You’ve probably heard of FreeSync and have often seen it compared to G-Sync and VSync. These are all basically solutions to the same problem but things can get confusing with so many terms. AMD’s FreeSync and its successors Premium and Premium Pro will be the focus of today’s article.
Before we dive into what these different incarnations of FreeSync bring to the table and how they differ from each other, it’s important to first understand the problem they’re trying to fix, as well as other solutions to the same issue. Of course, we’re talking about the dreaded screen tearing.
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So, FreeSync Solves Screen Tearing?
Well, yes. But it’s not the only technology that aims for it, nor was it the first.
Screen tearing is an effect that happens when either the graphics card is producing more frames than the monitor can display or when monitor refreshes too fast for the frames that the GPU has to send to it.
This is particularly annoying if you’ve invested in a high-performing GPU while keeping your old 60Hz monitor and you’re looking to play an FPS multiplayer game only to have your surroundings tear in two, costing you some much-valued kills.
To better understand FreeSync and its uses, we must consider other solutions as well.
Vertical Synchronization – VSync
Probably the first thing that comes to mind about VSync is how it has been a staple of PC games’ video settings for a while. VSync can be considered the original solution for this problem. Although it’s far from ideal, it produces the expected results.
In essence, vertical synchronization will forcefully lock your GPU to 60 FPS in order to prevent the monitor from playing catch-up and to have the monitor’s refresh rate and graphics cards’ output be, well, 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.
Well, in most cases at least. If the GPU’s performance dips below 60 FPS, which can happen due to the variability of game graphics required for production, then the monitor will leave the last image rendered. However, this happens faster than a split second.
This issue persisted when VSync was first introduced to the video gaming world, although now it’s slightly different. Nvidia was the first 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. What G-Sync does is allow 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 while 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 made monitor manufacturers use a dedicated G-Sync module.
You may be wondering why that affects you as a consumer. Overall, you won’t notice any issue in your gaming, but that module comes at a price. Display developers have to pay Nvidia to get that module so they have to increase their prices to balance the books. Additionally, G-Sync is only available for Nvidia’s GPUs.
Another exclusivity here is that G-Sync runs only 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 came out almost exactly two years after G-Sync. Many consider it a better solution, although performance-wise these two technologies are pretty even-keeled, as a matter of fact.
For that particular reason, it’s especially annoying that G-Sync still charges money for their tech, while AMD has allowed FreeSync, as the name suggests, to be used for free since its launch.
Besides this, while Nvidia requires G-Sync-ready monitors, AMD’s uses VESA’s open Adaptive-Sync standard. This makes FreeSync much more readily available and lowers the prices of monitors that support it.
This openness doesn’t mean that manufacturers can simply label their monitors “FreeSync Ready”. Much like with G-Sync, they need to meet certain requirements set by AMD, but at least that certification doesn’t cost a thing.
It’s also interesting to note that there is a way to enable G-Sync to run on a FreeSync monitor, although that requires some tinkering with the settings and doesn’t always have the best results.
Of course, this division doesn’t mean a Nvidia card can’t run on a FresSync monitor or vice versa; in fact, they can run pretty easily, but they won’t be able to support their signature technologies.
FreeSync works pretty much the same way G-Sync does. It dynamically adjusts and synchronizes the monitor refresh rate and frames per second being outputted so that there’s no screen tearing whatsoever.
Another fix brought by these technologies, and which has been an issue with VSync, is input lag. For VSync, due to the difference between frames actually being worked on and those seen on screen, this has been quite a big downside.
Even though it was not specifically designed to be easier on the eyes, FreeSync can technically boast about lowering the levels of flicker and that shouldn’t be ignored.
The ‘Premium’ part of the name immediately evokes an extra cost. It almost feels like a cheap shot from AMD, as the name is eerily reminiscent of the detested freemium model in the video game world. However, that’s absolutely not the case.
Introduced to the world at CES 2020, FreeSync Premium aimed to build on its predecessor, retaining its features while also adding its own unique touches.
One of the innovations is a low framerate compensation (LFC), which handles the framerate dropping below the monitor’s range. As such, 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 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 a lot of monitors out there support it. Of course, this is most likely an age issue and will be solved with time.
FreeSync Premium Pro
It’s obvious that AMD struggled with naming this one if this is the best they came up with. It was originally known as FreeSync 2 HDR, but it seems that they needed a way to convey that Premium Pro is a step above Premium.
This edition is aimed at those playing at 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 2021, the list of games that support FreeSync Premium Pro is not that large. Big AAA games like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, or Far Cry 6 are on this list, but there are some notable omissions that show that this technology is still somewhat 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 very obvious that FreeSync Premium Pro is the best option right now.
With ray tracing coming to the AMD’s brand of GPUs, getting a monitor that can support HDR is a must if you’re looking to have extraordinary visuals in your games.
Both DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.1 seem to feature native VRR (variable refresh rate) so it would be wise to maybe 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.
It appears that the general consensus at the moment in the world of technology is still unanimously suggesting us to hold off just a little bit more before getting new tech.