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Should you grab an AMD FreeSync monitor? We’ll break it down for you

Immersion is important to PC gaming, and one of the easiest ways to break that immersion is with broken frames. This happens when the rendered frames per second of the game you’re playing doesn’t match your monitor’s refresh rate – 60 refresh per second for most current LCDs. Most 3D games have a way to fix this with a setting called “V-Sync,” but that often results in a lower overall framerate, which can be undesirable.

AMD has a way to fix this called FreeSync. It works quite well, but unfortunately it’s complicated, and often expensive if you don’t have compatible hardware. Here’s a quick guide to what you need to get FreeSync running on your gaming machine.

What is AMD FreeSync?

Simply put, FreeSync allows AMD’s video cards and APUs directly and dynamically control the refresh rate of a connected monitor. Most monitors are locked into refresh 60 times per second, but quick ones will refresh 75, 120 or 144 times per second. With FreeSync enabled, the monitor will refresh its image in sync with the game that’s being played, up to its maximum level, and adjusting down when necessary.

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If you’re playing a relatively simple 3D PC game like the original Half-Life, you probably don’t even need FreeSync — even modern integrated graphics cards can easily surpass 60 frames per second in that game, and the software can V-Sync the framerate to make the game spits out frames in a cadence the monitor prefers.

But if you’re playing a newer, graphically-intensive game like The Witcher 3, even an expensive gaming desktop might only be able to render 40 or 50 frames per second, falling below the 60FPS refresh rate of the monitor. That means some frames will appear in the middle of a screen refresh, so the display catches part of two frames, creating screen-tear. With AMD FreeSync, the monitor’s refresh rate is scaled down or up to match the game, so the monitor never refreshes in the middle of a frame and tearing never includes.

What do you need to use FreeSync?

AMD’s FreeSync relies on both software and hardware. In order for FreeSync to work, you need a compatible AMD graphics card or integrated APU system, a compatible and certified monitor, and a DisplayPort connection. The older VGA, DVI, and HDMI connections are incompatible.

A variety of AMD video cards include the FreeSync feature, from the inexpensive Radeon R7 260 graphics card all the way up to the top-of-the-line Radeon R9 300. Some APUs offer the feature, too, starting with the AMD A6 series of APUs and going up to the A10 series. You’ll also need a compatible DisplayPort cable, which may or may not come with your graphics card, monitor, or computer. That’s because AMD FreeSync depends on an existing technology called DisplayPort ActiveSync.

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Once your computer is ready, you’ll probably need a new monitor as well. At the time of writing Acer, AOC, Asus, BenQ, LG, Samsung, and Viewsonic all offer FreeSync-certified monitors ranging in size from just under 24-inches all the way to 34-inches. Because these are high-performance monitors (some even boast 4K resolution or an ultra-wide 21:9 display) they carry a considerable premium over more vanilla offerings. Right now the cheapest models sell for about $350, with larger, UltraHD models come close to $1,000.

For a list of FreeSync-compatible AMD APUs and graphics cards, click here. For a list of compatible monitors, click here.

Related: New 4K gaming monitors from Samsung offer AMD FreeSync technology

How to enable FreeSync

Once your computer is set up and connected to your FreeSync-enabled monitor with a DisplayPort cable, make sure to download the latest AMD Catalyst graphics drivers from the company’s website. You can manually select your card or APU model from the “Manually Select Your Driver” tool (make sure to match your version of Windows), or use the auto-detection tool if you’re not sure. You don’t need a second driver to enable FreeSync – if your hardware is compatible, it’s included in this download. Install the driver and restart your computer if necessary.

Once all that is done, open the AMD Catalyst Control Center program on your computer. Click the “My Digital Flat-Panels” on the left column, then “properties.” The last option in the right column is “AMD FreeSync technology (or DP Adaptive-Sync.”) Click “Enable,” then click the “apply” button at the bottom of the window. Now start your game and enjoy your smoother graphics.

FreeSync limitations

FreeSync isn’t perfect. Specifically, it seems to work better at higher adjusted framerates than lower ones, though this may simple be because the gaming-oriented monitors that support the technology don’t work well at low refresh rates, either. When testing FreeSync on different monitors, Ryan Shrout of PC Perspective experienced a small amount of “ghosting” (double images in moving portions of the screen) when some of the monitors were set to 45Hz, particularly on monitors using TN display panels.

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Also, be aware that Nvidia’s competing frame syncing standard is called G-Sync. The two standards are not inter-operable, so make sure you buy the right technology to pair with your AMD video card.

Related: Nvidia G-Sync or AMD FreeSync? Pick a side and stick with it