This series of blogs is a bit of an experiment; hoepfully you’ll come along for the ride as I embark on a journey that will be a combination of Tweaking Guide, add-on Review, and personal history. I am passionate about simming, and I feel like I spend so much time tweaking that I barely have time to just sit and fly – indeed there are times that I will choose not to fly becuase I don’t want to boot up all the various bits and bobs that it takes to make everything run. The goal here is to be able to easily load into a plane, start it up and fly smoothly in just about any condition.
I’m not a dev, I’m a bit (small bit) savvy when it comes to some of the inner workings of PC’s, but nowhere near as proficient as some of the other authors of tweaking guides out there. In reality I just want to fly and have it look REALLY FREAKING COOL; but it needs it work fast because I have 3 kids that are 3 or younger and their various schedules along with my desire to spend time with my amazing wife all conspire to keep me off the PC for much of the day, so when I do have time I want ot to work. As a real world pilot I also want to simulate real world conditions, and the better it looks, the more awesome I feel.
This series will include videos, livestreams, pictures, and of course the blog, which I hope will serve as the record of the whole endeavour. With Chris’s help I may even be able to make this a little interactive – open to suggestions there. Please comment! I’m still in the middle of this process so I’m happy to incorporate your (constructive) input!
The self-indulgent intro
I’ve known Microsoft Flight Simulator since I was quite young – I still remember loading into Midway as the default and flying by the Sears Tower. But I didn’t get really serious about it until about 3 years ago when a friend of mine took me up flying in his 172 – the first flight was fun but the second time up he let me take the controls on an approach and I fell madly in love with flight again. I decided at the time that I couldn’t afford to get my Private Pilot license, so I invested $20 in a joystick and $19.99 in a copy of FSX (not even accelearation, the local big box didn’t have it).
After flying around my local airport in the default cessna for a bit, I was getting rather bored with the whole thing, so I tried to load into the “multiplayer” that was built in. After having 12 year olds screaming about crashing and laughing while cursing at the top of their lungs, I became rather dicsouraged. This was the same phenomenon that finally ruined Halo for me. Luckily, another buddy of mine who had a life long dream of controlling for the FAA had found VATSIM and pointed me to the website.
Since originally this was to be a replacement for real world flying, the VATSIM ratings (P1, P2, etc.) captivated my attention. Through their list of Authorized Training Organizations (ATO) I discovered Canadian Xpress (CXA), the “free flying” policy really appealed to me – I wasn’t interested in the big steel at the time (although they had that option as well). I submitted a training task and got connected pretty quickly over TeamSpeak with a trainer (shout out to CXA546!) who walked me through the tangled web of Squawkbox, FSUIPC and FSAcars. I spent a few days flying around KSEA (which was staffed well most of the time) and was thoroughly hooked.
I studied for a week or so and easily passed the P1, and began to particpate in the CXA events – at one of them I got hooked up with CXA003, a real world commercial pilot who started training me on the larger aircraft. I hadn’t even heard of an FMC at the time – a whole new world now lay before me.
As great as some of the freeware stuff was, I wanted more depth now that I understood more. At the time I was flying a challenge that required a 757 freighter, so I bought my first payware add-on: the Captain Sim 757. Around this time my second son was born; I distinctly remember the first night we were home he was struggling to sleep and my wife needed a break. I took the little guy downstairs to my computer, held him in one hand and went page by page through the whole operations manual for the 757… first time I truly understood why all the forums start with “RTFM.” Kiddo was asleep by the time I was done, and not wanting to awken anyone else in the house I started going through the procedures – first time I managed to start a plane from cold and dark!
I was struggling with landings, the joystick just wasn’t doing it for me, so I got my hands on some hardware.
I started with the Saitek Yoke (which comes with a throttle quad) and rudder predals; it’s amazing the level of realism that is provided just by this fairly inexpensive addon (compared to the hundreds of dollars that can be spent on software or thousands on the computer). Of all the addons, this is probably my most highly reccomended. Unfortuantely, this also led me to want to fly for real again, and my sim took a time hit while I completed my Private license.
I spent a lot of time practicing what I learned in the real world on the sim, but I was always disapointed by how unrealistic the airport was and the scenery around it. Fortunately (or unfortuantely for my wallet) I live smack in the middle of ORBX country in the Northwest US. And the real investment began.
I live and fly in Idaho Falls, which is in the Central Rocky Mountain ORBX region, so naturally that was my first purchase. I was amazed by the level of detail, and how my flat little default airport came alive. Circutis out of KIDA started to feel like the real deal; practicing my long cross country actually looked a lot like the real one. My wife hails from a little town closer to Seattle, so Pacific Northwest came next, and then Northern Rocky Mountains. I think you get the picture. At this point my poor little computer was already starting to choke a little bit. Then, as my aviation skills began to increase, my desire for a more complicated aircraft kicked in… and I discovered PMDG.
I got some giftcards for Christmas about a year ago and invested in the PMDG 737NGX, MD-11 and JS41. While I absolutely loved the complexity and realism, I was already pushing my computer to its limits, and I had spent much more time flying than tweaking, so landing in anything other than perfect weather at a stock airport was getting to be a slideshow.
