Microsoft Flight Simulator X – Report & Tips

Hello blog fellas!

Finally an update here after more than two weeks. Yeh, sry, but the picture placement and some other “non-WYSIWYG” here pretty annoys me…

What the hell are you doing, marquisor?? Well, besides other things I recently got into aviation and want to let you take part in this review.

Updates

As I update this post more or less regularly here’s a short version list:

  • 0.1.2
    Added “Questionable Addons”, slightly more review experience added.
  • 0.1.1
    Added “Known Issue” in 3) … Recommended Addons for Ulitmate Terrain X
    Minor changes, links added
  • 0.1
    Initial release

Microsoft® Flight Simulator X

I installed FSX again. That is the Microsoft® Flight Simulator X. And I recently bought some or even some more addons for it spending ~ 200 EUR. But it’s looking pretty good now.

I also managed to finetune it to get decent framerates of my taste and beyond the magic 10 FPS rate.

If you consider buying this simulation (it’s not a game!), be sure you got at least quadcore rig 2,83GHz++ with fast harddrive and a mid-range gfx board, f.e. ATi 4000HD/nvidia 9xxx+ series.

You’ll be also unlucky with your new software, if you won’t dig into websites, forums and blog posts all about aviation and pc-tuning, as this is the first you have to do. Without the ambition to fly or old hardware I don’t recommend this flightsim.

Get a Trial version of FSX

1) Getting the sim running decent on your PC

Which takes some time, also with every addon you install you have to check all settings over and over again and keep your filesystem clean (defragmented), OS “houskeeping” is mandatory!

Initial setup recommendation

  1. Think about where to install FSX.It will take at least 5-6 GB of disk space. With addons I have now about more than 40 GB used. I also recommend to install on another physical harddrive than your OS is running on for speed issues.
  2. Get yourself some hints/tools for maintenance your OS and HDDs.I recommend TuneUp Utilities 2010 and/or JKDefrag. They’re both smart, not annoying, stable, integrate seamlessly and most important: IT WORKS! Best of all, JKDefrag is FREE!
  3. Clean your OS, install newest gfx board drivers (updating 9.x to 9.12 ATi -> FPS improvement by 50%).Get rid of unwanted software/drivers, check processes running and not urgently needed as well.
  4. Install FSX and all Servicepacks SP1/SP2.
  5. Since it’s the (very) first time you’ll use this sim you may also install addon meshes if you’d bought some with default settings.
  6. Defrag your FSX drive with tools mentioned above.

Now, first part done very easy, it’s time to fire it up and see what it has to offer.

DO NOT ALTER ANY SETTINGS YET!

FSX scans your config and sets default quality more or less appropriate for your PC.

Fire it up!

Run the introduction to get a first peak of what awaits you. I recorded a video about this, but it’s in german. No matter it gives you a preview of about 1/4 of the game. Let’s have a look:


.


Note: This video shows gfx enhancements with all my current addons installed. It will look different for you depending on your configuration, rig and addons.

Benchmarking

Now this introduction shows how FSX might perform on your rig, so we use this and the other two Introductions for benchmarking, as they use widely used scenarios of your flight experience you’ll have.

You may later setup some special presets for regions you actually fly VFR / IFR or high detailed mountains, but they may go far away from an overall smooth basic setup.

First of all you want to get some information on how fast/smooth FSX is running. To control this objectively I recommend you running Fraps and some CPU usage display. I use the display of my G15 keyboard with built-in performance monitor and Everest to track temperatures and GPU load. But just a simple CPU monitor will do it. You can use the windows taskmanager as well and start FSX in windowed mode.

Note: Many, if not all modern gfx boards run at way lower clocks in windowed mode, f.e. mine @500MHz. Switching to fullscreen clocks raise up to 800MHz, that’s an increase by 60% in clockspeed. Also SLI/CF might work/not work in windowed mode. You’ll then have to choose another method monitoring your CPU/GPU usage.

Optimization process

First of all set “Target Framerate” to UNLIMITED! It will always get you better FPS than with turning any framelimit on! The mystery of FS9 to turn a limiter on for keeping spare power for loading resources is definately gone. Run the introduction again.

Also set up FSAA (Full Scene AntiAlias) and AF (Anisotropic filtering) if you got an ATi 4000HD+ series/nvidia 9xxx+.

For the gfx setup inside FSX I recommend following recurring methods:

  1. Check your performance with tools and benchmark with the introduction mentioned above, keep framerate and CPU usage in mind. Notice stutters etc. and get a feeling for what settings do which load to your rig.
  2. Play around with FSX presets and notice the change in performance, this is a rough process to get you a feeling for the settings and their performance hit.
    Note: All of your settings are instantly used if going back to simulation, you don’t have to restart.
  3. After roughly set: Alter sliders manually regarding to “Highest performance hits” table below.
  4. Do 1-3 while determining the optimal settings.

