CES 2014: AMD Demos G-Sync Alternative “FreeSync” at CES; NVIDIA Quickly Discredits It

Posted on January 8, 2014 3:56 PM by Rob Williams

Update (4:33PM EST): Intel’s François Piednoël has come to AMD’s defense regarding FreeSync, stating that once displays begin utilizing the eDP 1.3 (an upcoming DisplayPort standard) , a free solution would indeed be possible thanks to the addition of frame storage capabilities.

Original Story:

Between the time NVIDIA’s variable refresh tech G-Sync was announced last fall and now, AMD had kept oddly quiet. That of course meant one thing: It had been hard at work on a competitor. As CES has now proven, that was just the case, with the company exhibiting what it calls “FreeSync”, a free alternative to G-Sync.

In order for variable refreshes to be used, which is the basis behind both G-Sync and FreeSync, both the display and hardware would need to support VBLANK intervals spec’d in the latest VESA standard. VBLANK isn’t new, but in order to achieve what these new solutions aim to deliver, it becomes an imperative component.

AMD’s FreeSync is still in its early stages, so the demo provided was quite simple (a windmill, versus the highly detailed pendulum NVIDIA used). Still, Anand seemed impressed with where things stood, and mentions that because the tech is out there already, even the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 should be able to support FreeSync (given both use AMD’s APUs).

AMD FreeSync Notebook Demo - AnandTech
Credit: Anand Lal Shimpi / AnandTech

As soon as FreeSync broke cover, the first thing I could think of was, “What does NVIDIA have to say?” Well, The Tech Report’s Scott Wasson hit-up one of the men heading this G-Sync revolution, Tom Peterson (who was seriously excited about this tech at a press event I attended a couple of months ago). Not surprisingly, he’s not impressed, but his reasons seem to be sound.

For starters, AMD’s demos were conducted on notebooks, which don’t tend to suffer the de-sync issue like desktops do, due to the fact that their connections to the display are far more direct. The G-Sync module, then, was to deliver the same sort of benefit to the desktop, but no doubt result in an even better experience.

G-Sync is in effect a tuned scaler, and as has been proven time and time again, hardware solutions are going to perform much better than software ones. But as mentioned earlier, since AMD does offer support for VBLANK on its current graphics hardware, if all of the components are in order, a custom chip might not have to be used.

Because VBLANK has existed for a while, and current cable standards can utilize it just fine, Peterson doesn’t see a need to approach VESA and ask it to implement a G-Sync-like feature in the standard. And, he states, that if AMD wants to provide a proper solution, it has to do the work – NVIDIA isn’t in this to do the work and then hand out the results.

Until AMD delivers a desktop demo of FreeSync, it’s hard to properly compare it to G-Sync. NVIDIA is confident a hardware solution is the best choice, and AMD believes a software-based one that makes use of hardware at both ends can accomplish the same. At this point, I’m leaning towards NVIDIA’s thinking, but I’d like to be surprised.

  • Kayden

    I think hardware is the best way to here as well. I also read the response by an Nvidia guy, can’t remember who, but I agree that since they are using a laptop for the interface and it being much different than desktops. That it should be considered an example of how it could work but not the rule for every device out there.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Hardware is going to be better than software for things like this, it goes without saying. But I still hold out hope that AMD’s solution might be better than it initially appears.

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