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Dell UltraSharp U3014 30” Monitor Review

AkG

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Over the past year Dell has released numerous upgrades to their UltraSharp line and for the most part these new models have been excellent refreshes. However, it seems Dell have left the best for last as the all new Dell UltraSharp U3014 represents the epitome of what a mega-sized, professional business class monitor should be. No matter if you are a Graphics Artist, an SQL Database administrator, Professional PC gamer or anything in-between, the more screen real-estate you have the more effective and efficient you can be at your job. Simply put, for a wide variety of business professionals and PC enthusiast’s alike size does matter; however it is not just sheer inches that matter but the performance backstopping it.

Sometimes though even large the largest 27-inch 2560x1440 AH-IPS monitors is not big enough and only the largest, highest resolution, highest color gamut monitor available will be ‘good enough’. While ‘4K’ monitors are indeed slowly working their way on to the market very few home users or business professionals can justify their budget busting asking price. In a perfect world, a utopia free of mundane worries like ‘budgets’, nobody would worry about such petty things like making a profit or even eating. Back here in the real world, increased efficiency has to be balanced off by the increased cost. While yes 4K resolution could increase work flow, their asking price give accountants panic attacks at the mere mention of their name. This large gap between –relatively- reasonably priced 27” models and ‘never happening’ 4K vanity monitors is where Dell’s UltraSharp 30” model is meant to reside.

As with the U2711 the U3011 was sorely in need of a refresh as technology first caught up and surpassed its panel abilities. With such high asking prices their lowering of relative performance in turn lowered the perceived value of the U30 series. When Dell released the U2713H this issue became even more serious and the U3011 was rather hard to justify as opting for the larger ‘flagship’ UltraSharp U3011 meant actually accepting a large down grade in performance. This performance disparity is precisely what the U3014 is meant to resolve and once again make the U30 series the true flagship of the UltraSharp series.


With an average online asking price of about $1,100 – or about $400 premium over the U2713H – the U3014 certainly is not priced for everyone, but on paper you do get a lot for the money. Much like the U2713H, the U3014 has a significant advantage in both color consistency, color range and all round responsiveness over the older U3011 and is the equal of the U2713H in this regards. The new Anti-Glare coating found the U2713 series is simply icing on the cake and cements this new monitor’s status as a true step above the previous generation.

Even with all these things in its favour, and also like the U2713H, the U3014 is not without controversy. While you do get an even larger 10-bit, ultra wide color gamut “PremierColor” AH-IPS monitor with the same Anti-Glare treatment as its smaller brother, you also get the typical price increase for going from 2560x1440 to 2560x1600. In this instance, this 160 pixel row comes with a premium of about four hundred dollars. This is a rather steep increase for the sake of a row of pixels only 160 high, but consumers interested in this class of monitors are not afraid to spend more upfront, if it translates to better value in the long term. Those selfsame characteristics which made the U2713H so impressive are what Dell is counting on to help persuade the buying public that those extra 409,600 pixels are worth the added expense.



 

AkG

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A Closer Look at the U3014

A Closer Look at the U3014



The U3014 may at first look like a massive monitor but its actual footprint is only a touch over 2 inches wider than a U2713H’s. This is due to its 16:10 ratio so most of the size increase is vertical in nature rather than horizontal. From a logic standpoint, if you have room on your desk for a 27”, model finding room for a U3014 will not be as daunting as it may first appear.


The U3014 really does look like a fully grown version of the U2713H or basically any of the new refreshed UltraSharp models. Like its smaller brethren, the it uses a black and silver color scheme with the same thin bezel, same touch interface buttons in the lower right hand corner, similar base and even similar waifish – for its class – dimensions. While a lot heavier than is smaller sibling, the U3014 is also noticeably lighter than past 30” models so carting it from one place to another isn’t all that hard.

