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G-Sync Or FreeSync Gaming Monitor: Guide To Variable Refresh Technology

Adaptive sync tech like FreeSync and G-Sync are key to gaming with variable refresh rates, but they have their differences that are worth knowing.

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One of PC gaming's biggest advantages over consoles is the ability to push frame rates higher than 60 and 120fps and utilize adaptive sync technology to keep that gameplay looking smooth, no matter how much the frame rate fluctuates. That's why if you're looking to jump into the world of PC gaming or get more serious about your setup, you'll want to know the difference between FreeSync and G-Sync, two important types of adaptive sync tech that will keep your gameplay looking and feeling as smooth as possible.

Adaptive sync technology like FreeSync and G-Sync synchronize your monitor's refresh rate with the frame rate outputted by your graphics card. That means if your gaming monitor is 144Hz, but your graphics card is pushing 100fps, your monitor's adaptive sync tech (either FreeSync or G-Sync) will bring your display's refresh rate down to 100Hz to keep your image feeling smooth and your inputs free of latency. FreeSync and G-Sync can be found in both gaming monitors and gaming TVs.

Read more: Best 4K Monitors for 2021

VSync, which stands for vertical sync, is a graphics option available in the vast majority of video games. This stabilizes your frame rate so that it never goes beyond your monitor's refresh rate. While this can help with keeping your gameplay free of screen tearing, it can cause performance issues and input lag that comes from the frames buffering. Adaptive sync tech like FreeSync and G-Sync take over for VSync, providing a much smoother, tear-free experience without needing to limit your refresh rate.

Adaptive sync is quite the game-changer, especially as more PC and console gamers adopt displays with higher refresh rates. But what exactly is the difference between FreeSync and G-Sync? What do you need to make sure you're getting the best experience? And why should you care? There are a lot of questions that definitely need to be answered before you jump in, so we've built this guide to help.

What is FreeSync?

FreeSync is an adaptive sync technology that was created by AMD for use with variable refresh rates and its graphics cards. When a monitor supports FreeSync, it can work with your AMD graphics card to match a display's refresh rate with your gameplay's frame rate. This AMD exclusivity was the case for some time, while Nvidia had its own version called G-Sync. However, Nvidia now supports FreeSync, allowing owners of FreeSync displays to use this tech with Nvidia's graphics cards--this is a certification called G-Sync Compatible. Nvidia provides certification for monitors to market themselves as G-Sync Compatible, but many non-certified FreeSync monitors are still compatible with Nvidia graphics cards--though to be safe, you'll want to make sure the monitor is certified G-Sync Compatible.

There are also a number of different versions of FreeSync. FreeSync is the base version, while FreeSync Premium is for displays that run at a minimum of 120Hz and 1080p. Premium also adds low frame rate compensation (LFC). This makes it so your gameplay will remain smooth even if the frame rate goes lower than the minimum supported refresh rate of your monitor. Premium Pro, the highest tier of FreeSync, has all of FreeSync Premium's benefits with the added benefit of using them with HDR turned on.

FreeSync monitors are much cheaper than those that have true G-Sync support as they utilize cable protocols in HDMI and DisplayPort as opposed to Nvidia's proprietary G-Sync processor that's built into its monitors. Many manufacturers have opted for FreeSync and G-Sync Compatible certification for this reason as they're able to put the G-Sync logo on the box of a monitor if it's compatible.

FreeSync monitors to consider:

What is G-Sync?

G-Sync is Nvidia's proprietary adaptive sync technology that works exclusively with its own graphics cards--there's no G-Sync Compatible alternative. Similar to FreeSync, it supports variable refresh rates and low input lag, though it has an extra bonus to boot: It features ultra-low motion blur (ULMB), which works to decrease motion blur during gameplay. This'll reduce the ghosting effect that sometimes appears when games run at high refresh rates. Like FreeSync, G-Sync also has a premium tier called G-Sync Ultimate. This is much like FreeSync Premium Pro as it supports HDR in addition to the other features G-Sync provides.

G-Sync monitors are tested extensively to work flawlessly with Nvidia graphics cards. If you typically buy Nvidia graphics cards, you'll get the most use out of a G-Sync monitor. G-Sync Compatible monitors, which feature FreeSync that works with Nvidia graphics cards to provide variable refresh rate smoothness, are not tested as extensively. That means the monitor won't support all of G-Sync's features, including ULMB.

Because G-Sync monitors use a proprietary processor to achieve their various features, they are always more expensive than their FreeSync counterparts.

G-Sync monitors to consider:

G-Sync vs. FreeSync: What's the difference?

G-Sync vs. FreeSync is less a question of which is better and more a quandary of what PC gaming hardware you already have or intend to buy and how much you're willing to spend. If you own or plan to buy an Nvidia graphics card, you can go with a monitor that has either G-Sync or FreeSync (G-Sync Compatible) and have an excellent setup--though a more expensive one, if you choose G-Sync. AMD graphics card owners will want to stick exclusively to FreeSync monitors.

I purchased my G-Sync Acer Predator XB271HU in 2016 when FreeSync was not supported by Nvidia graphics cards, though when it came time to get a new monitor in 2020, I purchased the LG GL850-B, a FreeSync monitor that's G-Sync Compatible. Both monitors are exceptional and have provided a great experience regardless of their adaptive sync tech, though the LG is a better performer overall. That makes sense considering it's a newer model, but even then, it's still normally $100 less than the Acer--not counting any discounts or deals.

Final thoughts: FreeSync or G-Sync?

In the end, G-Sync and FreeSync are key to a high refresh rate gaming experience, but adaptive sync isn't the only important feature when looking into a gaming monitor. There are plenty of great displays out there, and while some may be FreeSync, G-Sync Compatible, or dedicated G-Sync, the quality of the screen is the most important factor. From all the different monitor technologies to the display panel types, there's a lot that comes into play and assists adaptive sync in providing the best image and motion. Thankfully, both AMD and Nvidia users have a lot of great options to choose from, so while it may be a hard decision, there are a lot of solid choices.

If you're looking for a budget-friendly monitor this year, be sure to check out our guide to the best cheap gaming monitors for 2021. Plus, console owners should refer to our roundup of the best monitors for PS5 and Xbox Series X available right now.

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