That’s all! Note: With Shift-Z repeatedly pressed you can also display the built-in FPS indicator.

Highest performance hits (in descending order)

  • Autogen density
  • Target Framerate limitation (TURN OFF!)
  • Water Effects
  • Light bloom
  • Cloud detail / distance
  • Scenery Level of detail radius
  • Shadows cast from scenery/airplane
  • Ground scenery shadows
  • All traffic >20-30%
  • Mesh detail

And overall for older gfx boards: Antialiasing.

Raise, lower or switch these options off/on while fine-tuning FSX. Always save settings and only alter one option per benchmark!

– HIGHLY RECOMMENDED PDF –
thx to Mathijs Kok – aeroSOFT forum
Use it in addition to my benchmarking method and setup process!

This is a great, short and WORKING tuning guide of how you have to set your sliders, what effects they have and why. 

Following both, you’ll manage to set up your FSX running at decent performance, I’ll promise!

2) Choosing the “right” addons

For getting the most excitement and eye-candy out of your FSX, I’ve made a list of in my humble opinion definately must have addons. Note, that they all affect framerate and performance more or less how you set them up and use them.

You’ll always have to fine-tune your FSX gfx/performance setting again, after installing a new addon.

A rough rule of thumb: Every new addon you install will drop your fps by 3 with medium-high usage on a 2,83GHz quadcore. You can say 10% or whatever…

Also remember to defrag your FSX / Addon drive after installing addons!

Real Environment Xtreme™ (REX 2.0)

First and most valueable addon for me is the Real Environment Xtreme™ 2.0.

Featuring enhancements: (Click for overview)

  • Sky Theme
  • Cloud Theme
  • Inland Water
  • Ocean Water
  • Tropical Water
  • Wave Animation
  • Runway/Taxiways
  • Airport Environment
  • Sun/Lighting

As you can see, nearly everything but meshes, airplanes and other ground textures. BUT! Have a look at these pictures:

– Click to enlarge! –

Pretty awesome, isn’t it?

This addon installs to another directory/harddisk. It integrates seamlessly into FSX and features realtime live weather updating while running FSX. You can create own themes or use some presets. Every Feature mentioned above has 5-100 options/presets to select, so the combinations are wide.

It’s also customizable of what features shall be enabled and in what quality depending on your rig.

Ground Environment X enhanced (GEX)

“The first region of the Ground Environment Legacy to give the flight simulator enthusiast the most realistic generic ground textures and autogen ever created for Microsoft® Flight Simulator.”

I was using both, the GEX USA & Canada and GEX Europe enhanced. Now I prefer real VFR Scenery or create my own. But for getting started this is optimal. Also see UTX addon below, which combined gives additional features to both products. Click links for overview incl. all features.

Summary:

  • USA, Canada, Alaska, Europe, Greece, Arctic
  • New autogen layouts
  • All seasons
  • Night lighting updates
  • Highly detailed textures 1024×1024
  • Special features with using UTX

Look at REX and GEX USA & Canada in action, flying over the Grand Canyon:

Click to enlarge! –

Mesh data – Resolution of heigth

There are two main providers for mesh data. Their products are FS Global 2008/2010 and FS Genesis.

Benefits of updating mesh data result in higher resolution terrain in hilly and mountainous regions. It has something to do with the details of the mountains.

If you think about an area of 1 km² with 100m mesh data, the heigth resolution would be 10×10. Now these addons increase this by 10 times! in using 10m mesh data for most mountain regions and increasing by 2-3 at most hilly regions. Flat regions aren’t covered, because flat is flat.

Comparison table:

I’m not sure what addon will fit my (and your) desire, so I didn’t select and install one of them yet. But I consider FS Genesis, as I already got FS Global 2008.

FS Genesis offers digital download, 25 GB, 60$ (~42 EUR).

FS Global 2010 full around the same size but incl. FS9 support, too for 70 EUR (~100$). Upgrade from 2008 version 50 EUR (~70$).

As soon as I decided I will post some comparison shots. For now you can view them on their resp. product pages.

Conclusion

Choosing the right update is defined by various factors and desire. However, you should keep these things in mind considering new updates/addons:

  • Valueable: Price-performance ratio
  • Compatible: Visual and some background (weather, traffic, communication etc.) addons drop your framerate and performance!
  • Updateable: What do you get? Free updates, how often are they offered? Is it developed further?
  • Reliability: Does/might it run stable on your hardware, does it offer the features you want? Is it realistic??
  • Integrity: Is the vendor trustworthy, read product ratings, but better read non-official forums like avsim.net and ask there or read reviews!