Most of this reduction comes from the move to GB-LED backlighting instead of CCFL but unlike others, Dell hasn’t cut down on quality of the internal electronics to reduce the U3014’s weight. This is their top of the line ‘halo’ model and it does represent the best of Dell’s PremierColor line. As such, it uses a 10-bit AH-IPS panel which not only boasts over 1 billion colors but –also like the U2713H - has an amazing DeltaE of less than 2.

To put DeltaE into layman’s terms, if a program calls for a specific color to be displayed but the monitor is unable to display it, the average monitor would be within 5 shades of the desired color. This is the industry standard and actually reflects the older U3011’s rating. On the other hand, the new U3014 will be within 2 shades and in all likelihood will be only a single color shade off. For the average consumer this will mean very little – besides getting accurate colors but a minimal DeltaE could be a game changer if your job depends on color accuracy.


Even with enviable color reproduction, GB-LED backlighting and a 6ms grey to grey response time, this is still a very expensive monitor. As with the U2713H, Dell does try and soften the blow by adding in true hardware calibration capabilities. Instead of just software options consumers can actually modify the monitor’s internal 14 bit Look Up Table. This results in a higher level of color accuracy which software calibration simply cannot match. Hardware color calibration is one of the main reasons many professionals have traditionally opted for ultra-expensive NEC and similar manufactures over lower cost options like the UltraSharp line.

Further helping to make the cost of upgrading from a U2711 or U3011 to a U3014 appealing, Dell also includes their new and improved anti-glare coating. This is the same as found on the U2713H and will ensure those accurate colors are a lot easier to see regardless of environmental lighting conditions.


Much like the older U2711, the outgoing U3011 was a well-equipped monitor from an input perspective. It boasted two dual-link DVI outputs, two HDMI 1.3a ports, a DisplayPort, VGA, and component ports. In this regard the new U3014 is no slouch either, but it represents more of a “side-grade rather than upgrade.”

Dell has opted for one dual-link DVI, one HDMI, one DisplayPort and one Mini-DisplayPort on the input side. With every one of the main HD bases covered, we doubt all but a minority of consumers will miss the analog ports, especially considering the D-Sub could not support the native 2560x1600 resolution. The mini DisplayPort is of particular interest since it will effectively eliminate the need for secondary adapters when using many current video cards.

Another interesting addition is the dedicated DisplayPort out connection. This connector allows consumers to daisy chain several U3014’s together. This may not be beneficial to most consumers but it could keep cable clutter to a minimum when using the optional dual monitor stand and would make for one amazing, envy-inducing setup.


On the positive side, the U3014 does boast a substantial upgrade to the USB ports' abilities. Instead of rear and bezel mounted USB 2.0 connectors with a multi-card reader, customers will be greeted to a multi-card reader and a pair of USB 3.0 enabled ports in a more accessible area and another pair of USB 3.0 ports on the input panel.

The U3014 does rely capacitive touch ‘buttons’ instead of physical buttons found on some lesser UltraSharp models. While sufficient and more than adequate, the buttons are much less user-friendly than their standard counterparts. They do however make for a cleaner look.


While a lot has been carried over from the other re-freshened UltraSharp models the U3014 is conspicuously missing a stand with portrait mode capabilities. This certainly isn’t a deal breaker for most users but it is an odd oversight considering the base has been upgraded from the U3011’s and looks very similar to the U2713H’s – albeit larger. On the positive side the base is perfectly stable and offers the U3014 offers 90mm of height adjustment, 25° of tilt (+4° to – 21°) and excellent swivel capabilities.
 
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AkG

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations



the U3014's OSD is almost a carbon copy of the one found on Dell's U2713H. As such it is simple and user-friendly while still boasting a wealth of features specifically designed for professionals and discerning individuals alike. Why mess with a good thing, right?

The main quick access menu list consists of four main options (five if you include exit), ensuring that basic functions are housed locally. The all-important main menu, brightness/contrast, preset modes and even input selection are available via this simple mini-OSD. Most home users will never need to venture beyond this point since the monitor is pre-calibrated.


If you need to go beyond quick access, the aptly labeled “Menu” option opens the primary menu system. While still missing a feature or two, this section is sure to satisfy as it is has nearly every feature anyone could ask for.

