This is a follow-up post to our post on whether or not G-Sync is worth it in 2018. And, as the title suggests, in this post, we’ll discuss whether or not FreeSync is worth it and, if so, who its worth it for.
We’re going to go over what FreeSync is, why it can be beneficial to gamers, how it differs from G-Sync (and adaptive sync), and what some of its downsides are.
What is FreeSync and How Will it Help You?
In order to understand what FreeSync is and how it can benefit you, you first have to have a base understanding of what screen tearing, V-Sync, and screen stuttering are. I’ll try to explain each of these as quickly as possible.
The Problem of Screen Tearing
Screen tearing occurs when your graphics card produces frames (framerate) at a speed that is faster than your monitor can switch to the next frame (refresh rate). In these instances, your graphics card is sending images to your monitor faster than your monitor can actually display them and, on your end, the game will have moments where the picture looks “torn”.
V-Sync Will Help! (Or Will It?!?)
V-Sync is a feature that was created to solve screen tearing issues. With V-Sync enabled (either through your GPU’s settings or through the settings in some games), your GPU is forced to work at a rate that is no higher than your monitor’s refresh rate. So, if your graphics card produces an average frame rate of 85 FPS in a certain game, if you’re playing on a 60Hz monitor, V-Sync will cap your GPU and never allow it to produce more than 60 frames per second. This effectively eliminates screen tearing. Problem solved, right? Right?!?
The Problem of Screen Stuttering
As you probably know, just because your graphics card can average 60 frames per second in a given game doesn’t mean that at every moment you are playing that game that your GPU will be pumping out 60 frames per second. In some instances, your GPU might be able to do more than 60 FPS. In other instances, when the game gets more demanding (maybe there’s an explosion or something), it might dip below 60 FPS.
So, what happens when you have V-Sync turned on and your framerate dips below the monitor’s refresh rate? Screen stuttering. Essentially, screen stuttering is the opposite of screen tearing. Instead of your GPU producing images at a rate that is faster than your monitor can display them (tearing), now your GPU is producing images at a rate slower than your monitor can display them. This causes screen stuttering—it looks like your game is “skipping” ahead or “lagging” and it can be especially problematic for competitive gamers in the middle of a heated battle.
Enter AMD’s FreeSync
AMD’s FreeSync technology aims to solve the problems of both screen tearing and screen stuttering. And, while AMD wasn’t the first to develop a solution for tackling these problems, their FreeSync solution is currently the most widely used and readily available option for solving screen tearing and stuttering.
Essentially, FreeSync allows your monitor to “sync” its refresh rate to match the rate at which your GPU is producing new frames.
This means that with FreeSync enabled, your monitor will no longer be displaying frames too quickly or too slowly and you will stop seeing screen tearing and stuttering.
The Pros and Cons of FreeSync
While FreeSync sounds perfect and it mostly accomplishes what it aims to, there are some drawbacks that should be considered, especially considering that there are alternative solutions (namely, G-Sync).
So, below we’ll discuss the one major thing that FreeSync has going for it and a couple of things that are working against it.
FreeSync is Significantly Cheaper Than G-Sync
AMD’s FreeSync technology has one major advantage over NVIDIA’s G-Sync monitors: FreeSync monitors are a lot more affordable than G-Sync monitors.
This is mostly because FreeSync is an offshoot of the open source adaptive sync standard. It’s a software-based solution.
NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology, on the other hand, is a hardware-based solution. Monitor manufacturers must pay to use G-Sync modules in their monitors. The problem is that those monitor manufacturers don’t just eat the costs associated with installing NVIDIA’s G-Sync modules into their monitors. They pass that extra cost onto you, the consumer (that’s not to say that we blame them for it.)
This makes the cost of a G-Sync monitor significantly more than the cost of a FreeSync monitor, as FreeSync is much easier (and less expensive) to implement. And, as a result, there are a lot more FreeSync monitors on the market than there are G-Sync monitors.
You Can’t Utilize FreeSync With an NVIDIA Graphics Card
“Well, when you put it that way, Brent, FreeSync sounds like a no-brainer because of its lower cost-of-entry! It will pair perfectly with my GTX 1070!”
Unfortunately, it will not.
One problem with FreeSync (and, subsequently, with G-Sync) is that it is only compatible with AMD graphics cards. So, if you have an NVIDIA GPU and you want to be able to take advantage of a monitor that offers variable refresh rate technology, you only have one option: paying the premium for a G-Sync monitor.
The same is true for G-Sync monitors, though. They are not compatible with AMD GPUs and will only work with NVIDIA’s GPUs.
FreeSync Has Looser Standards, Which Doesn’t Always Result in A Consistent Experience
The other problem with FreeSync is that not every FreeSync monitor will come with the same standards. On some FreeSync monitors, the variable refresh rate will kick in at ranges from 40-144Hz. On other FreeSync monitors, the variable refresh rate won’t operate outside of 48-75Hz.
On the other hand, G-Sync monitors are tightly regulated and must meet very specific requirements in order to be sold as a G-Sync monitor. That means that, when you buy a G-Sync monitor, you can rest assured that you are getting a display that can handle screen tearing and stuttering across a wide spectrum of refresh rates.
For FreeSync monitors, the actual amount that they will reduce screen tearing and stuttering will vary from one FreeSync monitor to the next. So, while there are very cheap FreeSync monitors out there, that doesn’t mean that they offer the ultimate variable refresh rate experience.
This means that, if you have an AMD GPU and you’re looking to get a FreeSync monitor, you’ll need to do a little bit of extra homework when comparing display options to ensure that the monitor you choose will deliver the best experience for your needs.
Is FreeSync Worth It? Our Final Answer
Yes, just as G-Sync is worth it under the right circumstances and for the right user, FreeSync is also worth it in certain scenarios for certain users.
If you already have an AMD GPU, or you’re building (or buying) a new mid-range to high-end gaming computer that will have an AMD GPU in it, then a FreeSync monitor would be worth it for you.
But, again, just remember when you are shopping for a new FreeSync monitor that not all FreeSync monitors are created equally. You’ll want to look for a FreeSync monitor that will operate at as broad of range of refresh rates as possible.