Podcast #344 - Intel SSD 750 Series, NZXT S340, an ASUS FreeSync Monitor and more!

Subject: General Tech | April 9, 2015 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: video, podcast, nvidia, mg279q, Intel, gsync, gigabyte, freesync, ddr4-3400, corsair, compute stick, asus, amd, 750 series

PC Perspective Podcast #344 - 04/09/2015

Join us this week as we discuss the Intel SSD 750 Series, NZXT S340, an ASUS FreeSync Monitor and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

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Hosts:Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

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Author:
Manufacturer: Various

It's more than just a branding issue

As a part of my look at the first wave of AMD FreeSync monitors hitting the market, I wrote an analysis of how the competing technologies of FreeSync and G-Sync differ from one another. It was a complex topic that I tried to state in as succinct a fashion as possible given the time constraints and that the article subject was on FreeSync specifically. I'm going to include a portion of that discussion here, to recap:

First, we need to look inside the VRR window, the zone in which the monitor and AMD claims that variable refresh should be working without tears and without stutter. On the LG 34UM67 for example, that range is 48-75 Hz, so frame rates between 48 FPS and 75 FPS should be smooth. Next we want to look above the window, or at frame rates above the 75 Hz maximum refresh rate of the window. Finally, and maybe most importantly, we need to look below the window, at frame rates under the minimum rated variable refresh target, in this example it would be 48 FPS.

AMD FreeSync offers more flexibility for the gamer than G-Sync around this VRR window. For both above and below the variable refresh area, AMD allows gamers to continue to select a VSync enabled or disabled setting. That setting will be handled as you are used to it today when your game frame rate extends outside the VRR window. So, for our 34UM67 monitor example, if your game is capable of rendering at a frame rate of 85 FPS then you will either see tearing on your screen (if you have VSync disabled) or you will get a static frame rate of 75 FPS, matching the top refresh rate of the panel itself. If your game is rendering at 40 FPS, lower than the minimum VRR window, then you will again see the result of tearing (with VSync off) or the potential for stutter and hitching (with VSync on).

But what happens with this FreeSync monitor and theoretical G-Sync monitor below the window? AMD’s implementation means that you get the option of disabling or enabling VSync.  For the 34UM67 as soon as your game frame rate drops under 48 FPS you will either see tearing on your screen or you will begin to see hints of stutter and judder as the typical (and previously mentioned) VSync concerns again crop their head up. At lower frame rates (below the window) these artifacts will actually impact your gaming experience much more dramatically than at higher frame rates (above the window).

G-Sync treats this “below the window” scenario very differently. Rather than reverting to VSync on or off, the module in the G-Sync display is responsible for auto-refreshing the screen if the frame rate dips below the minimum refresh of the panel that would otherwise be affected by flicker. So, in a 30-144 Hz G-Sync monitor, we have measured that when the frame rate actually gets to 29 FPS, the display is actually refreshing at 58 Hz, each frame being “drawn” one extra instance to avoid flicker of the pixels but still maintains a tear free and stutter free animation. If the frame rate dips to 25 FPS, then the screen draws at 50 Hz. If the frame rate drops to something more extreme like 14 FPS, we actually see the module quadruple drawing the frame, taking the refresh rate back to 56 Hz. It’s a clever trick that keeps the VRR goals and prevents a degradation of the gaming experience. But, this method requires a local frame buffer and requires logic on the display controller to work. Hence, the current implementation in a G-Sync module.

As you can see, the topic is complicated. So Allyn and I (and an aging analog oscilloscope) decided to take it upon ourselves to try and understand and teach the implementation differences with the help of some science. The video below is where the heart of this story is focused, though I have some visual aids embedded after it.

Still not clear on what this means for frame rates and refresh rates on current FreeSync and G-Sync monitors? Maybe this will help.

Continue reading our story dissecting NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FreeSync!!

Podcast #342 - FreeSync Launch, Dell XPS 13, Super Fast DDR4 and more!

Subject: General Tech | March 26, 2015 - 01:51 PM |
Tagged: XPS 13, video, Vector 180, usb 3.1, supernova, Silverstone, quadro, podcast, ocz, nvidia, m6000, gsync, FT05, freesync, Fortress, evga, dell, ddr4-3400, ddr4, corsair, broadwell-u, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #342 - 03/25/2015

Join us this week as we discuss the launch of FreeSync, Dell XPS 13, Super Fast DDR4 and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

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Hosts:Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Sebastian Peak

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Author:
Subject: Displays
Manufacturer: AMD

What is FreeSync?