We were also impressed with Dell’s decision to carry over their handy Energy Meter from the smaller UltraSharp refreshes. For anyone who has never used a recent Dell monitor, the Energy Meter shows in real time the effects certain settings have upon this display’s power consumption profile.

The only issue with this OSD is just like the U2713H it obviously was cloned from, it does not offer any fine tuning of the overdrive settings via its OSD. However, if like the U2713H the over-drive has been intelligently tuned to be not too aggressive this missing feature will be rather minor.


Unfortunately, what was notable by its absence and is not so easy to overlook is the lack of fine-grain Gamma correction. Just like the U2713H, you only have a choice between “Mac” (1.8) and “PC” (2.2) gamma presets with no way to customize it beyond this point. Fortunately, this monitor is factory calibrated so –in theory – its default profile should be adequate for nearly everyone. However, as time goes by and the panel starts to ‘drift’ (as many do) you will have to opt for either off-panel adjustment through the graphics settings in Windows or hardware calibration via expensive colorimeter tools.

The U3014 does feature 6-axis color control which can be accessed via Color Settings -> Preset Modes -> Custom Color or Color Space -> Saturation. This will bring up a sub menu, where the Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow can be individually corrected.


There are also 8 custom modes and the full list of preconfigured options is: Standard, Multimedia, Movie, Game, Paper, Color Temp, Color Space, and Custom Color. These intelligent and very thorough presets should cover off most consumers’ needs quite nicely.


There is one ‘feature’ also worth mentioning: Smart Video Enhance. By default it is enabled and adjusts the picture automatically,making for a more pleasing experience in scenarios such as watching movies. At least in theory it helps enhance videos. In reality the colors will bounce around enough to be noticeable (most will see it as a purple or blue tint) and it becomes very, very annoying. Since the U3014 is a professional monitor, this should never have been enabled by default.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a monitor is not as simple as setting it up and using it a for a couple weeks and making a judgement call based solely on such subjective ‘tests’. It is also not as easy as using as colorimeter, running the built in tests and calling it a day. Rather than these two extremes a careful balance of real world subjective and synthetic tests are required.

To ensure that the monitor is performing at optimal levels and any issues which do occur are not simply the results of hardware bottle-necking a very high performance testbed has been created with goal in mind: push as many pixels as possible and be able to consistently be ready to deliver more than any monitor being tested can handle.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of ColorHCFR and SpyderPro color calibration tools.

For real world testing a monitor is used for a minimum of two weeks. During this period a minimum of eight movies are used and a minimum of 40 hours of PC gaming.

All applicable tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.


Processor: Core i5 4670K
Motherboard: MSI Z87 MPower Max
Memory: 32GB G.Skill TridentX 2133
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 in SLI
Hard Drive: Seagate 600 Pro 400GB SSD, Intel 910 800GB PCI-E SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i

Special thanks to NCIX for their support and supplying the i5 4670 CPU.
Special thanks to G.Skill for their support and supplying the TridentX Ram.
Special thanks to NVIDIA for their support and supplying the GTX 780s.
Special thanks to Corsair for their support and supplying the AX860i PSU.
 
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AkG

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Image Quality / Panel Performance

Image Quality (Uniformity / Panel & Gamma)



Calibrated Settings


Please remember that the settings below have been calibrated for our specific environment and your viewing conditions may differ from ours.

Mode Used: Custom color
Brightness: 16%

Notes:
- All tests done at default settings at 120 cd/m2.
- Unless otherwise noted, the tests were carried out via DVI


If there was one recurring theme throughout the testing phases of the U3014 it was that this new model is every bit as good as its smaller brother, the U2713H. Everything from contrast ratio, image quality, default settings, panel uniformity, even power consumption left us impressed. In fact, this monitor not only matched the already high standards set by the U2713H but it exceed them. The factory settings were as close to perfection as we have ever seen, for the first time ever a monitor scored a perfect 100/100/100 in RGB values and had a perfect ‘out of the box’ gamma setting.

