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.
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.
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.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Displays | March 5, 2015 - 11:46 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: freesync, amd
Hey everyone, we just got a quick note from AMD with an update on the FreeSync technology rollout we have been expecting since CES in January (and honestly, even before that). Here is the specific quote:
AMD is very excited that monitors compatible with AMD FreeSync™ technology are now available in select regions in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). We know gamers are excited to bring home an incredibly smooth and tearing-free PC gaming experience powered by AMD Radeon™ GPUs and AMD A-Series APUs. We’re pleased to announce that a compatible AMD Catalyst™ graphics driver to enable AMD FreeSync™ technology for single-GPU configurations will be publicly available on AMD.com starting March 19, 2015. Support for AMD CrossFire™ configurations will be available the following month in April 2015.
A couple of interesting things: first, it appears that FreeSync monitors are already shipping in the EMEA regions and that is the cause for this news blast to the media. If you are buying a monitor with a FreeSync logo on it and can't use the technology, that is clearly a bit frustrating. You have just another two weeks to wait for the software to enabled your display's variable refresh rate.
That also might be a clue as to when you can expect review embargoes and/or the release of FreeSync monitors in North America. The end is in sight!
Subject: Displays | February 6, 2015 - 03:49 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: XL2420G, NVIDA, g-sync, benq, 24
On Amazon the BenQ XL2420G is $540, or $529 from B&H Photo, not inexpensive but within the grasp of more people than some of the larger and more expensive G-SYNC monitors. It has a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz as you expect from this style of monitor and it does indeed support Nvidia's 3D Vision, although some may be deterred by the 1080p resolution and the fact that it is a TN panel. Some features do need to be sacrificed to bring the price down and the simple fact is that there are no IPS G-SYNC monitors currently for sale and TN is the faster type of monitor and this display is all about speed. The Tech Report tried it out and were very impressed, check the full review to see why.
"Today, we're turning our attention to BenQ's XL2420G, a 24" G-Sync monitor that's currently selling for about $580 at Newegg. This display is a little smaller and more affordable than some of the other G-Sync offerings we've looked at, but it's not lacking in functionality or connectivity. Quite the opposite."
Here are some more Display articles from around the web:
- BenQ XL2420G G-SYNC Monitor Review @ Hardware Canucks
- Nvidia G-SYNC: A New gaming experience seen on the ASUS SWIFT PG278Q Display @ Bjorn3d
- ASUS PB279Q 4K Monitor @ Kitguru
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:
- Ryan was informed by NVIDIA that the memory layout of the GTX 970 was different than expected.
- The huge (now 168 page) overclock.net forum thread about the Samsung 840 EVO slowdown was once again gaining traction.
- Someone got G-Sync working on a laptop integrated display.
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:
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.
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?
Subject: General Tech, Displays, Shows and Expos | January 16, 2015 - 06:59 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: CES, ces 2015, monoprice, ips, 4k, 120hz, mechanical keyboard, touch screen, drawing
So CES has ended over a week ago, but somehow we missed Monoprice. While they are known for cheap cables that are also good and reliable, the retailer has been pushing out some interesting, self-branded products. At this year's CES, they advertised a multi-touch pen display, a cheap 4K 60Hz monitor, a 30-inch IPS panel that is guaranteed to work at 120Hz 1600p (16:10), and an RGB-backlit mechanical keyboard.
First up is their 22-inch multi-touch pen display. Not too long ago, I noticed that they had a 22-inch pen display without a touch screen, similar to my Wacom Cintiq 22HD, for under $600. Of course, this got me looking at its product page because that is significantly cheaper than what I paid for mine -- like, several times cheaper. In that page was a warning that it was not suitable for multi-monitor setups, and suggested that users clone it (rather than extending their desktop). Yikes. Okay. That's problematic.
Well now it no longer has that warning, and neither does their new, higher-end version with built-in multi-touch. Hopefully this means that they sorted out their driver (or configuration) issues under Windows.
The display itself is a 22-inch, 1080p, IPS panel with 16.7 million colors (so not 10-bit). It has a 5ms response time, which is good for IPS, but no listing of sRGB or AdobeRGB coverage. This could be problematic for someone looking to use it for professional applications, but being an IPS display it might be okay.
