So you just got the latest PC title and are excited to fire up your machine to give it a go. You start the game but notice that the image sometimes seems to skip a bit. The smoothness you expected to see with all your new gear is being ruined.
Don’t worry: This is a common issue, and Nvidia has developed a tool to eliminate this problem. It’s called G-Sync, and with the right GPU and the monitor, choppy displays are a thing of the past.
A solution to a problem
Few computing programs require more system resources than games, and game developers are known to always push graphics hardware to their limits. Because of that, sometimes your graphics card and monitor can get out of sync, meaning the the graphics card sends a frame in the middle of a monitor’s refresh rate.
The monitor then ends up drawing parts of multiple frames on the display at the same time. This can result in visually discernable artifacts known as “tears,” or tearing — a form of distortion where objects on the screen appear to be out of alignment.
You can keep your GPU and monitor in sync by enabling V-sync, which causes the GPU to send frames to the screen in sync with the monitor’s refresh rate (usually at 60Hz, or 60 times per second). However, while maintaining sync via V-sync eliminates tearing, it can introduce yet another artifact called “stuttering,” as well as input lag.
G-Sync is a hardware-based tech that manipulates the display panel’s VBI (vertical blanking interval). VBI represents the interval between the time when a monitor finishes drawing the current frame, and the beginning of the next frame.
During this interval, no screen refresh data is sent to the monitor. When G-Sync is active, the graphics card in your PC waits until the monitor is ready to receive another frame before sending it. This keeps everything in sync and eliminates annoying and distracting visual artifacts.
A G-Sync board contains 768MB of DDR3 memory, which stores the previous frame so that it can be compared to the next incoming frame. It does this to decrease input lag.
G-Sync allows a monitor to support variable refresh rates, which are often redrawn at widely varying intervals. Syncing the GPU and monitor’s refresh rates helps make in-game animations appear smoother.
Manufacturers have jumped on board
Because it is a hardware solution, individual monitors need to have the technology implemented. Fortunately, most of the major monitor manufacturers, including Asus, Philips, BenQ, AOC, Samsung, and LG have deployed G-Sync on some of their displays.
As for the monitors themselves, they range in sizes between 20 and 30-inches, support 120Hz or 144Hz refresh rates, and they come in resolutions ranging from 1,920×1,080 to 3,840×2,160. Prices range from about $100 to well over a $1,000. For example, Asus’ ROG Swift PG279Q 27-inch monitor, lists for $698.
However, it’s important to note that you’ll also need a G-Sync-enabled Nvidia graphics card to take advantage of this new technology. Most newer Nvidia cards, like the GTX 10 series, as well as more powerful cards, like the GTX Titan Black, are all G-Sync-ready. You can check out the full list of supported cards and GPUs here.
A couple downsides
That’s not to say the technology is without its drawbacks. First is the price. Whether you’re looking at a laptop or desktop setup, G-Sync requires both a capable monitor and graphics card. Purchasing each separately for a desktop costs about $500, and laptops that incorporate both components all retail at over $1,000.
In addition, users have noted a lack of compatibility with Nvidia’s Optimus technology. Optimus, implemented in many laptops, adjusts graphics performance on the fly to provide necessary power to graphics-intensive programs and optimize battery life. Because the technology relies on an integrated graphics system, frames are passed to the screen at a set interval, not as they are created in the case of G-Sync. One can purchase an Optimus-capable device or a G-Sync-capable device, but there exists no laptop that can do both.
Alternatives to G-Sync
You should also be aware that AMD, Nvidia’s rival, promotes its own variable refresh rate technology, dubbed “FreeSync.”
Because FreeSync operates using the existing DisplayPort interface present on most monitors, the tech doesn’t require additional AMD hardware (aside from the AMD GPU, that is) to enable variable VBI. In fact, according to AMD, its GPUs have supported variable refresh rates for a few generations.
As a result, there are more monitors that support FreeSync than G-Sync. Furthermore, because these monitors don’t require the manufacturer to install additional hardware, they may run cheaper than their G-Sync capable counterparts. For example, Asus’ MG279Q is about $100 less than the aforementioned ROG Swift monitor.
Each technology has its own strengths, but there is a plethora of graphics card and monitor combinations that support these features. If you’re tired of the graphical glitches caused by your monitor and GPU being out of sync, help has arrived.