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What Is VSync And Should You Have It On Or Off?

All gamers want their gaming experience to be as immersive as possible, and in an attempt to do so, they try to get the best PC hardware possible. However, sometimes, problems like screen tearing can totally ruin the experience. This is where VSync comes in. 

VSync is a synchronization technology designed to eliminate screen tearing. It is provided as a setting in most games and limits the GPU’s frame rate to the monitor’s refresh rate. Turn it on to mange screen tearing and to test increased performance, but expect to fiddle with the settings a bit.

VSync is a syncing technology that’s provided as a game setting and is designed for GPUs, video games, and monitors. While it is designed to reduce screen tearing, there’s much more to it. Let’s see what it is in detail, whether you should have it on or off, and if it affects the FPS. 

What is VSync? 

Playing games on PC

Vertical Sync, or VSync, is a graphics technology designed to synchronize the gaming monitor’s refresh rate and the game’s frame rate. GPU manufacturers introduced the technology to deal with a visual artifact known as screen tearing.

Screen tearing occurs when the refresh rate of the monitor (the number of times it updates per second) and the frames per second provided by your GPU aren’t in sync. It manifests as a horizontal split along a line and shows parts of different frames together. 

This visual artifact can happen anytime, but it’s evident in vertical elements like trees and buildings. It is particularly clear in high-speed games like fighter and shooter games. However, it can affect all kinds of games regardless of their genre.

And the worst part is that it comes in the way of an immersive gaming experience and makes the game look pretty ugly. This is why you need VSync.

How VSync works 

Preventing parts of different frames from being displayed simultaneously can help eliminate screen tearing. This is where VSync comes in. It limits the frame rate of the GPU to the monitor’s refresh rate. 

However, since this isn’t enough to stop screen tearing, VSync forces the rendered frames to be displayed with the monitor’s refresh cycle. In other words, it prevents the GPU from rendering new frames right in the middle of the monitor’s refresh cycle.

Ultimately, it avoids frames per second that are higher than what the monitor can handle. In addition, with technologies like double buffering and page flipping, VSync displays frames only after a refresh cycle is complete, so gamers don’t see tears.

Is it Better to Have VSync on or Off?

AMD and NVIDIA have released their advanced versions of VSync (FreeSync and GSync, respectively) that help eliminate screen tearing. However, both technologies require expensive graphics cards, cables, and monitors.

And if you don’t have the hardware, keeping your VSync off or on comes down to personal preference. And to make the right choice, you first need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of VSync.

When You Should Use VSync

VSync is worth trying out if you’re facing screen tearing. If done correctly, it can lower the GPU and bring it down to the same level as the monitor. As a result, it starts to function better and minimizes screen tearing. 

It can also be helpful in cases where your graphics processor easily outperforms the graphical demand, like when playing ancient games. When GPUs work at their highest speed, they tend to render outdated scenes, which might result in very high frame rates.

Since the GPU emits frames at a high pace, it can cause it to overheat. But switching VSync on can limit the FPS to the monitor’s refresh rate, reducing the graphics engine load.

When You Shouldn’t Use VSync

Even though VSync works fine most of the time, there are some cases where you might notice that it’s affecting your gaming experience for the worst.

For example, VSync waits until your monitor is ready before displaying any frames, resulting in an input lag. And if you’re right in the middle of a very intense game, lagging is the last thing you’d want to face.

Plus, the number of frames can go below the monitor’s refresh rate, further decreasing the frame rate. And while you can switch on triple buffering to deal with this problem, it isn’t always reliable. 

So Should You Keep it off or on?

You now know that keeping VSync on while playing your favorite games is a good option as long as it works as you expect it to.

It reduces screen tearing and ultimately makes your gaming experience better. Plus, it makes sure your GPU doesn’t overwork itself while rendering the frames that eventually lead to screen tearing.

And while there are numerous alternatives to VSync, like G-Sync by Nvidia and FreeSync by AMD, you might experience decreased frame rates and increased input lag if the VSync isn’t suitable for your computer.

So, the answer to whether you should keep it off or on is quite simple. If you often experience screen tearing so much that it’s difficult to enjoy playing the game, it’s better to keep VSync on. 

But if you’re experiencing decreased frame rate or input lag, keeping VSync off is the better option. In general, VSync doesn’t cause any problems, so you should be able to keep it on without a problem.

Does VSync Affect FPS?

When you force the frames to be rendered before they are displayed, it can harm the fps. At best, the frame rate should be limited to the display’s refresh rate. 

VSync can fix screen tearing, but you must sacrifice responsiveness and performance. In addition, it can significantly affect the performance of the GPU by reducing the frame rate since it limits the frame rate of the GPU to the monitor’s refresh rate.

While this doesn’t make much of a difference when the frame rate is higher than the refresh rate, things can start to go downhill when the frame rate goes below the monitor’s refresh rate.

For instance, a particular scene that forces the max frame rate to 59 fps won’t display the scene at 59 fps if the refresh rate is 60 Hz. Because of the 16.67-millisecond synchronization time needed by VSync for a 60Hz display, the actual displayed frame rate will drop from 59 fps down to 45 fps.

What About Performance? 

PC monitor

In some cases, the higher fps in the game can reduce the input lag and affect your performance. If the monitor can not maintain the game’s fps, then VSync can make a difference.

However, it can’t improve colors, brightness levels such as HDR, or colors. It’s only a preventative technology that helps to stop a specific problem instead of making improvements.

And to make things worse, the GPU performance and, thus, the frame rate dramatically varies throughout the game. In cases like these, VSync can cause some frames to stay on the screen longer than others.

Does VSync Cause Lag?

To understand if VSync causes lag, you first need to understand what lag is.

What is Lag?

When you move the mouse or type using the keyboard, you’ll notice a very slight and almost imperceptible lag between your action and the output you see on the display. The lag is minimal, so much so it’s measured in milliseconds.

Using the computer to surf the web or play casual games won’t significantly impact your experience. However, every millisecond makes a difference when you play competitive games such as esports or shooter games.  

Only a few milliseconds of the input lag can make all the difference between taking the headshot yourself or becoming a victim of one. By default, all TVs and monitors add some amount of input lag, but it depends on the kind of panel used.

Panels with a high refresh rate, like TN and IPS panels, offer the lowest input latency, so much so that some monitors have a latency of around 0.5 ms. Meanwhile, VA panels often have a higher lag of 8-10 ms.

What Happens When VSync is off?

When VSync is switched off, the GPU sends the rendered frames to the screen as quickly as possible. However, since the display can’t output the frames very fast, it results in screen tearing since a new frame is displayed on the screen before the previous one is gone. 

In contrast, when VSync is on, the GPU can’t replace the monitor buffer’s content with a frame before the one completes its duration of 16.66 ms. As a result, all the frames are displayed entirely, reducing screen tearing. 

At the same time, it also forces the GPU to line up the frames instead of sending them to the display. As a result, it adds up to 50ms of latency in addition to the display’s input lag.