First for the add-ons*; We have:
*All of the given add-ons I would highly recommend and more from these developers.
**These specs are not the specs of my (Wallace Cotton's) computer, these are the specs for The Shack's computer, my tips are in relation to my specs, but in many cases they are applicable to all computers. For my own (Wallace) computer specs check the bottom of this page
After hours of research and countless edits of the FSX folder, in my quest for great looks and stellar frame rates, I have come to understand the simple and not-so-simple ways of improving performance in Microsoft Flight Simulator X. My computer has had more add-ons than you can imagine, half of which were almost immediately deleted because of major drops in frame rates. An important thing to understand before I begin to list, is that each and every person has his or her own, individual preference and computer so these suggestions are only suggestions; they are not facts. They will not prove helpful on all systems and the following is what I found helpful with my machine and The Shack's. The best thing you can do as an interested simmer is, unless you have a monster machine and can have it all, find your balance between good performance and good graphics, because everyone is different. That decision between good performance vs. good graphics is the always changing heart of my decision making body in add-ons.
First and foremost, it is absolutely key that you avoid running any other programs on your computer before or while playing Flight Simulator. For example, if you spend three hours working in Photoshop, restart your computer, or even let it sit off for a few minutes before you turn in on again to play. Otherwise, FSX (for me) takes 15 minutes to load and is considerably slow in all parts of simulation.
Try to limit yourself on freeware downloading. With all of the freeware websites such as Avsim, Simviation, Flightsim.com, Freeskyproject, project airbus and many others, it can and will be overwhelming in choosing what to download and what not to. Downloading hundreds of aircrafts and sceneries of airports will hurt performance and load times. Dont get me wrong, take advantage of the great opportunities out there, but try not over do it (in whatever extent you consider 'overdoing it' to be). Understand your computers limitations. Before I got a new computer last year, I had an old Dell PC, and whenever I ran POSKYs (now Freesky Project) 777 my computer would crash.
On that same note, a great way to use those websites is to download various liveries (paint scheme, colors, airlines). In fact, download to your hearts content--as long as you understand how to edit the .cfg file-- these are great ways to bring your favorite airplane to life. You would be astonished at how many variations there are and the amount of effort other simmers have put into designing them all!
If you choose to download freeware (payware should never have this problem as they will come with an installer) and there is no installer included, please make sure you know what you are doing. Patience is a virtue. Two years ago Ryan taught me how to edit the aircraft.cfg file in order to add livieries. Back then, the folder was a very intimidating place. Just one wrong press of the delete button (and a few accidental enter presses) and flight simulator would break. Now, I feel like I can do anything in the FSX folder. I still learn things all the time, and I have made plenty of errors. You must be careful as you can delete the wrong thing and have no way to get it back. Most of the required steps for installing software are simple and instructions are usually provided by the author (in the read-me), but I cannot reiterate how important it is to learn before you do. Too many times I've made a dumb error, without realizing it, and end up spending 5 hours fixing it.
Forums. The forums, as a simmer, have the greatest utility. They are the best place to learn about anything and everything. Either google, bing, yahoo, msn, or whatever you use to lookup your problem and 95% of the time there will already be someone who had that problem and they were able to fix it. Be patient and once again, do not act until you understand. Forums also are great for expressing anticipation and fixing problems with payware stuff. You get familiar with all of the fellow users, and you can check any time for updates or fixes.
Youtube. Aside from forums, Youtube can be the other place to find answers to your problems. The simming community is enormous, and many of your fellow simmers have posted instructional videos online. And of course, you can watch all of the scenic, ultra high quality, flight simulator videos to your hearts content. There are some extremely talented people out there and some pretty intense setups, so subscribe and enjoy! You never know what may inspire you!
Deleting. If you choose to delete a texture or aircraft or scenery, etc, make sure you put it into the recycle bin (where it can be restored from) unless you are COMPLETELY SURE that it is not needed, in which case use the "delete" button. I would strongly advise that whenever you make changes and choose to delete something (especially if you are not as experienced in editing FS files), put it in the recycle bin because you never know if you might want to again. If you permanently delete a FSX essential file, you will have to reinstall. So remember not to lose the instalation disks as well as the registration code.
