Vsync, otherwise known as vertical sync, is a technology that was originally designed to accommodate the limitations that plagued older monitors – eradicating screen tearing that would occur when a monitor’s refresh rate wasn’t synchronized to the GPU’s frame rate output.
Screen tearing can occur when your GPU is outputting a higher frame rate than the monitor’s refresh rate, resulting in two frames being displayed at the same time. A way of fixing this is through the use of Vsync technology – a built-in feature that caps your FPS to the monitor’s refresh rate.
Despite Vsync being an adequate feature for removing screen tear, it does come with its limitations. Furthermore, with the introduction of proprietary variable refresh rate technologies from both AMD and Nvidia, is it even worth using Vsync anymore?
In the following article, we’ll be explaining exactly what Vsync is, how it impacts gaming performance, and whether or not you should use it.
To better understand the impact VSync has on your gaming experience, we must first understand how it actually works. VSync was the original synchronization technology introduced by GPU developers to help with the annoying visual artifact known as screen tear.
Screen tear would occur when your GPU sent the monitor more frames per second than it could handle. This resulted in two frames being displayed during one screen refresh, a nasty looking tear that would reduce immersion exponentially.
To try and eradicate this, GPU developers created VSync – a synchronization technology. Vertical Sync works by synchronizing your monitor’s refresh rate to the frame rate output of your GPU. Like variable refresh rate technology, VSync caps your FPS to your monitor’s max refresh rate. Whilst this was great for reducing screen tear, using it would create other fairly obvious screen defects.
When VSync first arrived, many monitors could only manage a max refresh rate of 60Hz – considered base level by today’s standards. This was fine in scenarios where your GPU could push more than 60FPS, however, when your FPS dropped below this – stuttering and input lag would occur.
You see, when VSync is enabled, your monitor waits for the new frame to be sent by the GPU before refreshing the screen. So, when your FPS drops to below 60 (say 20), your monitor has to wait a good amount of time before refreshing the image on screen.
The input lag alone from this side effect of VSync could see lag increase to way above 100ms. For competitive gamers, this was simply unacceptable.
Like most technology these days, VSync also comes equipped with a whole host of pros and cons. Below are what we consider the most noteworthy:
The main benefit to VSync is it’s built-in with your graphics card and of course, is free. It’s an option in the settings of your Nvidia or Radeon card that you can turn on or off.
Whether you have it on or off is down to your preferences and potentially what games you are playing. While off, your GPU and monitor will inevitably be out of sync, resulting in screen tear – something most gamers just cannot stand to see. Turning on the feature, as we mentioned above, matches the refresh rate and FPS to produce smooth results.
Example: If you are playing The Witcher 3, a fairly graphically impressive game, chances are you’ll want to experience as little screen tear as possible. In this scenario, VSync is a very viable option for smoother gameplay.
The bottom line is, VSync can be great for some single-player games but only if screen tearing is very noticeable. You will often find on monitors over 120Hz that screen tearing is quite hard to see anyway.
The problems for VSync are circumstantial and largely depend on what game you are playing and what monitor you are using. If you use a 60hz monitor, for example, then turning on VSync will cap your frame rate in-game to 60 fps. If the game is single-player and runs without any dips at 60fps then VSync can be a great alternative to buying a new monitor. However, if you use a 144hz monitor and load up a graphically powerful game that could dip in performance you will get some tearing issues as your GPU and monitor are out of sync at times.
This happens because VSync forces your graphics card to wait until the monitor is ready for the next frame before sending it through. Unfortunately, if a dip in performance happens then VSync will halve the refresh rate of your monitor until it syncs back up with the GPU. So, again, if you were using a 60Hz monitor and experienced a dip then the frame rate of your game could drop as low as 30fps resulting in a stutter.
It was mentioned earlier that it may be best for just single-player games and this is because VSync can sometimes increase the input lag of the mouse by a significant amount. Whether you are in a competitive FPS game or just a single-player FPS game, this delay can be very noticeable and off-putting. It’s worth noting that the input delay can be greatly reduced if triple buffering is enabled in-game but ultimately VSync isn’t required on shooters like CSGO or games of lower graphics quality such as LoL.
There are some better alternatives to VSync that should be considered if you are looking to eliminate screen tearing. Some of these alternatives are just improved versions of VSync that can be changed in your GPU settings. Others, however, can come at a premium.
Enhanced Sync is literally an ‘enhanced’ VSync solution made by AMD and can only be used if you had a Radeon card. The issue with VSync was when the FPS dropped below the refresh rate of your monitor you would be left with a stutter or experience input lag which VSync is famous for. With Enhanced Sync these issues aren’t completely fixed but they have been vastly improved. When the performance drops, Enhanced Sync is turned off, stopping your frame rate from dipping by sometimes as much as 50%.
Moreover, enhanced Sync doesn’t replace VSync, it works in unison with VSync. When the frames are normal/ high then VSync comes into action and the frame rate is capped to match your refresh rate.
Fast Sync is just Nvidia’s take on improving VSync and does exactly the same thing as AMD’s Enhanced Sync with the only difference being the hardware in your machine.
These alternatives are more responsive than just having VSync on, however, they both feature more input-lag than having vSync off entirely. If you’re looking for a money-saving option then these advanced versions of VSync could be enough and are worth trying out before considering the costly upgrades you will see below.
G-sync is an adaptive sync technology created by the graphics card giant Nvidia. The technology was created to help prevent screen tearing and it did this by synchronizing monitor refresh rates to graphics cards frame rate dynamically – ultimately ending in some silky-smooth gameplay.
To learn more about G-Sync visit our short article here.
Freesync is another adaptive sync technology but developed by AMD. Freesync does the same thing as G-sync however its quality can vary depending on the monitor it has been implemented in. Unlike G-sync, it’s open-source – meaning monitors don’t require a proprietary module from the developer themselves which creates a competitive market and reduces the cost.
To learn more about FreeSync visit our short article here.
Vsync can cause a bit of a headache for some people and it’s clear to see why. There isn’t a definitive answer as to whether you should have it on or off (that’s why there is the option) and it’s largely circumstantial if you are going to see any benefits.
If you are consistently getting more frames than your refresh rate then VSync can be switched on as you won’t experience any drops in FPS. For maximum performance from your game, it is best to have VSync switched off. Having VSync off can be more beneficial to anyone using a 60Hz monitor or with a lower spec PC but you will experience tearing.
Whether you have VSync turned on or not comes down to the visual experience your monitor provides. While turned on, triple buffering should be used to compensate for the input lag and FPS dips that can occur. Although this improves performance slightly it’s still not as effective as turning VSync off.
If you don’t like the downsides to VSync then G-sync and Freesync are worth looking into. That being said, if you want to try sorting your tearing issue for free then try turning on enhanced or Fast sync in your respective graphics cards settings. You can always give smooth gaming a try and if you experience any noticeable input lag or dips in performance you can always turn it back off again so give it a whirl.
So, there you have it, our quick round of VSync and exactly what it is. Hopefully, this guide has made understanding VSync a little easier, guiding you on whether or not you should actually use it whilst gaming.
If you have any further questions regarding VSync, feel free to drop us a comment in the section below. Better still, why not head on over to our Community Hub where you can discuss everything graphics related with likeminded individuals.