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Hands-on with AMD's FreeSync: The technology that could kill Nvidia's G-Sync

Gordon Mah Ung | March 20, 2015
If there's one thing tech market doesn't need, it's another standards cat fight. But you survived Firewire vs. USB, HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray, and RDRAM vs. DDR so get ready for the battle between Nvidia's G-Sync and AMD's FreeSync to kick into high gear.

That makes this whole standards war even harder. If one were clearly superior you might want to root for one, but both technologies seem to work, and for most people the end result will be the same. Yes, there is a chance Nvidia could spring some secret feature since its technique reaches far deeper into the guts of a monitor than AMD's, but for variable refresh rates, most people won't be able to tell any difference. AMD says FreeSync actually improves frame rate over G-Sync when enabled, but the difference is minimal. With FreeSync on, you might see a 0.16-percent boost versus a minus 1.14-percent frame rate hit on G-Sync. Really?

That leave's consumers in a pretty tough bind on a new monitor purchase: Do you pick G-Sync or FreeSync on something you'll probably use for at least the next five years? 

And if you think that's hard, imagine being a monitor maker stuck in the middle. Most of the G-Sync panel vendors are also making FreeSync monitors.

PCWorld spoke to one panel maker, who asked not to be identified for fear of wrath from either company, and the vendor confirmed they wish it was over with Adaptive Sync crowned as the winner. 

At the same time, the vendor said AMD's claim that FreeSync is completely free isn't necessarily true, since panel makers must retool to bake in FreeSync. The cost still won't be as high as Nvidia's G-Sync module though: AMD claims those cost $150, but I'm told it's closer to $100. Nvidia officials declined to comment on cost; they also said the company doesn't spill details on its partner relationships.

In the end, the monitor vendor said it would be better for everyone if Nvidia and AMD would compete on GPU technology, drivers, and price rather than this sync war.

So who will win?

But back to the consumer who will be forced to choose between the two when buying a monitor. If the 11 monitors that support FreeSync actually all appear, it would mean AMD has an advantage in support. Even almost a year and a half after announcing G-Sync, the number of current G-Sync panels is six according to Nvidia's own page.  If AMD is right, and we see 20 FreeSync panels by the end of this year, that's a strength in numbers G-Sync has never enjoyed.

Nvidia's strength, on the other hand, is the popularity of its GPUs. Most hardware surveys give Nvidia roughly a 2:1 advantage in discrete graphics market share, which means there's a higher chance of a gamer buying a G-Sync monitor to match his or her Nvidia GPU. 

To balance that out, monitor's using FreeSync appear to have a price advantage: A 27-inch monitor with G-Sync and a resolution of 2560x1440 is $780. A competing monitor with the same-size panel and resolution is $630. In addition to the cost advantage, AMD points to the fact that since FreeSync is baked into the DisplayPort 1.2a spec, any new monitor introduced going forward will support FreeSync by default.

 

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