If you’re in the market for a gaming monitor, in particular, you have the option of buying a model with G-Sync or FreeSync support. These features can attract a higher price, but are G-Sync and FreeSync worth it, and do you really need either of them?
What G-Sync and FreeSync Do
FreeSync and G-Sync are examples of variable refresh rate technologies. They are not the only options since you may also find monitors that support HDMI VRR, but in the PC market where DisplayPort rules the roost, it’s barely worth mentioning.
AMD developed FreeSync. However, the technology is free to use by any display manufacturer, and there are no royalties to pay to AMD. However, to get FreeSync certification, the monitor must meet certain minimum standards.
G-Sync is NVIDIA’s proprietary solution, and display makers must purchase a G-Sync module from NVIDIA to use in their displays for compatibility; this often translates to more expensive monitors than FreeSync models.
Fundamentally, these technologies allow the GPU to control the monitor’s refresh rate, ensuring that there’s no screen tearing where the frame changes partway through the monitor’s image refresh. The universally-supported V-Sync feature accomplishes the same goal, except it makes the GPU wait until the monitor is ready to refresh.
This hurts input latency, where responsiveness in a game can feel sluggish. V-Sync is also an unpleasant experience when the GPU cannot render frames at a rate at least as fast as the refresh rate or an even fraction of it. Variable refresh rate technologies eliminate the negative experience caused by a fluctuating frame rate.
The Three Types of FreeSync
It’s worth noting that FreeSync comes in three flavors: FreeSync, FreeSync Premium, and FreeSync Premium Pro. Each of these certification levels has different minimum requirements.
Standard FreeSync only provides a variable refresh rate, but if the frame rate drops below the minimum refresh rate the monitor can display, you’ll lose any benefit. FreeSync Premium includes LFC or Low Framerate Compensation. If the frame rate drops below the minimum refresh rate of the monitor, it will multiply those frames to an exact multiple of the refresh rate it supports. For example, at 25fps the monitor will set its refresh rate to 50Hz and then show each frame twice for perfect frame delivery.
FreeSync Premium Pro requires a wider color gamut and additional luminance from a monitor to be certified.
Some NVIDIA GPUs Support Both
Since FreeSync is cheaper to implement than G-Sync, you’re more likely to find FreeSync options than G-Sync options. If you have an AMD GPU with a GCN 2nd-generation GPU or newer (Radeon HD 7790 and onwards), it supports FreeSync, but not G-Sync.
However, if you have an NVIDIA 10-, 16-, 20-, 30-, or 40- Series GPU, it supports both FreeSync and G-Sync as of driver 417.71. Not every FreeSync monitor will work equally well with an NVIDIA GPU, so look out for a “G-Sync compatible” certification, where NVIDIA has tested a display using one of the open VRR standards (such as FreeSync) and think it works well enough to endorse.
FreeSync and G-Sync Are (Mostly) Only Worth It for Gamers
With a clear idea of what FreeSync and G-Sync do, the question is whether paying for these features is necessary. If you are a gamer, we’d say a monitor with FreeSync or G-Sync is absolutely worth getting. Whether you want to play low-spec games at ludicrous frame rates or want a better experience in heavy games that can’t quite hit that 60fps mark all the time, these technologies will smooth out the experience while making your game feel more responsive with V-Sync.
If you aren’t a gamer, the argument for G-Sync and FreeSync being worth it becomes weaker, especially if you need to focus on other aspects of image quality, such as color gamut or high resolutions. That being said, plenty of monitors on the market have a VRR solution as part of the overall package, and there’s no particular reason to avoid this feature if everything else suits your needs.
High refresh rate monitors are more likely to offer a VRR technology, and for non-gamers, high refresh by itself is a worthwhile feature. It makes general computer use look smooth and snappy, and modern operating systems are also beginning to take advantage of variable refresh rates. Features such as Windows 11’s dynamic refresh rate are mainly aimed at saving power but might one day change your refresh rate to the best choice for the content or activity you’re currently busy with, much like modern smartphones already do.
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