FSX Finally--Or How To Upgrade To FSX On A Budget Part 2
By Steve Christensen (15 April 2008)
Since "FSX Finally" was posted, I have been swamped with emails about other users' systems and will it run FSX. I will try and answer these questions and dive into a bit further on why and how I settled on my current configuration for FSX.
FSX is an intensive graphic program, bar none. Unlike a lot of other games that render textures and bitmaps, FSX is the king of the sky.
Without trying to get too technical and instruct the readers in a basic computer course, again some history.
The DOS days were easy, the video cards were straight forward and mostly concerned about the correct settings for the card itself. As soon as Windows entered the picture, even Windows 3.1, the times and rules changed.
Windows 95 had the ability to set your settings in DOS mode and hence some control. Flight Simulator 95 was a dream, and the advancement to FS98 was no small task for Microsoft. However, my 32 meg video card, a Diamond Stealth eventually changed to a 64 meg Riva TNT2 card. Frame rates jumped and the add-on aircraft popped into like.
FS2000 Pro came out and the system wasn't up to par with the designers' expectations. I took my 500 MHz Slot 1 Pentium to a 600 MHz, in hopes of stopping the dreaded stuttering and increase my frame rates. Yes, even back then, we were trying to pump more frames in FS. I recall users over-clocking, and trying things to cool their systems in order to squeeze out a few more frames.
The point is, every time a new version of FS is released the FS community is playing catch up to be able use it. Whether it's processor intensive or video card dependent, what works on one system has issues with another. The cfg file tweaks and replacement textures are designed to help.
There is no simple pill that everyone can take and magically have FS act like a multi-million dollar full motion simulator. But there are some basic rules and hopefully these will help.
Your basic computer system contains some very simple parts.
- The processor
- Video memory
- Disk drive
OK, let's try some simple configurations and I hope this makes sense.
The speed of the processor and its internal configuration will determine a lot on how the system will run.
Now let's look at the processor like a car engine. The more horsepower it has the faster the car can go. A 4 cylinder engine might be able to do 85 mph, but an 8 cylinder one would do it quicker, more efficiently, and with less effort.
The bus speed is like to the road or highway, the higher the bus speed the faster traffic can move through a given area. Is it a side street at 266 MHz, a through fare at 533 MHz, a highway at 800 MHz, or a super speedway at 1066 MHz? You can only go as fast as the road is designed.
Memory, again, the faster the memory, the faster the data can be sent through. Once again, are you running PC100, or 266, 333, 533, or 800?
The reason these numbers are important, is that you're running a high octane program in a Chevy Chevette, when you're trying to be a Corvette. No amount of steroids is going to help.
Let's get to video memory, there are a lot of factors here and I wish software manufacturers would list real recommended specs instead of generic numbers. Bandwidth, pixel fill rate, texture fill--it's enough to drive the average consumer nuts. Let alone AGP, PCI, PCI-e.
Hard drive speed, there is a difference between IDE and SATA, RPM and cache.
OK, now that we have the major parts, let's try some basic figuring.
I am an Intel user and haven't had a lot of experience with AMD, so I will use Intel for the following.
Let's say we have a P3 1.2 Intel processor, it runs on a 266 bus and we have 256 megs of 333 memory, and a 128 meg video card.
Now what do we have? We have 1 processor running at 1.2 MHz, sort of low range nowadays, so let's put this as a 1 cylinder. The bus speed or the speed limit that we can travel at best is 266 (for simplicity sake lets convert to 35 mph), and the 256 megs of RAM as the gas tank, this let's say is 10 gallon tank.
The car in this case can't go faster then the speed limit and it's trying to push the video down the road. Here we have single processor (1 cylinder engine), trying to push the video, and at the same time maintain 35 mph. Not efficient is it? Sort of like a Cessna 172 going from Seattle to Portland, and coming back to reload and back to Portland, back and forth. Imagine the time it would take ferry a ton of cargo, 175 lbs at a time.
Now let's increase the speed the airplane can go, we'll pump up the speed of the engine to 2.4 MHz. Now we can go back and forth from Seattle to Portland faster, but we're still carrying the same amount of cargo or load. This time, the bus speed is up to 266 MHz or let's convert to 70 mph. So as you can see, we're making the same trip, same number of trips, just twice as fast.
