VRR technology is here to stay, and proof of this is that you no longer need to spend hundreds of euros to enjoy it, since even fairly basic and cheap monitors incorporate it to some extent (obviously not at the levels of a gaming monitor high-end, but they have it and especially FreeSync from AMD). All in all, what is a fact is that these technologies, in both the NVIDIA and AMD variants, work considerably better in full screen mode.
The different display modes in games
In order to understand why games work better in full screen than in windowed mode, we must first understand what are the display modes that current games have. When we talk about console games there is nothing to choose from, but when we play on PC we generally have up to three different display options:
- Full screen: the game runs exclusively on the monitor, occupying its entire surface.
- Window mode: in this mode, the game runs in a window of the operating system, usually resizable. In this mode we can see the upper status bar and its own borders.
- Full window mode (“borderless window”): In this mode, the game runs in an operating system window, but it occupies the entire screen and cannot be resized. In this mode the edges and the top bar disappear.
The behavior of the game in these three modes is different, and especially when we talk about the differences between full screen mode and either of the two window modes, since after all the keyword here is «exclusive«.
When you run a game in window mode (or full window), for the operating system it is just one more program among the many that are running at that moment, even if it is a game that is consuming a lot of graphic resources. This means that it is not running exclusively and therefore all the resources are not being assigned exclusively, forgive the redundancy.
However, when a game is running in full screen, all Graphic resources are dumped into this, so that, although you may have other applications in the background, the system does not have to assign graphic resources to them because they literally do not have to be seen, and this is the reason why, as a general rule, in the games you will always have more FPS if you play in full screen than if you do it in any of the window modes.
We are going to explain it in another way so that it is better understood: if you run the game in windowed mode, the PC has to assign graphic resources to it but literally cannot assign it ALL the graphic resources it has, since at the same time (even if they are not visible) because the window is on top) has to continue allocating resources to other applications, including the operating system itself. However, when you run a game in full screen you are telling the PC that you want ALL graphic resources to be assigned to that game, and this is the case even if you have other applications in the background because they are not visible.
Be careful, we are talking about graphic resources and not resources in general, since for example you can be playing and, at the same time, you can have background music in the browser, you can be talking with your friends on Discord or anything else and their performance it will not be affected; But, as these other applications cannot be seen in full screen, the PC does not have to allocate graphic resources to them and can dedicate all of them to the game, neither more nor less. For the monitor comparison guide you can visit The VS Guide.
Why does VRR work better in full screen than in windowed?
From what we have told you so far, you will already know why games tend to have more performance in full screen mode than in window mode, and in fact it is quite frequent that when you play in window mode FPS is locked to synchronize with the monitor’s maximum refresh rate and therefore VRR technologies such as G-SYNC or FreeSync may not even work. This is not the case in all games and therefore depends on their internal programming, but it is the most common.
This is something that both NVIDIA and AMD have tried to solve with the latest versions of their graphics drivers, since as we mentioned at the beginning, variable refresh technologies are already so much the order of the day that they have become almost a focus for The manufacturers. In this way, now in the NVIDIA Control Panel, for example, it can be configured if we want to enable G-SYNC also for window mode.
However, this configuration in the drivers will simply “try” to enable G-SYNC when the game is in windowed mode, but it does not always succeed since, as we have mentioned, it also depends to a great extent on the programming of the games. For example, in Black Desert Online this configuration works perfectly in borderless window mode, but in League of Legends it does not, so if you want to enjoy the variable refresh technology you will have no choice but to play in full screen.
Now, when it can be activated, why does it work better in full screen mode than in windowed mode? The answer is simple and we already told you before: because the PC is assigning the graphic resources exclusively to that game, and with it the performance will be better but not only in terms of FPS, but also latency. A lower latency (frame time) allows that, since it is the graphics card that manages the refresh rate of the monitor, it can react to changes in FPS much faster and, with this, avoid the effects of tearing and stuttering of a way much better.