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FreeSync: AMD's Approach To Variable Refresh Rates

Conclusion

Our prediction on the evolution of variable-refresh-rate technologies

Given the dramatically different approaches Nvidia and AMD are taking, the whole industry is going through an almost textbook market case study. Will the custom-built, higher-priced Nvidia solution win in the long run, or will the open standard-based industry strategy AMD is using see wider adoption?

One thing is certain: The standards battle is further polarizing the whole display chain purchasing process. You will no longer buy a GPU on its own merits. From now on, you will need to carefully think about what GPU/display combination is right for you, as FreeSync and G-Sync displays are not fully interoperable with the opposing GPU vendor. They will work, but you lose the variable refresh rate feature.

If we were to make a prediction, we'd say G-Sync is likely to see greater adoption in the next year or so, both being first to market and more tightly controlled than FreeSync. As FreeSync improves and its adoption picks up, however, the benefits of a higher-priced G-Sync custom solution will erode. By late 2016 or so, FreeSync should offer similar consistency at a much lower price. Nvidia may then try to switch out FPGAs for application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to lower the price of G-Sync, but will then likely be forced to sit at the VESA table and the industry will eventually converge on a common (non-optional) standard.

One big push for standardization will come from display OEMs. Having both FreeSync and G-Sync variants of displays forces display OEMs to carry much higher inventories than a single variant for each product. For as long as sales volumes for these new technologies are small, that will not be an issue. As the technologies become increasingly mainstream, however, it will increasingly be a matter OEMs will grumble about.

Until true standardization happens, it will be Betamax versus VHS or Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD all over again. You'll need to make a choice that suits you, knowing that nothing is guaranteed to be future-proof in a standards war scenario.

Either way, we're really glad that AMD's FreeSync is gaining momentum. We've tried it hands-on, and it works just as well as G-Sync. Choice is great for consumers, and we need more of it in this space. When that choice includes approximately $200 in savings on a new technology that actually has real benefits, we're happy to say well-done AMD. Keep it up.


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Filippo L. Scognamiglio Pasini is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Graphics. Follow him on Twitter.

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