Computers For Flight Simulation?


Decided to update my home flight simulator, and bought the latest versions of MSFS 2020 and Xplane. But to my surprise, neither will install on my Windows 10 machine. Digging into the user guides a bit more it seems they need a "gaming computer," with more memory and a high-end graphics card. Not really knowing much about my options I stopped by MicroCenter here in Cambridge, and one of the techs walked me through all the models they carry. Evidently they're all benchmarked in terms of performance on First-Person Shooter games. Swell!

Does anyone have a recommendation on which computer to get? I'll probably only use it for flight simulation, since my regular laptop seems fine for everything else.


Bob T.


  • These are recommended specs:
    CPU: Intel Core i5-8400 or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or better
    RAM: 16 GB
    OS: Windows 10 64-bit
    VIDEO CARD: Radeon RX 590 or GeForce GTX 970

    I would also consider what type of flight yoke you want as well as monitors. From the base configuration above I would put emphasis on the graphics card and you might want to run three monitors for front and side views at some point.

    If you can send a summary of your local options it would help.

    I would also recommend a system capable of running the Rift S from Oculus. I think future simulators will make extensive use of VR/AR.

    Some day it will be possible to go to your hanger, put on a headset and "hanger fly" your plane using your existing controls. The screens and view outside would be replaced with a computer simulation at the same time you would see your actual hands on the actual controls. This is called augmented reality and will be a huge improvement.

    Eric Panning
    1981 Seneca III
    Hillsboro, OR (KHIO)

  • Thanks Eric,

    here's the one I'm thinking of:

    After watching a couple of reviews of MSFS2020, I'm a little dubious about it. Are there other simulator platforms I should consider? Redbird resells Lockheed Prepar3D, which is at the core of their PCATDs. And Elite sells their own XTS software standalone from their ATDs for $200, and it has a Seneca model built in.


  • That computer would work fine and would also be good work working with photo's and videos especially with an additional drive.
    If you are interested in IFR training then the Elite might be a better match. I did not read in detail but you might not need to upgrsde your system either. Microsoft Flight Simulator is visually engaging but if it is IFR you are working on there is nothing to see ;)

    Eric Panning
    1981 Seneca III
    Hillsboro, OR (KHIO)

  • Bob,

    the most important component of a flight simulation computer is the graphics card (GPU). You want to buy the best you can afford, at least “upper mid-range” class, and if possible, closer to the top. The reason is, eye candy is what sells sim software, and developers do not care for people who do not upgrade their hardware, because these people tend not to buy much of their software either. Even if you spend most of the time IFR in the clouds, rendering the beautiful panel in front of you costs a lot of GPU cycles, as do the “volumetric” clouds. So don’t believe “minimum”, or even “recommended” specs, or you will spend a lot of frustrating time lowering various rendering options to make the sim run smoothly.

    Check out This site caters to gaming laptop users, but most of the laptop GPUs have straight equivalent in the desktop world. Take a look and decide for yourself what kind of GPU you want. In my opinion the GPU in the computer you listed, being from the lowest, oldest nVidia Tier still in production, is not good enough, but that’s just me and YMMV.

    The rest of the specs look decent (32 GB), 1 TB SSD, 8-core processor from recent family.

    Hope this helps! Cheers!

    Karol Zadora
    PA28RT-201T Turbo Arrow IV
    Seattle Area

  • Also, has a very comprehensive flight simming course. I have been flight simming since before MSFS 1.0 on DOS and I have still learned a few things from that course. Check it out!

    Karol Zadora
    PA28RT-201T Turbo Arrow IV
    Seattle Area

  • Karol,

    thanks much! Both the GPU comparison guide, and the XPlane tutorial by Keith and Jeff, gave me an awful lot of good material to chew on. It amazes me the high quality content that's out there.

    blue skies,


  • Wonderful, glad it was useful, have fun, Bob! :)

    Karol Zadora
    PA28RT-201T Turbo Arrow IV
    Seattle Area

  • The EAA chapter I am a member of has been involved in building a couple of flight sims since before Covid hit. I think our sim team has done an incredible job. Check out this link:

    I have flown both simulators and can't say enough about how realistic they are, especially Sim II. We waited for months for the latest (at the time) hi-rez VR goggles to come out and it was worth the wait... simply incredible!

