Nvidia G-Sync promises smoother laptop gaming (hands-on)

This high-end desktop gaming tech comes to laptops, in systems from Origin PC and others.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read

Graphics cards talk to PC displays, and that's how computer game graphics go from the game to the gamer. That conversation is one that is fraught with hiccups, as it depends on the resolution of the display, the power of the graphics card and the component requirements of the game. One of the most promising developments for improving that process of late has been G-Sync, a technology from component-maker Nvidia.

G-Sync promises to eliminate tearing and screen stutter, and improve input lag (where input commands can be out of sync with the action onscreen). It does this by synchronizing the monitor's refresh rate to the GPU's render rate, so images display the moment they are needed. But, until now, that's required a desktop graphics card and one of a handful of monitors that have a special G-Sync chip built into its logic board. In the desktop setups we've tested it on. G-Sync has performed impressively, with games looking smoother despite displaying fewer frames per second.

Josh Miller/CNET

Just before E3, Nvidia announced that select laptops would now support G-Sync as well, with the laptop display including the requisite G-Sync chip. PC makers on board for G-Sync laptops include Asus, MSI and Origin PC.

It's in a laptop from boutique PC-maker Origin PC, the Eon17-X, that we had our first hands-on experience with a G-Sync laptop. This high-end gaming laptop is one we're familiar with, as we've reviewed several configurations of it before. A heavy, bulky laptop built into an off-the-shelf chassis, the Eon17-X can be configured with a wide variety of components, including the latest Intel and Nvidia parts, up to the current GeForce GTX 980M.

Josh Miller/CNET

Like previous Eon17-X laptops we've seen from Origin PC, this updated version tops out at a 1,920x1,080-pixel screen resolution, and doesn't include a touch screen, even as an option. But these systems have always proven excellent at gaming, even when outputting to a 4K display, and the extra service and support the company provides justifies the premium price.

In our hands-on testing, we tried an Nvidia-built app that turns the G-Sync feature on and off at the click of a button (watch the video above to see it in action). Just as in the desktop PCs we tested the same app on earlier in 2015, the difference is obvious, with the moving image of the swinging pendulum going from displaying prominent tearing, in the form of horizontal lines of distortion through the image, to moving smoothly, with no tearing at all.

Josh Miller/CNET

Of course, that's an Nvidia demo app for showing off an Nvidia technology, so it's going to emphasize the benefits of G-Sync. In another test, using Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, a fairly current PC game, the game played perfectly fine with G-Sync turned off, but looked much smoother, with less jerky motion, when G-Sync was active. Even though G-Sync typically costs you several frames per second in performance, the game moves so smoothly that it appears to be running at a higher frame rate.

A look back at the E3 2015 show floor (pictures)

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We'd love to see G-Sync built into many more laptops, at least if it can be done at a reasonable cost. Origin PC doesn't have a final price for the G-Sync version of this laptop, or a planned 15-inch Eon15-X model with a 4K screen. Both will be available to order in the next month or two, and the expected add-on cost of G-Sync is expected to be in the $100-$200 range, which isn't that much when you consider that the Eon17-X starts at nearly $1,800 in the US.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2015 on CNET and GameSpot.