If you’ve ever tinkered with the video settings of a game, you have likely stumbled upon the option to turn VSync on or off. More often than not, this is not accompanied by any explanation as to what VSync is and the name itself isn’t very intuitive either.
In short, VSync is short for Vertical Synchronization and it is used to fight the problem of screen tearing.
Simply put, this issue occurs when your graphics card is producing more frames than what your monitor can show on the screen.
For example, if your GPU is able to output 80 frames per second and your monitor has a 60Mhz refresh rate, the monitor will attempt to squeeze in those 80 frames in 60 refresh cycles, causing some parts of the screen to be displayed out of sync, causing screen tearing.
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What Is VSync?
Although PC gaming has existed for a few decades, it wasn’t until the rapid technological development of graphics cards in the 2000s that we first witnessed the issue of screen tearing. The reason for this is that the GPU technology moved forward while the display technology moved at a snail’s pace, to say the least.
Worst of all, screen tearing was accepted by gamers as simply a waiting game until monitors with faster refresh rates were developed. Fortunately, some people had other ideas.
VSync is the original solution developed for the screen tearing problem. It involves limiting the GPU output software-side to match the monitor’s maximum refresh rate. Although theoretically this sounds like a perfect solution, there are a host of issues and they are the main reason why VSync is largely considered obsolete in 2021.
One of these issues occurs when the GPU is unable to perform up to the monitor’s refresh rate. As a result, the monitor will leave the previous image on display until the next one is ready, which causes visual stuttering. Luckily, there are technologies much better equipped to deal with this exact problem, but more on that later.
Probably the biggest issue there is with VSync is the input lag. This problem is particularly annoying with games where quick reactions are necessary, like a shooter game. It’s even more frustrating if the game in question is a multiplayer game where your opponent might end up beating you simply because they use a different syncing solution.
Should You Use VSync?
Of course, the simplest answer from what we went over would be yes, you should use VSync. The advantages are clear, while the disadvantages are a bit harder to notice.
However, the more complex (but more informed) answer is that you should only use VSync if it’s absolutely necessary. The reason for this advice may not seem clear straight away, but it’s quite simple – there are better alternatives.
As mentioned earlier, the VSync technology is quite rudimentary and it didn’t take long for other GPU giants to figure out their own solutions.
First and foremost, we have to give credit where credit’s due – VSync was the original solution. One that was a good solution at the time and the one that became a staple of graphics settings during the last decade.
However, while we can commend VSync for all of its success, we have to admit that its time has largely passed and that there are better alternatives out there. Let’s see which one is the best right now.
First up, we have AdaptiveSync, which is different from Nvidia’s Adaptive VSync (notice the extra ‘V’). AdaptiveSync is the only technology mentioned here that isn’t from either AMD or Nvidia. It was developed by VESA, the organization responsible for the DisplayPort standard, which is something widely used today.
To avoid confusion, both AMD and Nvidia are members of VESA, but weren’t part of the development process. AdaptiveSynce is also a free standard which means that any member of VESA can use it. In fact, both AMD and Nvidia used it to develop their own brand-specific screen tearing solutions.
Probably the best thing about this standard is the way it smooths out the stuttering when the FPS goes below the monitor’s refresh rate. It’s so good that it can feel like there are more frames than there actually are.
The way AdaptiveSync manages to pull this off is by allowing an image to be displayed as soon as it’s completely rendered while keeping the previous image up until that happens. Well, how’s that different from VSync?
It’s quite simple, really – AdaptiveSync changes the refresh rate of the monitor and forces it to wait until the frame is ready in order to load it up. You can take a look at the graphics below to better visualize this.
FastSync is Nvidia’s version of AdaptiveSync and an upgrade to its own Adaptive VSync which, as we’ve said, was considered a bit of a mess. As the industry leader that it is, Nvidia quickly responded to its own failure with FastSync.
Essentially, FastSync attempts to do the same thing as the AdaptiveSync standard but runs into some issues where the stuttering and chopping is more noticeable. It does its job, but we can only recommend using it if you’re gaming online.
It’s worth pointing out that, much like the tech it’s trying to emulate, it’s still a better choice than VSync.
While the previous entry was Nvidia’s attempt at fixing the vertical synchronization issues, this is AMD’s crack at it.