3) Get into Aviation

For getting further into aviation you’ll not only need the ambition and interest in the “flying planes”, you also have to learn about theory! That’s the most important and time-consuming effort you’ll have to get. Besides optimizing and setting up your hard-/software… this all can be really annoying.

So I say it again, if you’re NOT familiar or ambitioned to fly or aviation in general, better go playing Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. or any other Arcade FlightSim.

Getting started

I recommend the book: Microsoft Flight Simulator X for pilots – Real World Training. On 744 pages you get nearly everything you have to know about flying and aviation in general. Good thing about this is it’s affinity to realism. Topics and details described are seamlessly valid for FSX and reality.

  • Wikipedia – Good topics for all global overall information, even in your prefered language.
  • FSX – Get into missions and built-in flight school, print out maps and briefings, dig further informations on the web using Google™ and/or forums mentioned below.
  • Get yerself some books/print media from trusted sources. Real maps/papers gets you into aviation as fast and realistic as possible.
  • Consider buying some periphery for controlling your aircraft. It really helps you to “feel” the simulation and making theory more practicable. I recommend some controls in the last topic of this review.
  • Hang on! Configuring controls and performance in FSX is most annoying, sometimes theory of aviation second, but -> if you get through you’re rewarded by beautiful scenery, realism and you’ve learned some real stuff comfy at home and can say “Hey, I just landed a Boeing 737 without crashing!”

I’ve read on forums, experienced reallife pilots saying they’ve got experience in FSX with other airplanes, sceneries than on their daily duty, get into airplane failures for training or just for helping others in a flight school. The ATC (Air Traffic Control) feature is also a variety of aviation to get experienced in for them.

Help/Aviation forums

  • Easy Tuning Guide – As mentioned above, short and valueable information in addition to my method
  • AVSim Online – One of the biggest site all aviation related, huge software archive of freely downloadable addons as aircraft, scenery etc.
  • AVSim Forum – Very good forum, many topics and helpfule nice users. Even pretty much reallife pilots hanging around there!
  • FlightSim.com – Big site, reviews, also file archive and forums.
  • FlightSim.com Forums – Also a big community site with forums.

Some interesting links

  • Live Flight Tracker – Track airlines/airplanes in the US – LIVE!
  • Walhalla – Freeware FSX scenery archive
  • VATSIM – Online community preserving realistic communication and flight experience, ATC – Recommended only for advanced pilots for SERIOUS simulation.
  • simMarket – Get yourself a brief overview about what is available on the market for your FlightSim demands! HUGE collection!

Recommended Addons

Questionable Addons

Reviewed addons (mostly trial versions or tested elsewhere). It is questionable, because these addons do not meet my needs in quality, stability, reasonability, realism or personal slant! Many recommend these nevertheless, but it’s more like “love or hate it” in my opinion.

  • Ultimate Terrain X – Scenery for USA, Canada, Europe
    Known issue: Roads and railroads go straight through textures of Ground Environment X or FSX default. On selfmade Photoscenery it would be correct (tested that).
    But read external VERY detailed Review on avsim to see if it would annoy you or not.
  • Wideview – Addon for getting additional views over a network, i.e. you setup another PC with another FSX license and all scenery/aircraft/weather addons and may configure it for additional cockpit/whatever view possible in FSX.
    Dislikes: As bolded above, another license and ALL addons to get the same view. For cockpit panels the computer has to run as server and without further programs there go the controls in.
  • FsXPand – Panels, gauges, glass cockpit display via networked PC without another FSX license. I’m currently testing this and if it meets my needs I’ll write a review.

Other maybe interesting addons/sites (not reviewed by me yet):

  • TileProxy – Photorealistic ground textures in VERY HIGH quality
  • WidevieW.it – Nice tools, esp. FS Earth for tracking your flight LIVE in Google Earth
  • FSPassengers – Adding some load to your airliner

4) Recommended Hard-/Software

To get your experience even to a high or higher levels I recommend some Hard-/Software for more realistic simulation immersion.

Most users, me included, have run FSX on various hardware and OS scenarios. To what conclusion this leads, see below.

The short things first:

Software

Recommended:

  • Windows XP Professional 32bit
    Advantages: Resource friendly, relatively fast and stable OS for running FSX on. Even on low-/mid-end hardware.
    Restrictions: <4GB RAM usage, no DX10.I don’t recommend using the 64bit version of XP, as there might be driver issues (I got some hassles). Only Professional (and above) version has support for multiple CPU cores, if I remember correctly.
  • Windows 7 32/64bit any version <- BEST!
    Advantages: >4GB RAM usage, DX10, mostly up-to-date, also for newer games. Future development and servicepacks. Many users reported a speed-up in framerates and overall performance in upgrading to Win7 from any windows before.
    Restrictions: I don’t know yet?! Eats up more resources than XP, software incompatibility of addons developed for XP.
  • TuneUp Utilities 2010
    As mentioned above some OS tools are neat and keeping you comfy to stay away from doing that all manually.
  • JKDefrag v3.36 – FREE!
    For defragmentation of all HDDs or just the FSX folder/addon folders alone!

Not recommended: VISTA! – I don’t get ANY further into this discussion. It simply … well, insert random bad word here…

Also keep out from annoying heavy CPU using virus/spyware live scanners. There are some around, that really use 50% of your CPU. I’m using Microsoft Security Essentials and i’m happy with that.

A word about virtual boxes, linux etc.: I’ve got enough “work” to do in setting up FSX, tuning it and keep it all at a decent performance. I WON’T set me into further issues, hassles, pitfalls and whatever else using emulation/virtualization software with FSX.

Hardware

Your rig should consist of the following:

  • CPU
    FSX is very CPU intensive! Multi-core processors are mandatory imho. With latest Servicepacks it really squeezes all performance out of my Intel Q9550 quadcore.
  • Mainboard/HDD
    Second performance hits are reported by cheap/bad mainboard chipsets as they really unburden CPU load during loading textures, scenery, well everything into FSX. As I got an Intel CPU, I also recommend mainboards with Intel chipset with appropriate numbers of PCIe slots.Modern SATA harddrives with 500GB+, NCQ and 16/32 MB of cache are usually good enough. You may also try RAID and/or 10.000 RPM or SAS/SCSI combinations as well.
  • RAM
    I’m using 4GB. Users report OOM (out of memory) issues with using less than that. Best use a so called kit of 2x2GB or more for “dual-channel” mode increasing access times.
  • GFX
    As written before, any currently mid-end gfx boards will do the job here. I’m using an ATi 4870 x2 (4 GPUs CF), but cards below should also work more or less flawlessly. There aren’t much gfx board depending bottlenecks reported if using ATi 4000HD/nvidia 9xxx series and above.
  • Power supply
    Calculate generously and use branded hardware. Cheap PSUs only wreck your nerves, as they can be the reason for every failure in the whole system!Thermaltake has a neat PSU calculator online. The results are a bit overstated, but it gives you a rough range of wattage required for your rig.
  • Case
    Same as above, don’t use cheap cases. Cooling is most important with high-end machines running at their limits and keeps your parts longer lifetime.

Conclusion and further prospect

As many things in the world also with Microsoft Flight Simulator X you can go from simple to complex. You may enhance your visual experience as well as your technical and communication skills, but most important this simulation does what it’s intended for and covers it mostly and realistic where possible today: the aviation. In all overall matters.

There are tons of scenery, airports, aircrafts, communities to discover. Think about the book mentioned before with its 700+ pages. It covers only an introduction to further adventures in your aviation experience, though it’s very detailed. Also this review is a very small swissknife to cover about 50% FSX/Simulation is capable of. But it gave you a better prospect of what awaits you.

ToDo

Some things I may add here are some videos and controller recommendations, also VFR/IFR flights, flightplans, weather effects and so on if I dug further and deeper into this stuff. Also a picture comparison of higher detail meshes will come.

I’ll have to setup my triple-head monitors and some more addons in the future, maybe you check over again here.

What else?

You can also SUBSCRIBE! to this blog if you like and also visit my YouTube RetroHD channel for more FSX videos and retro stuff.

Have a good flight!

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  1. You can certainly see your enthusiasm within the
    article you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe.

    Always go after your heart.

  2. Really nice work. you work hard for your good site. I like this very much. One suggestion can your blog theme. I think little bit color is perfect for your blog.

  3. Yeah I heard they are coming out with Microsoft Flight next year some time, its suppose to be much better than MS Flgith Simulator X

    • John
    • February 12th, 2010

    Nice work! Just one suggestion — your links (TAGS) are not all flight sim specific. Topics like “performance”, “recommendations” and even “UTX” bring up all sorts of irrelevant stuff.

    • True! Fixed that a bit. I’ve got a controller setup “HowTo” in queue. Hopefully posted next weekend.

  4. Microsoft Flight SIm is absolutely awesome, and what’s even greater is the addon community behind it! Great in depth post here.

  5. Great post marquisor, really tempted to try this, never actually played a Microsoft Flight Sim… good stuff!

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