- NVIDIA graphics cards are highly versatile and compatible with a wide variety of software, including limited compatibility with AMD’s FreeSync software.
- VSync can reduce visual bugs like screen tearing and artifacts, but it can also cause input lag and stuttering in games.
- AMD FreeSync is a proprietary technology that aims to reduce screen tearing and input lag, and it is compatible with NVIDIA GPUs as of the 10 series.
- NVIDIA G-Sync outperforms AMD FreeSync in terms of raw performance, but FreeSync monitors are generally more affordable and widely available.
NVIDIA graphics cards are widely regarded as the most powerful GPUs. These video cards aren’t just extremely robust in specifications; they’re also highly versatile and compatible with a wide variety of software. They even have limited compatibility with AMD’s FreeSync software. Let’s examine the compatibility of these devices.
What Is AMD FreeSync?
AMD FreeSync is a premier technology from AMD that provides adaptive sync to industry standard ports that don’t natively have it, such as DisplayPort. This software allows the computer to virtually align its framerate with the monitor’s refresh rate when necessary only. But what does all of that actually mean? Let’s look at these terms.
What Is a Monitor’s Refresh Rate?
Simply put, your monitor’s refresh rate is the number of times per second it can redraw the image on the screen. Animations comprise a series of still images strung together really fast to create the illusion of a moving picture.
So, your screen has to output images quickly to produce the animations you see on your computer. Even something as simple as a flashing cursor in a Word document requires the entire picture to be redrawn with each flash.
We measure the refresh rate of monitors in hertz (Hz). The current industry standard for monitors is 60Hz, meaning the screen can redraw the image 60 times in a second. However, gamers are now looking at monitors with much higher ratings of 240Hz or higher to allow them to get more frames-per-second (FPS) in their games.
The issue of visual distortion comes when the monitor can’t keep up with the graphics card. Since monitors have a fixed refresh rate, sometimes your graphics card may try to output more FPS than your monitor can actually show. This disparity can cause visual bugs, like screen tearing and artifacts.
What Is Vertical Sync?
When a monitor’s refresh rate isn’t synchronized with the graphics card, you experience distortion in the image, such as artifacting and screen tearing. You see these visual errors because the graphics card is trying to produce more than the screen can handle, resulting in the image showing parts of two different frames or stuttering as it moves from one frame to the next.
Since monitors have a fixed refresh rate, we can virtually sync the graphics card’s framerate to the monitor’s refresh rate. This process, called vertical sync (VSync,) gives us a smoother overall picture by eliminating the additional frames the graphics card would try to produce.
However, this process can be quite resource-intensive, especially for lower-end PCs. VSync is an additional process that the computer must complete while also playing a game, which is a relatively heavy load already.
While it’s pretty easy to go into your game’s settings and turn off VSync where appropriate, juggling different settings for every game you play can be a lot to think about when you just want to get into the action and relax. Thus, we can use adaptive VSync to dynamically turn VSync on and off, depending on whether the game is currently producing more frames than the monitor can handle.
What Are the Benefits of VSync?
Screen tearing and visual distortions don’t cause any significant harm to your system. They’re just optical bugs that make the game look worse. However, they can cause excessive eye strain and headaches for people looking at them for long periods.
While looking at a screen hasn’t been shown to cause massive permanent harm to your eyesight, digital eye strain can be a severe, temporary problem impacting your quality of life. Playing games with massive visual distortions increases eye strain and can lead to temporary discomfort after gaming sessions. Thus, VSync — where appropriate — can be beneficial to your health.
Additionally, since VSync caps the graphics card’s framerate to the monitor’s refresh rate, it can reduce the strain on your graphics card. Since your graphics card will produce less wasted data, VSync can help reduce your graphics card’s power draw and operating temperature.
What Are the Disadvantages of VSync?
The biggest drawback of VSync is that when a game isn’t outputting enough frames to warrant having VSync on, it can cause the game to stutter and lag. Since the game is outputting fewer frames than the monitor’s refresh rate, VSync will try to force the game to create more frames, which can make the game struggle to perform correctly.
