A few days with some magic monitors
I got to spend a few days with a set of three ASUS ROG Swift G-Sync monitors in Surround. And it was awesome.
Last month friend of the site and technology enthusiast Tom Petersen, who apparently does SOMETHING at NVIDIA, stopped by our offices to talk about G-Sync technology. A variable refresh rate feature added to new monitors with custom NVIDIA hardware, G-Sync is a technology that has been frequently discussed on PC Perspective.
The first monitor to ship with G-Sync is the ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q – a fantastic 2560×1440 27-in monitor with a 144 Hz maximum refresh rate. I wrote a glowing review of the display here recently with the only real negative to it being a high price tag: $799. But when Tom stopped out to talk about the G-Sync retail release, he happened to leave a set of three of these new displays for us to mess with in a G-Sync Surround configuration. Yummy.
So what exactly is the current experience of using a triple G-Sync monitor setup if you were lucky enough to pick up a set? The truth is that the G-Sync portion of the equation works great but that game support for Surround (or Eyefinity for that matter) is still somewhat cumbersome.
In this quick impressions article I'll walk through the setup and configuration of the system and tell you about my time playing seven different PC titles in G-Sync Surround.
Hardware and Software Setup
From a hardware perspective, supporting G-Sync surround is going to require a significant investment of capital. Each ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q requires a DisplayPort connection to the gaming PC (as will all G-Sync monitors). With the current generation of GeForce GTX 600 and 700 cards, that means you will need three different cards setup in a 3-Way SLI configuration. Add to that the complexity of a 7680×1440 resolution and you'll not only need three GPUs, but three really powerful GPUs.
For my testing I had a set of three GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards to configure for this purpose. I will admit that though they are more expensive, the GTX Titan Black would have likely been a better choice as you have twice the memory (6GB) on each card – very useful for high resolution gaming like this.
The software setup is pretty simple as well and has be refined over the years as Surround has gained traction. You simply connect each ROG Swift to separate graphics cards and then open up the NVIDIA control panel, telling it you want to span displays with Surround. The wizard walks you through the quick steps of selecting your monitor order and adjusting bezel correction and that's it: you're setup.
Speaking of bezel correction, the incredibly thin 6mm bezels on the ASUS PG278Q make it easily the best multi-monitor experience I have had as a PC enthusiast. And I'm not just talking about gaming – even using the setup for the couple of days I had them for productivity based tasks was great.
Once you have the Surround configuration up and running, enabling G-Sync is just another checkbox in the control panel. It enables seamlessly at that point and each monitor is not only going to play stutter free and tear free but completely in sync with each other.
Widescreen Fixing Software
I mentioned above that there are still some issues with game developers and game support for multi-panel gaming, whether you use NVIDIA hardware or AMD hardware. A handful of games just work out of the box with resolutions like 7680×1440 while others leave a lot to be desired. And that doesn't just mean support for running the game at that resolution, there is a lot more to making it a good experience. Placement and scaling of UI elements is crucial as menus that are unreadable or icons and indicators that are at the far corners of the 1st and 3rd monitor will make playing the game a frustrating experience.
There a couple of applications that can help this though, sourced from the WideScreenGamingForum website. These utilities, like Widescreen Fixer shown above, attempt to adjust the settings of the game via INI changes or other similar methods, to improve the look and experience of multi-panel gaming. Remember: we went through this before when we migrated from 4:3 resolutions to 16:10 and 16:9.
Another tool I used was Flawless Widescreen and it is, in my opinion, the better option. It seems to have more updated games and uses a slightly better interface to get the job done. For some games that it can work with, Flawless even lets you do things like adjust the FOV (field of view) or enable specific fixes (like the HUD in Skyrim). Not all games support this kind of customization so check out the support for your favorite titles.
Actually enabling these fixes is dead simple: both applications will auto-apply settings when they detect the game has been started. On average, I would say that by utilizing these tools, more than a majority of current PC gaming titles should be able to run comfortably in an NVIDIA Surround or AMD Eyefinity configuration. G-Sync just happens to be the icing on the cake.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
The latest iteration of Wolfenstein, The New Order is a well made game with what I consider to be a well above average ability to draw me into playing it. I was able to run this game at High quality settings at 7680×1440 and maintain a frame rate falling between 30 and 60 FPS on average.
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The default experience (without using a third-party application) was pretty poor and the game wouldn't let me run at the correct resolution or aspect ratio. By utilizing Flawless Fixer though, the game was able to see the correct settings and ran essentially perfectly. The UI elements were in order and well placed and going through the game felt incredibly natural.
With the addition of G-Sync, the experience was smooth and tear-free, something that never would be possible by using just V-Sync (enabled or disabled). The frame rate hovered in the 40s and 50s for the most part and that is directly in the sweet spot of where the advantages of G-Sync are most readily apparent.
Skyrim continues to be one my most played games on the PC and seeing it in a Surround configuration is impressive. The tweaks available in the Flawless Fixer to help adjust FOV and HUD issues are crucial to even be able to navigate the menus and trying it without a program like this is painful. If you have tried just modifying the preference INI directly, you are missing out on much of the experience.
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Frame rates hovered around 50-60 FPS while playing the game at the Medium settings preset. I will admit that preset option was disappointingly low, likely due to the 3GB frame buffer on the GTX 780 Ti cards used for our testing. Still, even with the average frame rate around 52 FPS, NVIDIA G-Sync was able to present the game smooth and tear-free.
