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What Is DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync?

Back view of a professional gamer using a high-end PC monitor.

If you’ve shopped for a gaming monitor, there is a good chance you have come across something called DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync. Here is everything you need to know about it and how it’s different from FreeSync and G-Sync.

The Problem With Fixed Refresh Rates

In the past, computer monitors traditionally ran on a fixed refresh rate (e.g., 60Hz), meaning they refreshed the screen a set number of times. As a result, consumers would see artifacts such as screen tearing and stuttering if the computer’s graphics card (GPU) pushed frames at a different interval than the monitor’s frame rate.

Screen Tearing and Stuttering

Screen tearing is caused when the GPU’s output frame rates are higher than the monitor’s refresh rate. As a result, it’s unable to keep up with the incoming frames and displays parts of two frames simultaneously, which looks like a tear on the screen. On the other hand, stuttering is caused when frames are repeated or skipped. This usually happens when the GPU frame rates drop below the monitor’s refresh rate.

Variable Refresh Rate

To combat these artifacts, manufacturers developed variable refresh rate (VRR) technologies for monitors. One of these technologies is DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync, commonly referred to as Adaptive-Sync.

Developed by Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA), Adaptive-Sync enables VRR deployment over the DisplayPort and Embedded DisplayPort interfaces. As the name suggests, Adaptive-Sync dynamically synchronizes a monitor’s refresh rate with the rendering frame rate of the GPU. Moreover, it’s seamless, so you don’t encounter artifacts.

VRR technologies like Adaptive-Sync are most commonly associated with gaming. The output frame rate of a game can vary widely because of a GPU’s computational power and the complexity of a scene. That said, Adaptive-Sync is also helpful in preserving the power of battery-powered devices, like laptops. For example, when laptops are showing static content, Adaptive-Sync lowers the display’s refresh rate to the possible minimum, thus saving power. In addition, computers can use it for seamless playback of a video at any frame rate.

RELATED: How to Make Your 120Hz or 144Hz Monitor Use Its Advertised Refresh Rate

How to Use Adaptive-Sync

You need an Adaptive-Sync compatible display, a compatible GPU, necessary drivers to use Adaptive-Sync. Monitor manufacturers typically mention the Adaptive-Sync support in the specifications. However, even when there is no mention of Adaptive-Sync, if the monitor supports FreeSync and has a DisplayPort, it will work with the technology, as AMD’s FreeSync is built upon it.

Compatible GPUs include AMD’s FreeSync-capable GPUs, NVIDIA’s G-Sync compatible GPUs, and Intel iGPUs with Adaptive Sync support.

If you have any of those, you can enable Adaptive-Sync on your machine by heading over to the GPU’s control center and editing the display settings. All Windows PCs with compatible hardware and newer Macs support Adaptive-Sync.

RELATED: Which Gaming Monitor Features Actually Matter?

What About V-Sync?

Adaptive Sync vs V-Sync

V-Sync or vertical sync is the original technology GPU manufacturers introduced to fix screen tearing. While V-Sync successfully combats screen tearing by limiting the output frame rate of a GPU to match the refresh rate of a monitor, it’s not perfect. For example, if the output frame rate of GPU drops below the monitor refresh rate, V-Sync attempts to match the change by repeating the previous frame, but this manifests as visual and performance lag.

Again, modern VRR technologies like Adaptive-Sync work very differently. Instead of capping GPU’s frame rate, they dynamically adjust the monitor’s refresh rate to match the frame rate. This not only stops screen tearing but also avoids performance lag.

RELATED: What to Do When Your PC Game Lags

Adaptive-Sync vs. AMD FreeSync and NVIDIA G-Sync

G-SYNC Monitor

Although Adaptive-Sync, FreeSync, and G-Sync are VRR technologies, they have several differences. For example, VESA’s Adaptive-Sync is an open standard, but it’s relatively barebones in terms of features. Simply put, it can match the display refresh rate with the output frame rate of a GPU, but nothing more. Because it’s an open standard, though, it doesn’t need special hardware, making it easy to implement for the manufacturers.

On the other hand, G-Sync is a proprietary NVIDIA technology. It has more features than Adaptive-Sync, such as the display’s ability to compensate or overdrive the response time on the fly to avoid ghosting or inverse ghosting. G-Sync can also double the frames when the output frame rate falls below the monitor’s minimum refresh rate. The NVIDIA technology can achieve all this thanks to the built-in G-Sync module in the supported monitors. Unfortunately, the need for specialized hardware increases the cost of these devices.

AMD FreeSync sits in the middle of VESA and NVIDIA’s VRR technologies. It’s built upon Adaptive-Sync but includes some of its own enhancements, like support for HDMI. Additional features are available in FreeSync Pro and FreeSync Premium Pro variants.

Although not as feature-rich as AMD or NVIDIA’s VRR implementations, Adaptive-Sync helps to create an artifact-free gaming and video experience. In addition, Adaptive-Sync hardware doesn’t lock you in one ecosystem, and supported devices are widely available.

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