How To Maximum FS2002 Performance
By Andrew Herd
Hardware Specs And Frame Rates In FS2002
First - there are problems with some chipsets/display cards. Many ATI Rage owners have had problems, some of which have been cured by loading the latest set of drivers and some by unchecking 'table fog' in the 3D menu of the ATI card setup where this is present - if you need a new driver try here. There would seem to be problems with a few Athon based systems as well, for reasons which are not clear at present, and some Voodoo card owners report problems - if you have any click here for a possible workaround.
Microsoft's minimum spec is:
Multimedia PC with Pentium II 300 MHz equivalent or higher
processor with 8MB 3D video hardware acceleration or better.
Memory 64 MB
Approximately 650 MB of available hard disk space; additional 100MB for swap file.
Quad Speed or better CD-ROM drive
Super VGA monitor supporting 800x600 resolutions in 16 bit color.
DirectX 8.0a API or later
DirectX8.0a or later compatible 8 MB video card
DirectX8.0a API compatible sound card with speakers or headphones
Microsoft Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 2000, or Windows XP operating system (Does not support Windows NT).
Joystick or flight yoke.
Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device.
Sound card with speakers or headphones required for audio.
The bad news is that while FS2002 will run on a 300 MHz Pentium with an 8 Mb 3D card, it isn't quick. Sure, it goes, and I have heard of someone running it at 6 fps on a 233 MHz machine, but to do that means switching off most of the options which make FS2002 look special and pulling every slider all the way back. My personal opinion is that running 2002 in this state is a waste of money that could better be saved towards a faster processor - and while we are at it, if I had to make the choice, I would always go for a faster processor before I purchased a better video card or extra RAM. Flight Simulator has always been processor bound and although this version does make increased demands on video hardware, raw processor speed is essential for handling the complex physics involved in running the sim.
My own minimum spec is an 450 MHz Pentium with 128 Mb of RAM and a 16 Mb video card, rather faster than Microsoft recommend. It really begins to run really well on a 800-1000 MHz machine with 256 Mb RAM and a good 3D card. If you are speccing a new machine, the safest option would be to get an nVidia card, because the drivers are written by magicians and are updated so frequently I keep losing track of whether I have the newest ones or not. I make no guarantees about how well FS2002 will run on machines with processors in the 300 - 400 MHz range, beyond the observation that if you want to try it, go ahead, you may be happy with the results, you may not; though I know that some people are happy with it on 300 MHz systems. If you are really desperate to give it a go, be my guest, but you have been warned.
In the past, Flight Simulator has benn more processor dependent (because of the complex physics in the sim) than video card dependent. FS2002 changes this balance slightly, because you may not be able to experience some effects without a state of the art 3D card, but on the whole it is better to run 2002 on a state-of-the-art processor and an old video card, than the other way around.
However, the first thing to realise is that 10 fps in FS2002 is a different ball game to 10 fps in FS2000, because in general FS2002 shows much less "stuttering" - the sudden drops in frame rates which were the trade mark of FS2000. So raw frame rates aren't so important in this version of the sim as they were in the last one; because you don't need such a large frame rate "safety margin" to keep you clear of the abrupt slow downs we used to know so well. This means that lower frame rates are more acceptable in 2002 than they were in 2000.
Bizarrely, the one time you will see stuttering in 2002 is in spot plane view on a very fast machine with the frame rate slider maxed out, because sudden peaks in frame rates can occur and these will make the plane seem to leap forward (the reverse of the problems we experienced with FS2000, which were due to sudden troughs in frame rates). If you see this a lot in spot plane view the solution is to experiment with setting an upper limit to the frame rates using the method described in option 5 below - I would suggest starting at about 30 fps and then gradually increasing it until the trouble appears again.
However, more users will experience the opposite problem, which is that frame rates aren't high enough. There is a significant trade off to be made between the level of detail which 2002 can deliver and the frame rate - in broad terms an FS2002 user is more likely to be happy with a frame rate of 10 fps and a higher level of visual detail than he or she would be with a frame rate of 20 fps and lower detail settings, chiefly because FS2002 is not liable to stuttering. In FS2000, once the frame rate drifted down towards 10, stutters could stop the sim in its tracks, so frame rates became unacceptable at this end of the scale. In FS2002, the good news is that you will probably get away with it.
But for those of you with marginal hardware setups, here is how you go about pushing up those frame rates - to see what effect you are having hit shift-z twice and the numbers will appear top left.
In order of impact on frames -
1. Go to the menu and work through options\settings\display\hardware and uncheck multi-texturing - the penalty is that you will see some light tiles in the sea at times, but your frame rates will go up 30-40%. If you are flying over the sea, then rechecking this doesn't result in everything reloading.
2. Options\settings\display\hardware and uncheck anti-aliasing. This will gain another 30-40% in speed, without any visible deterioration in image quality.
3. Options\settings\display and then pull "maximum visibility" back. I would suggest that you should also download Pete Dowson's freeware FSUIPC, because this provides a much more elegant solution to this and many other problems. Rumours that Microsoft are attempting to reverse compile Pete and build him into FS2004 are apparently incorrect.
4. Options\settings\display\water effects - pull the slider right back to the left. This loses fancy water effects, but has a significant impact on frames. Not much use over the Takla Makan desert, admittedly, but it may let you take off at Meig's.
5. Options\settings\display\hardware and pull the fps slider back - surprisingly enough FS2002 will run more smoothly on marginal setups if it is limited to a maximum frame rate of 15 - 20 fps. The penalty for is that at lower settings your scenery detail will begin to degrade significantly because of the way this slider exerts its effects. Some users find the results cosmetically unacceptable.
6. Options\settings\ATC - pull the AI traffic slider back. What you lose in AI traffic you gain in frames, but if you are a bush flyer then you won't ever see other traffic anyway. Not so good if you are a 747 jock.
7. Options\settings\display\autogen density - pull the slider back - this can double the frame rates if you go to 'sparse' from the 'dense' setting, but the penalty is that the Autogen scenery progressively disappears.
8. Options\settings\display\reflections - uncheck and also uncheck this option on the aircraft tab.
Additionally, always flying with blue skies (i.e. no clouds) will keep the rates high. If you get as far as option 7 and blue skies, the last, most desperate move is to stay away from detailed airports and fly over flat terrain, but if you find yourself doing that, I think you need a new PC (-:Andrew Herd