G-SYNC & FreeSync Monitor Tech Explained

G-SYNC & FreeSync Monitor Tech Explained

A good screen is vital for any gaming setup. Even the beefiest gaming PC can't make a low-quality monitor look good. Even if you're rocking a state-of-the-art build, like one of Mwave's own gaming PCs, what you see on-screen will only be as good as the monitor you've got plugged in.

But there's also a lot to consider when getting a new monitor. What specs are a must-have can vary depending on the hardware you're working with and the games you like to play. Features like Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), NVIDIA G-SYNC or AMD FreeSync, Hz ranges, and what this all means when working together can all make a huge difference to your viewing experience.


 

Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) explained

Variable Refresh Rate or VRR is a huge part of what makes today's gaming super smooth on monitors and hardware that support it. Most TV Shows and movies are filmed with static fps (usually 24fps) meaning that screen tearing and stuttering should not occur on your display. Especially when both the content and display has matching fps and refresh-rate, everything should stay fairly smooth while watching video. 

But that's different when playing games. 

In a game, the Frames-Per-Second (fps) can vary a fair bit depending on how hard your hardware is working and what it's capable of. On a normal screen this means the refresh rate of your game and monitor can become out of sync, causing frames to load in at different times. This creates what's better known as screen tearing and stuttering which is not ideal. Displays with VRR have the capability to change the refresh rate (Hz) on the go to match the fps produced by your graphics card thus significantly reducing or even eliminating any screen tearing or stutter.

Variable Refresh Rate allows your screen's refresh-rate and game's FPS to stay in sync between a defined range to deliver a smooth performance. However, there are a few different kinds of VRR to consider.


 

Differences between FreeSync and G-SYNC

AMD and Nvidia are the two biggest players when it comes to graphics cards on the market, and they both have their own VRR tech that often works best with different hardware. Both essentially do the same thing, in that they sync up a monitor to a graphics card to help with that buttery smooth refresh rate. However, there are differences to be aware of between NVIDIA's G-SYNC and AMD's FreeSync VRR options.

Generally speaking, it's not a bad idea to go for a monitor that supports the brand of your graphics cards. If you're running an Nvidia graphics card then going G-SYNC is a smart choice, and likewise between AMD and FreeSync. Though this is not to say you cannot use an NVIDIA G-SYNC monitor with an AMD Radeon graphics card. However combining your graphics card's GPU brand and monitor should play very nicely together, though, there still are other factors to consider. 

What is a G-SYNC monitor?

NVIDIA's G-SYNC monitors tend to cost a little more than FreeSync variations, with some really heavy hitters like the ViewSonic Elite XG321UG 32" 144Hz 4K HDR1400 Mini-LED G-SYNC IPS Gaming Monitor. Though that gap in price is constantly closing, especially with options like the ASUS ROG Strix XG279Q 27" 170Hz WQHD 1ms G-Sync HDR IPS Gaming Monitor

The difference in pricing is usually down to NVIDIA's proprietary hardware module to make the G-SYNC tech work. On selected monitors, this also comes with a few advantages like Nvidia's blur reduction and its ability to double frame renders below 30Hz to keep adaptive sync running even at low refresh rates. Be aware, there are different "tiers" of NVIDIA G-SYNC technology.

G-SYNC Compatible monitors will likely be the cheapest, as they typically don't have the proprietary NVIDIA G-SYNC hardware module but have still been verified as compatible with G-SYNC with their VRR technology. This means they'll still deliver basic VRR allowing for a smooth experience, but it won't have all the bells and whistles of higher tiers.

The next tier up is just called G-SYNC. These monitors typically do have the proprietary NVIDIA G-SYNC module, The step-up in quality and stability is a good choice for competitive gamers looking for the edge over lesser G-SYNC compatible monitors.

At the top rung, there is NVIDIA G-SYNC ULTIMATE for those who want the best visual experience NVIDIA has to offer. G-SYNC ULTIMATE is the only tier of G-SYNC that can combine the core features of G-SYNC with extras such as HDR. If you want the best G-SYNC monitors, G-SYNC ULTIMATE monitors are the ones to look out for. 


