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FreeSync vs. G-Sync

If you’ve ever experienced screen tearing in a PC game, you know how annoying it can be — an otherwise correctly-rendered title ruined by gross horizontal lines and stuttering. You can turn on V-Sync, but if you don’t have a high-end system, it can put a massive dent in your performance.

Both Nvidia and AMD have stepped up to solve the issue while preserving frame rates, and both manufacturers have turned to adaptive refresh technology for the solution. But let’s break it down to reveal which is a better option for you.

Performance

G-Sync and FreeSync are both designed to smooth out gameplay, reduce input lag, and prevent screen tearing. They have different methods for accomplishing these goals, but what sets them apart is that the former keeps its approach close to the vest, while the latter is shared freely. Nvidia’s G-Sync works through a built-in chip in the monitor’s construction. FreeSync uses the video card’s functionality to manage the monitor’s refresh rate using the Adaptive Sync standard built into the DisplayPort standard — the result is a difference in performance.

Users note having FreeSync enabled reduces tearing and stuttering, but some monitors exhibit another problem: Ghosting. As objects move on the screen, they leave shadowy images of their last position. It’s an artifact that some people don’t notice at all and annoys others.

Many fingers point at what might cause it, but the physical reason for it is power management. If you don’t apply enough power to the pixels, your image will have gaps in it — too much power, and you’ll see ghosting. Balancing the adaptive refresh technology with proper power distribution is hard.

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Both FreeSync and G-Sync also suffer when the frame rate isn’t consistently syncing within the monitor’s refresh range. G-Sync can show problems with flickering at very low frame rates, and while the technology usually compensates to fix it, there are exceptions. FreeSync, meanwhile, has stuttering problems if the frame rate drops below a monitor’s stated minimum refresh rate. Some FreeSync monitors have an extremely narrow adaptive refresh range, and if your video card can’t deliver frames within that range, problems arise.

Most reviewers who’ve compared the two side-by-side seem to prefer the quality of G-Sync, which does not show stutter issues at low frame rates and is thus smoother in real-world situations.

Selection

One of the first differences you’ll hear people talk about with adaptive refresh technology, besides the general rivalry between AMD and Nvidia, is the difference between a closed and an open standard. While G-Sync is proprietary Nvidia technology and requires the company’s permission and cooperation to use, FreeSync is free to use — people making use of it is a goal of the program, not a way to make money. Thus, there are more monitors available with FreeSync support.

G-Sync has been around longer and is managed by Nvidia, the current leader in GPU manufacturing. That may prevent AMD’s lead in compatible monitors from extending, but it still has the upper hand at the moment.

In most cases, you can’t mix and match between the two technologies. While the monitors themselves will work irrespective of the graphics card’s brand, FreeSync and G-Sync features specifically require an AMD and Nvidia GPU, respectively. Choose whether you want to go with Nvidia or AMD and then purchase a monitor accordingly.

If you go the Nvidia route, the monitor’s module will handle the heavy lifting involved in adjusting the refresh rate. The price you pay for the monitor will reflect this decision since each manufacturer has to pay Nvidia for the hardware. The upside is that the technology has been readily available since early 2014, so it’s available in monitors as cheap as $350, like the Acer Predator XB241H.

The G-Sync module also does most of the heavy lifting, so as long as your monitor is compatible, you can use lower-end cards. Nvidia lists the compatible options, ranging from the Titan X and 1080 Ti down to the 1050, which retails for as little as $150.

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You won’t end up paying much extra for a monitor with FreeSync. There’s no premium to the manufacturer to include it, unlike G-Sync. FreeSync in the mid-hundreds frequently comes with a 1440p display and a 144Hz refresh rate (where their G-Sync counterparts might not), and monitors without those features can run as low as $160.

You’ll also need a card that supports FreeSync, which has traditionally been only AMD graphics cards and APUs and consoles like the Xbox One, which uses an AMD APU. But that traditional separation between G-Sync and FreeSync has become blurrier now with Nvidia cards able to support FreeSync. This blurring is thanks to a driver update that allows GeForce GTX 10-series, GeForce GTX 16-series, and GeForce RTX 20-series graphics cards to work with FreeSync monitors. It generally works, but there’s a catch — it’s only guaranteed to work correctly on FreeSync monitors that are certified Nvidia G-Sync Compatible. The cards have undergone rigorous testing and are approved by Nvidia to ensure that FreeSync runs smoothly across the card range. Here’s a current list of certified monitors.

Conclusion

With no other components, expect to spend at least $450 on a 1080p G-Sync monitor and GTX 1050 graphics card; much more if you want a setup that can handle 4K gaming. Yet, for a little under $300, you can get into the base level of FreeSync’s compatibility, with the VG245H mentioned above and a card like the Radeon RX 550 that will squeeze out 1080p gaming with decent performance. The good news with AMD is that, up to the RX 580 (which is a great card for 1440p gaming), price points are comparable to Nvidia cards. That means you’ll be able to get an equally powerful GPU without the G-Sync premium.

Given the price gap, you might wonder why anyone would prefer G-Sync. The answer is simple — it’s superior. Nvidia’s adaptive refresh technology delivers more consistent overall performance. It’s also worth noting that, for high performance and 4K gaming, Nvidia video cards are currently the performance king. Going with FreeSync and buying an AMD Radeon card might mean purchasing hardware that delivers less bang for your buck.

Fortunately, the new G-Sync-compatible program gives buyers a lot of new options. If you already have a Geforce GTX 10-series and upwards card, you can buy a cheaper FreeSync monitor certified to work with your Nvidia card. After that, use this handy guide to activate G-Sync on a FreeSync monitor.

Ultimately, both technologies mostly accomplish their goals and deliver an experience that’s superior to V-Sync. Your choice will depend on whether you prefer value or a top-notch gaming experience.

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