Optimizing Visuals And Performance

Making Flight Simulator really fly

Unless you have a high-end system that's customized for gaming, optimizing both Flight Simulator's performance and its visuals may be a bit of a tradeoff. Creating better looking game images on screen typically results in decreased performance because displaying complex, richly detailed, three-dimensional graphics puts a heavy load on your system.

Related Links

Using Views and Windows
Changing Display Settings
Changing Sound Settings
Changing Weather Settings
Changing Realism Settings
Changing Traffic Settings

 

If you're not seeing the graphics quality and performance you expect, there are some simple choices that you can try in order to improve your Flight Simulator experience.


It's easy to make Flight Simulator look and perform better.

Improving Quality and Performance

To achieve maximum quality and performance, consider the following options.

Shut Down Other Applications

While you're flying, you probably won't need to be using other applications, such as word processors and e-mail programs, so close them to make more of your computer's processing power available for Flight Simulator.

Get a 3-D Graphics Accelerator Card

To display Flight Simulator graphics, your computer converts a three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional image. A 3-D graphics accelerator makes this task easier by taking some of the conversion burden off of the computer's main processor, leaving more resources free to handle the simulation's flight model. The result? Better performance and graphics quality.

To run Flight Simulator, your computer needs to have at least an 8 megabyte (MB) 3-D video card installed.

Once your card is installed, make sure that you:

If you have problems getting your 3-D card to work properly, make sure you've read the Readme file in the Flight Simulator directory on your hard drive, as well as the card manufacturer's documentation.

Install More Memory

Random access memory (RAM) is your computer's short-term memory. Generally, the more RAM there is, the faster your computer's processor can handle data. To run Flight Simulator, your computer needs to have at least:

Upgrade your System to a Faster Processor

To run Flight Simulator, your computer needs to have at least a 450 megahertz (MHz) processor. But the faster, the better!

Making a Tradeoff between Quality and Performance

If you want to spend an evening reading signs and billboards as you fly the Bell 206B JetRanger III helicopter down the glittering streets of Las Vegas, then you're probably willing to sacrifice a little performance for a better view. If, however, you want to test your instrument flying skills by guiding the Boeing 777300 into Heathrow Airport during a storm, then smooth aircraft and instrument movement takes precedence over scenery details. No matter what kind of hardware you have, you can make some educated tradeoffs between graphics quality and performance.

Explore the following options to find the balance between quality and performance that's right for your needs.

Watch Your Windows

Flight Simulator runs in a window. The simulation's views and instrument panels are also windows. Increasing the size of windows and displaying multiple windows simultaneously decreases performance, so use as few windows as possible, and keep them as small as you can.

Change the Resolution

Depending on the type of video card and monitor you have, you can run Flight Simulator at a variety of screen resolutions. The software is designed to run at a minimum screen resolution of 800 600. If your system can handle it, a resolution of 1024 768 or higher is optimal. Remember, however, that as you increase resolution to see more detail, you may notice a decrease in performance. Experiment with different resolutions to find the best combination of detail and performance for your needs.

For more information about adjusting the screen resolution on your computer, see the apppropriate Windows Help topic.

Note that in full screen mode, Flight Simulator uses the resolution you set in the Display Settings dialog box, not your Windows desktop resolution.

Use Full Screen Mode

Full Screen mode allows the Flight Simulator window to fill the entire screen (hiding the menu bar and taskbar) and will likely improve performance.

 

To toggle between Full Screen and Normal modes

  • Press ALT+ENTER.
    -or-
  • On the Views menu, choose Full Screen.

 

To bring up the menu bar while in Full Screen mode

  • Press ALT.

 

To set the resolution used in Full Screen mode

  • On the Options menu, point to Settings, and choose Display.

Changing Display Settings

Changing the display settings in Flight Simulator can also improve performance. Each setting has a different effect, and changes you make apply to all flights. Turning a setting on or off is noticeable only when you're using an effect related to that option. For example, turning the Shadows option off won't have much effect if you're flying in the clouds.


The Display Settings dialog box

 

To change display settings

  1. From the main Flight Simulator screen, click Settings.
  2. In the Settings dialog box, click Display.
    -or-
  • On the Options menu, point to Settings, and choose Display.

To learn more about adjusting display settings, read the article on Changing Display Settings.

Change Sound Preferences

Depending on your computer's specifications, changing sound preferences (or turning the sound off) may improve performance.


The Sound Settings dialog box

 

To change sound settings

  1. From the main Flight Simulator screen, click Settings.
  2. In the Settings box, click Sound.
    -or-
  • On the Options menu, point to Settings, and choose Sound.

Change Weather Settings

Generally speaking, the less scenery you see out of the window, the better Flight Simulator's performance will be. You can do a few things, weather-wise, to speed up performance:


The Weather dialog box

 

To change weather settings

  1. From the main Flight Simulator screen, click Create a Flight.
  2. In the Selected Weather section, click Change.
    -or-
  • On the World menu, choose Weather.

If you do choose to increase performance by changing the weather, you might also want to turn down (or turn off) the rate at which weather changes over time. Otherwise, clouds may develop as you fly.

 

To change the rate at which weather changes over time

  1. From the main Flight Simulator screen, click Settings.
  2. In the Realism and weather box, click Weather.
    -or-
  • On the Options menu, point to Settings, and choose Weather.

Reduce Air Traffic Density

Flight Simulator features a world in which other aircraft are flying and talking to Air Traffic Control. Seeing and hearing these other planes adds to the sense of immersion, but can cause performance problems on low-end computers. Try reducing the air traffic density setting, and see if it helps.


The Traffic Settings dialog box

 

To change the Air Traffic Density settings

  1. From the main Flight Simulator screen, click Settings.
  2. In the Settings box, click Traffic.
  3. Move the Air Traffic Density slider to the left.
    - or-
  1. On the Options menu, point to Settings, and choose Traffic.
  2. Move the Air Traffic Density slider to the left.

Monitor the Frame Rate

Monitoring the frame rate (the number of times per second that the image on the screen is redrawn) is an easy way to assess Flight Simulator's performance. Press SHIFT+Z twice to display the frame-rate counter. After you try modifying the options as suggested above, check the frame rate to see whether it has improved. Keep in mind, however, that what matters most is how the simulation looks and feels to you.

Don't be Afraid to Experiment

The best way to make Flight Simulator really fly on your computer is to experiment. Change a setting or an option, and then see if your flights look or feel any different. Be sure to check the Readme file in the Flight Simulator directory on your hard drive for additional tips.