One of the longest running bugbears of PC gaming is screen tearing — ever so often you’ll notice that when in motion, visuals on screen appear torn or distorted, even with the best possible PC. Screen tearing happens when the PC’s graphics card pushes out frames either faster or slower than the monitor can refresh its image, resulting in visible jitter and split frames. While only seen for a fraction of a second, tearing is extremely jarring can ruin the experience of playing a game. More often than not, video cards can render frames faster than monitors can handle them, but the frequency is not uniform. Usually monitors can display games at 60 frames per second, but even if a video card is pumping out 80 or 90 frames per second and there are minute differences in the lag between them (also known as frame pacing), the result is visible screen tearing.
Some fixes exist, such as vertical sync, commonly known as v-sync — which forces the video card to slow itself down to the monitor’s maximum refresh rate, usually translating to a uniform 60 frames per second, expressed as 60Hz. This brings with it other concerns, most notably input lag and the inability to use the full potential of the graphics card. In games with busy sections such as the grand firefights in Battlefield 1, PCs often struggle even with v-sync enabled. You’ll be subject to stuttering and lag due to the monitor having to wait for the graphics card before it has a new frame to display. This is even more detrimental to the experience as a game’s most crucial segments can become insufferable.
The obvious solution is to allow monitors to refresh at a variable pace rather than forcing unevenly delivered frames into a 60Hz structure. This requires monitors to have special panels that can handle a variable refresh rate, and controllers that can sync with the input stream. Both Nvidia and AMD have come up with different ways to handle this. Nvidia calls its approach G-sync, and AMD has its own FreeSync standard. AMD’s choice of name is significant, because while Nvidia’s technology is proprietary and available only to its partners, FreeSync is not only freely useable but is also now an official part of the VESA (Video Electronics Standard Association) standards that display manufacturers follow.
FreeSync was officially launched on March 19, 2015. Fast forward to a little less than two years later, and AMD has revealed a second iteration — FreeSync 2 or Radeon FreeSync 2, if we’re to be completely pedantic.