    I have just heard that HP Electronics having heard about our project has offered to donate their latest Head-mounted display system (Virtual reality goggles) to the project. In addition to knowing the precise position of your head it also has pupil sensors to know exactly what your eyes are focused on to further enhance the total immersion experience!

    The young people involved in the project are simply amazing in their technical prowess. Hannah has been working part time at an intern position at Intel Electronics and has recently been offered an intern position with NASA Ames research center all while maintaining top of her class in high school as well as learning to fly!

  • Ray, thanks for sharing the link to your chapter's flight simulators project. I don't know which is more inspiring - the mentors leading the program, or the students who are obviously fully-invested. I'd love to see alot more stories like this on the evening news; it's a lot more interesting than the normal programming emphasizing fear and panic. Bob

  • Bob, I couldn't agree more.
    Young people like these truly are our future, not the likes of those on the evening news.
    I also want to add that the ring leader (mentor) Dan is a retired Naval Officer and Medical Doctor. He has built 3 Vans Aircraft, RV-6, RV-10, and an RV-12... he is like the Energizer Bunny as well as a down to earth nice person.

  • In terms of the computer hardware, it's all about the graphics card. The graphics card does the job of taking a 3D encoded computer model of the world around you - roads, hills, trees, houses, etc. - and turns it into a lighted perspective view. The graphics cards are small super-computers. Pretty much, you get what you pay for, but there's a steep price premium at the top end. My go-to reference is RAM: Get plenty. You need it for all that scenery. 32GB is a good number.

    Don't get a laptop unless portability is critical. Laptops are optimized for size, weight, and power consumption, and you'll pay much more for the same compute power. Most important, you're likely to run into heat problems with laptops. Flight sims run the cpu and graphics processor flat out, and laptops aren't built for that. Their fans may not be able to keep up and they're likely to overheat. On the other hand, my old mid-tower PC will run X-Plane 11 all day without breaking a sweat.

    For VFR sim flying you can't beat FS2020. Microsoft has built a mind-bogglingly detailed model of the world, and the sim downloads the nearby parts "on the fly". On the other hand, for instrument training, X-Plane is the better choice. All the instruments and navaids work really well, and there's pretty respectable models of the Garmin 430 and 530 units. You can even buy current nav data from Navigraph, so the procedures in the 430/530 will match your current approach plates. (X-Plane comes with nav data built in, but it doesn't get updated much.)

    One other thing... If you're looking to buy a yoke, regrettably I have to tell you to stay away from Saitek. Mechanically it's a great unit, but they put an on-center dead zone in the controller. That gives it a twitchy response on center and makes the airplane feel unstable and hard to fly. Get one of the CH yokes instead - they don't have that problem. I've also heard good things about the Honeycomb yoke but have't tried one myself.

    • Andy
  • Guys,

    You all saved me ALOT of time getting up and running! Here's the final setup:

    Hardware - Alienware AMD 8-core at 3.8 GHz, 64 GB of DDR4-3400, RTX-3080, 2TB SSD. It was a pop-up "special" at Microcenter for 2K.

    Software - The tutorial convinced me that if X-Plane 11 isn't the best choice it's at least a really good choice.

    Controls - I had an existing set of CH-products controls - Yoke, Pedals & Twin Engine Throttle Quadrant - from my old setup. X-Plane makes it a snap to assign the buttons and levers to the various simulator functions.


    Ray - do you know if other EAA chapters are doing similar projects? If they haven't, how could I get one started with my local chapter?


  • edited April 2021

    I don't know of any, but I think there has been some interest.
    Check out the website link There is pretty detailed info on the project. Check out the left margin under "The Sim Project" heading. If you have additional questions there is a contact button also in the left margin at the bottom you can click on to send in a question.

  • Check our FLYELITE.COM. They have a great home sim program that is used by many flight schools internationally. They are not big on beautiful scenery like MS or XPLANE, but they offer a multitude of airplanes including legacy panels to the latest mfd models.

    The best part- runs fine on windows 10 and you won’t need to buy a new computer. Speak to Calvin their tech guy about computer specs if you call them

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