 

What is a FreeSync monitor?

FreeSync monitors are using the open-source standard for VRR called Adaptive-Sync. It was developed by VESA which is an organisation all about trying to enact standards across video electronics to make things more compatible. As a side note, VESA are also involved with other display standards such as HDR tiers and mounting options. FreeSync generally also doesn't require any extra hardware modules to function, so they're typically a bit cheaper than G-SYNC options. That's why you can pick up some dirt cheap FreeSync monitors like this LG 27MK430H-B 27" 75Hz Full HD FreeSync IPS LED Monitor.

Like NVIDIA, AMD's FreeSync technology also has different tiers - starting with FreeSync. This gives you the tear-free gameplay you expect with VRR at a budget-friendly price.

Above that is what's currently called FreeSync Premium. This focuses on giving at least 1920x1080 @ 120Hz, and has low framerate compensation to even work well with games running below 30FPS. 

The top tier is FreeSync Premium Pro, which adds HDR and game support. The very feature complete ASUS ROG Strix XG43UQ 43" 4K 144Hz HDR1000 FreeSync2 Gaming Monitor w/ HDMI 2.1 uses this which is especially designed to work with HDR. AMD FreeSync Premium Pro is good to look out for in higher-end monitors and many TVs.

Most individuals don't tend to notice any if all differences between G-SYNC and FreeSync when in use. It's not uncommon for some higher-end monitors like the impressively massive Samsung Odyssey G9 49" DQHD 240Hz 1ms G-Sync Ready HDR1000 Curved QLED Monitor to work with both, which is probably the best kind of choice if it's within budget. 


That being said, often FreeSync can even work on a G-SYNC monitor (including those with the proprietary NVIDIA G-SYNC module) and sometimes even vice-versa, though performance and stability may not be as good. Generally speaking, both are great options, and as long as you have some VRR you should have a much smoother gaming experience than without.


 

Potential Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) Draw Backs

Alas, nothing is without sacrifice in this world. VRR is pretty essential for getting smooth gaming experiences, but it's also important to know about any potential drawbacks. Thankfully, there aren't too many.

The main downside to utilising VRR is the chance for added input lag or latency compared to not using the technology. This isn't exactly VRR's fault directly, but sometimes the way frames are handled can fundamentally cause lag. This usually happens when a game's FPS may be running outside of the monitor's VRR range, or there is a mismatch between the monitor's refresh rate and the game's FPS - this can cause input lag. Thankfully VRR can be enabled and disabled in your monitor settings or in your graphics card's drivers, so you can always turn it off if this occurs.

Other times you may want to disable VRR is if the Hz range is out for that monitor. This is pretty uncommon as generally speaking, both FreeSync and G-SYNC should work right up to whatever it is your monitor can pump out. If you're noticing screen tearing or other visual issues on particularly low or high framerates, it might be a good idea to check the range, but again this isn't particularly common. If your game's FPS is constantly going over your monitor's maximum refresh rate, it may be worth enabling an FPS limiter (set to the same or slightly below the maximum Hz of your monitor) in the game settings.

Slim VRR ranges are typically more common on TVs, many of which are pretty new to supporting VRR but can still happen on PC monitors too. Still, it's very cool to see this technology picked up by TV manufacturers for extra smooth lounge gaming on consoles and PC. Just as always, make sure you're using a high-quality cable like HDMI 2.1 or even better, DisplayPort before blaming your screen.


 

It's fair to say that some kind of VRR is a huge help for reducing tearing and stuttering in games. However, it's probably not the make or break decision when it comes to choosing a monitor. Things like screen size, high resolution, HDR, panel type, aspect ratio, curved options, and max Hz may all factor a little higher in your considerations. While it's good to keep VRR in mind, as long as your screen has some kind of VRR you should experience the benefits.