See In Sync. No, Not That One

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Putting my nostalgia for '90s music aside, there's also something I'm missing—a monitor. Scratch that. I mean a good, budget-friendly monitor that also lives up to my high standards. For many, any will do; however, gamers tend to be a bit pickier when it comes to display mediums, and one of the leading factors in my dilemma is this issue with syncing and graphics cards. If you haven't experienced recent syncing technology, whether it be NVIDIA G-Sync or AMD FreeSync, there are no backstreets to it. No amount of reading online will replace actual first-hand experience.

Generally, all these technologies are designed to eliminate screen tearing and stuttering for smoother gameplay. While there are nuances here and there, let's quickly go over the terminology as simply as possible for the general audience.

  • V-Sync – Generic sync solution with fixed values and increased input lag. E.g. 30, 60, 120, etc.
  • VESA Adaptive-Sync – Operates via DisplayPort only and within a set variable refresh rate range. Can be used with select AMD and Intel® integrated graphics; however, NVIDIA currently does not support this.
  • AMD FreeSync – Based on Adaptive-Sync, but adhering to AMD standards, FreeSync also operates within a specific window. E.g. 30 to 144 Hz.
  • NVIDIA G-Sync – A hardware and software solution. Unlike the previous syncs, G-Sync is designed to work across the entire refresh rate range of the monitor. E.g. 0 to 165 Hz vs 30 to 144 Hz.
  • AMD FreeSync 2 & NVIDIA G-Sync HDR – Next-gen syncing with HDR support and other improvements.

The tl;dr is: G-Sync works with NVIDIA GPUs and FreeSync/Adaptive-Sync with AMD GPUs.

As you can see, depending on which graphics card manufacturer you choose, you're basically locked into their sync support. So, whether you're new to PC gaming or an experienced veteran, we've prepared a few suggestions for you to think about. Please note that these tiers are based on price, performance, opinion, as well as considering 1440p to be the new gaming standard. If you're only interested in monitor suggestions, feel free to skip down to that section below.

Yes, previous-gen cards such as NVIDIA's 900- and AMD's RX 400/R9-series are still viable, but we're sticking to more recent-gens in this article.

High-End Solutions

NVIDIA

Currently the most powerful gaming graphics card NVIDIA has to offer is the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. Aside from its hefty price, it also carries some future-ready technologies such as ray-tracing, which you can read more about here. Eye candy aside, it's important for games to feel fluid, which is why, for maximum frames, you can get two of these set up in SLI. For a step down, the RTX 2080 also supports SLI. Whether you get two graphics cards or not, I'd still consider even one of these cards as a top-tier performer. Another step lower and we have the RTX 2070. Due to pricing, I can't comfortably place or recommend the RTX 2070 as a mid-tier solution. Additionally, according to multiple benchmarks online, its performance is often compared to that of a GTX 1080. Unlike its big brothers, the RTX 2070 does not support SLI.

MSI GeForce RTX 2080 GAMING X TRIO Graphics Card

NVIDIA RTX-Off

Just because it's not the newest gen doesn't mean it's any less worthy. The GTX 1080 Ti is the top-tier card of last gen with the performance for 4K gaming. If you're not RTX-ready, the GTX 1080 Ti and GTX 1080 are both great contenders. In case there's some odd reason you'd want a Titan Xp… for its price, you might as well get an RTX 2080 Ti.

EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC2 ELITE GAMING RED Graphics Card
EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC2 ELITE GAMING RED Graphics Card

AMD

AMD's top-tier card to date is the Radeon RX Vega 64, which many like to compare to the GTX 1080. There has always been a lot of competition between the Green team and the Red team, and plenty of variables to consider, such as drivers, game optimization, and much more, but we're not heading down that road. Simply put, if you want the best gaming card AMD offers as of 2018, then look no further. If you're patient enough, AMD's next-gen offerings are going to be built on 7 nm chips with AMD's own CEO Lisa Su confirming some sort of coverage at CES 2019.

