What Is Screen Tearing And How To Fix It

A quick guide on the best ways to reduce the annoying visual artifact better known as screen tearing

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We’ve all been there, playing our favourite game then, all of sudden, we get hit with screen tearing like there’s no tomorrow. Your monitor is trying to juggle more frames than it can handle, resulting in a mish-mash of incomplete frames that don’t match up.

Whilst this isn’t an issue for many users, it can be extremely detrimental to your gaming experience – that goes for both single-player and competitive titles. The last thing you want to experience when you’re in the clutch is numerous frames being processed at the same time.

Fortunately, screen tearing on gaming monitors can be eradicated fairly easily – and we’re here to explain exactly how you do it. The following article will be a closer look at exactly what screen tearing is and the best way to stop it from occurring.

So, with plenty to get through, let’s waste no further time and dive straight into it!

What Is Screen Tearing

Screen tear is a visual artifact that occurs when your GPU’s frame rate doesn’t match your monitor’s refresh rate – leading to two (or more) frames being displayed by the monitor at the same time.

Screen tear

As you can see from the image above, the two frames don’t match up properly, reducing the overall visual experience exponentially.

This visual artifact only lasts for a split second but can occur hundreds of times over a gaming session. Whilst this isn’t too offputting to some gamers, others can find it very distracting. If you’re the kind of person who likes to indulge in competitive titles, this can often be the difference between winning and losing – reducing your overall concentration and immersion levels.

How To Fix Screen Tearing

Fortunately, fixing screen tearing is fairly easy. There is a tonne of different ways to reduce screen tear to a minimum – and in some cases completely eradicate it altogether.

Let’s start off from the beginning – VSync.

VSync

VSync, or vertical synchronization, was (historically) the only way to rid your gaming experience of annoying screen tears. The technology would synchronize the vertical refresh rate of your display with the frame rate your GPU was providing, resulting in a smoother gaming experience overall. However, because VSync would give priority to the monitor, your GPU would often have to wait until your monitor was ready to receive a frame before it sent it – ultimately, leading to much greater input lag.

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For example, if you were using a 60hz monitor and enabled VSync in the GPU settings, regardless of what FPS you were getting, you would be forcing your GPU to cap the framerate to 60. As you can imagine, this would have a huge knock-on effect on the gaming experience.

For this reason, competitive players would often have to settle for some screen tearing, as the input lag would be too detrimental to their performance. However, single-player titles that didn’t rely so heavily on responsiveness could enjoy a screen tear-free experience without too much impact on their gameplay.

Fortunately, modern monitors have far exceeded the performance of yesteryear’s alternatives, with many offering up 240hz to 360hz refresh rates. As you climb the theoretical refresh rate ladder, you will naturally see a reduction in screen tear.

Nvidia’s Adaptive VSync

We’ve only really touched upon users that experience screen tear when they get a higher in-game frame rate than their monitor’s refresh rate. However, screen tearing can also occur when you go the other way – FPS dropping below the maximum refresh rate of the monitor.

In this scenario, users that own a GeForce GTX 650 and above will be able to utilize Nvidia’s Adaptive Sync – a feature of Nvidia GPUs that turns off VSync when your frame rate drops below 60 FPS.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, why’s dropping below 60FPS such an issue when using VSync? And the answer lies with the way technology works. If you’re using a 60hz monitor and your in-game frame rate drops to below 60 (say 55), then VSync will half your monitor’s refresh rate (to 30) to enable it to keep reducing screen tearing.

By doing this, you will instead experience a lot of stuttering, a visual artifact that is much worse than the occasional screen tear.

Nvidia Fast Sync & AMD Enhanced Sync

A technology that is often overlooked is Fast Sync (Nvidia) and Enhanced Sync (AMD). If you own a GeForce 900 series or AMD GCN-based GPU, or newer, you’ll be able to access either of these technologies.

Unlike VSync (which limits your frame rate to the maximum refresh rate of your monitor), Fast Sync and Enhanced Sync simply feed your monitor the most recently completed frame. This is great for individuals that are getting drops in FPS, as you won’t be limiting yourself to the monitor’s ability, you’ll simply be waiting for your GPU instead. This will not only have a positive impact on screen tearing, it’ll also reduce input lag too.

That being said, it doesn’t improve input lag altogether – there will simply be a noticeable difference when comparing it to VSync. Ultimately, the higher your frame rate is, the lower your input lag will be. In an ideal world, users should aim to get around double the frame rate of your monitor’s maximum refresh rate – resulting in noticeably lower input lag.

Nvidia G-Sync/ AMD FreeSync

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Recent times have paved the way for much more effective ways of reducing screen tear, with both AMD and Nvidia offering their proprietary variable refresh rate technologies. These technologies, unlike the above options, allow your monitor to change its refresh rate dynamically to match your GPU’s frame rate output. Granted, not every monitor (or GPU) supports this technology, but most will – so don’t be too put off.

What that means is, if you’re getting 100 frames per second playing Red Dead 2 on a 240Hz monitor, VRR will reduce the monitor’s refresh rate from 240 to 100 – matching your in-game FPS and eradicating screen tear almost entirely. At this stage, you might be wondering what kind of effect this has on the input lag. Thankfully, due to the way variable refresh rate works, input lag is hardly affected – with most cases resulting in a sub 1ms increase.

For the most part, Nvidia G-Sync is only supported by Nvidia GPUs – and vice versa for AMD alternatives. However, as many articles will explain, this isn’t the case. Many monitors can be used with both technologies – albeit with varied performance output.

G sync screenshot

Having said that, each Nvidia G-sync monitor (not compatible) comes equipped with its own integrated G-Sync module. FreeSync, by comparison, utilizes the monitor’s built-in adaptive sync functionality instead.

It’s worth mentioning that, G-Sync and FreeSync and both limited to the maximum refresh rate of your panel. So, if you’re running a 144hz monitor, you won’t be able to reap the rewards of VRR if you’re getting above this in FPS.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, our quick explanation of ‘what is screen tearing’ and a number of different methods geared towards reducing it. We hope this guide has made understanding screen tear a little easier, giving you a better understanding of the fixes and how they work. As we settle into a new decade, most of the technology you see above has almost become obsolete, with G-Sync and Freesync taking over the majority of modern-day setups. That being said, some people still find benefits of using older technologies – it all depends on your particular setup.

If you have any questions regarding screen tearing or variable refresh rate technology, feel free to drop us a comment below. Better still, you can now head on over to our Community Hub where you can discuss everything monitor related with like-minded individuals.