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G-Sync vs G-Sync Compatible: What’s the Difference?

G-Sync vs G-Sync CompatibleIn this guide, we take a look at the difference between G-Sync monitors and G-Sync compatible monitors to help you determine which option is right for you.

G-Sync is probably the most popular, longstanding, and well-known variable refresh rate (VRR) technology on the market. When NVIDIA introduced it almost a decade ago, G-Sync gave gamers a way to eliminate screen tearing without having to incur the gratuitous amount of input delay that often accompanies VSync (‘vertical sync’).

Since then, however, there have been several developments. Most crucially, AMD released its FreeSync VRR technology to compete with NVIDIA. FreeSync does the same thing as G-Sync but is based on VESA’s Adaptive-Sync standard, which is open and free. NVIDIA’s G-Sync, on the other hand, requires a proprietary hardware module inside the monitor, which adds an extra cost into the equation. Likely because of this competition from AMD, ‘G-Sync Compatible’ was born.

G-Sync Compatible monitors, just like FreeSync ones, use the open and free Adaptive-Sync standard to facilitate a tear-free gaming experience. But, over two years since G-Sync Compatible monitors were introduced, G-Sync monitors are still being produced. This must make us question: Why opt for what’s likely a more expensive G-Sync monitor over a G-Sync Compatible one? Are there any benefits to using NVIDIA’s hardware-enabled VRR tech rather than its free alternative?

What is G-Sync?

NVIDIA introduced its G-Sync VRR tech in 2013 as an innovative solution to screen tearing. When gaming, screen tearing is when different parts of the screen display different frames that are slightly offset from one another, making the picture look torn. This occurs when the monitor’s refresh rate isn’t synchronised with the game’s framerate, because the monitor starts to draw a new frame to the screen after drawing only part of the previous one.

One way to eliminate screen tearing is to enable VSync, which limits your framerate to your monitor’s maximum refresh rate and ensures that the two are synchronised. The problem with this, however, is that it often causes significant input delay.

G-Sync was developed to resolve the screen tearing issue whilst keeping input delay to a minimum. Instead of synchronising your framerate to your refresh rate, G-Sync – and all VRR tech – works the opposite way, by adapting your monitor’s refresh rate to match and stay in sync with your game’s framerate. Because a game’s framerate often fluctuates, this must be done constantly, meaning your monitor’s refresh rate is always adjusting to the framerate being outputted by your GPU.

G-Sync does this with the help of an NVIDIA scaler module inside the monitor. This module communicates with your compatible NVIDIA GPU (that has G-Sync enabled in the NVIDIA control panel), which tells it what refresh rate to set the monitor to. Because they require this proprietary scaler module, G-Sync monitors are often more expensive than their non-G-Sync alternatives, but for this extra cost they eliminate screen tearing with no performance impact and less input delay than VSync.

What is G-Sync Compatible?

Only a few months after NVIDIA introduced G-Sync, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) released a white paper (PDF link) outlining its open and free VRR technology, which could be used by any monitor over the latest DisplayPort specification. It called this VRR standard ‘Adaptive-Sync’.

Shortly after, AMD announced FreeSync, its own take on VRR tech which uses Adaptive-Sync. Crucially, because they use Adaptive-Sync, FreeSync monitors don’t need a costly proprietary scaler module to work, and thus are cheaper alternatives to G-Sync monitors. This made many people question why they should pay more for G-Sync when FreeSync is available, and indeed the G-Sync vs FreeSync debate is still ongoing. This debate has only become more pertinent as Adaptive-Sync and FreeSync tech has improved.

In 2019, a few years after FreeSync hit the market, NVIDA announced its ‘G-Sync Compatible’ standard. G-Sync Compatible monitors are ones that use Adaptive-Sync VRR tech, but which NVIDIA, through extensive testing, has confirmed offer a good VRR experience and work well with G-Sync software and compatible NVIDIA GPUs. In other words, G-Sync Compatible monitors use the same kind of free and open VRR technology as FreeSync ones (in fact, they most often are FreeSync monitors), but their VRR tech works when paired with an NVIDIA graphics card and NVIDIA software.

G-Sync Compatible vs G-Sync

Because G-Sync Compatible monitors essentially use the same technology as FreeSync ones, we might think that the battle is the same as the G-Sync vs FreeSync one, but this isn’t entirely true, because G-Sync Compatible monitors face validation tests that many FreeSync monitors don’t pass.

In other words, because of NVIDIA’s validation tests, when you get a G-Sync Compatible monitor you’re getting one of the best-performing Adaptive-Sync monitors, so comparing them to G-Sync monitors is akin to comparing the best FreeSync monitors to G-Sync ones. G-Sync Compatible monitors must meet standards such as a sufficient variable refresh rate range and no flickering. So, G-Sync Compatible monitors all have NVIDIA’s stamp of quality.

There are some potential advantages to having a G-Sync monitor over a G-Sync Compatible one. For example, the scaler module in G-Sync monitors is designed to do more than just adjust refresh rates – for instance, it helps adjust the monitor’s pixel overdrive on the fly based on its refresh rate, which helps prevent ghosting. What’s more, G-Sync monitors’ low framerate compensation (LFC) extends down to 1Hz, whereas many G-Sync Compatible monitors won’t be able to run Adaptive-Sync at such a low refresh rate.

However, with a G-Sync Compatible monitor, if you’re within the monitor’s LFC refresh rate range – which is likely on a G-Sync Compatible monitor that’s been validated to have a wide LFC range – then you should have a smooth, tear-free gaming experience with minimal input lag. When gaming at optimal framerates and refresh rates, and on a monitor that has a good implementation of Adaptive-Sync, many users report that G-Sync Compatible VRR is pretty indistinguishable from G-Sync VRR.

But those are two big ‘if’s, so if you want to play it safe then you should pay a little extra and opt for G-Sync. If you’re willing to delve a little deeper, however, you might find a better deal by looking for a G-Sync Compatible monitor and comparing it to its alternatives at the same price point. Mileage varies on a case-by-case basis with FreeSync and G-Sync Compatible monitors – not all of them are born equal.

So, if you want to opt for the cheaper option and get a G-Sync Compatible monitor, you should check its LFC range and see if online reviews can attest to its VRR performance when paired with an NVIDIA card. Otherwise, if you want to be assured of top quality VRR performance without having to do too much digging, you should opt for G-Sync.

Jacob's been tinkering with computer hardware for over a decade, and he's written hardware articles for various PC gaming websites. Outside of the wonderful world of PC hardware, he's currently undertaking a PhD in philosophy, with a focus on topics surrounding the meaning of life.

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