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FreeSync vs. G-Sync 2020: Which Variable Refresh Tech Is Best Today?

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

For the past seven years or so, the best gaming monitors have enjoyed something of a renaissance. Before Adaptive-Sync technology appeared in the form of Nvidia G-Sync and AMD FreeSync, the only thing performance-seeking gamers could hope for was a refresh rate above 60 Hz. Today, not only do we have monitors routinely operating at 144 Hz and some going even further, Nvidia and AMD have both been updating their respective technologies. In this new age of gaming displays, which Adaptive-Sync technology reigns supreme, G-Sync or FreeSync? 

FreeSync vs. G-Sync

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

For the uninitiated, Adaptive-Sync means that the monitor’s refresh cycle is synced with the rate at which the connected PC’s graphics card renders each frame of video, even if that rate changes. Games render each frame individually, and the rate can vary widely depending on the processing power of your PC’s graphics card. When a monitor’s refresh rate is fixed, it’s possible for the monitor to begin drawing a new frame before the current one has completed rendering. G-Sync, which works with Nvidia-based GPUs, and FreeSync, which works with AMD cards, solves that problem. The monitor draws every frame completely before  the video card sends the next one, thereby eliminating any tearing artifacts. 

Today, you’ll find dozens of monitors, even non-gaming ones, boasting some flavor of G-Sync, FreeSync or even both. If you haven’t committed to a graphics card technology yet or have the option to use either, you might be wondering which one is best. And if you have the option of using either, will one offer a greater gaming advantage over the other? 

G-Sync vs. FreeSync 

FreeSyncFreeSync PremiumFreeSync Premium ProG-SyncG-Sync UltimateG-Sync Compatibility 
No price premiumNo price premiumNo price premiumHDR and extended color supportRefresh rates of 144 Hz and higherValidated for artifact-free performance
Refresh rates of 60 Hz and higherRefresh rates of 120 Hz and higherRefresh rates of 120 Hz and higherFrame-doubling below 30 Hz to ensure Adaptive-Sync at all frame ratesHDR and extended color support with tone mappingMany G-Sync Compatible monitors can also run FreeSync
Many FreeSync monitors can also run G-SyncLow Framerate Compensation (LFC)HDR and extended color supportUltra-low motion blurMinimum 1,000 nits max brightness
May have HDR supportMay have HDR support (Many FreeSync Premium monitors can also run G-Sync with HDR)Low Framerate Compensation (LFC)Ultra-low motion blur
No specified peak output, but most will deliver at least 600 nits
Many FreeSync Premium Pro monitors can also run G-Sync with HDR

Fundamentally, G-Sync and FreeSync are the same. They both sync the monitor to the graphics card and let that component control the refresh rate on a continuously variable basis. To meet each certification, a monitor has to meet the respective requirements detailed above. But a monitor can also beyond the requirements. For example, a FreeSync monitor isn't required to have HDR, but some do, and some FreeSync monitors achieve motion blur via a proprietary partner tech, like Asus ELMB Sync. 

Can the user see a difference between the two? In our experience, there is no visual difference when frame rates are the same.

We did a blind test in 2015 and found that when all other parameters are equal between two monitors, G-Sync had a slight edge over the still-new-at-the-time FreeSync. But a lot has happened since then. Our monitor reviews have highlighted a few things that can add or subtract from the gaming experience that have little to nothing to do with refresh rates and Adaptive-Sync technologies.

The HDR quality is also subjective at this time, although G-Sync Ultimate claims better HDR due to its dynamic tone mapping. 

It then comes down to the feature set of the rival technologies. What does all this mean? Let’s take a look.

G-Sync Features  

FreeSync vs. G-Sync

(Image credit: Nvidia)

G-Sync monitors typically carry a price premium because they contain the extra hardware needed to support Nvidia’s version of adaptive refresh. When G-Sync was new (Nvidia introduced it in 2013), it would cost you about $200 extra to purchase the G-Sync version of a display, all other features and specs being the same. Today, the gap is closer to $100.

There are a few guarantees you get with G-Sync monitors that aren’t always available in their FreeSync counterparts. One is blur-reduction (ULMB) in the form of a backlight strobe. ULMB is Nvidia’s name for this feature; some FreeSync monitors also have it under a different name, but all G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate (not G-Sync Compatible) monitors have it. While this works in place of Adaptive-Sync, some users prefer it, perceiving it to have lower input lag. We haven’t been able to substantiate this in testing. Of course, when you run at 100 frames per second (fps) or higher, blur is a non-issue, and input lag is super-low, so you might as well keep things tight with G-Sync engaged. 

G-Sync also guarantees that you will never see a frame tear even at the lowest refresh rates. Below 30 Hz, G-Sync monitors double the frame renders (and thereby doubling the refresh rate) to keep them running in the adaptive refresh range.

FreeSync Features 

FreeSync vs. G-Sync

(Image credit: AMD)

FreeSync has a price advantage over G-Sync because it uses an open-source standard created by VESA, Adaptive-Sync, which is also part of VESA’s DisplayPort spec. 

