It all started last summer when my cousin sent me a link to this article by Jeff Atwood concerning his discovery of the gray-market of inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCDs on eBay.
My beloved 23-inch Apple Cinema Display had been on the fritz for several months. It was a 9-year old monitor. It was getting dim and had something wrong with the logic board’s ability to recognize the power supply. In short, if the monitor ever lost power then I’d have to try and short-circuit / jumpstart the logic board into turning back on.
Now, I love the look of California-designed hardware on my desk as much as the next Apple nerd. But when my 23-inch ACD finally pooped out last fall, I wasn’t exactly set on replacing it with a Thunderbolt Display.
For one, knowing that new iMacs were on the horizon, I didn’t want to fork over $999 on a Thunderbolt Display when it was very possible that an update to those was on the horizon as well.
Secondly, I wasn’t totally comfortable with spending a thousand dollars on a display that I could find elsewhere for significantly less (albeit, with a few less features).
So I decided to get one of the same, cheap displays as Atwood had. Same as Atwood, I ordered the FSM-270YG. You can still find them on eBay (and if you look, you can even find them in matte).
Since I’d already tainted my all-Apple setup with a black, ugly, awesome mechanical keyboard, it made it easier to take the leap and get a black, ugly, awesome new monitor. You know, to match the keyboard.
Aside from being ugly, the disadvantage to the FSM-270YG is that it comes with no bells or whistles. There are no USB hubs, no thunderbolt ports for daisy chaining, no ethernet, no HD FaceTime camera, not even the ability to tilt the thing. Moreover, when you buy one of these monitors off eBay, you’re taking a gamble. If you get one with a dead pixel or 10, then you’re out of luck.
But, my eBay monitor certainly has some advantages: (a) it was about 1/3 the price of an Apple Thunderbolt Display; (b) it has a matte screen — no gloss, no glass; and (c) one feature it does have is a built in speaker that sounds like if you were to plug in your earbuds, lay them on your desk, and then turn the volume up all the way.
I don’t mind the lack of features because you get what you pay for. And though it’s ugly on the outside, the part that matters the most — the pixels — is just what you’d find inside an Apple display, or any other expensive computer monitor.
My goal was to get the best possible display for the cheapest possible price. All in all I spent $406.76 ($339 for the monitor + $67.76 for a Dual-Link DVI adapter).
Just recently, Monoprice began selling their version of the FSM-270YG. It’s called the CrystalPro.
The CrystalPro looks exactly like the FSM-270YG monitor I have in front of me right now, except their’s has a Monoproce logo slapped on the front.
The CrystalPro costs $390 + shipping. You can find plenty of the generic FSM-270YG monitors on eBay for less than what Monoprice is selling their monitor for, but there is a significant advantage to going with Monoprice: the warranty.
Not only does Monoprice check each monitor they sell to make sure it works, they also offer a one-year warranty which means they’ll replace the display if there are more than 5 dead pixels.
The Problem with Dual-Link DVI Adapters
What’s unfortunate about both the FSM-270YG and the CrystalPro is that they require a Dual-Link DVI connection. And if you’re running your monitor off a MacBook, you’ll have to get a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter. And, they stink.
Not only are they expensive, but they’re flaky. I often have an issue with my monitor where, when waking the computer from sleep, the screen will show “snow” (like when your TV is on a dead channel). Fortunately, a quick off/on of the monitor itself resets the connection and the snow goes away. But still.
So far as I’ve been able to tell, this has to do with the adapter itself. I thought it was because I’d originally purchased a Monoprice adapter, but I had the same problem after purchasing an Apple adapter. And after researching about it online, I’ve realized I’m not the only one.
Not only are Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapters expensive, they also take up a valuable USB port on the Mac, and they’re known for causing occasional video issues.
So my biggest complaint against these monitors is not the monitor itself, but the adapter they require.
The Dell UltraSharp U2713HM is just as ugly as the Monoprice CrystalPro but with a lot more advantages.
On Dell’s 27-inch ISP monitor you can adjust the height and viewing angle, it has a USB hub, and you have several options for how to connect to it — including DisplayPort. And a Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable costs all of $5.
The price of the Dell UltraSharp moves up and down, but lately it’s been hovering around $650. Factoring in shipping, cables, and adapters, you can get the Dell monitor for about $200 more than the Monoprice.
Which Inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCD Display Should You Get?
If you’ll be plugging your monitor into a tower that already has plenty of USB ports and doesn’t need a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter, I’d go with the Monoprice CrystalPro.
If, however, you’re looking for a nice, big monitor to run while your MacBook is in clamshell mode, go with the Dell. Its extra USB ports and non-reliance on a Dual-Link DVI adapter make it worth it the extra money.