Now let's increase the efficiency with a HT processor. A Hyper-Threading processor emulates two processors, one pushing the car and one concentrating on handling the video. More efficient, but still one processor. Able to handle more inputs and outputs at the same time but still only one engine, equate this to a high efficiency engine.
Now we use two planes at the same time. Both leaving and arriving at the same time. We've cut our trips in half, or better yet, instead of two planes, we have a larger plane with two engines. It's able to carry more cargo and again travel faster. Again cutting down the number of trips. Let's equal this to a 737-300. Of course you realize at this point, I'm talking about a dual core processor. We are now able to carry a lot more cargo and require even fewer trips. Plus, faster travel speed. The bus speed on this is 800 Mhz or let's convert to 200 mph.
The next step being the dual core quad, a 747, we can make this in one trip. A four engine aircraft that can haul a lot more and again more efficiently. Four engines, faster bus speed of 1066 or let's say 350 mph.
Along the way in each of the planes we've increased the passenger load. With the Cessna, we had one passenger, Win 3.11 light and not a lot of overhead. If the jump up to a faster engine also means more passengers (Windows 95), we have more overhead and possibly less room for the cargo.
The cargo in this case is the amount of data required to run Flight Simulator, the cargo also increases as we increase the default scenery, effects, add-on aircraft, modules and other third party programs.
With the HT processor or Boeing 737, we can carry more passengers and cargo. You might be wondering why I'm trying to equate airplanes with operating systems. Simple, every time we a jump in operating system, we have more overhead to deal with. Even though we at the same time are increasing the load on the plane, the increase of the load is the same as the requirements of running flight simulator.
We need the bigger plane to compensate for larger amounts of cargo. Just imagine the number of trips that you'd require to run FSX on that Cessna?
I hope that I'm making sense and now will draw some lines to help you.
The operating system has a number of requirements. Let's put the passengers as the O/S, in order to move 30 passengers (Windows 95) you have to have a certain size aircraft, a lot smaller then trying to move 200 passengers (XP), or a jumbo to move 350 passengers (Vista). In order to move the passengers you also have to have a crew and a cabin crew to help direct the passengers. We'll call the cabin crew in (I/O and DMA).
OK, so we have a full load (200 passengers) so we're going to take a 737, Dual Core. We have a certain amount of requirements for that (operating system). XP likes 256 megs RAM, we'll quadruple that to 1 gig, and it will run on a 128 meg video card, but we'll choose a 256 meg card.
So first off, we have a dual core CPU, what's the bus speed? Let's say 533, a lower end 1.8 MHz cpu. Now the most important component after the processor is the video card. Let's look at two common cards:
Here you can see some stats that are important.
The 8500 GT card has a memory bandwidth of 12.8 GB/s, while the older 7600 GT has 22.4 GB/s, almost twice the bandwidth. Not only that but look at the difference between the pixel fill and texture fill rates. What does this mean? I prefer to run the 7600 GT card over the 8500 GT for any gaming system. But that's still not going to give us what we need to run FSX. At a bare minimum, I'd look for a 50 GB/s card at then least.
Here is a comparison between the ATI EAX1650 PCI and my NVidia 5950 Ultra:
Even though the 5950 Ultra card is older and AGP, look at the bandwidth, 30 GB/s vs. the PCI-e at 12.8 GB/s. What card would you rather run?
Hence if I was trying to upgrade this system that had this card, I would at least upgrade the processor. Depending on the other factors listed above.
Here is a graph that might be of interest:
The above shows the amount of bandwidth by year and amount of bandwidth produced.
So if you have a Cessna and are looking to run FSX, be advised of the numbers. The higher the combined total will result in a better system, able to run FSX.
Here is a chart that I developed for determining if FSX will run on a given system:
The chart is straight forward and should help determine what you might need to upgrade.
To use the chart do the following. Determine your individual components and add the total.
|CPU Core 2 Duo||3|
|Bus Speed 1066||4|
|Memory Speed 800||4|
|RAM 2048 92 Gig||4|
|Video Ram 512||3|
|Memory Bandwidth 57||3|
HD - Hard drives, a fast SATA drive will also help with frame rates as the time to transfer data will help. Keep the HD defragged, and defrag often.
I sincerely hope this helps with users trying to determine if FSX is run able on their system. I have not taken the time nor expense to setup any SLI configurations, however that should be able to be added to the memory bandwidth as a total and not separately.
If you have any questions, please contact me.