Any DisplayPort interface version 1.2a or higher can support adaptive refresh rates. While a manufacturer may choose not to implement it, the hardware is there already, hence, there’s no additional production cost for the maker to implement FreeSync. FreeSync can also work with HDMI 1.4.  (For help understanding which is best for gaming, see our DisplayPort vs. HDMI analysis.) 

Because of its open nature, FreeSync implementation varies widely between monitors. Budget displays will typically get FreeSync and a 60 Hz or greater refresh rate. The most low-priced displays likely won’t get blur-reduction, and the lower limit of the Adaptive-Sync range might be just 48 Hz. However, there are FreeSync (as well as G-Sync) displays that operate at 30 Hz or, according to AMD, even lower. 

But FreeSync Adaptive-Sync works just as well as any G-Sync monitor. Pricier FreeSync monitors add blur reduction and Low Framerate Compensation (LFC) to compete better against their G-Sync counterparts.

G-Sync vs. FreeSync: Which Is Better for HDR? 

To add even more choices to a potentially confusing market, AMD and Nvidia have upped the game with new versions of their Adaptive-Sync technologies. This is justified, rightly so, by some important additions to display tech, namely HDR and extended color. 

FreeSync vs. G-Sync

(Image credit: Nvidia)

On the Nvidia side, a monitor can support G-Sync with HDR and extended color without earning the “Ultimate” certification. Nvidia assigns that moniker to specific monitors that include 1,000 nits peak brightness, (which all the currently certified monitors achieve via the desirable full-array local dimming (FALD) backlight technology). There are many displays that are plain G-Sync (sans Ultimate) with HDR and extended color. 

A monitor must support HDR, extended color, hit a minimum of 120 Hz at 1080p and have LFC for it to list FreeSync Premium on its specs sheet. If you’re wondering about FreeSync 2, AMD has supplanted that with FreeSync Premium Pro. Functionally, they are the same. 

Here’s another fact: If you have an HDR monitor (for recommendations, see our article on picking the best HDR monitor) that supports FreeSync with HDR, there’s a good chance it will also support G-Sync with HDR (and without HDR too). We’ve reviewed a number of these. We’ll provide a list at the end of this article with links to the reviews. 

FreeSync vs. G-Sync

(Image credit: AMD)

And what of FreeSync Premium Pro? It’s the same situation as G-Sync Ultimate in that it doesn’t offer anything new to core Adaptive-Sync tech. It simply means AMD has certified that monitor to provide a premium experience with at least a 120 Hz refresh rate, LFC and HDR. There is no brightness requirement nor is a FALD backlight part of the spec. 

Running G-Sync on a FreeSync Monitor 

We’ve covered this subject in multiple monitor reviews and in this article on how to run G-Sync on a FreeSync monitor. It’s pretty simple, actually. 

First, you make sure you have the latest Nvidia drivers installed (anything dated after January of 2019 will work) and hook up a FreeSync monitor. Chances are that the FreeSync monitor will run G-Sync with your Nvidia graphics card -- even if Nvidia hasn’t officially certified the monitor as G-Sync Compatible.  And if the monitor supports HDR, that will likely work with G-Sync too. 

A visit to Nvidia’s website reveals a list of monitors that have been certified to run G-Sync. Purchasing an official G-Sync Compatible monitor guarantees you’ll be able to use our instructions linked above. 

FreeSync Monitors We’ve Tested That Support G-Sync 

The monitors in the list below were all tested by Tom’s Hardware on systems with both Nvidia and AMD graphics cards, and all of them supported both G-Sync and FreeSync without issue. This includes monitors that Nvidia hasn’t officially certified as being G-Sync Compatible and, therefore, aren’t on Nvidia’s list. Additionally, the ones with HDR and extended color delivered Adaptive-Sync in games that support those features. 

Conclusion

So which is better: G-Sync or FreeSync? Well, with the features being so similar there is no reason to select a particular monitor just because it runs one over the other. Since both technologies produce the same result, that contest is a wash at this point.

Instead, those shopping for a PC monitor have to decide which additional features are important to them. How high should the refresh rate be? How much resolution can your graphics card handle? Is high brightness important? Do you want HDR and extended color? If you’re an HDR user, can you afford a FALD backlight?

It’s the combination of these elements that impacts the gaming experience, not simply which adaptive sync technology is in use. Ultimately, the more you spend, the better gaming monitor you’ll get. These days, when it comes to displays, you do get what you pay for. But you don't have pay thousands to get a good, smooth gaming experience.

MORE: Best Gaming Monitors

MORE: Best 4K Gaming Monitors

MORE: How We Test Monitors

MORE: All Monitor Content

  • cyrusfox
    So many words, with no concrete conclusion(or data). Where is a critical opinion in this article...
    I'll inject my own as I was so frustrated to read something this meandering(long) and then come to such a bland conclusion. I was really expecting some sort of test rather than a wall of text on features.