Besides overly bright default levels, most consumers will simply be able to plug it in, adjust the brightness level and use the default settings without making any changes at all. This monitor really does set the bar at an entirely new level.


Panel Uniformity


<i>In a perfect world a screen’s brightness output would be equal throughout the entire panel. This is not a perfect world, but the lower the variation the less chances you will notice overly bright or dark sections on the screen. For the consumer LCD marketplace a variance of 10% is our gold standard but anything below 15% can be considered excellent as we doubt anyone will notice a -7.5 to +7.5 variation. A variation above 15% but below 24% can be considered adequate, but anything above this does not meet our basic minimum standards. </i>


Considering how massive this panel is a variance of 14% is rather impressive. Unfortunately, most of this variance comes in the form of a hot spot and two dark spots.


Panel Performance


In a perfect world a screen’s real world response rate would be so high that motion blur, ‘ghosting’, ‘reverse-ghosting’ would be a thing of the past. No matter how fast the action on screen all images would be represented in pristine condition similar in quality to a static image. This is not a perfect world, but the less amounts of blurring which occurs the less chances you will notice the issue in real world scenarios. While the panels response rate (ms) and and frame rate (Hz) can give a fairly rough idea of how much blurring to expect it is not the end all and be all.

To this end we have taken PRAD’s Pixel Persistence Analyser ‘Streaky Pictures’ program and using a high speed camera captured exactly how much and what kind of motion blur you can expect from a given monitor.




U2713H


U3014

As you can see there is almost no difference between the smaller U2713H and the U3014 in this test. Both are 60Hz monitors and while there will be a certain amount of ghosting these are worst case scenario examples and quite honestly, the few hiccups weren't noticeable to the naked eye.

The zooming car may not have been crystal clear – as it would be on a 144Hz or 120Hz monitor – but it was overall very clear and, more importantly, it was easy to read the “I need more socks” speech bubble. It really was only when looking at the high speed photos that ghosting became somewhat obvious.

While Dell’s overdrive does limit ghosting to these rather minimal levels, there was no pre-ghosting from the settings being too aggressive. This is an issue which plagues many IPS panels and it is nice to see Dell once again got things right.


Gamma Performance


Gamma correction is one of the hardest terms to explain. However, for our purposes the gamma correction of any electronics device is how bright or dark an image will be displayed on a screen.

All PC devices now use 2.20 gamma as the default. Any variance from this will result in an image being either underexposed which will create black crush and underexposed shadow detail or washed out with too little black level detail (aka being over-exposed).

While 2.20 is the gold standard, a minor deviation of 0.10 will in all likelihood never be noticed by anyone other than professional photographers. Higher levels of deflection however will be noticed by just about everyone.



As befitting its premium price tag, the U3014 comes with upper-echelon gamme performance. Unlike many competitors, Dell takes the time to factory calibrate their professional grade monitors and it does pay dividends. A perfect 2.20 is the gold standard all professionals –and anyone who takes color accuracy seriously – strive for and it is great to see Dell once again adhering to these standards.
 
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AkG

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Colour Saturation Levels / Default RGB Levels

Colour Saturation Levels


While there are numerous colors the human eye can’t “see”, the human color space confined to three primary colors and combinations thereof. To make things easier for manufactures (and not waste resources displaying colors we can’t see) a color space was mathematically described and while various models do exist, the CIE RGB color space is the de facto standard.

In the below image, the dark triangle which isn’t highlighted is the sRGB color space while the overall CIE color space is displayed as the background colors. Meanwhile, the white triangle with highlighted color represents the results of what a given monitor can display. No monitor can display the entire CIE color spectrum but a good monitor should be able to display the sRGB spectrum of possible colors as this is usually used as the standard for image encoding.

A monitor which uses the “wide color gamut” moniker can display more than the sRGB spectrum and is considered primarily for professional use. If a monitor cannot cover off the entire sRGB triangle, the resulting image will appear “off” to an observer. The end result is a picture displayed on the panel which won’t be as rich, vibrant or as correct as it should be.