Racing games are one of the best genres to take advantage of the wider field of view provided by a multi-display configuration. GRID 2 worked pretty much perfectly out of the box with our triple ASUS ROG Swift displays and was able to run anywhere from 45 to 70 FPS on average at the Ultra settings preset.
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With every map on GRID 2 sporting hundreds of vertical lines (like buildings) as you race past them, vertical tearing associated with V-Sync is more easily discernable in this title than most others. But thanks to the G-Sync support on the PG278Q that distracting artifact was completely removed and we are left with a consistent feel to the game that is unattainable any other way.
This game has traditionally been one of the lower quality experiences when using NVIDIA SLI due to hitching and stuttering. However, as I talked about a bit in my first review of the ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q monitor, that is mostly fixed when we are using G-Sync. I don't understand why – the hitching we are seeing in the game is not exactly caused by V-Sync (or the lack thereof) but something in how NVIDIA's G-Sync feature puts back-pressure on the game engine helps dramatically.
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The result is that I was able to run the game at the High preset with a frame rate ranging from 55-75 FPS. It was not as smooth as the rest of the games I discuss here with G-Sync enabled but it is a giant leap forward over where the game was with 3-Way SLI and standard monitors.
Metro: Last Light
Metro: Last Light is another pure shooter that plays exceedingly well on G-Sync Surround. While playing on the Normal preset (even with three GTX 780 Ti cards, this game is a bear on GPUs) I was able to maintain a frame rate around 45-50 FPS. That is again, right in the wheelhouse of G-Sync and the experience difference playing with and without the variable refresh technology was immediately obvious.
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Even though it is primarily a controller based game, PC users will be glad to know that Tomb Raider plays great with NVIDIA G-Sync as well, even in Surround mode. The reboot of Lara Croft benefits quite a bit from the Surround setup with extended views thanks to the third-person aspect.
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The game did require some tweaks from the widescreen fixing software but all UI elements were in the right places after running it.
This game – wow, was it not ready for multi-display gaming at all. The out-of-box experience is really poor with a drastically zoomed in, and then cropped, image being shown to the gamer. Interface elements are all over the place and are more often than not partially cut out. Enabling Flawless Fixer made it playable, though not perfect.
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Frame rates in the game had a wide range as well, going from 35 FPS all the way up to 70 FPS on the Low preset. Still, even at lower frame rates that dipped into the upper 30s, the NVIDIA G-Sync technology was working great, keeping the animation smooth and tear-free.
So what else can I say about my handful of days with the set of three ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q monitors and G-Sync Surround? When the game supports Surround correctly, the gaming experience provided by this setup is virtually unmatched. G-Sync takes an existing technology like multi-panel gaming and makes it better. Much better.
I don't think I can recommend anyone go out and buy this quite yet though. For one, it is incredibly expensive. You are looking at about $1800 for a set of three GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards and another $2400 for three ASUS ROG Swift monitors bringing the investment up to $4200. Gulp. Hopefully as NVIDIA introduces some new graphics cards this year we'll see support for more than a single DisplayPort connection on them as that would cut down the number of cards required to run a G-Sync Surround setup.
There are other G-Sync monitors on the way as well. I know of at least an updated 1080p model as well as an Acer 4K 60 Hz due out this month. Pricing and performance of those could be interesting, though if you wanted to consider triple-4K Surround gaming…you're going to need more than the three GTX 780 Ti cards I used today.
UPDATE: A reader asked me to comment on this portrait style setup we showed in this photo but didn't discuss any further. Although it is entirely possible with the hardware and software we have here to get portrait style G-Sync Surround to work, it's not nearly as good an experience as landscape. For one, the bezel on the bottom of the ASUS PG278Q monitor is thicker than on the sides and thus the seamless nature of the Surround configuration is compromised. Also, the viewing angles from the bottom of the ROG Swift is rather poor. That doesn't come into play basically at all in landscape mode but would be viewable and likely a distraction when looking at the left display.
Though obviously I haven't done an exhaustive sweep of every game in my Steam library, I have yet to come across a game that didn't work great with G-Sync and produce a superior gaming experience. Even if you decide that triple monitors just isn't for you (and I can't blame you) then you should definitely consider a single G-Sync monitor for your next upgrade. Lots of reviewers and gamers that have these in their hands will back me up, if you need some more validation. As long as you are, or want to become, a GeForce-exclusive user, G-Sync should be on your wish list.
During Quakecon, thanks to ASUS and NVIDIA, I gave away an ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q to a lucky participant. He received it last week and had this to share with me:
I don't know if it is the 144hz, the Gsync technology, the 1ms response time or the combination of all that goodness but coming from my old Dell 24" 60hz 8ms, the difference is nothing short of amazing. Fast action FPS games in particular like Titanfall are like whole new games. I can confirm what you've stated in your reviews: once you experience this monitor, there is no going back!
Official support for G-Sync Surround will be coming soon in an upcoming driver release so if you happen to have three of the ROG Swift displays on your desk now, curious why the feature won't enable, you don't have long to wait.
I have seen G-Sync in nearly every step of its development and maturity and every time I get to view it from another angle, or in another light, I can't help but walk away smiling. NVIDIA might get some crap from AMD about creating a closed or proprietary technology but to users that have it and experience it today, I just don't think it matters.