AMD Radeon RX Vega review: Vega 56, Vega 64, and liquid-cooled Vega 64 tested

Find out whether RX Vega was worth the wait.

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Radeon RX Vega: The FreeSync variable

During pre-launch promotions for Radeon RX Vega, AMD set up blind “taste tests” at fan events. PC gamers got to play Battlefield 1 on 100Hz, 3440x1440 monitors, with one setup using the GTX 1080 and a G-Sync monitor, and another using Vega 64 with a similar FreeSync monitor that cost $300 less.

vega taste tests AMD

Radeon’s Vega “blind taste test” in Budapest.

“Though the Radeon RX Vega + FreeSync (left system) came out on top for most gamers, they said the differences were minimal and couldn’t really tell the difference,” AMD said in the aftermath.

A sizeable chunk of AMD’s Radeon RX Vega reviewers guide is also dedicated to touting FreeSync’s benefits and cost advantage versus G-Sync, with expected performance results in games being boxed inside “FreeSync ranges” in AMD’s charts. And just in case I didn’t get it, AMD also sent along a Viewsonic XG2700-4K display ($550 on Amazon) so I could test FreeSync’s benefits firsthand.

It’s no wonder AMD’s beating this drum so hard. Once you’ve enjoyed the stutter- and tearing-free experience an adaptive-sync monitor provides, it’s painful to go back to a normal monitor. Heck, many Radeon 290/390/Fury-wielding enthusiasts have refused to pick up a GTX 10-series card simply because Nvidia hardware isn’t FreeSync-compatible.

amd freesync AMD

Screen tearing is gross. FreeSync (and G-Sync) eliminate it.

As we discuss in PCWorld’s comprehensive FreeSync vs. G-Sync explainer, FreeSync’s open nature means there are many more FreeSync monitors available than G-Sync monitors, and the AMD-friendly displays tend to cost much less. Nvidia views G-Sync as a premium add-on for premium monitors and requires display vendors to use a proprietary hardware module. FreeSync is built atop the DisplayPort 1.2 adaptive sync standard, and AMD doesn’t even charge certification or licensing costs. FreeSync was made to spread far and wide, and cheaply. On Newegg right now, G-Sync monitors start at $600, while only two FreeSync monitors cost more than $600.

FreeSync indeed tends to be cheaper, but buying a FreeSync monitor requires a bit more legwork than with G-Sync due to its variability. Color accuracy isn’t certified. FreeSync monitors support adaptive sync only inside of specified refresh rate ranges, and some are awfully tiny. If you fall outside that range, tearing and stuttering returns. That’s an easy thing to do at 4K, because many 4K FreeSync monitors kick in at 40Hz, and Vega has troubles hitting a consistent 40fps in our 4K Deus Ex, Ghost Recon, and Division tests. A FreeSync feature called Low Framerate Compensation (LFC) combats the issue and behaves similarly to G-Sync’s solution, but it’s optional and a lot of monitors don’t have it. The ViewSonic monitor AMD sent along doesn’t, in fact.

Fortunately, AMD’s FreeSync page includes a Monitors tab in a chart at the bottom that lets you see the supported FreeSync ranges of every FreeSync display before you buy. FreeSync’s price advantage can diminish on exceptionally high-end monitors. Do your homework!

Next page: Buying advice and big picture

At a Glance
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