What Is Screen Tearing And How Do You Fix It?

Answer:

Screen tearing occurs when your monitor’s refresh rate and GPU’s frame rate are not synchronized. It’s characterized as a horizontal split at one or more places of the image.

You can fix it by enabling VSync, Adaptive VSync, Enhanced Sync, Fast Sync, FreeSync, or G-SYNC depending on what your PC system and monitor support.

Although most gamers might not see having a higher FPS (Frames Per Second) rate than your monitor’s maximum refresh rate as a big problem, it can cause obvious screen tearing, which can be quite annoying.

Of course, screen tearing can also occur if your FPS rate is lower than the refresh rate of your display. In this case, however, the stuttery performance caused by a low FPS rate will certainly bother you more than the occasional tearing.

There are a few different ways to fix screen tearing depending on what features your graphics card and monitor support.

How To Fix Screen Tearing

monitor screen tearing

VSync

At first, VSync (Vertical Synchronization) was the only way to eliminate screen tearing.

It synchronizes the vertical refresh rate of your monitor with GPU’s frame rates, but because it makes your graphics card wait until the monitor can display a full frame, you get higher input lag.

So, if you have a 60Hz monitor, and you’re getting 120FPS, enabling VSync will cap your frame rate to 60FPS and you’ll get higher input lag, but no screen tearing.

Without VSync, you’ll get tearing, but the input lag will be lower.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference: what you can tolerate more. In competitive titles, you’ll have to settle for VSync ‘Off’ for the best results.

In more graphically-oriented games, you can use VSync ‘On’ if screen tearing is bothersome to you.

Different gamers will prefer different options. Some don’t notice (or care for) screen tearing and some don’t feel the extra input lag introduced by VSync ‘On.’

Note that the higher refresh rate, the less noticeable screen tearing will be; that’s why most competitive gamers opt for 240Hz displays and play with VSync disabled.

There’s a trick to reduce the input lag added by VSync, which includes using RTSS (Rivatuner Statistics Server) to limit the in-game frame rate by your monitor’s maximum refresh rate subtracted by 0.01.

To know the exact refresh rate (with 3 decimals) of your monitor, you can use this website.

NVIDIA Adaptive VSync

In case your FPS rate often dips below your monitor’s maximum refresh rate, but you want to keep screen tearing at bay, VSync ‘On’ is not the best way to go.

For instance, on a 60Hz display with VSync enabled, dropping to 59FPS will cause VSync to essentially half your frame rate to 30FPS in order to keep things synchronized. This will eliminate tearing, but you will experience stutter, which is even worse.

If you have an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 graphics card or newer, you can use Adaptive VSync. This technology allows VSync to be enabled as long as your FPS rate is equal to or higher than your refresh rate. Once it drops below the refresh rate, Adaptive VSync will turn off VSync thus replacing stuttering with slight tearing until your FPS rate recovers.

NVIDIA Fast Sync & AMD Enhanced Sync

If you have a newer graphics card (NVIDIA GeForce 900 series and AMD GCN-based GPUs or newer), you can use Fast Sync and Enhanced Sync instead of VSync.

These two technologies don’t limit your frame rate to the maximum refresh rate of your monitor. Instead, they simply show the most recently completed full frame thus preventing tearing without introducing as much input lag.

While the input lag is significantly lower than what you’d get with just the regular VSync enabled, it’s not quite as low as it would be with VSync disabled.

The higher your frame rate is, the lower the input lag will be. Ideally, your FPS rate should be at least double the maximum refresh rate of your monitor for the input lag to be noticeably lower.

NVIDIA G-SYNC & AMD FreeSync

freesync and gsync

NVIDIA’s G-SYNC and AMD’s FreeSync technologies allow the monitor to change its refresh rate dynamically, according to your GPU’s frame rates as long as your FPS rate is within the monitor’s supported variable refresh rate (VRR) range.

Related:What Is G-SYNC And What Does It Do?What Is FreeSync And What Does It Do?

So, if you’re getting 65FPS on a 144Hz gaming monitor that supports VRR with a 48-144Hz range, the monitor will dynamically change its refresh rate to 65Hz thus eliminating screen tearing and stuttering at imperceptible input lag penalty (~1ms)!

G-SYNC can only be used with NVIDIA cards on monitors that feature dedicated G-SYNC modules while FreeSync is supported by both AMD and NVIDIA (GTX 10-series or newer, via the ‘G-SYNC Compatible’ mode using DisplayPort) cards.

Related:G-SYNC Compatible vs Native G-SYNC – What’s The Difference?

Some G-SYNC monitors also support Adaptive-Sync (protocol which FreeSync is based on) in order to provide VRR for AMD graphics cards, too.

Note that FreeSync/G-SYNC only works up to the monitor’s maximum refresh rate.

So, you can either use it in combination with Enhanced Sync/Fast Sync or limit your FPS rate to a few frames below your monitor’s maximum refresh rate in order to completely remove tearing.

Compatible devices and displays with HDMI 2.1 can also eliminate screen tearing via the HDMI 2.1 Forum VRR technology.

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Rob Shafer
Rob Shafer

Rob is a software engineer with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver. He now works full-time managing DisplayNinja while coding his own projects on the side.