VSync can also cause significant input lag. VSync delays the frames your computer outputs until the screen is ready to show them in all their glory. However, this delay can be felt when playing multiplayer games, where having the fastest reaction time is a life-and-death situation.
In this study, it was reported that enabling VSync increased the local latency of the game by around 30 milliseconds, which is enough time to find yourself dead in a multiplayer game. However, another study showed that, despite this, VSync does not typically impact player performance; at least, it doesn’t in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
VSync can be incredibly influential when using cloud gaming services like NVIDIA GeForce Now. Since cloud gaming services have historically suffered from issues with end-to-end lag and frames arriving at unpredictable rates — interrupting the quality of experience — VSync can add more input lag to an already laggy service.
However, without VSync or an equivalent adaptive synchronization technology, the game may encounter the same issue of running and displaying at a higher framerate than the player’s home computer is capable of handling. So, it’s a bit of a catch-22.
Weak Memory Models
Another disadvantage of VSync is the difficulty of implementing it on a weak memory model. Traditional WMMs such as RISC-V and ARM didn’t have access to things like VSync. Utilizing the technology in a highly efficient way on these systems is arduous.
However, a recent publication showed that VSync’s library and documentation could be used to optimize primitive synchronization software used by WMMs. It even showed these synchronization programs running at similar effectiveness and efficiency as VSync after optimization.
How Does FreeSync Work?
As mentioned, AMD FreeSync is a proprietary AMD technology that provides healthy competition to NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology. FreeSync is an adaptive synchronization technology that assesses the GPU’s current frame rate output and artificially caps it to the monitor’s refresh rate when necessary.
FreeSync aims to make games more enjoyable by reducing screen tearing and other visual distortion. It also helps eliminate the input lag typically associated with VSync. It does this by monitoring the FPS output of the graphics card. Then, the software synchronizes it to the monitor’s refresh rate when it exceeds the monitor’s capabilities.
Does FreeSync Work with NVIDIA GPUs?
Since FreeSync is an AMD proprietary software, NVIDIA GPUs don’t support the full range of available features. However, as of the 10-series, NVIDIA cards support AMD’s FreeSync technology so long as you have driver version 417.71 or higher.
AMD and NVIDIA have historically competed in the GPU market. However, they’ve begun a more cooperative relationship, allowing NVIDIA to utilize some proprietary AMD software. However, suppose you want to utilize your GTX or RTX card fully. In that case, we recommend using NVIDIA’s proprietary G-Sync over FreeSync, as it will give you complete compatibility.
Additionally, NVIDIA GPUs are incompatible with AMD FreeSync Premium or Premium PRO. These services are reserved for AMD GPUs and will not do anything with a GTX or RTX video card. AMD FreeSync only supports monitors with a lower refresh rate.
It will not lock frame rates for monitors with higher refresh rates. However, AMD FreeSync also struggles with extremely low frame rates. When handling an FPS lower than 30, FreeSync is known to begin stuttering.
How Do I Enable AMD FreeSync with an NVIDIA GPU?
Enabling AMD FreeSync first requires you to purchase a monitor that’s compatible with AMD FreeSync. Since it’s free to implement, compatible monitors tend to have a lower overall price point than equivalent G-Sync monitors. However, once you’ve purchased a monitor that’s compatible with AMD FreeSync, it will work out of the box, regardless of whether you have an NVIDIA or AMD GPU.
You’ll need to follow a few steps to get it up and running. First, you must ensure you’ve connected your monitor using DisplayPort, not HDMI. While FreeSync is compatible with both inputs, NVIDIA cards are only compatible with DisplayPort inputs.
Then, you’ll need to enable G-Sync in the NVIDIA control panel. To do that, open your start menu and type in “NVIDIA Control Panel.” Then, open that program. Under the “Display” menu on the side, select “Set Up G-Sync” and enable G-Sync. You can allow it for fullscreen only or both fullscreen and windowed applications.