And that leads to the crux of this exceptionally long intro –
I had discovered Angle of Attack through the NGX training and then eventually the 777 launch, and of course have spent lots of time watchign Froogle’s videos and Matt Hardy (FSX Genius)… they all had such amazingly smooth visuals and great scenery. I became jealous. So I tried to cobble together what I could from various tweaking sites (Holy Bible of FSX Tweaking, Kostas Tweaking Guide, FSX Genius, etc.) but I have to admit – it was all quite technical. As with many FSX articles, most tweaking guides begin by admonishing the reader and belittling anyone who woudl tweak without first fully understanding the inner workings of the FSX programming as well as exactly how the computer works.
So here’s the deal… I get REALLY bored REALLY fast of the “this is why affinity mask math works” stuff – I know I’d be a better tweaker if I knew it, but I care more about my sim looking REALLY FREAKING COOL than I do about why memory kernal x67050876ramalamadingdong isn’t working. After reading several authors who told me I was a fool for not reading the whole thing I started to think maybe I couldn’t really tweak FSX; but the third time I fell asleep half way through paragraph 726 on how to code for memory use, I decided I’d just muddle through and hope to get somewhere at least close to flyable. And I’m hoping you’ll join me as I go through my process… the next few articles will be a hodgepodge of reviews and tweaking guides because of the method.
Based on a video from Frooglesim I decided to start fresh and use his benchmarking advice, but from a completely clean installation – I just bought a new processor and motherboard, so the timing is great. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting my progress, and livestreaming my test flights (I’ll try to post some kind of schedule once I figure out how this is going to work). Here’s what I’ll be doing:
Fresh installation of FSX Acceleration on a clean PC with no overclocking – I’ll benchmark the default Cessna just as a baseline, then I’ll add the RealAir Duke V2, the PMDG 777 and NGX and use those as my benchmark aircraft (the Duke isn’t hard on frames but it allows me to get close to the scenery, the NGX is just a hoot to fly and is TERRIBLE on frames, and the 777 is big and awesome). With each progressive piece of tweaking and/or installation, I’ll benchmark the using flights from KIDA to KSLC, KSLC to KJAC and KSEA to PAKT. I’ll also be getting some shots from around EKVG because the mesh out there changes so much with FTX Global and Vector, and it’s a really pretty area. The other flights allow me to sit in areas familiar to me and that have all kinds of options for complexity of scenery (ORBX regions, ORBX airports, etc.) And then for fun at the very end I’ll fly into St. Maarten to test a FlyTampa scenery, and because I want to land the 777 out there anyway.
Here’s the order I’m planning on right now (subject to change as I go):
1) FSX Base
2) Basic Tweaking of the CFG file
3) FTX Global <– I'll be reviewing this one as part of this guide/review/series
4) FTX Vector (1.0)
5) Active Sky Next
6) REX Textures
7) FTX Vector (1.1) <– just got my hands on this one, that's why it's out of order; this will be a more comprehensive review
8) FTX Regions (PNW/CRM/NRM)
9) FTX REgion: Northern California <– Separate because it's new, I'll be doing a more comprehensive review rather than just some benchmarks
10) FTX Airports: KJAC and PAKT
My hope is to figure out how to fly in all conditions with smooth frames and little chop – I know that with the baseline of FSX there is not a strong likelihood of 100% smooth, but if I can perform an approach in weather at night to a reasonably intense airport in a PMDG tubeliner, I'll be pretty happy with the results.
Naturally the system makes a huge difference; I’ve been on a fully AMD system up until late last week, and I still run a Radeon Card, which I know is unique. Hopefully my odd system will help others out there who don’t have the golden standard Intel/NVidia.
–Intel Haswell i7 4770k 3.5ghz stock (will overclock later as part of this article)
-ASRock Z87 Extreme9/ac motherboard
-16gb 1600mhz RAM
-Radeon 6970 2gb 1375mhz (by Sapphire)
-System Drive is a Samsung EVO SSD 250GB, this is also where I put FSX and most of the addons
-Other drives for files/video editing/all non-windows and non-FSX software: 60gb SSD, 120gbSSD, 1.5TB HDD and 750gb HDD <– a bit of a hodge podge but it works well for me
-PSU is a single rail 1000w Rosewill
-Cooling is stock intel to begin with, as soon as I get the intel mount from Antec I'll be installing my Kuhler 620 closed loop water cooler. The case is Antec Nine Hundred v3 (I think?) with a few extra fans installed.
I think that covers the specs; I have the following Saitek gear that I'll be configuring as part of this series as well:
Throttle Quad x2
Cessna Trim Wheel
I also have a Trackir V
I'll be streaming on Twitch when I can – in AoA colors when it's just me and in Canadian Xpress colors when I'm logging time for the VA or participating in events. I use FRAPS for benchmarking and some light video recording, FSRecorder for playback (when I get around to installing it).
Eventually I'll be adding FSAcars for logging, Squawkbox for VATSIM integration, and Aivlasoft EFB for the longer haul flights just as a way of tracking where I am.
I use two 27" Dell LCD monitors and run FSX in windowed mode so that I can use the second monitor for all the various addons.
Follow me on Twitch to see when I’m up and running; feel free to come along when I’m online. My mic should be here shortly so that I can talk to you all as well. Big thanks to Chris and Angle of Attack for supporting me, and to ORBX for providing software for review, and to PMDG, mostly because I’m hoping they’ll throw me the beta for the next 777 expansion (shameless plug).
Let’s see how this all goes. Throttle on!
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