NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: May 2, 2012
Product Name: GTX 690
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Smoother Gaming Through Adaptive VSync

In a market that seems eternally obsessed with high framerates, artificially capping performance at a certain levels by enabling Vertical Synchronization (or VSync) may seem like a cardinal sin. In simplified terms, VSync essentially sets the framerate within games to the refresh rate of the monitor which means games running on 60Hz monitors will achieve framerates of no higher than 60FPS. 120Hz panels eliminate this limitation and boost framerates to 120 but monitors sporting the technology are few in number and they usually come with astronomical price points.

With today’s graphics cards pushing boundaries that weren’t even dreamed of a few years ago, gamers usually want to harness every last drop of their latest purchase. This alongside the possible input lag issues VSync causes many gamers choose to disable VSync altogether. However, there are some noteworthy issues associated with running games at high framerates, asynchronously to the vertical refresh rate of most monitors.

Without VSync enabled, games will flow more naturally, average framerates are substantially higher and commands will be registered onscreen in short order. However, as the framerates run outside of the monitor’s refresh rate tearing begins to occur, decreasing image quality and potentially leading to unwanted distractions. Tearing happens when fragments of multiple frames are displayed on the screen as the monitor can’t keep up with the massive amount of rendered information being pushed through at once.

For some, V-Sync can be a saving grace since it eliminates the horizontal tearing but other than the aforementioned input lag, there is one other major drawback: stuttering. Remember, syncing up the monitor with your game holds both refresh rates and framerates at 60. However, some scenes can cause framerates to droop well below the optimal 60 mark which will lead to some frames being “missed” by the 60Hz monitor refresh and thus cause a slight stuttering effect. Basically, as the monitor is refreshing itself 60 times every second, the lower framerate causes it to momentarily display 30, 20, 15 (or any other multiple of 60) frames per second.

Through Adaptive VSync NVIDIA now gives users the best of both worlds by still capping framerates at the same level as the screen’s refresh rate but when framerate droops are detected, it temporarily disables the synchronization. This boosts framerates for as long as needed before once again enabling VSync when performance climbs to optimal levels. It is supposed to virtually eliminate visible stutter –even though some will still occur as the algorithm switches over- and improve overall framerates while still maintaining the tear-free experience normally associated with VSync.

Adaptive VSync can be enabled in drivers’ control panel but will only be available starting with the 300.xx-series driver stack. For this technology to be effective, all VSync changes should be done in the control panel while VSync needs to be disabled within any in-game graphics menu. There’s also the option for a “Half Refresh Rate” sync that can be used to lock the framerates to 30 FPS for highly demanding games or for graphics cards that can’t quite hit the 60 FPS mark.

So what kind of affect does Adaptive VSync have upon a typical gaming experience? We used it in Batman: Arkham City and Dirt 3 to find out.

Examples w/GTX 680

The results were certainly definitive, at least in the case of Batman: Arkham City. In it, the framerates were significantly more constant as the Adaptive VSync effectively eliminating the peaks and valleys normally associated with a highly demanding game. Dirt 3 on the other hand doesn’t really benefit from this technology in an overt manner but there are still plenty of instances where the framerates were smoothed out so they didn’t reach quite as far into negative territory.

The graphs above only tell half the story though since the real impact of Adaptive VSync can only be experienced when actually playing a game live. Stuttering will become nearly nonexistent and the difference between it being enabled and disabled really is like night and day. The term “smooth as a baby’s bottom” comes to mind. Unfortunately, NVIDIA hasn’t quite found a way to eliminate VSync’s usual input lag issues but turning on Triple Buffering within the control panel can help mask these problems.

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