As expected the U3014’s 10-bit PremierColor AH-IPS panel lives up to the expectations the U2713H set for us earlier. While it may not boast a noticeably wider color gamut than the U2713H it is certainly not smaller. Simply put, the U3014’s capabilities here are downright massive and it delivers best in class performance.


Default RGB Levels


An LCD or LCD LED backlit panel relies on accurately blending Red, Green and Blue pixel clusters to create an overall image so closer to each of these colours is to a “perfect” 100 output, the better and more accurate the default colors will be.

In this case, we have a low tolerance for anything less than perfection since any color shift can be noticeable even to untrained eyes and will require a color correction be applied at the software level to overcome a monitor’s stock output. We do however consider a minor variation of only a few points per color to be acceptable.



Say hello to perfection. As with the gamma levels, Dell has factory calibrated the U3014’s RGB levels to offer the best ‘out of the box’ performance. Interestingly enough this is one of the first instances where these values are absolutely perfect -and not just nearly perfect -with all three points being precisely at 100. This minor difference between it and the U2713H is well within the margin of error, but in either case, the U3014 is a cut above.
 
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AkG

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Viewing Angles / Maximum Contrast Ratio / Power Consumption

Viewing Angles


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.

To help give you a glimpse of what a panel will look like when seen from either above the horizontal or vertical plane we have taken pictures at fairly extreme angles.



Just like its smaller brother the U2713H, the U3014’s viewing angles are nothing short of spectacular. With both off axis vertical and off axis horizontal viewing the image stays crisp and clear well past what anyone would consider normal viewing angles.

Also like the U2713H, at extreme horizontal angles we did notice some color shifting, whereas with vertical extreme loss of contrast was more noticeable. Only at extreme angles was there any noticeable shifts in either viewing plane and even then the change was not terrible until the panel was literally viewed nearly edge-on.

Overall, the U3014 may be larger than the U2713H but this does not in any way effect its performance. Rather, the U3014 is just as good as the impressive U2713H and it too shows why IPS has dominated in this area.


Maximum Contrast Ratio


While manufactures love to throw around “maximum” contrast ratios in the millions, the fact of the matter is that to get these high numbers they have to use "dynamic contrast" which—at best—results in overly optimistic specs. With DC turned off, the number of shades between purest white and blackest black a given monitor can display is usually in the low hundreds rather than the thousands.

The higher the contrast ratio, the better the monitor will display shades of dark and light. For IPS monitors, anything below 450:1 is unacceptable, with 500:1 or above considered optimal. For TN anything above 120:1 will be considered “good enough” for most consumers.



As expected, the U3014 delivers best in class in performance. While the difference between the U3014 and U2713H is not dramatic, there is a difference and if your livelihood depends on such attention to detail this difference can easily justify the extra money over the U2713H.


Power Consumption


To obtain the maximum number we set the monitors brightness to 100% and the contrast to 100%. The Calibrated results are taken at 120 cd/m2 with the contrast set to the default level.


For such a large panel the U3014 is quite efficient and a calibrated power consumption of 36 is very, very impressive. As with the U2713H, this power savings certainly will be an incentive to upgrade.
 
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AkG

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Gaming & Movie Perforamnce

Gaming Performance



After 90 hours and 10 separate gaming marathons we can say with some confidence that gaming on the U3014 is as close to Nirvana as you are likely to find. At least it will be if your video card can handle the amazing demands a 2560x600 screen will put on it. Our NIVIDIA GTX 580 was simply not up to the task and modern games – with the ‘eye candy’ turned up – were more like fast action slideshows than fluid 60 frames per second titles. Even a single NIVIDA GTX 780 had problems keeping up with the demands and it was only when we dropped a second GTX 780 into our test bed that we were able to see precisely what the U3014 could accomplish.


