AMD has been relatively silent on the topic of NVIDIA’s variable refresh rate G-Sync technology since its announcement last year. At this year’s CES however, AMD gave me a short demo of its version of the technology.

Using two Toshiba Satellite Click notebooks purchased at retail, without any hardware modifications, AMD demonstrated variable refresh rate technology. According to AMD, there’s been a push to bring variable refresh rate display panels to mobile for a while now in hopes of reducing power consumption (refreshing a display before new content is available wastes power, sort of the same reason we have panel self refresh displays). There’s apparently already a VESA standard for controlling VBLANK intervals. The GPU’s display engine needs to support it, as do the panel and display hardware itself. If all of the components support this spec however, then you can get what appears to be the equivalent of G-Sync without any extra hardware.

In the case of the Toshiba Satellite Click, the panel already supports variable VBLANK. AMD’s display engines have supported variable VBLANK for a couple of generations, and that extends all the way down to APUs. The Satellite Click in question uses AMD’s low cost Kabini APU, which already has the requisite hardware to support variable VBLANK and thus variable display refresh rates (Kaveri as well as AMD's latest GPUs should support it as well). AMD simply needed driver support for controlling VBLANK timing, which is present in the latest Catalyst drivers. AMD hasn’t yet exposed any of the controls to end users, but all of the pieces in this demo are ready and already available.

The next step was to write a little demo app that could show it working. In the video below both systems have V-Sync enabled, but the machine on the right is taking advantage of variable VBLANK intervals. Just like I did in our G-Sync review, I took a 720p60 video of both screens and slowed it down to make it easier to see the stuttering you get with V-Sync On when your content has a variable frame rate. AMD doesn’t want to charge for this technology since it’s already a part of a spec that it has implemented (and shouldn’t require a hardware change to those panels that support the spec), hence the current working name “FreeSync”.

AMD’s demo isn’t quite as nice as NVIDIA’s swinging pendulum, and we obviously weren’t able to test anywhere near as many scenarios, but this one is a good starting point. The system on the left is limited to 30 fps given the heavy workload and v-sync being on, while the system on the right is able to vary its frame rate and synchronize presenting each frame to the display's refresh rate. AMD isn’t ready to productize this nor does it have a public go to market strategy, but my guess is we’ll see more panel vendors encouraged to include support for variable VBLANK and perhaps an eventual AMD driver update that enables control over this function.

In our review I was pretty pleased with G-Sync. I’d be even more pleased if all panels/systems supported it. AMD’s “FreeSync” seems like a step in that direction (and a sensible one too that doesn’t require any additional hardware). If variable VBLANK control is indeed integrated into all modern AMD GPUs, that means the Xbox One and PS4 should also have support for this. Given G-Sync’s sweet spot at between 40 - 60 fps, I feel like “FreeSync” would be a big win for AMD’s APUs.

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  • Teknobug - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    Sounds good, if it's actually good then that'll make Nvidia G-Sync and their $200 add-on or $500 monitor a laughing stock. Reply
  • RAmable - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    Currently G-Sync doesn't support multi-monitor setups, hopefully FreeSync makes this possible. Reply
  • Mathos - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    For those asking why Nvidia is charging money for special hardware, and why AMD is saying it's free...

    How long did Nvidia convince people that they needed a motherboard with an Nvidia chipset to run SLI with their cards? Or if it were an intel board, it had to have that nv200 bridge or whatever it was.. Something that is now completely supported through software on any high end chipset.

    What makes you think something like G-Sync or variable vblank would be any different for them? The impression I get, is that it's already supported by most mobile/laptop displays, and likely has been for a while. And that it's likely supported on most modern lcd displays as part of the vesa standard, it just hasn't been taken advantage of via drivers yet. Otherwise they wouldn't of been able to buy an off the shelf laptop to run the demo with.
    Reply
  • haukionkannel - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    In qanywat the best part in here is that Intel, Nvidia and AMD and what ever GPU maker can use this feature as they want. So everybody can support it. And because it is handled via software, there will be differencies how well it will work. I would not be surpriced if nVidia would do the best drivers for freesync (it they want to do it!). Maybe they don't do it at first because they allso have G-sync that pring them money.
    Allso the hardware with G-sync does help in many situations, that can not be done with free-sync. The interestin matter is, if AMD and/or intel can put some kind of buffer hardware in their GPU so that with that hardware and free-sync you could get the G-sync quality with every display in the market... That would be something usefull!
    Reply
  • DIYEyal - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    I doubt consoles will have that feature.. If they did, they will charge extra..
    more to that, most console gamers don't even know what's G sync or free sync really is or even heard of it.. So in their eyes it will be waist of time resources..
    Reply
  • TheJian - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    So if no hardware is needed, every monitor on the planet already works fine right? NO? Ok, oh, so YOU DO REQUIRE HARDWARE just like gsync requires a monitor mod and will be included in them in the future (just like vblank crap is in this PARTICULAR laptop you tested).
    "Using two Toshiba Satellite Click notebooks purchased at retail, without any hardware modifications"
    Right because it ALREADY had support it needed in it. Or why doesn't it work with my old Dell laptop too?
    "The GPU’s display engine needs to support it, as do the panel and display hardware itself. If all of the components support this spec however, then you can get what appears to be the equivalent of G-Sync without any extra hardware."