The current price is $550 for the pen-input monitor, and $750 for the pen or 10-point touch model. Both are also compatible with 75mm x 75mm VESA wall mounts, because the writing's on the wall or some pun like that.
Also launched is a 28-inch 4K display for $449. They do not state the panel technology, but with a reduced vertical viewing angle, which is bad, and a 1ms response time, which is good, it pretty much must be TN. It is a bit sad that it is not IPS, IGZO, PLS, or another high-end panel type, but it is also $449.
Image Credit: Anandtech
Keeping on the topic of displays, Anandtech was shown a 30-inch, 1600p panel that is guaranteed to run at 120Hz. While we are starting to see a few high refresh rate IPS panels pop up this year, it was the domain of display overclockers before then. Enthusiasts would purchase monitors that were shipped directly from smaller South Korean manufacturers (who typically purchase lesser-binned panels from LG, and so forth) and cross their fingers when they give it a higher refresh rate. This one is guaranteed by Monoprice to run at 120Hz, but it does not yet have pricing and availability.
Image Credit: Anandtech
Lastly, Anandtech also saw a mechanical keyboard with programmable RGB backlighting. It uses Kailh RGB switches, which are based on the Cherry MX design after the patents expired. Again, no pricing or availability on this one.
Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2015 - 12:13 AM | Ryan Shrout
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.
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...
...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!
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces
Subject: Displays, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2015 - 12:07 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, PA328Q, ips, ces 2015, CES, asus, 4k
The ASUS PQ321Q was the first 4K 60 Hz screen that we had experience with back in 2013 but it had a couple of hiccups. First and most importantly, the monitor was an MST display that required a pair of inputs to function at the full 60 Hz refresh rate. It was initially very complicated (though it has been worked out for a while) and required specific drivers and hardware configurations. It was also expensive at the time of launch, hitting as much as $3500 in most regions.
At CES 2015, ASUS has announced the successor to that panel, the PA328Q, a ProArt series display that has better image quality, a better user experience and a much lower starting price.
Available in Q2 for around $1400, the PA328Q is a 32-in 4K 60 Hz monitor that supports full refresh rate in a single stream from either DisplayPort or HDMI 2.0. The true beauty is in the panel itself, using in-plane switching technology for incredible viewing angles and bright, high contrast images. It comes pre-calibrated out of the box:
Designed for photographers, video producers and graphics professionals, PA328Q is factory pre-calibrated to give outstanding industry-leading color accuracy (∆E ≤ 2), with a wide color gamut of 100% sRGB and Rec. 709 color space support — the latter being the standard HDTV format for video production and editing.
PA328Q uses a 12-bit internal lookup table (LUT) and supports gamma values of 2.4, 2.2, and 1.8 to enhance color accuracy, smoother color gradations and a more natural transition between hues. PA328Q has a color uniformity ranging between 91-103%, solving common problems like fluctuations in brightness and chroma on different parts of the screen to give accurate and consistent onscreen colors.
The stand looks great, the bezel around the panel is very thin, it has a reasonable price for a professional quality IPS 60 Hz screen - these are all items that leave us eager for more time with it in an upcoming review.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Displays | January 7, 2015 - 03:17 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: ROG Swift, ROG, monitor, ips, in plane switching, gaming monitor, g-sync, ces 2015, CES, asus
UPDATE: Hands on video with JJ from ASUS!
The new ASUS ROG Swift PG27AQ features a 3840 x 2160-pixel 4K (UHD) resolution IPS panel for wide viewing angles and accurate color.
The 27-inch LED-backlit display features NVIDIA G-SYNC technology to synchronizes its refresh rates to the computer’s graphics-processing unit (GPU), eliminating screen tearing and minimizing stutter and input lag to deliver the smoothest gaming experience possible. The Swift PG27AQ also includes a five-way navigation joystick to navigate the on-screen display (why not, it’s a gaming monitor after all). The monitor stand features full tilt, swivel, pivot and height adjustment, as well as a “smart cable-management system”.
