 with the settings used. Reducing the quality settings can help with the GPU load but will not do enough without a stouter single card or multi GPUs. The multi GPU setups get closer to an ideal 30FPS.


FCAT Results:

When you look at the single card comparisons, the frame time charts show the two single cards are delivering less than optimal frame times across the time sequence. Moving to the multi GPU frame time comparison, it's evident that AMD has not gotten the frame metering in its driver up to par for this resolution. Seen under the wave of red you can see how the GTX 770 SLI combo works.



AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist is the sixth installment in this franchise. Released in mid August 2013 in the US it is published and distributed by Ubisoft. THis game is built around the Unreal 2.5 game engine and uses Havok Physics. A new feature in this third person perspective game is a new game mechanic called Killing motion.




















Both multi GPU combos deliver right around 40 FPS for decent game play with the settings used. Reducing the quality settings will help here with the single cards as the pixel density of the PQ321Q really helps on this front.


FCAT Results:

Three out of four combos delivered frame rate times that were totally off the wall and were repeatable no matter the settings used. Both combinations seem to have a concern in this game at 3840 x 2160.



AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009. This action adventure game based on DC Comics' Batman super hero was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Batman: Arkham City uses the Unreal 3 engine.

















Single GPU performance in this game is less than ideal at 3840 x 2160, so moving to a dual GPU solution is the way to go.


FCAT Results:

The single GPU frame times are what you would expect with the lower FPS delivered. Again we can see the thick red line that paints a broad stroke over the more consistent frame times seen with the SLI combination.



AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.




















In BF3, we again see the need for a multi GPU configuration to run the settings at Ultra. However, backing off the global ultra settings opens up some headroom to get over 30FPS.


FCAT Results:

Looking at the frame times of the single cards, you can see how comparable they are in terms of performance. The large downward spike in the single card charts corresponded with a glitch across the screen that looked like a frame out of place or out of sequence, visible as a tear all the way across the screen. The multi GPU results are par for the course at this point, with the CrossfireX combo in need of some driver life support.



AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

Far Cry 3 is the latest iteration in the Far Cry series. Released in the US in early December 2012 the it uses the Dunia 2 game engine and is published and developed by Ubisoft. This Action Adventure First Person Shooter offers both single player and multi-player modes.


















As far as FPS goes, each pair is relatively close in performance when you look at the FPS results.


FCAT Results:

As far as actual gameplay is concerned, the AMD and NVIDIA single cards deliver for the most part smooth animation with very few spikes out of the ordinary. Multi GPU results are again abysmal for the CrossfireX combo at this resolution. When you look at the average FPS charts, the actual game play for the HD 7970 Xfire setup was more like that of a single card. Something noticed in a few of the other games in this test suite.



AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.















Single or dual GPU solutions are able to get great FPS results in this game. However, they come at a cost.

FCAT Results:

The frame time results for the single cards show AMD again has some large single drops to 0 FPS that can be isolated and repeated with a tear across the screen. Something NVIDIA is not showing in this test. Again we see the same wild frame rate transitions from AMD with its 4K gaming performance. Again we see great FPS results, but you end up with the actual feel of a game running much slower than indicated. Something that hopefully is resolved at both the hardware and software ends of AMD's product stack.


AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Testing:

As the level of anti-aliasing increases, you have to expect the load on the memory bus on the cards to increase exponentially and drop the overall FPS results accordingly. To test this theory out I ran each card combination through a benchmark run of DiRT 3 with the level of anti-aliasing increased after each run. The results are below and really show the impact when running a resolution of 3840 x 2160. The question is what level of AA is acceptable with such a small pixel size? Measurement of the video memory used will be accomplished by running MSI's Afterburner utility to track memory usage throughout the benchmark run while the FPS average is pulled from the results in the DiRT 3 benchmark tool to illustrate the impact on the overall FPS when increasing the anti-aliasing levels.