    Right, so lots of things need to be supported for it to work and we hope one day they DO include support for this just like a gsync module, NV card and good NV drivers...LOL. But to Anand (and probably Ryan), there is no change needed...hmmm...Surely some mistake Anand? You're not this dumb right? Saying something requires changes is ...well, saying it requires some changes. If it requires NOTHING, we can all use it today. OH wait...We can't because I need some CHANGES to my monitor, maybe vid card needs an upgrade, need drivers etc. IF it's built in now, why doesn't my Dell 2407WFP-HC and Radeon 5850 stutter today? I can just download some software and fix this today Anand? It's requires no hardware changes according to you right? Where is my download link. I want to check it out...LOL.

    "and a sensible one too that doesn’t require any additional hardware"
    If that statement was even near true you couldn't write this in the same article:
    "AMD isn’t ready to productize this nor does it have a public go to market strategy, but my guess is we’ll see more panel vendors encouraged to include support for variable VBLANK and perhaps an eventual AMD driver update that enables control over this function."

    So Vendors need to be ENCOURAGED to include support for something and you're hoping they do. How is this support any different than saying I hope Gsync gets in more monitors?
    "In our review I was pretty pleased with G-Sync. I’d be even more pleased if all panels/systems supported it."

    Yeah, so same statement for both sides I guess. We'd like to see monitors support this, but THEY REQUIRE SOMETHING to do it from both sides...ROFL@ Anand/Ryan's AMD twists (and even Ian's 1440p articles claiming AMD A8-5600's are great cpus for any single gpu cards...ROFLMAO).

    Having monitors that requires SOME kind of support is the exact same thing as gsync, and I don't think AMD wants to charge nothing. They just can't charge for something that is part of a FREE SPEC. They can't afford to fund their own Gsync, so have to wait for free stuff to come along that gets the job done. Hopefully it will work as well, but as we see with other FREE stuff like OpenCL, when you have no money BACKING a tech it takes forever to implement. How long will it take for Billions to be poured into OpenCL to match what Cuda has done with Billions in backing (and 7yrs of doing it) which created an entire software/hardware ecosystem with over 200pro apps using it? I think a decade+. Many people don't realize Cuda didn't come first...ROFL. OpenCL did and NV was key in designing it. But since there is no money to be made in funding FREE stuff like OpenCL they created Cuda which took over as a FUNDED tech that makes the COMPANY money. Let me know how much freesync or OpenCL makes for AMD. I might hate proprietary tech, but I wish AMD would start making some because that is what you make money on (like GCN, etc, tech nobody else can copy without at least a lic which again gains money). What do you gain from Mantle when you have to pay EA 8million to use it? You LOSE money. Physx doesn't make NV money either. These are nice things to have, but not until you have winning perf/better tech/functional drivers first that makes us buy products.

    If AMD can expose FreeSync, the only win here is NV isn't alone. NV can access the same FREE spec if desired at any point if Gsync doesn't win out. If you don't think they have a FREESYNC backup driver waiting in the wings you don't realize how smart Jen is, nor why they make money while AMD usually loses it. I would have been more impressed with them creating Not-so-FREESYNC...Tech like that might keep them in the black for a few years.

    People wake up and smell the stink...Too much AMD love on this site. Where's that NV portal for NV news to match the AMD love here on this site? You guys don't even hide the slant these days. Read the quotes above, in one sentence it is already IN everything and supported, but the next sentence it needs the same THREE things NV does with gsync. Card, monitor and driver support. We will see FREEsync monitors with a premium FEE attached on top of regular models I'd guess. They maybe should have called it OpenSync, instead of FREE. It isn't free and we have no idea how much it will cost to implement. The product is beta and you're already assuming it's free because you love AMD and they may have paid you to say it. They certainly pay for their PORTAL here right? The slant too..The mantle love article claming xbox used it...LOL.

    Quoting Charlie at anandtech now too these days (the K1 article quotes him for assumptions?)? It's called semiaccurate for a reason...ROFL.
    Reply
  • TheJian - Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - link

    Oops...LOL I was thinking OpenGL dates (early 90's?) but OpenCL didn't come until 2008 IIRC (siggraph 2008 I think both NV and AMD had demos, cuda came the year before) though apple did come up with it and send it to khronos for everyone else to work on, amd, nv, Intel, IBM etc etc (Not sure how much apple does on this now but they're still in the group AFAIK and they own the patent actually). But the point is the same. No backing, equals takes forever or never in most cases unless there is financial gain to be had for using it and apparently none of 100 companies has (so far) cared about OpenCL but AMD. I don't see tons of money pouring into OpenCL. Heck even OpenGL has lost for years to Directx due to MONEY. Where's the edit button... :) Reply
  • SlyNine - Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - link

    Except for, opps, they already explained it perfectly well.

    The hardware in existing displays and AMD videocards have been able to do this for a while. It's just not exposed. All a monitor would have to do is make a slight alteration to the firmware and amd with its drivers.
    Reply
  • Manish_Nayak - Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - link

    What is the max refresh rate we can get with FreeSync?? G-sync is targetting higher frequency > 120FPS Reply
  • SlyNine - Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - link

    Is there any reason to assume freesync wouldn't work at 120fps? Until there is I wouldn't worry about it. Reply

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