FreeSync: What began as merely a term for AMD’s plans to counter NVIDIA’s launch of G-Sync (and mocking play on NVIDIA’s trade name) has finally come to fruition, keeping the name - and the attitude. As we have discussed, AMD’s Mantle API was crucial to pushing the industry in the correct and necessary direction for lower level APIs, though NVIDIA’s G-Sync deserves the same credit for recognizing and imparting the necessity of a move to a variable refresh display technology. Variable refresh displays can fundamentally change the way that PC gaming looks and feels when they are built correctly and implemented with care, and we have seen that time and time again with many different G-Sync enabled monitors at our offices. It might finally be time to make the same claims about FreeSync.

But what exactly is FreeSync? AMD has been discussing it since CES in early 2014, claiming that they would bypass the idea of a custom module that needs to be used by a monitor to support VRR, and instead go the route of open standards using a modification to DisplayPort 1.2a from VESA. FreeSync is based on AdaptiveSync, an optional portion of the DP standard that enables a variable refresh rate courtesy of expanding the vBlank timings of a display, and it also provides a way to updating EDID (display ID information) to facilitate communication of these settings to the graphics card. FreeSync itself is simply the AMD brand for this implementation, combining the monitors with correctly implemented drivers and GPUs that support the variable refresh technology.

disp4.jpg

A set of three new FreeSync monitors from Acer, LG and BenQ.

Fundamentally, FreeSync works in a very similar fashion to G-Sync, utilizing the idea of the vBlank timings of a monitor to change how and when it updates the screen. The vBlank signal is what tells the monitor to begin drawing the next frame, representing the end of the current data set and marking the beginning of a new one. By varying the length of time this vBlank signal is set to, you can force the monitor to wait any amount of time necessary, allowing the GPU to end the vBlank instance exactly when a new frame is done drawing. The result is a variable refresh rate monitor, one that is in tune with the GPU render rate, rather than opposed to it. Why is that important? I wrote in great detail about this previously, and it still applies in this case:

The idea of G-Sync (and FreeSync) is pretty easy to understand, though the implementation method can get a bit more hairy. G-Sync (and FreeSync) introduces a variable refresh rate to a monitor, allowing the display to refresh at wide range of rates rather than at fixed intervals. More importantly, rather than the monitor dictating what rate this refresh occurs at to the PC, the graphics now tells the monitor when to refresh in a properly configured G-Sync (and FreeSync) setup. This allows a monitor to match the refresh rate of the screen to the draw rate of the game being played (frames per second) and that simple change drastically improves the gaming experience for several reasons.

slides01.jpg

Gamers today are likely to be very familiar with V-Sync, short for vertical sync, which is an option in your graphics card’s control panel and in your game options menu. When enabled, it forces the monitor to draw a new image on the screen at a fixed interval. In theory, this would work well and the image is presented to the gamer without artifacts. The problem is that games that are played and rendered in real time rarely fall into a very specific frame rate. With only a couple of exceptions, games frame rates will fluctuate based on the activity happening on the screen: a rush of enemies, a changed camera angle, an explosion or falling building. Instantaneous frame rates can vary drastically, from 30, to 60, to 90, and force the image to be displayed only at set fractions of the monitor's refresh rate, which causes problems.

Continue reading our first impressions of the newly released AMD FreeSync technology!!

Podcast #340 - News from GDC 2015, FreeSync Release Date, Vulkan and Mantle, and more!

Subject: General Tech | March 12, 2015 - 02:09 PM |
Tagged: western digital, vulkan, video, SSD 750, Re+, raptr, r9 390x, podcast, nvidia, Mantle, Intel, imagination, gtx 960, gsync, gdc 15, freesync, Broadwell, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #340 - 03/12/2015

Join us this week as we wrap up news from GDC 2015, FreeSync Release Date, Vulkan and Mantle, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

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Hosts:Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Paul Heimlich

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Manufacturer: NVIDIA

Introduction

It has been an abnormal week for us here at PC Perspective. Our typical review schedule has pretty much flown out the window, and the past seven days have been filled with learning, researching, retesting, and publishing. That might sound like the norm, but in these cases the process was initiated by tips from our readers. Last Saturday (24 Jan), a few things were brewing:

We had to do a bit of triage here of course, as we can only research and write so quickly. Ryan worked the GTX 970 piece as it was the hottest item. I began a few days of research and testing on the 840 EVO slow down issue reappearing on some drives, and we kept tabs on that third thing, which at the time seemed really farfetched. With those two first items taken care of, Ryan shifted his efforts to GTX 970 SLI testing while I shifted my focus to finding out of there was any credence to this G-Sync laptop thing.