Payware. What can I say about payware, some of it will make you want to buy a new $10,000 computer just to run it, and some of it will disappoint you. Believe me, I have had both those cases. Personally, I think all payware ought to have demos included -- a try before you buy. Fsdreamteam, Imaginesim, Captain sim, and others do. It really is great when you can experience the product on your own system. Now, plenty of payware greats, such as PMDG, Level-D, (some of) Aerosoft, do not have demos. But reading in the forums about performance is what will help you out. I can tell you right now that fsdt and Level-D run great (better than default in some cases), Captain sim and most Aerosoft products are VERY harsh on frames (but if you can run it, they are incredibly detailed in all respects), PMDG can be tough in some cases and less harsh in others. Many simmers even ask how their product will run on their machine in the forums. Read reviews, and go on Avsim. They have a ton of reviews written by reviewers who are tell you what you need to know and are very clear. Finally, please, control yourself. Dont go out and buy everything because, honestly, it just doesnt pay off. Many paywares have freeware counter parts (although usually not as good (but some are)). They will fill the gap nicely.
Settings. Ok, you are all set for the in-game setting menu. Now each payware developer recommends certain settings for their respective products but here are somethings you will want to consider: Global Texture Resolution. This is the general (ugly, pretty, sexy) look of your game. FSDT (FS dreamteam) scenery recommends you put it on "maximum" to show all textures. This depends on your computer, I love FSDT products, so I keep it at maximum. Having filtering on Antistrophic is what you want (if you have a good enough video card); it will make edges look smoother and I believe it actually helps performance. A good way to save performance is to turn off "Lens Flare" and "Light Bloom". For target frame rate (mine is at 38 but rarely does it reach it) I recommend 20 to start and see from there. If you are constantly at 20, move it up etc. (to view frames per second, in game, press Shift + Z twice) In aircraft menu, I would check "cast shadow on ground" and "lights illuminate ground", but uncheck "cast shadow on itself." Please note that 2-D transparency means exactly that. If your 2-D panel is see through or simply not there bring the slider down to 0% (thats where I keep it). Now the next menu (scenery) is where you need to be careful . The only thing I want to talk about in depth is autogen. The rest varies on everyones indavidual computer and my specs will probably not help you. (If you are desperate to know they are as follows: Lvl of detail radius = medium; mesh complexity = 39; mesh resolution = 38m; texture resolution = 30cm; Water effects = Low 1.x; Land detail textures = checked; ground scenery shadows = checked; special effects detail = medium) Scenery complexity (speaks for itself) is at normal and autogen density (amount of generated generic buildings/trees is at normal as well. I sometimes like to have autogen density at dense to bring cities and forests more to life. The weather menu can cause major drops in frames -- well that is the cloud draw distance and cloud coverage density can. Play with that, I have it on 80mi and medium, respectively, but even that can get laggy in thick clouds and rough weather. Thermal visualization (which displays pockets of rising air, only really useful in gliding) is at none, and rate that weather changes is at no change. Finally, the traffic menu. I will tell you now that having airport ground vehicles off will help performance considerably, and having road vehicles at none or a low percent will also help. Ships/ferries and leisure boats are something to play with: I like ships and ferries higher than leisure boats. And for "aircraft labels," do yourself a favor and turn labels off. They can get very distracting and to me, they take away realism. For airline traffic density, well I use Ultimate Traffic II and/or VATSIM, so those are controlled via that program (and are at zero in FSX). Play around with these settings and once again, find your balance.
Virtual Airlines. If you want to get into the spirit of being part of a real airline, joina virtual one. There is at least VA (virtual airline) per most airlines (American has like four), and they typically operate on VATSIM (which is an online system @ www.vatsim.net) and can be great. They all have websites, choose one you feel right with and apply!
Finally, have fun out there. Download and spend what you like, but make sure you are enjoying yourself. Join a virtual airline if you want, and make sure that your settings are set for you to get what you want out of the simulation. Dont run your game at 6 frames per second just so you can have a Captain Sim 757 landing at Aerosofts Madrid, run it at 6 fps only if you want to (I wouldnt recommend it). Or take away all autogen for excellent frames. Come on, you bought it because you wanted to enjoy it -- now do that!
Thanks for reading and happy flying,
edited by Ryan Yeh