AMD FreeSync Technology Review

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅19-03-15
How Is FreeSync Different?
Early in 2014 AMD began to show off and early implementation of FreeSync. The name was chosen deliberately: whilst the AMD would have their own methodology within the GPU the monitor part of the spec should be open and free to tap in to, potentially allowing the likes of Intel and Nvidia to also make use of it. Furthermore it wouldn’t involve the use of proprietary hardware and licencing fees, making the costs of adoption to both monitor manufacturers and consumers relatively low. A tempting proposal you have to agree.

VESA, the standards body who develop the Displayport specification, had already implemented a standard they called Adaptive Sync within the spec for embedded-Displayport (eDP), it was likely this which AMD utilised in their early FreeSync demonstrations on jury-rigged laptops. It was AMD’s argument that Adaptive Sync should also be adopted in DisplayPort 1.3 (i.e. a mandatory port of the forthcoming spec) and if possible implemented as an option for DisplayPort 1.2a. In May last year AMD got their wish, despite representations from the competition, as VESA announced the addition of Adaptive Sync as an extension to DisplayPort 1.2a.

AMD suggested that FreeSync-compatible monitors would start to roll out in 6-12 months. At the time that sounded quite optimistic, despite manufacturer familiarity with eDP, but just ten months later we’re starting to see the first FreeSync monitors released. Most importantly they appear to have held to at least part of their assertions – there’s no proprietary hardware on the monitor side of the equation, and indeed AMD have stated that simply adhering to the Adaptive Sync standard should be enough to have a GPU recognise it as a FreeSync-capable monitor.

FreeSync Implementation

Supporting Adaptive Sync in new monitor models appears to have been straightforward if the number of new monitors with the feature is anything to go by, and is in stark contrast to Nvidia G-SYNC. Furthermore the technology replaces neither scaler components nor other input modes, allowing the continued use of HDMI and DVI (in non-FreeSync operation) as well as audio.

One criticism we would have of FreeSync is that graphics support on AMD’s side is somewhat muddled, chiefly due to the rebranding which took place during the release of the R9 290-class (Hawaii) GPU in 2013. In essence, AMD GPUs and APUs built on GCN 1.2 architecture will support FreeSync, however earlier GCN-class GPUs will not.

Supported Hardware

Discrete Desktop GPUs

AMD Radeon R9 295X2
AMD Radeon R9 290X
AMD Radeon R9 290
AMD Radeon R9 285
AMD Radeon R9 260X
AMD Radeon R9 260
AMD Radeon HD 7790*

Desktop APU

AMD A10 7850K APU
AMD A10 7800 APU
AMD A10 7700K APU
AMD A8 7650K APU
AMD A8 7600 APU
AMD A8 7400K APU

*The HD7790 is has the same Bonaire GPU as the R9 260 and 260X, and hence is the only GPU in the HD7000 range which is FreeSync compatible.

Those who have purchased an R9 280-class or 270-class GPU will not be able to take advantage of FreeSync, and it’s disappointing that this hasn’t been obvious. On the plus side all future desktop GPUs and APUs should be compatible with FreeSync, including the recently announced Carrizo line.

By not introducing their own monitor hardware AMD leave monitor manufacturers to implemented their own proprietary display technologies and support them in tandem with FreeSync on a case-by-case basis. For example, the Acer XG270HU is a 144Hz FreeSync panel which supports OverDrive and Acer eColour Management in FreeSync, however the BenQ XL2730Z (also a 144Hz panel) will not support their Blur reduction technology in FreeSync mode. AMD are working with manufacturers to smooth out incompatibilities wherever possible.

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