A few weeks ago, an ASUS Nordic Support rep inadvertently leaked an interim build of the NVIDIA driver. This was a mobile driver build (version 346.87) focused at their G751 line of laptops. One recipient of this driver link posted it to the ROG forum back on the 20th. A fellow by the name Gamenab, owning the same laptop cited in that thread, presumably stumbled across this driver, tried it out, and was more than likely greeted by this popup after the installation completed:

gsync panel connected-.png

Now I know what you’re thinking, and it’s probably the same thing anyone would think. How on earth is this possible? To cut a long story short, while the link to the 346.87 driver was removed shortly after being posted to that forum, we managed to get our hands on a copy of it, installed it on the ASUS G751 that we had in for review, and wouldn’t you know it we were greeted by the same popup!

Ok, so it’s a popup, could it be a bug? We checked NVIDIA control panel and the options were consistent with that of a G-Sync connected system. We fired up the pendulum demo and watched the screen carefully, passing the machine around the office to be inspected by all. We then fired up some graphics benchmarks that were well suited to show off the technology (Unigine Heaven, Metro: Last Light, etc), and everything looked great – smooth steady pans with no juddering or tearing to be seen. Ken Addison, our Video Editor and jack of all trades, researched the panel type and found that it was likely capable of 100 Hz refresh. We quickly dug created a custom profile, hit apply, and our 75 Hz G-Sync laptop was instantly transformed into a 100 Hz G-Sync laptop!

Ryan's Note: I think it is important here to point out that we didn't just look at demos and benchmarks for this evaluation but actually looked at real-world gameplay situations. Playing through Metro: Last Light showed very smooth pans and rotation, Assassin's Creed played smoothly as well and flying through Unigine Heaven manually was a great experience. Crysis 3, Battlefield 4, etc. This was NOT just a couple of demos that we ran through - the variable refresh portion of this mobile G-Sync enabled panel was working and working very well.

custom hz--.png

At this point in our tinkering, we had no idea how or why this was working, but there was no doubt that we were getting a similar experience as we have seen with G-Sync panels. As I digested what was going on, I thought surely this can’t be as good as it seems to be… Let’s find out, shall we?

Continue reading our story on Mobile G-Sync and impressions of our early testing!!

CES 2015: ASUS MG279Q 27-in 2560x1440 IPS 120 Hz Variable Refresh Monitor

Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2015 - 12:13 AM |
Tagged: vrr, video, variable refresh rate, mg279q, gsync, g-sync, freesync, ces 2015, CES, asus

We have talked about G-Sync for what seems like years now and we got our first hands-on with AMD's FreeSync monitors earlier this week at CES, but the new ASUS MG279Q is in an interesting place: it is the first display that publicly supports Adaptive Sync and DP 1.2a+ but does not have an affiliation with either branded variable refresh rate technology. As it turns out though, that isn't bad news.

mg279q-2.jpg

First, let's talk about the hardware. The screen is a 27-in 2560x1440 display with IPS panel technology and a maximum refresh rate of 120 Hz. High refresh rate IPS monitors are brand new and we are glad to see that ASUS is bringing one to the market so we can finally combine great color, great viewing angles and great refresh rates. The monitor supports DP 1.2a+ and Adaptive Sync which leads us too...

mg279q-q.jpg

...the fact that this monitor will work with AMD Radeon graphics cards and operate at a variable refresh rate. After talking with AMD's Robert Hallock at the show, he confirmed that AMD will not have a whitelist/blacklist policy for FreeSync displays and that as long as a monitor adheres to the standards of DP 1.2a+ then they will operate in the variable refresh rate window as defined by the display's EDID.

So, as described by the ASUS reps on hand, this panel will have a minimum refresh of around 40 Hz and a maximum of 120 Hz, leaving a sizeable window for variable refresh to work it's magic.

Even better? The price! ASUS said this panel will ship in late Q1 of this year for just $599!

Coverage of CES 2015 is brought to you by Logitech!

PC Perspective's CES 2015 coverage is sponsored by Logitech.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces

CES 2015: We Just Spotted the ASUS PG27AQ 4K 60 Hz IPS G-Sync Monitor

Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2015 - 01:17 PM |
Tagged: pg27aq, ips, gsync, g-sync, ces 2015, CES, asus, 60hz, 4k

Sure, the ASUS press conference hasn't started yet, but we did find a new monitor on display in the lobby. The ASUS PG27AQ is a 27-in monitor with a 4K resolution and a 60 Hz refresh rate. Even better is that this is an IPS panel and utilizes NVIDIA G-Sync technology. That's right, a real-life IPS G-Sync monitor!

pg27rq-1.jpg

I don't have many other details yet but I was told that pricing is not set and availability would be in the "second half of 2015." The physical construction is identical to that of the ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q. Unfortunately ASUS was only playing back a 4K video on the system, no real-world G-Sync testing quite yet. The ASUS press event starts in just about 45 minutes so stay tuned!

pg27rq-2.jpg

So, who's interested?

