Last year we wrote about NVIDIA G-SYNC, the revolutionary dynamic synchronization technology which synchronizes the monitor refresh rate with the refresh rate of the GPU in order to get rid of so-called “screen tearing” and other artifacts like stutter and input lag.
Shortly after NVIDIA, AMD also introduced their own similar technology – FreeSync. The goal is the same – getting rid of all of the annoying artifacts that come out of non-synchronized refresh rates of the monitor and graphics card, but AMD has decided to take a slightly different approach.
As we already know, NVIDIA’s G-SYNC requires a special module that gets embedded into the control board of the display panel and manages the synchronization between the graphics card and the monitor. The advantage of this approach is that the technology relies only on the G-SYNC module inside the monitor and is independent from the GPU’s integrated display controller, which makes it compatible with older graphics cards. The downside of this is the additional hardware (G-SYNC module), which is not cheap. NVIDIA also requires that the monitor manufacturers pay a licensing fee in order to integrate this technology in their monitors, which also adds to the cost.
AMD’s FreeSync approach is different. It is based on the Adaptive Sync open standard that’s already embedded into DisplayPort and, in addition, on the integrated display controller inside AMD’s GPUs. FreeSync supports a wider range of FPS – 9 to 240 Hz against NVIDIA’s 30-144Hz. Of course, the implementation of such support is entirely up to the monitor manufacturer – they can make monitors with any range in mind that falls between 9Hz-240Hz. Another important advantage of FreeSync is the ability to support the standard monitor features and that won’t influence the gaming process performance. Not to mention that Displayport supports transmission of audio in parallel with video, whereas the G-SYNC monitors only support DisplayPort outputs and do not allow for anything other than the most basic monitor features with the G-SYNC module supporting very preliminary color processing and without supporting any audio output.
The bottleneck of the FreeSync technology is that it is compatible only with the most recent AMD GPUs and does not support the previous generations of their graphics cards. It may be seen as a potential problem for users who would have to invest into a newer graphics card, but AMD says that all future GPUs from the company will support the technology anyway.
Both FreeSync and G-SYNC function pretty much the same when your game’s FPS falls in the variable refresh rate range of the monitor and apart from a very minor (~2%) performance penalty with G-SYNC, both technologies would be almost the same when inside the variable refresh window. However, if a game’s FPS falls down below the minimum refresh rate of the monitor G-SYNC and FreeSync handle the situation quite differently.
Earlier versions of monitors with FreeSync would revert back to a fixed refresh rate that matches the lowest refresh rate that it is capable of. However, user will be able to choose manually whether he wants to enable V-Sync in order to avoid tearing (in exchange for input latency, though) or continue to play without V-Sync and get screen tearing.
G-SYNC deals with the situation in pretty much the same way, with the only difference being that the monitor will revert back to a maximum fixed refresh rate, which also will result in an increase of input lag, but not as severe as FreeSync. What is disappointing with G-SYNC in this case is that it doesn’t give the user an opportunity to switch V-Sync on or off – it would always stay on and will not allow users to get rid of that latency in exchange for screen tearing. Nevertheless, having a monitor fixed at the maximum refresh rate is still a better solution rather than at the minimum.
In 2015, AMD has officially announced that they made an effort to update the drivers in order to enable FreeSync behavior at the maximum refresh rates when the FPS drops below the FreeSync operating range, which, basically, eliminated that difference with NVIDIA’s G-SYNC.
As we can see, G-SYNC and FreeSync do not have any critical differences between each other. Both solutions are great in providing a smooth image when playing games on the PC and both have their pros and cons. So, there is no simple answer to a question “Who is the best?”
The only significant drawback for the consumer would be a need to invest into a new hardware – graphics card for AMD and compatible monitor for both. And here is the point of critical thinking, hardware market research and final decision making.