When you open your game, ensure that you have VSync turned off; otherwise, the game’s native VSync will conflict with the adaptive sync from the GPU.
Which Is Better: AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA G-Sync?
In terms of raw performance, NVIDIA G-Sync outperforms AMD FreeSync on almost all, if not all, axes. However, some notable downsides to G-Sync can make it an unideal choice for many consumers. Let’s examine the differences.
Price of Monitors
First, AMD FreeSync is free for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to implement in their devices. This lack of a licensing fee means that virtually all monitors, even low-cost ones, are AMD FreeSync compatible.
NVIDIA G-Sync has a licensing fee that OEMs must pay to include compatibility in their monitors. So, lower-spec OEMs aren’t going to shell out for the licensing fee. Those that do will charge a premium on their monitors since they had to pay extra for the compatibility.
Ultimately, this means that NVIDIA G-Sync has a much higher cost of entry for the consumer. So, people looking to build a budget system probably aren’t going to have a G-Sync-certified monitor.
There is also a licensing fee to use G-Sync for the consumer. All NVIDIA GPUs from the 10-series or later are G-Sync compatible. However, the G-Sync chip within the graphics card is deactivated at the initial purchase.
To unlock the G-Sync function in your video card, you need to purchase an additional license from NVIDIA. So, the cost of entry isn’t just in a compatible monitor; you also have to have the disposable income available to purchase the G-Sync license needed to unlock your GPU.
Frame doubling is a method of artificially bringing a low-framerate software — below 30 FPS — up to a higher one. It inserts additional frames into the animation by duplicating existing images to increase the FPS.
Only NVIDIA G-Sync has frame doubling. As a result, when FreeSync is enabled and the FPS of a game dips too low, the game will start to stutter since there aren’t enough frames. With G-Sync, the software will begin duplicating frames to reduce the visual stutter.
HDR and Extended Color Support
High-dynamic range (HDR) is a color system that provides richer colors, sharper blacks, and brighter whites. It was first introduced in film and television, but modern monitors and televisions support HDR for all entertainment.
Not all monitors are HDR-compatible. Further, only some games have an HDR mode, too. So, you’re not missing out on everything if you don’t have an HDR monitor. However, for the games that support HDR, the color experience is unlike anything else when using the full HDR.
All G-Sync-compatible monitors have some level of HDR support. FreeSync is only definitely compatible with HDR if the monitor is compatible with FreeSync Premium PRO. However, some FreeSync and FreeSync Premium-enabled monitors may also have HDR compatibility.
However, G-Sync really comes to life in HDR if you have G-Sync Ultimate, which promises “lifelike” HDR support. So, unless you’re willing to shell out for it, HDR support isn’t going to be something that you’re guaranteed, nor will you get the best of the best.
Why Don’t Professional Gamers Use FreeSync?
With all the benefits we’ve introduced here, you might be shocked to learn that the average professional gamer doesn’t use AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA G-Sync at all. Pro gamers aren’t typically looking for the most comfortable gaming experience. Comfort is a luxury for the average player. Professionals need to be willing to sacrifice small creature comforts like FreeSync for higher framerates.
When professional gamers play their game of choice, they’re typically playing against other players in a highly competitive environment. Pros need the highest possible framerates their computers can output, whether practicing or in a tournament.
A high framerate can give you a distinct advantage in a competitive setting over other players. When an animation has more tween frames, details such as wind-ups and particle effects may become visible faster. Since players get information about the game more quickly, they can react before the enemy. Fast reactions are critical to a highly competitive player.
Pros typically play at extremely high framerates, which would be mindboggling to the average player. In major Counter-Strike tournaments, the game often runs at 300 FPS or higher. This allows the players to have the maximum amount of game information as they progress through the tournament.
However, while software like G-Sync and FreeSync aim to smooth out animations and reduce input lag, the change isn’t zero. So, most pros don’t use them. Instead, professional gamers typically buy monitors with higher refresh rates. These monitors allow them to see animations in higher framerates without screen tearing.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Jimmy Tudeschi/Shutterstock.com.