AMD’s FreeSync - Does It Hold up in 2020?

So is FreeSync worth it? We’ll answer this question, as well as which users would benefit from it the most.
Let’s first look at what FreeSync is and how it is different from both adaptive sync and G-Sync. Not only are we going to consider its benefits but also some of its disadvantages for gamers.

What Is FreeSync and How Does It Help?

In order to fully understand what FreeSync does, as well as its benefits, one first has to be familiar with the concepts screen tearing, V-Sync, and screen stuttering. We’ll try to keep each explanation as brief as possible.

The Problem that Is Screen Tearing

screen tearing
Simply put, whenever the framerate that your graphics card produces is faster than the refresh rate of your monitor, screen tearing takes place. In this situation, the monitor simply cannot adapt to the speed at which the graphics card sends images to it. As a result, the monitor displays torn and distorted images during gameplay.

V-Sync to the Rescue! (Perhaps?)

The solution to these screen tearing problems is a feature called V-Sync. When a user enables V-sync, they force the computer’s GPU to limit its FPS in accordance with the monitor’s refresh rate. They can either enable it through the game’s settings or the GPU’s settings.
Let’s say we are using a 60Hz monitor, and the average frame rate that our graphics card produces is 85 FPS. V-Sync will strike a balance by allowing our GPU to produce the maximum of 60 FPS. As a result, screen tearing won’t happen. So this solves the problem, or… does it? Well, not exactly. There’s another problem to consider.

Enter Screen Stuttering

One thing our readers are probably aware of is the inconsistent average FPS their graphics card can produce. By that, we mean that the GPU won’t be producing 60 FPS every step of the way. On the one hand, the GPU may go over its initial limit of 60 FPS. However, more demanding games will cause it to drop below this limit that we previously set. The latter is exemplified by explosions or other similar events in a game.
This drop in FPS is exactly what causes the screen to stutter, which stands in opposition to screen tearing. On the one hand, screen tearing is a result of our monitor not being able to produce all the images that the GPU is producing. On the other hand, screen stuttering is caused by the FPS of the GPU dropping below the refresh rate of the monitor. Better known as lagging among the gaming community, screen stuttering can cause quite a few problems for players competing against each other.

How Does AMD’s FreeSync Help Solve these Problems?

While the previous scenario made gamers choose the lesser of two evils, AMD’s FreeSync does away with both. Even though AMD wasn’t a pioneer in effectively solving the two problems, FreeSync is nowadays the option that most users resort to when dealing with screen stuttering and tearing. Moreover, it is readily available and inexpensive.
As the name suggests, FreeSync allows for optimal synchronization of the GPU’s FPS and the refresh rate of the monitor. Enabling it will result in the monitor evenly displaying frames, which effectively avoids the screen both tearing and stuttering.

The Arguments For and Against FreeSync

FreeSync seems to be the perfect way to deal with the above-mentioned problems. However, we should also point out that it doesn’t come without its disadvantages. In fact, it is always a good idea to consider alternative solutions — G-Sync, to name one.
In that regard, we will take a closer look at one major advantage that FreeSync has to offer, as well as at a few of its drawbacks.

FreeSync Is Much More Affordable than G-Sync

The FreeSync technology that AMD offers wins the affordability match against the G-Sync monitors that NVIDIA makes.
The major difference is the basis for the two pieces of technology. FreeSync, being a derivative of the open source sync standard, is software-based. On the other hand, the G-Sync technology is hardware-based. Basically, there is a price to pay if the manufacturer wants to include a G-Sync module in their monitor.
However, this financial “ailment” passes onto the users themselves. This means that the owner shares the cost of installing a G-Sync module into a monitor they bought. Of course, the manufacturer is not the one who should take all the blame.
This significantly ups the cost of G-Sync monitors, which results in FreeSync monitors dominating the market, due to their prices. For example, while a quality FreeSync monitor can cost up to $200 dollars, the cheapest G-Sync monitors (such as the Lenovo Y27g) cost around $150 dollars more. This difference clearly shows that implementing FreeSync costs less, making its implementation much easier.

Free Sync: Loose Standards = an Inconsistent Experience

Another problem that gamers have to consider is the inconsistency between different FreeSync monitors. While the variable refresh rate will range between 40–144Hz on some monitors, this range is significantly more narrow on others (48–75Hz). Think of them as the Androids of the monitor world. While Android is an open-source OS, not specifically tied to any particular phone, it’s pretty inconsistent across devices.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, G-Sync monitors are more akin to Apple iOS. This essentially means that they have to meet a set of specific criteria to earn the G-Sync name. These criteria ensure that anyone who buys them gets the best performance, without any stuttering or tearing.
Obviously, this is not the case with FreeSync monitors. As we’ve already explained, the reduction of tearing and stuttering varies between monitors. So even though they are affordable, they ultimately do not bring the best experience concerning the variable refresh rate. For example, shops market the Acer SB220Q as a FreeSync monitor, yet we couldn’t find it on AMD’s official list.
This essentially means that those who have an AMD GPU looking to buy a FreeSync monitor would have to do some additional research. Having in mind how varied the display options between these monitors are, it will take time to make sure you are buying the one that suits you the best.

NVIDIA Graphics Cards are Incompatible with FreeSync

Even though the above-mentioned difference in price makes it clear who the winner is, things are not that simple. A GTX 1070 will not work with FreeSync.
The problem created by both FreeSync and G-Sync is that both are compatible with their respective manufacturers’ graphics cards. This means that an NVIDIA GPU inevitably narrows one’s choice down to G-Sync monitors only, forcing them to pay a higher price.
The compatibility issue arises when one tries to pair FreeSync with an NVIDIA graphics card, and vice versa. As a result, G-Sync monitors are rendered useless when combined with an AMD graphics card.

Is FreeSync Worth It? Our Final Thoughts

The short answer is — yes, it is. Basically, both G-Sync and FreeSync are worth it if the circumstances are right and they fulfill a user’s needs.
If you are already building a new mid to high-end gaming computer and you intend to include an AMD GPU in it, toss in a FreeSync monitor, and you’re good to go. The same goes if you already have it on your computer and are just looking for a new monitor.
Once again, we would like to note that buying a new FreeSync monitor can take a while because of how unequally they are built. You would have to find a FreeSync monitor that would cover a broad range of refresh rates — so prepare for a detailed search, and good luck!