You have probably heard of FreeSync and might have seen it compared to G-Sync and VSync. These are all solutions to the same problem, but the different terms can quickly become confusing. AMD’s FreeSync and its newer Premium and Premium Pro versions will be the focus of this guide.
Before we take a closer look at what these different incarnations of FreeSync bring to the table and their differences, it’s important to understand the problem they’re trying to fix and other possible solutions. That problem is the dreaded screen tearing.
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So, FreeSync Solves Screen Tearing?
It does, but it isn’t the only technology that aims to do so, nor was it the first.
Screen tearing is a visual glitch that occurs when either the graphics card produces more frames than the monitor can display or when the monitor refreshes too fast for the frames that the GPU can provide.
This is particularly annoying if you have invested in a high-performance GPU while keeping your old 60Hz monitor, and you play an FPS multiplayer game only to have your surroundings torn in two, costing you some valuable kills.
To better understand FreeSync and its uses, we also need to consider other solutions.
Vertical Synchronization – VSync
The first thing that probably comes to mind about VSync is just how long it has been a staple of PC games’ video settings. VSync can be considered the original solution for this problem. Although it’s far from ideal, it does produce positive results.
In essence, vertical synchronization will lock your GPU to 60 FPS to prevent the monitor from playing catch-up and keeping the monitor refresh rate and graphics card output synced up. Although this means your high-end GPU won’t have the opportunity to perform to its fullest, it does solve the screen tearing issue.
At least in most cases. If the GPU’s performance dips below 60 FPS, which can happen during your gaming, the monitor will show the last image rendered. However, this should only happen for a split second.
This issue persisted when VSync was first introduced to the video gaming world, although it is now slightly different. NVIDIA was the first company to offer a competing solution.
Initially released in early 2013, G-Sync is a hardware solution that aims to fix the problem of screen tearing. G-Sync allows the display’s refresh rate to adapt to the graphics card.
NVIDIA achieved this by developing a feature for collision avoidance. When a new frame is ready to be outputted, and a duplicate of that frame is already on the screen, the new frame will expect the refresh and wait.
The biggest issue with this is that NVIDIA forced monitor manufacturers to use a dedicated G-Sync module.
You might be wondering why that affects you as a consumer. You won’t notice any negative impact on your gaming, but that module comes at a price. Display developers have to pay NVIDIA to add the module, so they increase their prices to compensate. Additionally, G-Sync is only available for NVIDIA GPUs.
Another restriction is that G-Sync only runs via DisplayPort 1.2, whereas FreeSync was originally based on DisplayPort 1.2a and now uses HDMI 1.2+.
FreeSync is AMD’s solution to screen tearing, which was released almost two years after G-Sync. Many consider it the superior solution, although in terms of performance, these two technologies are pretty much equal.
This is the main reason that some gamers are annoyed that NVIDIA still charges money for their tech. Meanwhile, AMD has allowed FreeSync, as its name suggests, to be used for free since its launch.
In addition, while NVIDIA requires G-Sync-ready monitors, AMD uses VESA’s open Adaptive-Sync standard. This makes FreeSync much more readily available and lowers the prices of monitors that support it.
This doesn’t mean that manufacturers can label their monitors “FreeSync Ready.” As with G-Sync, they need to meet certain criteria set by AMD, but at least their certification doesn’t cost a thing.
It’s also worth noting that there is a way to enable G-Sync to run on a FreeSync monitor, however, it requires some tinkering with the settings and doesn’t always produce the best results.
This division doesn’t mean an NVIDIA card can’t run on a FresSync monitor or vice versa. In fact, they can do so pretty easily, but they won’t be able to support their signature technologies.
FreeSync works in much the same manner as G-Sync. It dynamically adjusts and synchronizes the monitor refresh rate and outputted frames per second so that there’s no screen tearing whatsoever.
Another fix brought by these technologies, which has been an issue with VSync, is input lag. With VSync, due to the difference between frames being processed and those seen on the monitor, this has been quite a significant downside.
Although it was not specifically designed to be easier on the eyes, FreeSync can boast about lowering the levels of flicker, which shouldn’t be ignored.
The ‘Premium’ part of the name immediately suggests an extra cost. It almost feels like a cheap shot from AMD, as the name is worryingly reminiscent of the detested freemium model in the video game world. However, that absolutely is not the case.
First shown to the world at CES 2020, FreeSync Premium looked to build upon its predecessor, retaining its features while adding some unique touches.
One of these innovations is low framerate compensation (LFC), which addresses the framerate dropping below the monitor’s range. For example, if the FPS drops below the monitor’s 30Hz range, LFC will increase the monitor’s refresh rate with a consistent ratio. So, if the game is at 25 FPS, LFC will set the refresh rate to 50Hz, and that will still prevent the gamer from being affected by screen tearing.
Another cool thing about Premium is that it requires a refresh rate of at least 120Hz when gaming at full high-definition resolution (1920 × 1080).
The downside of FreeSync Premium is that it’s a relatively new technology, and not many monitors support it. Of course, this is likely a temporary issue and should be solved with time.
FreeSync Premium Pro
It’s obvious that AMD struggled with creative names if this is the best they came up with. It was originally known as FreeSync 2 HDR, but it seems they needed a way to convey that Premium Pro is a step above Premium.
This edition is aimed at those playing with HDR and equipped with an RDNA 2 GPU.
What this HDR (high-dynamic-range imaging) support means for Pro is that it will deliver smooth HDR performance, while FreeSync and FreeSync Premium will be limited due to processing bandwidth. It’s important to note that, as of 2023, the list of games that support FreeSync Premium Pro is not very large. Big AAA games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and Far Cry 6 are on this list, but some notable omissions show this technology is still in its infancy.
Like Premium, Pro retains all of its predecessor’s features, including Premium’s LFC.
Which One Is The Best For You?
Although each of these FreeSync incarnations eliminates the core issue of screen tearing, it’s obvious that FreeSync Premium Pro is the best option right now.
With ray tracing coming to AMD’s range of GPUs, acquiring a monitor that can support HDR is a must if you want extraordinary visuals in your games.
Both DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.1 appear to feature native VRR (variable refresh rate), so it might be wise to hold off getting a FreeSync monitor if that’s the deciding factor, as alternatives are gaining traction.
However, it’s also worth mentioning that research into diverging prices has been inconclusive.
The current consensus in the world of technology seems to suggest that we continue to hold off for a while longer before getting new tech.