Once you’ve used a variable refresh rate monitor, you can’t go back. AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia’s G-Sync technology promise PC gamers a buttery-smooth experience free of stuttering, screen tearing, or V-Sync-like input lag. But both ecosystems have their perks—and their downsides.

Now that adaptive sync monitors have several years of maturation under their belts, it’s time to take stock of FreeSync vs. G-Sync yet again. Here’s everything you need to know about AMD and Nvidia’s gaming displays.

Editor’s note: This article was last updated to include availability information for FreeSync 2 and G-Sync HDR displays.

What is adaptive sync, or variable refresh rate?

Before we dive into the differences between FreeSync and G-Sync, let’s take a quick look at the adaptive sync, or variable refresh rate, technology underneath both.

Your graphics card pushes images to your monitor as fast as it can, but traditional monitors refresh their image at a set rate—a 60Hz monitor, say, refreshes every 1/60th of a second. When your graphics card delivers frames outside of that schedule, your monitor shows a portion of one frame and the next frame onscreen simultaneously, resulting in the dreaded screen tearing. It looks as if the picture is trying to split itself in two and take off in different directions, and it only worsens the more dynamic your game’s frame rate becomes. It’s ugly. Damned ugly.

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Screen tearing is gross. FreeSync and G-Sync eliminate it.

The VSync setting for your graphics card helps but introduces some negatives of its own: stuttering and sluggish input lag, as the technology tells your graphics card to wait on a new frame until the monitor is ready for it.

FreeSync and G-Sync eradicate all those problems by synchronizing the refresh rate of your monitor with the refresh rate of your graphics card (up to the monitor’s maximum refresh rate). When your video card pushes out a new frame, the adaptive sync monitor displays it—simple as that. If your graphics card is generating 52 frames a second, your monitor refreshes at 52Hz. The end result? Wonderfully smooth gameplay.

FreeSync vs. G-Sync: Implementation

AMD and Nvidia take two very different approaches to adaptive sync technology.

FreeSync piggybacks atop the VESA Adaptive-Sync standard, which is part of DisplayPort 1.2a. It’s compatible with off-the-shelf display scalers that monitor makers can use, and AMD doesn’t charge royalties or licensing costs. There is little extra cost to include FreeSync in a monitor. Because of that openness, you’ll find FreeSync available in a wide range of monitors, from affordable entry-level displays all the way up to premium gaming hardware.

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