Triple Buffering: Everything You Need To Know

When it comes to optimizing your computer experience, even the smallest changes that may seem marginal at first can make a huge difference.

For instance, if you’re still using double buffering, this buffering setup can significantly impact the frame rates, compromising the entire video game experience.

Triple buffering is the best choice you can make if you’re a fan of 3D games, as it is the best way to improve the frame rate and eliminate that annoying stuttering you’ve been experiencing with double buffering.

Keep on reading as we explain how triple buffering works, as well as the easiest way to enable it.

What is triple buffering?

Let’s start off by explaining what a buffer represents, which will make it much easier to demonstrate the difference between different buffering options, as well as the overall importance of the monitor refresh rate.

A buffer is essentially a picture “message” that is sent to the monitor every time you’re trying to display something.

This picture basically determines what the monitor will display. That being said, back in the day when a single buffer was used, this meant that this single buffer was drawn to and sent to the desktop.

Since using a single buffer for both functions turned out to be too complicated as it caused constant stuttering and flickering, double buffering replaced the single-buffer system.

In order to fully grasp the advantages of the triple buffering system, it is necessary to first introduce the double buffering system with all its pros and cons.

What is double buffering?

Double buffering, however, didn’t provide the ideal solution, even though it was certainly a major improvement from the single-buffer system.

In a double buffer setup, just like the name implies, there are two different buffers with two important functions.

The first buffer, also known as the back buffer, is the one your computer draws to, while the second buffer, commonly referred to as the front buffer, is responsible for launching the other buffer to the screen.

Once the system draws the first buffer (back buffer), it performs a so-called buffer swap, which basically means that the two buffers get swapped.

After the swap, the back buffer becomes the new front buffer, ready for a new draw. With each new buffer swap, the roles get reversed once again.

So, what is the need for a triple buffer if the double buffering system seems to work just fine, and each of the buffers seems to perform just fine?

The main issue with this kind of buffer swap is that it can occur at any given moment, and if there’s a significant difference between the two buffers, the display will likely experience a visual artifact.

This visual artifact usually looks like tearing, glitching, or stuttering of the screen, and it can be extremely annoying and distracting, especially when you’re in the middle of a game.

This kind of problem mostly occurs in games with many quick motions, such as FPS games that require fast sync and high frame rate.

In these games, there are usually significant differences between the frames, which causes a visible misalignment between the buffers in the form of display “tearing”.

What you can do to optimize these buffer swaps and decrease screen tearing when using double buffering is to synchronize them with the vertical refresh, also known as Vsync.

However, when you enable Vsync, the screen tearing may improve or go away completely, but it will also alter the monitor’s refresh rate, usually changing it to 60Hz.

Therefore, by using Vsync to solve one issue, you’re basically creating a new one with a changed refresh rate that can cause delays in synchronization and an overall lack of smoothness in the visual experience.

Another potential issue that the Vsync may trigger is a noticeable input lag, as there is now a significant gap between the actual display time and the frame draw time.

Therefore, with double buffering, it is necessary to choose between experiencing screen tearing without enabling Vsync on one hand, or enabling Vsync but dealing with significant input lag instead.

What does triple buffering offer?

As opposed to double buffering where you basically have to choose between screen tearing and input lag, with triple buffering, you can get both a fast sync and an optimal performance.

While double buffering operates on two buffers, triple buffering includes three buffers, which makes the entire process smoother and more coherent.

Now that we’re familiar with the roles of the two buffers, you may wonder how does the third one optimize the performance as well as the computer graphics.

The third buffer could be perceived as a “backup” buffer that is kept locked. This prevents screen tearing, but the system is still able to draw from it fast enough to avoid any glitches.

Triple buffering will require a bit more memory on your graphics card, but keep in mind that most newer models nowadays offer enough space for this adjustment to be made.

Another important difference between double buffering and triple buffering is in the number of front buffer swaps.

While with double buffering you may experience several swaps (with every single frame), with triple buffering, a front buffer swap occurs only once per Vsync.

Triple buffering minimizes screen tearing because these swaps do not interfere with the actual drawing process, and there are no visible delays.

In 3D games, triple buffering allows for the game to render a frame in a single back buffer, increasing the frame rate substantially.

Another frequent question about triple buffering concerns the best method to use to get rid of screen tearing once and for all.

When it comes to triple buffering methods, you can go with Fast Sync (Nvidia), windowed/borderless, or AMD (Enhanced Sync), as they all provide similar results.

How to enable triple buffering?

The easiest way to enable triple buffering on your computer and enjoy a stutter-free screen is to open the Nvidia control panel and find the 3D settings in the menu that opens up.

Now click on Manage 3D Settings, select your graphics card, then navigate to settings.

In the settings menu, you should find the Triple buffering option, and all you need to do is to enable it.

In this menu, you will also find the Vsync option, and you can enable it or disable it, depending on what seems to be the best solution for you.

You don’t have to restart your computer after applying these settings, as they will be activated right away.

F. A. Q.

Should I have triple buffering on or off?

As we’ve explained in the previous section, with triple buffering, you will get a much higher frame rate. What this means is that you will likely experience less or no screen tearing than with double buffering.

However, depending on the graphics card you own, you will have more or less memory space available for this kind of adjustment.

That being said, most modern graphics cards will offer plenty of memory space, and all you really need is 25-50MB of extra space necessary for triple buffering to function properly.

Does triple buffering cause input lag?

This is usually not the case with triple buffering, as there are three buffers instead of two, which improves latency.

Double buffering, on the other hand, will usually cause input lag, especially with Vsync enabled.

Does triple buffering help the CPU?

We wouldn’t necessarily say that it has a significant effect on the CPU, whether it be negative or positive.

It can, however, result in a decreased CPU load, but the results cannot be considered groundbreaking.

Is Vsync compatible with FreeSync or GSync?

Vsync is not compatible with FreeSync or Gsync, and it could even cause stuttering and screen glitching.

Also, keep in mind that Vsync is compatible with 60hz displays only, and it should be disabled if you’re using modern models (120hz and higher).

Can Vsync lower the frame rate?

Yes, it is possible for Vsync to lower the frame rate, especially if there is a problem with monitor and game syncing.

Decreasing the frame rate is basically the method Vsync uses to achieve synchronization between the monitor and the game.

Do I need triple buffering with Fast Sync?

The main role of triple buffering is to provide the highest FPS levels possible and optimize the 3D image rendering in your 3D games.

Fast Sync, on the other hand, has a similar role to Vsync, and it is there to ensure there is a little screen tearing and in-game latency as possible.

That being said, we wouldn’t necessarily say that the two depend on each other in any way.

However, they aren’t mutually exclusive, and you can certainly enable both features at the same time, as they have completely different roles.

Fast Sync, on one hand, is there to optimize your entire system experience, and not just for 3D video games.

Triple buffering, on the other hand, is a feature that will be of most use when you’re playing 3D video games, but its effect won’t be felt with other tasks.

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