Microsoft’s flight simulator is arguably our first look at a next-generation gaming experience. The visual bar is undoubtedly higher and the inevitable comparisons with Crysis as a system melter are not unfounded. Let’s put it this way: to maintain 60 frames per second while maintaining the glitz of the next generation of the game, extreme hardware is required. In fact, I’ve been using a Ryzen 9 3900X with an RTX 2080 Ti for a couple of years and it served me well on virtually every game I̵
First, let’s outline the scope of the challenge. As with Crysis before, the two highest presets in Flight Simulator 2020 offer such a high level of precision and drawing distance that most PCs with higher resolutions can’t handle very high frame rates. And understand WhyWe have to grapple with how the game is essentially a sweeping attack on your hardware. But first, I took the time to analyze every single setting on Flight Simulator and see how far you can cut down without losing the next-generation visual experience. Optimizing such a game is usually a monumental task as it has such diverse visual elements: the game has a number of types of environments and weather systems where different settings in the menu depending on the type of terrain have a one-sided effect on the performance overfly, what the weather is like or how close you are to the ground. Even so, I was able to easily find tweaked settings in this game as Asobo Studio put an amazing job into creating the game’s graphical presets.
If you’re working on a higher resolution display, don’t be afraid to use resolution scaling to begin with. If you enable TAA as the anti-aliasing option, using the resolution scaler also allows for temporal upsampling, which inserts information from previous frames into the current image, thereby improving image quality. The higher your screen resolution, the more leeway you have. I found that using 80 percent native resolution on a 4K display was very similar to native presentation. However, to get similar quality on a 1440p screen, 90 percent is as far as you should. At 1080p, I don’t recommend using resolution scaling – I would keep that at 100 percent.
After that, scaling the game’s graphics is pretty easy due to the way the presets work. At Ultra settings, the game aims for extremely flawless sample counts, densities, and distances that will make you struggle to spot errors. This is very expensive on average, which is why the game is so challenging from a GPU standpoint. However, high settings retain almost all of the effects and precision of the next generation, but reduce the GPU load immensely – a condition that affects every single setting. Optimized settings are then easy: use temporal upsampling through the resolution slider where you can, but otherwise leave everything at high settings. The exceptions to the rule are simple: increase the anisotropic filtering to 16x and keep texture synthesis on Ultra if VRAM allows it (at least for an RTX 2080 Ti at 4K and GTX 1060 6GB at 1080p). In a busy New York scene at 4K with the RTX 2080 Ti, using optimized settings at 4K increases performance by 34 percent. It’s noteworthy, however, to use the same settings at 80 percent native resolution with TAA – the performance gain is now a massive 70 percent. It looks largely the same – after all, the whole purpose of our tweaked settings.
However, that’s only half the battle, and to be clear, that’s the easy win. You see, Flight Simulator is also extremely CPU draining where scalability is far more difficult. To show the extent of the challenge, I set the resolution to 540p and then created an AI trajectory through New York, which is considered to be one of the densest and most challenging areas. The point here is to isolate the CPU power, with each GPU being able to easily render the scene with such a small number of pixels.
My Ryzen 9 3900X delivers 50 fps here – and it could be even worse depending on the view. In these tests, I found that Flight Simulator is essentially optimized for six physical CPU cores. This means that the SMT / Hyper-Threading isn’t doing much, if at all, on my processor while the other six cores are basically inactive. This means that single-core performance is critical and Intel processors have a huge advantage here. The hardware upgrade that got me much closer to 60 fps was a Core i9 10900K, which peaked at 4.9 GHz on all cores at the default settings. Intel’s IPC advantage and brutal clock speeds win, but I’d probably get the same results with a Core i5 10600K, and my guess is that even the Core i5 8600K with six cores and six threads would get similar results on the same watch. In some scenarios, the 10900K outperformed the 3900X in stock watches by as much as 20 percent. In terms of optimized settings, these will certainly help increase your frame rate regardless of your chip and increase the performance in the test scene of my Ryzen 9 3900X by 32 percent.
PC users, most likely to be hardest hit by Flight Simulator’s CPU requirements, will be those who are still running quad-core processors without Hyper-Threading – which, according to Intel, will make an i5 up to the seventh generation (and i3 in the eighth and ninth generation) will be. . However, if you’re using an older quad-core i7 with Hyper-Threading, the game should work just fine – but with more stuttering than an actual six-core processor. Conclusion: The core load of Flight Simulator (possibly in connection with the DX11 renderer) lives from six cores and as much frequency as you can throw at them, in a world in which the best engines over all cores and threads in your modern age scale processor.
I think the developer has one more problem to deal with. While there is an option in the game to toggle V-Sync on and off, the actual new frames are tied to updating your display, and even with V-Sync turned off, you’ll never see a tear. A frame rate monitoring tool like Riva Tuner Statistics Server can tell me I’m getting a flat 60 fps, but the jerking of the screen tells my eyes – and our video-based performance tools – it’s not us. Stuttering can be reduced by using a high refresh rate display, preferably a variable refresh rate display. Simply put, however, this is not how the game should go.
Ultimately, Flight Simulator is really a test of your hardware components, and while the Core i9 10900K and RTX 2080 Ti produced a mostly locked 60 fps in my optimized settings for my 4K display, there are still combinations of effects and conditions that will degrade performance can. This is a game that is sure to scale widely in the future, but there are easy wins in the here and now that will give you a good chunk of the extra frame rate without sacrificing the next generation experience. Our first port of call in the coming days will of course be to test the game again with the new RTX 3080. So watch out for it soon.