A closer look at Nvidia’s G-Sync: A monitor-based gaming revolution, or a niche product?

In October, Nvidia revealed its new monitor synchronisation technology designed to improve game experiences by synchronising directly with the GPU rather than relying on standard timing systems.

Dubbed G-Sync, the new method could revolutionise monitor technology – if it delivers as advertised. Now that the first reviews of G-Sync are in, what kind of real-world improvement do we see?

So far, the results are mixed – but early impressions are positive.

G-Sync works by matching the monitor refresh rate directly with the GPU draw rate, ensuring that frames are displayed as they arrive, without tearing or stutter.

In theory, this results in a much smoother overall experience. Check out the following three images for a visual breakdown...

With the technology in such early stages, there are still a number of quirks and limitations. The early kits Nvidia shipped out are compatible with just one Asus monitor. They rely on DisplayPort (no HDMI or DVI), and they don’t carry audio. Refresh rates are also limited to 144Hz, the practical limit of the monitor – though it’s worth noting that this is a panel limitation. Unlike most modern TVs, the panel refresh rates advertised on displays like the Asus VG248QE are true refresh rates, not interpolated ones. Anandtech believes that we’ll soon see IPS panels at 2560 x 1440, but for now the 1920 x 1080 TN-panel Asus is all there is to test with.

The results are rather interesting, and very game-dependent. In the six titles Anandtech played (Assassin’s Creed IV, Batman: Arkham Origins, Sleeping Dogs, Dota 2, Starcraft II, and BioShock Infinite), G-Sync improved Assassin’s Creed, substantially improved Batman, but ran Sleeping Dogs dramatically worse. Dota 2 and Starcraft II were both a wash, and BioShock Infinite was a split case. At a 144Hz refresh rate, BioShock Infinite doesn’t stutter or tear much, anyway – but G-Sync does help resolve the visible issues that occur.

The verdict, therefore, is that while G-Sync doesn’t matter for every game, it can make a dramatic difference in certain titles, particularly if you’re upgrading from a 60Hz panel. Asus estimates that in the US, the VG248QE, which normally runs to about $280, will go for $400 with a G-Sync kit built-in (the hardware that goes in the monitor, incidentally, is an Altera FPGA paired with 768MB of DDR3 RAM, pictured above). In the UK, the VG248QE sadly costs the same price in pounds as dollars, so with the monitor costing £280 we can expect a price approaching £400 for the kit-embellished display here.

That’s a substantial additional cost, particularly for a TN panel – Anandtech hopes that we’ll see the technology built into 2560 x 1440 displays, where it might also make more sense for FPS reasons. G-Sync works best in games where the frame rate hovers between 30 fps and 60 fps. Modern high-end cards have less trouble at 1920 x 1080, but take heavier hits at 2560 x 1440.

As for the long-term future of the technology, that remains an open question. The downside to G-Sync is that you’re effectively locked into a single display and Nvidia’s graphics cards. Obviously from Nvidia’s perspective, that’s a huge positive, but it could also limit multi-display gaming.

Still, the technology is in its early stages, and all reports indicate that it can improve the overall gaming experience, at least some of the time. That’s a decent starting place for any new technology – we’ll see where it goes from here.

Image Credit: Anandtech