MSI Radeon RX Vega 64 Air Boost 8G OC Graphics Card

Current Meta

NVIDIA

As previously stated, the RTX 2070 is difficult to consider as a mid-tier option, due to its price. Unless an RTX 2060 is in the works or prices magically drop, customers who need an NVIDIA graphics card should reconsider the 10 series. As intended, the GTX 1070 is a good choice for smooth 1440p gaming, which is slowly becoming the new norm. If you're willing to spend a little bit more, the GTX 1070 Ti is a much better choice because it performs slightly under a GTX 1080. On sale, certain models can even be found within GTX 1070 pricing, making them that much more worth it.

EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 Ti SC GAMING Graphics Card

AMD

Right under the Vega 64, we have the Radeon RX Vega 56. This is the best bang-for-your-buck 1440p AMD gaming card. Until there's news of next-gen GPUs, I'm sorry to say that there's not much else.

Entry Level

NVIDIA

Moving further down the 10-series line, we have the GTX 1060, GTX 1050 Ti, and GTX 1050. Budget aside, these are all considerable cards for Full HD gaming. You might have to tweak a few settings here and there for certain games, depending on what you get, but these three cards hold their own in this tier. Anything lower than these, including integrated graphics, are still valid choices, but just don't expect to be able to run games at their best.

EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 SC GAMING Graphics Card

AMD

At this level, AMD has four models you can consider: the Radeon RX 580, RX 570, RX 560, and RX 550. The first two are acceptable for 1080p gaming; however, with anything lower, you'll be running games at medium-to-low settings. If this is within your budget, then you should factor in what games you're playing and adjust your expectations accordingly.

MSI Radeon RX 580 ARMOR 8G OC Graphics Card

A New Challenger Approaches

Intel®

Intel is working on dedicated graphics cards to compete with NVIDIA and AMD. While we have news and confirmation of this, the announcement and release of these cards are expected sometime in 2020. It's years away, which is forever in the PC market, but if you're still holding out or looking for an upgrade when 2020 rolls by, keep an eye out for these.

Now, Sync It With…

With graphics cards covered, we'll be moving on to monitors. If you want a more detailed explanation of screen resolution, aspect ratio, response time, refresh rate, panel type, and why you'd want this or that, you can learn more about that here. Otherwise, we're going to dive right into recommendations instead. We're also going to move away from the tier-ranking system because displays depend heavily on personal preference. If there's a certain feature you must have, e.g. 4K, 100 Hz+, or IPS, then make that your priority.


NVIDIA G-Sync Displays

3840 x 2160 4K UHD

If you're eager for 4K gaming, then check out the Acer Predator XB321HK. Aside from its 3840 x 2160 resolution, it's built with an IPS panel and has a 60 Hz refresh rate. More importantly, it measures 32", which is within the optimal display size for 4K viewing. If you're not satisfied with 60 Hz, consider the ASUS ROG Swift PG27UQ, which shaves a few inches off for a 144 Hz refresh rate.

ASUS Republic of Gamers Swift PG27UQ 27" 16:9 4K UHD IPS Gaming Monitor

Ultrawide 21:9

The Acer Predator X34 is a curved 34" 1440p monitor with a 21:9 aspect ratio built on an IPS panel featuring a 100 Hz refresh rate. The benefits of a 21:9 monitor include showing more of a game, if it's supported, of course, as well as increasing your multitasking capabilities because it feels essentially like two screens stitched together. Additionally, it's curved, which isn't for everyone, but can be appealing for others. Along with the Predator, I'd like to recommend the ASUS ROG Swift PG348Q and Dell Alienware AW3418DW as solid alternatives, with the Dell capable of reaching up to 120 Hz when overclocked.

Acer Predator X34 Pbmiphzx 34" 21:9 Curved G-SYNC IPS Gaming Monitor

2560 x 1440 2K WQHD

As I mentioned before, 2K is the direction in which most gamers are gravitating. At this resolution, the optimal screen size is around 27", but feel free to go larger or smaller as needed. Noteworthy models in this category include the Acer Predator XB1 XB271HU and the ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q.