    Short conclusion:
    G-sync guarenteed to get better results for a higher price and only compatible with one flavor of cards(Green team).
    Freesync can work just as well, is free, but with no guarentees and not consistently applied so do your homework on the monitor.

    From my own use, I have 2 LG4k monitors(LG 27UK600) that are freesync supported, I have G-sync enabled on them(TB3 1050 dock and a 1080 on the desktop), I can not tell a difference, maybe there is a benefit, although not one I can perceive.
    Reply
  • icedeocampo
    Link to Dell S3220DGF points to the Acer Monitor.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    cyrusfox said:
    So many words, with no concrete conclusion(or data). Where is a critical opinion in this article...
    I'll inject my own as I was so frustrated to read something this meandering(long) and then come to such a bland conclusion. I was really expecting some sort of test rather than a wall of text on features.

    Short conclusion:
    G-sync guarenteed to get better results for a higher price and only compatible with one flavor of cards(Green team).
    Freesync can work just as well, is free, but with no guarentees and not consistently applied so do your homework on the monitor.

    From my own use, I have 2 LG4k monitors(LG 27UK600) that are freesync supported, I have G-sync enabled on them(TB3 1050 dock and a 1080 on the desktop), I can not tell a difference, maybe there is a benefit, although not one I can perceive.

    And what games at what resolution are you running? Neither GSync or Freesync will make one bit of difference on the desktop. This is an anti tearing technology - which happens at high resolution and high frame rates.

    I have had a real G Sync monitor since the original that only worked with the Asus monitor... It has improved greatly and is very noticeable - would not expect anything with a Free Sync monitor that is G Sync "compatible" - just won't be a big deal at all.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    I still don't see a single 2560x1440 monitor that's compatible with both FreeSync Premium Pro and G-Sync HDR. When there is, I will buy it.

    See:
    https://www.amd.com/en/products/freesync-monitorshttps://www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce/products/g-sync-monitors/specs/
    I don't want 4k, and anything wider than a 27" 16:9 monitor won't fit in my setup.
    Reply
  • sizzling
    bit_user said:
    I still don't see a single 2560x1440 monitor that's compatible with both FreeSync Premium Pro and G-Sync HDR. When there is, I will buy it.

    See:
    https://www.amd.com/en/products/freesync-monitorshttps://www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce/products/g-sync-monitors/specs/
    I don't want 4k, and anything wider than a 27" 16:9 monitor won't fit in my setup.


    So this monitor definitely has G-Sync HDR, I am using it but it’s not on that list. I am not sure about version of Freesync as the spec’s don’t confirm this and I not running FreeSync. https://www.lg.com/us/monitors/lg-27gl83a-b-gaming-monitor
    Reply
  • bit_user
    sizzling said:
    So this monitor definitely has G-Sync HDR, I am using it but it’s not on that list.
    Does it support G-Sync and HDR, simultaneously? I don't know what are Nvidia's criteria for stating a G-Sync monitor supports HDR, but you could look into that, if you're curious.

    sizzling said:
    I am not sure about version of Freesync as the spec’s don’t confirm this and I not running FreeSync. https://www.lg.com/us/monitors/lg-27gl83a-b-gaming-monitor
    I almost bought one, last December. Amazon briefly had quite an amazing deal on them.

    According to the link I posted above, it's "FreeSync Premium", whereas "Premium Pro" is their HDR tier. The tiers are defined here:
    https://www.amd.com/en/technologies/free-sync
    Reply
  • bit_user
    BTW, Gigabyte's FI27Q-P is 90% there, for me. It has G-Sync HDR, but only Freesync Premium. Also, customer reviews complain about backlight bleed, near the bottom.

    But, the cool thing about it is that it features DisplayPort HBR 3, which enables 10-bit at higher refresh rates (and maybe that's what qualified it for G-Sync HDR?).
    Reply
  • sizzling
    bit_user said:
    Does it support G-Sync and HDR, simultaneously? I don't know what are Nvidia's criteria for stating a G-Sync monitor supports HDR, but you could look into that, if you're curious.


    I almost bought one, last December. Amazon briefly had quite an amazing deal on them.

    According to the link I posted above, it's "FreeSync Premium", whereas "Premium Pro" is their HDR tier. The tiers are defined here:
    https://www.amd.com/en/technologies/free-sync
    It definitely has G-Sync and HDR on at the same time. That’s how I’m using it.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    sizzling said:
    It definitely has G-Sync and HDR on at the same time. That’s how I’m using it.
    Well... they don't really say what qualifies a monitor as G-Sync HDR, but maybe some aspect of its HDR implementation isn't up to their standards.

    https://www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce/news/g-sync-ces-2019-announcements/
    Reply
  • sizzling
    bit_user said:
    Well... they don't really say what qualifies a monitor as G-Sync HDR, but maybe some aspect of its HDR implementation isn't up to their standards.

    https://www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce/news/g-sync-ces-2019-announcements/
    Maybe, I don’t know. This does illustrate how confusing and difficult it is to get hard facts about these features.
    Reply