G-Sync and FreeSync: What Do They Mean?

You’ve probably seen these terms around some gaming monitors: G-Sync and FreeSync. As displays get faster and more responsive, they now come with these fancy certifications from NVIDIA or AMD respectively, or even both. But, what do they mean — and is there one better than the other?

When push comes to shove, NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FreeSync are quite alike. Both technological certifications strive towards an improved synchronization between your monitor and the graphics card. The latter will continuously define the refresh rate of the former. It’s as simple as that.

AMD’s technology runs on VESA’s open-source Adaptive-Sync, while NVIDIA uses proprietary standards, which taxes display manufacturers too. This, of course, speaks volumes on the pricing of these little labels as well. Not surprisingly, AMD has also validated a bigger array of monitors for FreeSync.

Do note: to make full use of G-Sync or FreeSync, one needs to have the right hardware and firmware. Always make sure to update your graphics cards to the latest drivers, and check what video connectors (HDMI or DisplayPort) are needed for the syncing to take effect.

So, what do G-Sync and FreeSync do?

Both certifications combat imperfections like screen tearing, while ensuring you don’t miss any frames that your hardware sends out. Under this type of adaptive synchronization, all of your trusty frames are accounted for. No matter if it’s high or low frame rates — your display will “understand” what your card is cooking up.

By rigorously synchronizing, your display will stutter less and won’t pick up messy “half-frames”, which is highly beneficial for gaming scenarios. As frame rates are rising steadily, you’ll want a display that can continuously keep up with the rate at which your hardware runs. 

As such, displays with either G-Sync or FreeSync can be seen as monitors that more easily adapt to your gaming performance. Both are targeted mostly towards gamers, surprising no-one.  

Promotional photograph showing a PC gamer using a 360 Hz gaming display with NVIDIA G-Sync.

Is NVIDIA G-Sync better than AMD FreeSync?

The one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Especially now that both certifications come in different degrees, it gets harder to pinpoint the one technology that “syncs the best”. In the past, NVIDIA held higher standards for its G-Sync than AMD did for FreeSync, but the difference was negligible for most end users to begin with.

Which one is better suited for you personally, is something that you can discern quite easily. If you want quick-and-easy adaptive syncing, without paying too many additional branding costs, FreeSync should be your go-to. While displays with higher refresh rates get more out of both syncing technologies, FreeSync can even be found on more mainstream 60 Hertz displays. 

NVIDIA usually only opts for the slightly higher priced displays, while raising the bar on some of the requirements. Then again, an expensive G-Sync display from a few years back, can be easily outperformed by something brand new with the most basic of FreeSync certification.  

Also, take in mind that your current graphics card — which most likely either runs on either NVIDIA or AMD architecture — can also steer your preference for display certification. More on that, later. 

What about FreeSync Premium (Pro), G-Sync Ultimate, et cetera?

G-Sync has long had a more premium ring to its name — which still holds up — but those lines are getting blurred. The two aren’t all that different, anymore. Under FreeSync Premium and FreeSync Premium Pro, AMD now too validates displays that go further than just some adaptive refreshing. 

These newer flavors of FreeSync don’t always ensure the same specifications, but FreeSync Premium can only be boasted on displays refreshing at 120 Hz or higher. The “Pro” is often added on monitors that also support HDR, wider color gamuts, and increasingly bright back panelling. There is no clear cut-off for what should or shouldn’t be “Pro”, however. 

Through G-Sync Ultimate, NVIDIA upped the ante on their side again. For this certification, the refresh rate needs to support at least 144 Hz, latency has to be optimized, and HDR support has to be validated as “lifelike” by NVIDIA. These requirements are not always set in stone, not unlike AMD’s FreeSync Premium Pro.

On the other hand, there’s also G-Sync Compatible, which is hardly considered full-on G-Sync — or even adaptive sync in general. These displays are rendered “artifact-free” by NVIDIA, but don’t require any higher refresh rates or improved hardware synchronization. As most modern gaming monitors easily surpass these specifications, G-Sync Compatible might soon become a certification of the past. 

Can I use FreeSync with NVIDIA graphics cards? And vice versa?

This wasn’t always the case, but no: you don’t always need to have a graphics card from the corresponding manufacturer for the display optimization to work. Through the NVIDIA Control Panel, gamers can quite easily sync their GeForce graphics cards with FreeSync monitors. Not all promises made by AMD’s certification will work natively on NVIDIA cards, though.

The other way around works too, to some extent. AMD cards can easily talk to G-Sync monitors, but will often drop the Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) as soon as the two start talking to each other. The general connection will work and you’ll easily enjoy the optimized input latency, but your graphical hardware won’t freely define refresh rates in the display. 

Sometimes, there are ways to “fake” the two pieces of different technologies to work in unison. Some handy hackers have found ways to trick an NVIDIA display into accepting your AMD card as “one of their own”. This might be possible, but it’s heavily dependent on the screen, as well as your own commitment to tweak your graphics card on a system level. 

For the best results, it’s smart to keep all of your hardware in its corresponding lane. If you already run on a neat NVIDIA graphics card, it might be worthwhile to look for a G-Sync display, rather than something that exclusively features FreeSync. It’s not rocket science, but it needs to be stated nonetheless. 

Are you all sync’d up?

Rocket science or not, this concludes our quick guide into the world of NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FreeSync. Both are great — not necessarily better than the other — but at least now you know what they exactly mean. 

As gaming displays are getting increasingly faster, G-Sync and FreeSync might get some more mainstream appeal. As we brose for monitors, these two labels are going to pop-up more and more. Both brands might expand on what their synchronization entails with newer flavors or additional requirements, but for now, you’ll probably all up to speed.

Is there anything else still unclear to you? Or do you want to add your two cents on the “G-Sync versus FreeSync” debate? We would love to hear from you, either way. 

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