DiRT 3

















Looking at the amount of frame buffer used in this game, you see that the usage increases as the MSAA level is boosted up from 2x to 8x. Correspondingly, the FPS level drops as you would expect. Even at 8x MSAA with a single card, the frame buffer limits are not reached with a single card or dual card combination. With the pixel density used in a UHD monitor, do you really even need to increase AA levels to have an acceptable viewing experience? In each of the games I ran through with the levels up and down, the biggest impact was the loss of FPS and not so much the visual quality. Reducing the AA level is going to allow you to game with a slightly less expensive graphics card. But that really is not going to be a concern if you are already dropping $3.5K on a monitor. Slapping in a pair of GTX 780s or GTX Titan cards will indeed increase the FPS levels in game. The next best option for AMD is the HD 7990 or even its upcoming Hawaiian Islands GPUs, since the HD 7970 is the current top end GPU in its product stack.

AMD & NVIDIA 4K Gaming with the ASUS PQ321Q Conclusion:

Besides the immense size of the PQ321Q, the most startling aspect of the monitor is the visual clarity you get at 3840 x 2160. Having used a 2560 x 1600 resolution on my daily driver for several years now, I may have been a little spoiled when it comes to running with a high resolution day in and day out. Nothing, however, prepares you for the move from 2560 x 1600 to 3840 x 2160. It does not seem like that much of a stretch but it is. Especially when you consider that moving from 1920 x 1080 to 3840 x 2160 is a 4x increase in the amount of pixels you are pushing with the video card. That being said, you do need some graphics firepower to deliver decent FPS numbers, as I found out during the course of this review. With the current generation, a dual GPU or better solution is going to give you the best mix of visual quality and FPS.

When it comes to setting up the ASUS PQ321Q for gaming, there are some specifics to follow to get everything setup and running. The easiest solution is to use the DisplayPort connection and enable MST (Multi Stream Transport) mode. Then once into the OS, enable a 60Hz refresh rate. The dual HDMI option is going to need an active adapter or card with a pair of HDMI ports. I found a standard adapter just would not work for me. ASUS as well as other manufacturers of UHD panels use a tiled configuration that requires the driver package to setup and enable a single large surface display using Eyefinity with AMD cards and Surround when using an NVIDIA solution.

As far as setup with an AMD solution, you have to go through the setup process in the Catalyst Control Center to identify and enable an Eyefinity 2x1 panel. For NVIDIA solutions this was easier as the driver package recognized the tiled monitor configuration and setup the surround panel after a reboot. Overall a more seamless setup.

One of the challenges that presents itself is how to eliminate vertical and horizontal tearing in game. AMD is currently working on something, but still has a way to go as you will see a vertical line in fast paced games as you move left to right. Additionally I saw instances of horizontal tearing in specific games. Hopefully this gets addressed soon with a driver release that supports higher resolutions. Where the deficits are obvious with AMD, NVIDIA has stepped up and delivered two technologies that seem to eliminate these issues with its GPUs in Fliplock that "forces each GPU to flip frame buffers in sync and Scanlock that forces each GPU and each head to display scanlines in sync". Adjusting the refresh rate to 60Hz does help AMD some in this respect but does not fully eliminate the split in the panels. Again something that hopefully gets fixed sooner than later, and who knows, it might be introduced with AMD's next-gen cards.

As far as gaming performance and usability, AMD still has concerns at resolutions greater than 2560 x 1600 as seen in the FCAT results. CrossfireX solutions are jittery and less than satisfying during game play, most likely leading to a more pronounced break at the edge of the panels witnessed in game. When you look at the FCAT results for the NVIDIA SLI solution, the frame times are infinitely smoother across the games tested, with the exception being Splinter Cell Blacklist. When running through a slow paced section of a game both cards look phenomenal. The closest affirmation of how stunning the visuals are was when my wife came up behind me while I was playing Metro Last Light and all I heard was a slow "daaaaaaaaamn that looks good." Of course followed up with the question of when does she get one.

In the end it looks as though NVIDIA continues to do its homework to provide gamers with the best possible solution as far as usability is concerned. Single card solutions are going to limit the FPS potential on a 4K panel until the next-gen cards start arriving. In that time we may see a move away from tiled monitors, reducing the need for Eyefinity and Surround configurations as the technology and hardware matures. Next up we get games with UHD texture packs to fully realize the potential and truly drive the visual experience to new levels for a truly inspiring gaming experience.

Currently this solution is going to be enjoyed by those with deep pockets, but as time goes by the adoption rate should increase as prices drop. Sooner rather than later hopefully.