Acer Predator XB1 XB271HU bmiprz 27" 16:9 IPS Monitor

1920 x 1080 Full HD

At this point, you might have noticed I've been recommending plenty of IPS panel displays. Personally, I find that IPS delivers the image quality, color, and viewing angles I want for more than primarily gaming. By switching to TN, though, you'll be able to achieve much higher refresh rate and response times. If that's what you're aiming for, there's the ASUS ROG SWIFT PG258Q and Acer Predator XB251HQT, which feature a 240 Hz refresh rate.

ASUS ROG SWIFT PG258Q 24.5" 16:9 240 Hz LCD Gaming Monitor

AMD FreeSync & Adaptive Sync Displays

3840 x 2160 4K UHD

In the 4K FreeSync realm, LG has two great choices: the LG 27UK650-W and LG 32UD59-B. The 32" is built with a VA panel, whereas the 27" is built with an IPS and supports HDR10. Both have a 60 Hz refresh rate. VA panels are somewhat of a middle ground between IPS and TN, so take the time to research which one might be the best fit for you.

LG 27UK650-W 27" 16:9 4K HDR FreeSync IPS Monitor

Ultrawide 21:9

For ultrawide enthusiasts, or those who just hate bezels, the ASUS Designo MX34VQ and Acer XR382CQK are noteworthy choices. The ASUS has a much higher refresh rate at 100 Hz; however, the Acer measures slightly bigger at 37.5" with 3840 x 1600 resolution. Also worth mentioning is that both models are curved, and that the ASUS is built on a VA panel, and the Acer, an IPS. Many ultra-wides are curved for immersion and viewing angle purposes; however, you don't have to follow this trend if it's not for you.

ASUS Designo MX34VQ 34" 21:9 Curved Adaptive-Sync LCD Monitor

2560 x 1440 2K WQHD

27" is the sweet spot for 2K resolution gaming, so there are plenty of choices. The ASUS MG279Q is one of the most recommended models, being an IPS monitor with a 144 Hz refresh rate and an acceptable 4 ms response time. In case you want to go curved, the Samsung C27HG70 also provides you with a 144 Hz refresh rate, but with a VA panel, 10-bit color, and FreeSync 2 support.

ASUS MG279Q 27" Widescreen LED Backlit IPS Gaming Monitor

1920 x 1080 Full HD

If you want a ridiculously high refresh rate, then a TN panel with 1080p resolution is the way to go. The BenQ ZOWIE XL2540 has a 240 Hz refresh rate with a fast 1 ms response time. Moreover, it comes with a monitor hood to block out annoying background light and an S-Switch device that lets you quickly switch through saved modes and inputs.

BenQ ZOWIE XL2540 25" 16:9 240 Hz Zowie LCD Gaming Monitor

Bonus: That's a TV

While displays are getting up there in size at up to 34" and up, these are practically large enough that I'd consider them to be TVs. First is the Samsung CHG90. Measuring 49", this curved 144 Hz VA display supports FreeSync 2, and is large enough to replace a multi-monitor setup. The rest are NVIDIA's BFGDs including the ASUS ROG Swift PG65, Acer Predator BFGD, and HP OMEN X65. Aside from 120 Hz G-Sync, BFGDs also support HDR with a 1,000 nits peak brightness and feature a built-in NVIDIA Shield. Whether these are for you or not is something only you can decide, but expect a serious price tag.

Samsung CHG90 49" 32:9 Curved 144 Hz FreeSync HDR LCD Monitor

Thanks for sticking with me to the end, or just scrolling to the bottom. Regardless, hopefully you've been able to learn a few things here and there about variable refresh rates, syncing, and the required hardware. Like many, I'm currently holding off from buying a new monitor and graphics card combo, thanks to my fear of commitment, but it's probably more so due to the abysmal number in my bank account. Preferably, I'd like a 32" 4K IPS display with a 120Hz/+ refresh rate and some sort of sync without worrying about which GPU I buy. What are your bougie requirements? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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