If you were hoping the variable refresh monitor war would come to an end sooner rather than later, don’t hold your breath. Nvidia just kicked it up a notch, announcing at Computex on Monday (Taiwan time) that its variable refresh technology called G-Sync is coming to gaming laptops.
To show that it’s serious with G-Sync on laptops, the company has lined up no less than six different laptops from four different manufacturers that use G-Sync technology. All are expected to be available this month. In my hands-on with the G-Sync-enabled laptops, there was indeed a noticeable improvement in tearing and stuttering with G-Sync enabled.
The new laptops include:
Asus G751 with GeForce GTX 970m or GTX 980m and a 17.3-inch 1080p screen
MSI’s GT72G with GTX 970m or GTX 980m and a 17.3-inch 1080p screen
Clevo’s P7707M-G with GTX 970m or GTX 980m and—whoa, big surprise, a 17.3-inch 1080p screen
Clevo will also offer the P750ZM-G with GTX 970 or GTX 980 and a 15.6-inch 4K resolution screen.
Gigabyte’s Aorus X7 Pro-SYNC plays it a little differently: The laptop has a 17.3-inch 1080p screen but runs GTX 970m cards in SLI mode.
The company will also offer the Aorus X5 with a 15.6-inch 3K screen and GeForce GTX 965m GPU.
Why this matters: Variable refresh monitors enhance image quality by having the monitor match the graphics card’s frame rate and nearly eliminate annoying stuttering and tearing in games. Nvidia has long been the only player with G-Sync, which it announced in late 2013. But with monitors supporting AMD’s competing FreeSync finally shipping, it’s turned into another standards war. (AMD has also claimed FreeSync actually predates G-Sync)
There’s no need for a G-Sync module
G-Sync on laptops is a little different than a desktop monitor. Desktop monitors feature built-in scalers to handle the different inputs and communicate with the graphics card. G-Sync replaces those scalers with a G-Sync module that connects to the panel. Laptops don’t use scalers because they attach directly to the graphics card though LVDS or eDP (embedded DisplayPort).
Technically a laptop vendor could add G-Sync support to an existing laptop through a driver and firmware update. That isn’t likely to happen, however: The vendors queried by PCWorld said they currently had no plans do that.
Part of the problem may be the other factor that Nvidia says makes G-Sync superior to AMD’s implementation: closer integration and panel selection.
Nvidia controls the vertical and horizontal
Nvidia officials said that as part of the G-Sync validation process, laptop and monitor makers must submit panels to Nvidia for certification. If a panel doesn’t pass muster, it doesn’t get the G-Sync stamp of approval.
In essence, Nvidia can boot a panel it feels isn’t up to snuff. In fact, all six of the G-Sync laptops announced feature new 75Hz displays that, Nvidia said, meet its standards. Most laptop displays top out at 60Hz. Why no 120Hz or 144Hz panels? Nvidia said it wasn’t aware of any laptop-sized panels that could hit those refresh rates just yet.
The same process occurs on desktops, too. This validation process, Nvidia claims, makes G-Sync superior to AMD’s FreeSync.
Here’s where the fight begins: Nvidia pointed out issues with blurring that are said to occur on FreeSync-enabled monitors. AMD officials previously have told PCWorld that blurring is not a FreeSync problem, per se, but is mostly an issue with how each individual monitor is designed and implemented.
To an extent, Nvidia officials agree that it can be a monitor design and implementation issue but they also say that’s why G-Sync is better, because gamers will know Nvidia has approved the panel in use.
Blurring, for example, is accounted for in the G-Sync module, which is tuned for each panel used by the monitor. Nvidia also said that very low frame rates below the monitor’s refresh rate are also compensated for in G-Sync by doubling the refresh rate and inserting duplicate frames to make it appear smoother. Nvidia has only now revealed this technique, but tech web site PCPer did a clever dissection of it that’s explained here.
Nvidia also threw some sand in AMD’s eye in its presentation by highlighting that SLI currently supports G-Sync, while AMD has had to delay support for FreeSync with CrossFire multi-card setups.
New G-Sync monitors debut, seven in all
None of this matters if no one builds monitors, and that’s where the war is likely to drag out. As part of its announcement, Nvidia is touting seven new G-Sync panels on tap for this year.
Acer’s XB271HK, a 27-inch 4K IPS panel with a 60Hz refresh rate.
Acer’s XB281HK, a 28-inch 4K TN panel with a 60Hz refresh rate.
Acer’s X34, a 34-inch curved, wide-aspect IPS panel with a 3,440×1,440 resolution and 75Hz refresh rate.
Acer’s Z35, a 35-inch curved, wide-aspect VA panel with a 2,560×1,080 resolution and 144Hz refresh.
Asus’ PG279Q, a 27-inch 2560×1440 IPS panel with a 144Hz refresh rate.
Asus’ PG27AQ, a 27-inch 4K IPS panel with a 60Hz refresh rate.
Asus’ PG34Q, a 34-inch, 3,440×1,440 IPS panel with a 60Hz refresh rate.
The lineup lengthens the list of G-Sync monitors available to consumers, a glaring issue when G-Sync was first introduced. Specifically, it took almost seven months from G-Sync’s introduction to the availability of G-Sync monitor.
AMD has had just as much of a problem, if not worse, getting FreeSync-enabled monitors to the market. The first FreeSync monitors didn’t become available until just a few months ago, but AMD says we should expect to see no fewer than 20 FreeSync monitors this year.
Who will win this war? No one knows. In fact, speaking with Nvidia officials, they don’t even think there is a war, because few gamers go out to buy FreeSync-enabled monitors while G-Sync is a highly sought after check off item.