The panel has a 1000:1 contrast ratio (without dynamic numbers in the millions this might look unimpressive, but it is typical for the native contrast on IPS) and 300 cd/m² brightness. The design also features a “super narrow” bezel which looks cool, but also makes multi-monitor setups more seamless (naturally you’ll want to buy at least two, right?).
No word on availability or pricing just yet.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Graphics Cards, Displays, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2015 - 03:11 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, radeon, monitor, g-sync, freesync, ces 2015, CES, amd
It finally happened - later than I had expected - we got to get hands on with nearly-ready FreeSync monitors! That's right, AMD's alternative to G-Sync will bring variable refresh gaming technology to Radeon gamers later this quarter and AMD had the monitors on hand to prove it. On display was an LG 34UM67 running at 2560x1080 on IPS technology, a Samsung UE590 with a 4K resolution and AHVA panel and BenQ XL2730Z 2560x1440 TN screen.
The three monitors sampled at the AMD booth showcase the wide array of units that will be available this year using FreeSync, possibly even in this quarter. The LG 34UM67 uses the 21:9 aspect ratio that is growing in popularity, along with solid IPS panel technology and 60 Hz top frequency. However, there is a new specification to be concerned with on FreeSync as well: minimum frequency. This is the refresh rate that monitor needs to maintain to avoid artifacting and flickering that would be visible to the end user. For the LG monitor it was 40 Hz.
What happens below that limit and above it differs from what NVIDIA has decided to do. For FreeSync (and the Adaptive Sync standard as a whole), when a game renders at a frame rate above or below this VRR window, the V-Sync setting is enforced. That means on a 60 Hz panel, if your game runs at 70 FPS, then you will have the option to enable or disable V-Sync; you can either force a 60 FPS top limit or allow 70 FPS with screen tearing. If your game runs under the 40 Hz bottom limit, say at 30 FPS, you get the same option: V-Sync on or V-Sync off. With it off, you would get tearing but optimal input/display latency but with it off you would reintroduce frame judder when you cross between V-Sync steps.
There are potential pitfalls to this solution though; what happens when you cross into that top or bottom region can cause issues depending on the specific implementation. We'll be researching this very soon.
Notice this screen shows FreeSync Enabled and V-Sync Disabled, and we see a tear.
FreeSync monitors have the benefit of using industry standard scalers and that means they won't be limited to a single DisplayPort input. Expect to see a range of inputs including HDMI and DVI though the VRR technology will only work on DP.
We have much more to learn and much more to experience with FreeSync but we are eager to get one in the office for testing. I know, I know, we say that quite often it seems.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Displays | January 5, 2015 - 02:30 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: monitor, ips, in plane switching, gaming monitor, display, ces 2015, CES, asus
UPDATE 1/9/15: Just a heads up that we have video of the ASUS MG279Q as well as new information on pricing and confirmation that AMD will NOT blacklist this monitor out of working with its GPUs in a variable refresh manner.
ASUS is showing the 27-inch MG279Q monitor at this year’s CES, and this display features the vaunted in-plane switching (IPS) technology and a 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) resolution.
Even more impressive, this panel offers frame rates of 120Hz with a 5ms grey-to-grey (GTG) response time according to ASUS. Additionally, the display features a narrow bezel, the ASUS-exclusive navigation joystick for the on-screen display (OSD), and their dedicated “GamePlus” hotkey which “displays a customizable crosshair and timer overlap for enhanced combat”. The stand is also built with full tilt, swivel, pivot and height adjustment, cable management, and is VESA wall-mountable.
Connectivity includes DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort, two HDMI ports (for native WQHD) and a Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) 2.0 socket for 1080p connections to mobile devices (with simultaneous charging). The monitor also includes a two-port USB 3.0 hub.
One more thing...
While officially only listing a generic "DisplayPort" input, we have learned this supports DP 1.2a Plus. What does this mean? At least on paper that would indicate that this monitor could offer AdaptiveSync / FreeSync support. We could also pretty safely assume that a WQHD monitor without G-SYNC will be priced considerably lower than an ROG Swift. It's all very interesting...
Pricing and availability have not been released.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!