When properly fed as many frames as it can render, the U3014 will take your gaming enjoyment to a whole other level. Nothing can compare to 1600P gaming and when this high resolution is paired with a great 10bit AH-IPS panel, the end results will leave you in slacked jawed wonderment. Words and even static images just do not do this monitor justice.


Even though there is some minor amount of ghosting –that you will have to actually look for to see – the color fidelity and lifelike vibrancy will amaze and impress even the most jaded of PC enthusiasts. If you are like us, you will spend the first couple days simply exploring and rediscovering your favourite video game worlds.

In gaming environments, even a Dell U2713H cannot keep up and twe feel the added expense for a 2560 x 1600 monitor is well with it. On paper it may not seem like much, but that extra 160 pixel row makes a huge difference. The only issue we see becomes one of overall cost: you'll need a ton of graphics horsepower to leverage the capabilities of such a large panel.


Movie Performance



Through no fault of its own, the U3014 biggest weakness is in its movie playback abilities. This is not the fault of this monitor, rather it is simply a symptom of its higher than typical resolution and something all 1600P monitors suffer from it. The highest resolution mainstream movie tops out at 1920x1080 or about two megapixels. While this is a lot, it is only about half of what this monitor has to offer and that is a lot of extra pixels to fill in with upscaling. In this regards the U3014 does an admirable job.


Simply put the U3014’s strengths in other areas carry over to movies and the end result is very good. In our opinion picture quality may suffer a bit from being upscaled so much, but this is one of the best 1600P monitors available for watching your favorite film. From its black gradation to spot-on color representation, the experience and level of immersion afforded here is nothing short of spectacular.


Dell's U3014 does need high a quality video source to work its magic. When starting with lower quality source material, the image quality quickly degenerates. If your collection consists mainly of 720P backups, we recommend going back to the original source material and re-transfer or live with watching it in windowed mode.

 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


When taken at face value, there’s really nothing special about the UltraSharp U3014 since 30”, 2560x1600 monitors have been around for what seems ages now. There have been some great products in this category too with Dell’s U3011 and the legendary Samsung 305T among them. However, what Dell has done here isn’t rewriting the book on monitor design; they’ve simply taken an existing set of specification and evolved them to the point of perfection.

In the move towards 16:9 monitors, the better equipped 16:10 units have –for the most part- been left behind. However, they still offer larger amounts of viewable space which is particularly important for discerning gamers and professionals who don’t want a “good enough panel”. These are the very two segments Dell’s U3014 targets and for them, we couldn’t think of a better companion.

Even excluding the additional screen real-estate – and all the benefits it brings to the table - the fact remains the U3014 is an impressive monitor. It is quite literally everything we liked about the U2713H only on a larger scale. The excellent color gamut, perfect out of the box color profile, the excellent Anti-Glare coating, even the excellent gaming abilities are all there. Only they are all there in even larger, more enjoyable quantities. Something you didn’t see in this review is non-colorimeter results. Why? Simply because the U3014 boasted color reproduction that was beyond reproach and perfect in every sense of the word.

While the U3014 may be one of the best monitors currently on the market, it does have some inherent limitations. With a price of well over a grand, it represents an extreme commitment from any individual or company before purchasing. Gamers will also require an ultra high end system to ensure playable framerates without lowering in-game detail. So, if you can barely afford the U3014 on its own, the real world combined cost of ownership will push it well beyond your means.

Just like any exclusive club, getting access to the U3014 may be difficult and may not even seem like a practical decision, but if you can get past the cost of entry, it will provide a wholly enjoyable experience. There is a good reason why this is Dell’s flagship model: it simply operates at a different level than other models. If you are adverse to the idea of selling a kidney on the black market to pay for a 4K monitor – and the GPUs to go with it – this is the model you have been waiting for. Whether you are a business owner wanting to boost productivity – and employee satisfaction – or a PC enthusiast who wants the very best, the U3014 is worth waiting and saving for. Even excellent 27” 1440P models like the U2713H pale in comparison to what this monitor has to offer. Just be fair warned: these models are addictive and you will never be satisfied with anything else.

 
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