Immersion is important to PC gaming, and one of the easiest ways to break that immersion is with screen tearing. That happens when the rendered frames per second of the game you’re playing don’t match your monitor’s refresh rate. It’s easy to spot as segments of the frame become temporarily misaligned with the others. Adaptive sync technologies like “V-Sync,” can be enabled in some games, but that often results in a lower overall framerate. That’s where more bespoke technologies can help.
Like Nvidia with G-Sync, AMD has its own adaptive sync technology called FreeSync. Compatible monitors tend to be far cheaper than their Nvidia counterparts and it’s about as effective, making it a more affordable and accessible frame syncing technology.
What is AMD FreeSync?
FreeSync allows AMD’s graphics cards (and Nvidia’s with some tweaking) and APUs to directly and dynamically control the refresh rate of a connected monitor. Most monitors are locked to a refresh rate of 60Hz, or 60 refreshes per second, but quick ones will refresh 75, 120, 144, or even 240 times per second. With FreeSync enabled, the monitor will refresh its image in sync with the frame rate of the game that’s being played, up to its maximum level, and adjusting down when necessary. That prevents the “tears,” or misaligned visuals, that you can see when frame rates and refresh rates are mismatched.
If you’re playing a relatively simple 3D 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 themselves, so adaptive sync technologies are largely unneeded if you can consistently output high FPS.
If you’re playing a newer, graphically intensive game like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey at 4K, though, even a powerful gaming desktop might only be able to render 40 or 50 frames per second on average, falling below the refresh rate of the monitor and risking screen tearing. With AMD FreeSync, the monitor’s refresh rate is scaled down or up to match the FPS, so the monitor never refreshes in the middle of a frame and tearing never materializes.
What do you need to use FreeSync?
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 or HDMI connection. The older VGA and DVI connections are incompatible.
Most AMD cards of recent generations, form budget offerings all the way up to the super-powerful Radeon VII, have full support for FreeSync. If you’re unsure, check the specifications, but chances are if you have an AMD graphics card it can handle it. Recent generation AMD Ryzen APUs also support the feature, and there are even ways to use them to force FreeSync on Nvidia graphics cards.
To enjoy FreeSync you’ll also need a compatible monitor or TV. FreeSync support is more common today than it’s ever been, but there are still a number that support G-Sync over it. Many manufacturers will offer two models of gaming monitors with one technology in each, while some offer both. If you want to take advantage of FreeSync, make sure that the monitor or TV you are buying fully supports it.
Typically FreeSync monitors are cheaper than their G-Sync counterparts and you have a broad spectrum of other features to enhance your games, like 4K resolution, 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
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 with 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 Radeon Settings — right-click on your desktop and select it from the pop-up menu. Select “Display” from the top menu and look for the “Radeon FreeSync” button. Toggle it on. 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 about FreeSync 2 HDR?
The second-generation of AMD’s FreeSync technology doesn’t drastically change the formula of the original version and both provide the same solid frame synchronizing as the other. However, FreeSync 2 HDR does have some advantages in that it requires the monitor manufacturers meet certain stipulations and features before they can official support it, so if you want to future proof your display it can be worth considering for your next upgrade.
While both first and second-generation FreeSync technologies work with HDR content, FreeSync 2 HDR requires it, so you won’t find any monitors without HDR that support FreeSync 2. It also mandates that it support low framerate compensation, which can help alleviate stuttering and screen tearing outside of the typical supported range of your monitor.