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Why AMD FreeSync is beating Nvidia G-Sync on monitor selection and price

Jared Newman | Oct. 13, 2016
Hint: It's not just the cost of the proprietary module.

Let’s say you’ve just bought one of Nvidia’s slick new Pascal-based GeForce graphics cards such as the GTX 1070, and now you’re seeking a G-Sync monitor to go with it.

Looking at what’s available, you’ll probably become envious of PC gamers on the Radeon side of the fence. Compared to G-Sync monitors, displays supporting AMD’s FreeSync adaptive sync tech are generally much cheaper, with a wider range of vendors and tech specs to choose from. The website 144HzMonitors lists 20 available G-Sync monitors, versus 85 FreeSync monitors, the latter showing more combinations of screen size, refresh rate, and resolution.

Why the disparity? The conventional wisdom is that Nvidia’s proprietary G-Sync hardware module raises the monitor price due to licensing fees, but that’s not a satisfying explanation. Nvidia is still far and away the market share leader in graphics cards, so you’d think that most monitor makers would create G-Sync variants of their FreeSync displays and at least give GeForce users the option of absorbing the module cost.

As I started talking to monitor makers, a more complicated picture emerged. The real reason for G-Sync’s limited availability is as much about design and development concerns as it is about the price of the module itself.

G-Sync vs. FreeSync refresher

PCWorld has already published a detailed primer on G-Sync and FreeSync, but the gist is that both technologies allow the graphics card to adjust the monitor’s refresh rate on the fly, matching it to the PC’s current framerate. This prevents the screen tearing effect that occurs when refresh rate and framerate fall out of sync, and (mostly) eliminates stutter, creating a buttery-smooth gameplay experience.

catalyst omega amd freesync

G-Sync accomplishes these variable refresh rates with a proprietary hardware module, which is built into every supported monitor. With FreeSync, no such module is required, because it uses the variable refresh rate tech that’s part of the DisplayPort standard (and, more recently, HDMI as well). But again, the lack of extra hardware is not the only reason FreeSync monitors are cheaper and more readily available.

Design costs

Some display makers say Nvidia’s module requires more room inside the monitor enclosure. While that may not seem like a big deal, creating a custom product design for one type of monitor raises development costs considerably, says Minhee Kim, a leader of LG’s PC and monitor marketing and communications. By comparison, Kim says, AMD’s approach is more open, in that monitor makers can include the technology in their existing designs.

“Set makers could adopt their technology at much cheaper cost with no need to change design,” Kim says. “This makes it easier to spread models not only for serious gaming monitors but also for mid-range models.”

 

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