Are you on the fence on whether or not you should get a FreeSync monitor? In this post, we cover whether or not FreeSync is worth it right now.
Many of the best gaming monitors today come with ‘AMD FreeSync’ technology. AMD likely chose the name ‘FreeSync’ to draw attention to the fact that it’s a free rival to NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology. Both technologies eliminate screen tearing by synchronising your monitor’s refresh rate to your connected GPU’s outputted framerate, but FreeSync doesn’t require any AMD proprietary hardware inside the monitor to work and is in this sense ‘free’.
A few years ago, if you wanted this kind of variable refresh rate (VRR) technology, you had to opt for an expensive G-Sync monitor in combination with one of the best graphics cards from NVIDIA. But then AMD FreeSync hit the market, a tech that uses VESA’s open (i.e., free) Adaptive-Sync standard. In retaliation to AMD’s new free option, NVIDIA gave us ‘G-Sync Compatible’ monitors, which also use Adaptive-Sync.
The result of this muddy history is a market in which there seem to be more VRR technologies than we might know what to do with. Deciding whether FreeSync is worth it comes down to comparing it to its alternatives, and to do that we need to understand what these technologies are and what distinguishes them from one another. But despite how much NVIDIA and AMD seem to want us to think otherwise, these technologies are all fundamentally similar, and the differences between them aren’t too complicated.
What is Adaptive-Sync?
Adaptive-Sync is an open VRR technology standard that operates over DisplayPort. As a kind of VRR tech, it attempts to solve the problem of screen tearing, which is where a game scene that’s being displayed on a monitor momentarily appears to be torn in two (or, occasionally, in more than two).
This occurs when the game’s framerate, outputted by the GPU to the monitor, doesn’t sync up with the monitor’s refresh rate. If the framerate and refresh rate aren’t synchronised the monitor might start drawing a new frame to the screen before it’s finished drawing the previous one, which leads to the tearing effect.
All VRR tech is designed to combat this problem. It does this by constantly adapting the monitor’s refresh rate to stay synchronised with the GPU’s outputted framerate. (VSync, on the other hand, works the other way around by synchronising and locking the framerate to the monitor’s static refresh rate.)
The difference between different VRR technologies lies in how they attempt to achieve this constant refresh rate synchronisation. A monitor that has Adaptive-Sync capability can have its refresh rate constantly shift to remain synchronised with a game’s frame rate. To use Adaptive-Sync, however, the connected GPU needs to tell the monitor what to do – it needs to tell it what refresh rate it should shift to.
What does FreeSync do?
FreeSync is a system-level specification and standard that has VESA’s Adaptive-Sync as one of its requirements. In other words, it uses DisplayPort’s Adaptive Sync VRR technology, but also has a layer of AMD testing and requirement validation. If the monitor meets AMD’s FreeSync standards, it can be certified by AMD as being a FreeSync monitor.
These standards that are validated by AMD including things such as “very low input lag”, “low flicker”, “low framerate compensation (LFC)” (on FreeSync 2 monitors), HDR support (on FreeSync 2 monitors), and display quality factors such as “luminance, colour space, and monitor performance”. So, while the primary feature of a FreeSync monitor for many gamers is its Adaptive-Sync VRR support, many other qualities of the monitor are checked and validated before it can be given the FreeSync label, meaning a FreeSync monitor has AMD’s stamp of all-round quality.
How to enable FreeSync
AMD tells us how to enable FreeSync on all FreeSync monitors when paired with a supported AMD GPU. First, you should ensure that the monitor’s own on-screen display options have AMD FreeSync enabled, anti-blur disabled, and DisplayPort set to 1.2 or higher. Following this, you should open AMD Radeon settings, select Display, and check the AMD FreeSync box to enable it.
Finally, many users have found that limiting your framerate – either in-game or via AMD ‘Chill’ – to a frame or two below your monitor’s maximum refresh rate is the best way to minimise input lag with FreeSync enabled.
Is FreeSync worth it?
At first glance, it might seem like there’s an overabundance of VRR options on the market. In fact, in one respect there are only two options: Adaptive-Sync or G-Sync. This is because, as we have seen, the VRR tech that FreeSync uses is Adaptive-Sync, whereas G-Sync uses its own proprietary hardware-enabled VRR tech. Different versions of FreeSync (FreeSync 2 and FreeSync Premium Pro) also rely on Adaptive-Sync, but with different specification standards. Similarly, G-Sync Compatible monitors rely on Adaptive-Sync. At the fundamental level, then, only G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate monitors use a different VRR technology to Adaptive-Sync.
There are potential benefits to opting for G-Sync over Adaptive-Sync. With NVIDIA’s proprietary scaler module, you’re guaranteed a top quality VRR experience, as has been shown over the years of G-Sync’s implementation. For example, G-Sync’s low framerate compensation (LFC) can extend all the way down to 1Hz (which works via frame duplication), whereas FreeSync monitors often have a higher minimum refresh rate threshold.
However, for most use cases – where you won’t be dropping down to 1fps in games, for instance – Adaptive-Sync should give you just as pleasurable of a VRR experience as G-Sync. Both eliminate screen tearing completely within their refresh rate thresholds, and, when configured properly, both keep input delay to an unnoticeable minimum.
Similarly, both FreeSync and G-Sync have high quality specification standards, and the differences in overall standards has levelled out over the years – both AMD’s and NVIDIA’s validation processes are high quality and thorough. This is also true for G-Sync Compatible monitors, which use Adaptive-Sync just like FreeSync instead of a proprietary NVIDIA scaler module.
G-Sync monitors are often a little more expensive thanks to their scaler module, so this is also a factor to consider. But ultimately, whether you opt for a FreeSync, G-Sync, or G-Sync Compatible monitor comes down to two things: first, how does the specific monitor you’re considering compare to others when looking at other factors such as its response time, contrast ratio, and maximum refresh rate; and second, what graphics card do you own?
FreeSync is designed for AMD cards, and G-Sync for NVIDIA ones, and while FreeSync monitors now often work with NVIDIA cards, sticking to the respective GPU brand will be certain to throw up less issues and require no workarounds.
Ultimately, though, all modern VRR technologies work well and have high quality specification standards. Because of this, after considering your graphics card’s compatibility, you should primarily focus on whether a monitor offers what you want in terms of resolution, panel type, picture quality, contrast ratio, maximum refresh rate, and response time. If you find a monitor that matches what you want in these respects, whether the monitor is G-Sync, G-Sync Compatible, or FreeSync shouldn’t matter too much providing your graphics card is compatible – all will provide a high quality, tear-free gaming experience with minimal input delay once configured properly.