Coverage of CES 2015 is brought to you by Logitech!

PC Perspective's CES 2015 coverage is sponsored by Logitech.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Author:
Subject: Displays
Manufacturer: Acer

Technical Specifications

NVIDIA's G-Sync technology and the monitors that integrate it continue to be one of hottest discussion topics surrounding PC technology and PC gaming. We at PC Perspective have dived into the world of variable refresh rate displays in great detail, discussing the technological reasons for it's existence, talking with co-creator Tom Petersen in studio, doing the first triple-panel Surround G-Sync testing as well as reviewing several different G-Sync monitor's available on the market. We were even the first to find the reason behind the reported flickering a 0 FPS on G-Sync monitors.

IMG_0643.JPG

A lot of has happened in the world of displays in the year or more since NVIDIA first announced G-Sync technology including a proliferation of low cost 4K panels as well as discussion of FreeSync, AMD's standards-based alternative to G-Sync. We are still waiting for our first hands on time (other than a static demo) with monitors supporting FreeSync / AdaptiveSync and it is quite likely that will occur at CES this January. If it doesn't, AMD is going to have some serious explaining to do...

But today we are looking at the new Acer XB270H, a 1920x1080 27-in monitor with G-Sync support and a 144 Hz refresh rate; a unique combination. In fact, there is no other 27-in 144 Hz 1080p monitor on the market that we are aware of after a quick search of Newegg.com and Amazon.com. But does this monitor offer the same kind of experience as the ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q or even the Acer XB280HK 4K G-Sync panels?

Continue reading our review of the Acer XB270H 1080p 144 Hz G-Sync Monitor!!

NVIDIA Confirms It Has No Plans to Support Adaptive Sync

Subject: Graphics Cards | September 27, 2014 - 07:24 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, maxwell, gsync, g-sync, freesync, adaptive sync

During an interview that we streamed live with NVIDIA's Tom Petersen this past Thursday, it was confirmed that NVIDIA is not currently working on, or has any current plans to, add support for the VESA-based and AMD-pushed Adaptive Sync portion of the DisplayPort 1.2a specification. To quote directly:

There is no truth [to that rumor of NVIDIA Adaptive Sync support] and we have made no official comments about Adaptive Sync. One thing I can say is that NVIDIA as a company is 100% dedicated to G-Sync. We are going to continue to invest in G-Sync and it is a way we can make the gaming experience better. We have no need for Adaptive Sync. We have no intention of [implementing it]."

Discussion of G-Sync begins at 1:27:14 in our interview.

To be clear, the Adaptive Sync part of DP 1.2a and 1.3+ are optional portions of the VESA spec that is not required for future graphics processors or even future display scalar chips. That means that upcoming graphics cards from NVIDIA could still be DisplayPort 1.3 compliant without implementing support for the Adaptive Sync feature. Based on the comments above, I fully expect that to be the case.

IMG_9328.JPG

The ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q G-Sync monitor

With that new information, you can basically assume that the future of variable refresh monitors is going to be divided: one set for users of GeForce cards and one set for users with Radeon cards. (Where Intel falls into this is up in the air.) Clearly that isn't ideal for a completely open ecosystem but NVIDIA has made the point, over and over, that what they have developed with G-Sync is difficult and not at all as simple as could be solved with the blunt instrument that Adaptive Sync is. NVIDIA has a history of producing technologies and then keeping them in-house, focusing on development specifically for GeForce owners and fans. The dream of having a VRR monitor that will run on both vendors GPUs appears to be dead.

When asked about the possibility of seeing future monitors that can support both NVIDIA G-Sync technology as well as Adaptive Sync technology, Petersen stated that while not impossible, he "would not expect to see such a device."

The future of G-Sync is still in development. Petersen stated:

"Don't think that were done. G-Sync is not done. Think of G-Sync as the start of NVIDIA solving the problems for gamers that are related to displays...G-Sync is our first technology that makes games look better on displays. But you can start looking at displays and make a lot of things better."

tearing5.jpg

Diagram showing how G-Sync affects monitor timings

So now we await for the first round of prototype FreeSync / Adaptive Sync monitors to hit our labs. AMD has put a lot of self-inflicted pressure on itself for this release by making claims, numerous times, that FreeSync will be just as good of an experience as G-Sync, and I am eager to see if they can meet that goal. Despite any ill feelings that some users might have about NVIDIA and some of its policies, it typically does a good job of maintaining a high quality user experience with these custom technologies. AMD will have to prove that what it has developed is on the same level. We should know more about that before we get too much further into fall.

You can check out our stories and reviews covering G-Sync here: