By Joël Bobe on March 17th, 2012
To be frank, Flight Simulator is not a very stable simulator by itself. The more add-ons you have, the more problems seem to appear. It’s also not the best performing sim. It uses the CPU far more than the GPU, causing poor performance, especially with those who have an older or unclocked CPU. When the ACES team dissolved, no more updates surfaced for FSX which may have addressed these problems. However, these issues can be fixed. Although I have a high end system, I do have a heavily tweaked FSX.CFG file, which goes a long way. In this tutorial, I’ll be discussing how you can get the absolute most out of your Flight Simulator experience. I have a ton of add-ons that I use constantly, yet I haven’t had the need to reinstall Flight Simulator and it still runs like a dream. The trick to having the optimum Flight Simulator experience is having the right hardware, tweaking the FSX.CFG file, overclocking your CPU, and setting up your graphics card settings appropriately.
Although money can be a concern, hardware goes a long way in making sure that your FSX can run smoothly with the huge amount of add-ons that we as simmers use on a flight to flight basis. Because Flight Simulator X hogs up your CPU usage, a fast CPU makes a world of difference. A quad-core CPU that can be overclocked to 4.0 GHZ or higher is a simmer’s best friend. A current, well priced, and fantastic performing CPU on the market now is the Intel 2500K. The “K” means that the multiplier is unlocked and that the processor can be overclocked (more on that later). It’s recommended to have 4GB of RAM or more because that makes a significant impact on FPS (frames per second) and not enough memory can bottleneck that expensive CPU that you put your hard earned money into. Although FSX does not put as much load on your graphics card, a modern graphics card can make a boatload of difference. If you use FSX often, I recommend staying away from ATI cards as they do not work as well as Nvidia. A current graphics card which has arguably the best performance to price ratio would be the Nvidia GeForce 560 Ti. Refrain from buying a second card because although it may be great for games, it’s nearly useless in FSX. Some simmers swear by their pricey solid state drives, they are expensive and not nearly worth it (all it does is speeds up loading time).
Of course, whether you have old or new hardware, tweaking your FSX.CFG file is something every simmer needs to do. It may sound like hard work because typing lines of meaningless commands is not fun but there is a tool made by Jesus which does it all for you. The link to the easy to use tool is at the bottom. The instructions are easy to follow so there is no need to explain it here. The tweak will most certainly give you better performance, no matter what kind of hardware you have.
The next big step is overclocking your CPU, I will not cover the steps for overclocking as they vary from CPU to CPU and can be a lengthy read. However, I do plan on covering it in a later article. For now, just know that CPU overclocking makes a massive difference. My 2600K CPU is overclocked to a reasonably fast 4.5GHZ, giving me a smooth FS experience. Keep in mind that as you up the CPU voltage during overclocking, the temperature of your CPU goes up as well so take caution and make sure to use adequate cooling such as an aftermarket CPU cooler (I recommend Noctua coolers). When overclocking, it is also important to have decent memory sticks as they are important in a stable clock. Enough about overclocking for now and let’s move on to setting up your video card anti-aliasing settings.
Anti-aliasing basically makes the edges in the simulator smooth. Without anti-aliasing, the edges of surfaces look choppy and overall unpleasant. Within FSX, there is an anti-aliasing setting that one can turn on but it does not work nearly as well as if you were to do it externally, using a program such as Nvidia Inspector. Keep in mind that Nvidia Inspector works for Nvidia cards only. It allows you to change your setting for each game you have. I’ve provided a link to the download page below as well as the PMDG post where I found these settings and where this is discussed in more detail. Instead of explaining the process, I have some screenshots of each setting. There are three different settings, 4xS, 8xS, and 8xSQ. 8xSQ reduces shimmering as apposed to 8xS but is a little worse on frames. The 4xS is recommended for older cards and especially if you are running many scenery and airplane add-ons that are quite frame rate hungry (See Image for visual representation/Click to enlarge). Play around with these three settings and see what works for you. Included in the newest version of Nvidia Inspector is a frame-rate limiter which keeps the sim from exceeding a certain amount of frames per second. This prevents many stuttering problems and helps make sure that your Flight Simulator runs smooth.
That just about covers everything you need to have Flight Simulator running well. If you are having crashes and your Flight Simulator is a total mess, a clean install could give you a clean slate to start fresh. Otherwise, good hardware, a modified FSX.CFG file, proper overclocking, and the right anti-aliasing setting can do wonders for your simming experience and prevent headaches which can ruin that long flight you’ve been working on all afternoon.