What is FreeSync? Here’s everything you need to know

Tearing occurs when your monitor won’t refresh as quickly as the game’s framerate. For players that deal with this issue regularly, it can quickly ruin your gameplay experience. 

There is a way to sync your refresh rate to your GPU rendering, but you’ll need to use FreeSync to do it. This program might be completely unknown to some, but using FreeSync shouldn’t be too complicated. Here’s how to do it. 

What is AMD FreeSync?

Notice the misaligned elements of the left-hand frame? Although this screen tearing is simulated, it displays the effect screen tearing can have on a game. AMD

FreeSync allows AMD’s graphics cards and APUs to control the refresh rate of a connected monitor. Most monitors default to 60 refreshes per second (60Hz), but you’ll also see monitors that refresh 75, 120, 144 or even 240 times per second.

Overall, timing is essentially the big screen-tearing issue. The GPU may render frames faster than the display can update the screen, causing the latter to compile “strips” of different frames. The “ripping” artifacts typically surface when the view moves horizontally. Likewise, if the GPU can’t output at the display’s refresh rate, you’ll experience a “stuttering” effect.

With FreeSync enabled, the monitor dynamically refreshes the screen in sync with the current game’s frame rate. If it’s a 60Hz display then it only supports 60 frames per second. If the GPU’s output drops, the display’s refresh rate drops accordingly.

If you’re playing a relatively simple PC game like the original Half-Life, you probably don’t even need FreeSync. High refresh rates go a long way in eliminating screen tearing, so adaptive sync technologies are largely unneeded if your GPU consistently outputs high frame rates.

But if you’re playing a newer, graphically intensive game like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey at 4K, even a powerful gaming desktop might only render 40 or 50 frames per second on average, falling below the monitor’s refresh rate. With AMD FreeSync, the monitor’s refresh rate scales up or down to match the frame rate, so the monitor never refreshes in the middle of a frame and tearing never materializes.

What do you need to use FreeSync?

best gaming monitors asus mg279q
Asus’ MG279Q, our favorite FreeSync gaming display.

For FreeSync to work, you need a compatible AMD graphics card or an integrated APU, like AMD’s recent Ryzen-branded all-in-one chips. Most modern Radeon cards — from budget offerings up to the super-powerful Radeon VII — support FreeSync. If you’re unsure, check the specifications.

You also need a compatible monitor or TV that supports VESA’s Adaptive-Sync. AMD began supporting this technology as FreeSync via its software suite in 2015. It essentially builds a two-way communication between the Radeon GPU and off-the-shelf scaler boards installed in certified Adaptive-Sync displays. These boards do all the processing, rendering, backlight control, and more.

The DisplayPort 1.2a spec added support for variable refresh rates in 2014 followed by HDMI 2.1 in 2017.

But manufacturers don’t simply slap on AMD’s “FreeSync” branding and move on. According to AMD, these panels endure a “rigorous certification process to ensure a tear-free, low latency experience.” Nvidia does the same thing with its G-Sync certification program.

Typically FreeSync monitors are cheaper than their G-Sync counterparts. That’s because G-Sync monitors rely on a proprietary module, ditching the off-the-shelf scaler. This module controls everything from the refresh rate to the backlighting. However, Nvidia is currently building a list of FreeSync-class monitors that are now compatible with its G-Sync technology on the PC side.

Despite their lower price, FreeSync monitors provide a broad spectrum of other features to enhance your games, like 4K resolutions, high refresh rates, and HDR. Our favorite gaming displays have many of these technologies, though not all of them are FreeSync compatible. AMD has a list of FreeSync monitors on its FreeSync site.

How to enable FreeSync

After connecting your computer to a FreeSync-enabled monitor, make sure to download the latest AMD Catalyst drivers from the company’s website. You can manually select your card or APU model with the “Manually Select Your Driver” tool — just make sure to match your version of Windows. You can also use the auto-detection tool if you’re not sure.

Remember, you don’t need a second driver to enable FreeSync, If you have compatible hardware, it’s included in this download. Install the driver and restart your computer if necessary.

When you’re ready, open the AMD Radeon Settings by right-clicking on your desktop and selecting it from the pop-up menu. Next, select “Display” from the top menu and toggle on the “Radeon FreeSync” setting. Depending on your display, you may also need to turn it on in your monitor settings.

Note: Some FreeSync displays only work within a pre-defined frame rate range, so depending on the game you may need to limit your frame rate to stay within that threshold.

What is FreeSync Premium?

This is a new mid-tier solution introduced during CES 2020 that builds on the FreeSync foundation. Monitors based on this specification must provide a 120Hz refresh rate at the very least when running games at 1,920 x 1,080. They must also support low framerate compensation (LFC), which essentially refreshes frames on the screen when the GPU’s output falls below the display’s lowest refresh rate. Everything else you love about FreeSync remains unchanged.

What about FreeSync 2 HDR?

AMD rebranded this top-tier FreeSync level as FreeSync Premium Pro during CES 2020. It builds upon the mid-tier offering by supporting HDR content and games capable of HDR-based visuals. Premium Pro panels must also support low latency in both SDR and HDR modes and pass highly accurate luminance and wide color gamut testing. In fact, AMD claims that panels must have a brightness of at least 400 nits in order to get HDR 400 certification.

If you’re looking for something that’s going to translate well into the future, FreeSync Premium Pro might be worth the price tag. But, keep in mind that if you do go this route, you’re not going to find one of these monitors without the HDR.

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