In fairness, there isn’t much to say about the way AMD went about this. Enhanced Sync can truthfully be considered the same as FastSync, but with AMD’s branding all over it.
The same issue that plagues FastSync, occasional stuttering, is noticeable here as well. Although both technologies were developed from the idea of eliminating stuttering, neither succeeded entirely, although both were great attempts, considering their respective release dates. All in all, Enhanced Sync does manage to decrease the stuttering level of VSync.
Now we’re cooking with gas. G-Sync is Nvidia’s variable refresh rate solution for screen tearing and we’re happy to report that it works perfectly.
For Nvidia, and for any other company out there, being the first to market a given product has its benefits. Nvidia was determined to take full advantage of this and sought to leave no money on the table. That’s right, as much as G-Sync is the perfect solution for screen tearing, it comes at a price.
In order for Nvidia to be able to solve the problem of adjusting the monitor’s refresh rate, they had to invent a module that’s used directly on the monitors themselves. This module, in conjunction with the software solution, is able to dynamically change the monitor’s refresh rate in order to match the production of the GPU.
This excellent and innovative solution requires the installation of said module by monitor manufacturers. As such, Nvidia chose to charge money for it, hence the additional cost for us consumers.
The key reason why G-Sync is a better technology than VSync is that it eliminates the input lag. The bane of every gamer since the invention of VSync is finally a thing of the past.
This is the latest addition to the G-Sync brand with which we can finally somewhat justify the additional cost. Nvidia made sure that this was noticeable and required an extremely thorough and demanding inspection to be passed by monitor manufacturers in order to implement their G-Sync module.
The reason for this is simple – G-Sync Ultimate brings a lot to the table. Nvidia managed to tack on 152 backlight zones which means that the IPS panel is capable of producing HDR images with additional precision.
As you might’ve guessed, this is AMD’s screen tearing solution. However, as it’s obvious from the name alone, AMD decided to allow their module to be completely free.
Its reasoning is probably two-fold – one being that Nvidia was the first company to market and it lagged behind, and the other being that Nvidia chose to charge money for their product, so making its solution free could bring a competitive edge to AMD.
To cut the speculation, we have to admit that FreeSync is equally as good as G-Sync and the fact that it’s free makes it definitely better. However, things aren’t always that simple and that’s the case here as well. One of the reasons why Nvidia charges monitor manufacturers for the use of its G-Sync module is to ensure the exclusivity of its cards because G-Sync monitors can only work with Nvidia cards.
One might think that AMD would do the same, but the fact of the matter is that FreeSync monitors can be used with both AMD and Nvidia cards. Of course, there’s a caveat there as well in so far as not all FreeSync monitors are compatible with Nvidia cards.
In 2019, Nvidia shocked the world when they announced that their G-Sync cards would have support for FreeSync monitors. Naturally, there are rigorous standards to be met, but the fact remains that the best option is currently a FreeSync monitor.
Much like the G-Sync technology, FreeSync reduces that pesky input lag. Another thing that AMD can boast about is FreeSync’s reduced flicker, which can really come in handy in those long gaming sessions.
AMD attempted to improve upon their FreeSync model with FreeSync Premium, and we can say that they did a really good job.
Premium brings a host of improvements, with the most notable being the Low Framerate Compensation. This innovation handles the frame rate dropping below the monitor’s range by doubling the FPS number and using it as the monitor’s refresh rate. This eliminates the tearing and, although the frame rate will be lower, it will be consistent.
FreeSync Premium Pro
As the name suggests, Premium Pro is another upgrade on the FreeSync technology. In this particular case, it aims to maintain stability as AMD’s ray-tracing-enabled cards see their release.
Much like G-Sync Ultimate, Premium Pro looks to maintain the proper refresh rate of the monitor in order to properly display HDR images that are brought by high-quality images of the latest graphics cards.
Why You Shouldn’t Use VSync
As suggested, VSync just simply isn’t an optimal solution. The worst part is that it causes input lag, which obviously no gamer wants.
If available, we would recommend either G-Sync or FreeSync, depending on what graphics card you have. As mentioned earlier, FreeSync appears to be a better choice at this point with even Nvidia adapting to it.
It’s important to point out that if your monitor is neither G-Sync nor FreeSync compatible, you’ll have to go for VSync, which will eliminate screen tearing anyway.