Saturday, January 12th, 2008

FSX Video Performance Testing – Quad-Core QX6850, 8800GTX SLI, 4GB RAM and Vista 64 bit

Progress on the overall project has been going well. I’ve been slowly building the base frame for the cockpit setup and have also started assembling the backlit panels. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures and just need some time to put together posts about the process and progress. However, this post focuses on the system that will be running the primary flight graphics for the simulator.

The video below highlights the performance achieved by my new custom system for FSX. This short flight was a departure from Harrisburg International (MDT) followed by a quick circular flight to land back on the same runway. The flight was filmed from many different angles and then spliced together to create a nice little movie. I’ve also added another video I found on YouTube of a real life approach into the same airport for comparison.


The Real Thing

All of the settings were maxed out (except traffic) although the resolution was lowered to assist with the video capture. The video was captured using Fraps and this process does have an effect on the frame rate, especially since FSX typically already maxes out even the best processors. The performance increase achieved by lowing the resolution is more or less offset by the performance hit caused by Fraps such that the frame rate seen in the video (typically 20-30 fps) is what I’ve been able to achieve at the max resolution with my widescreen monitor. Harrisburg is a nice airport to fly into since it’s in a scenic location, along the Susquehanna River, but without too many dense or tall structures around (which really kills the graphics performance). You can also see the cooling towers of the infamous Three Mile Island along the river at several points during the flight.

Several things that really kill the performance (and always have) are lots of simulated air / ground traffic and very dense autogen scenery. I’ve found that, with my system, I can turn all of the graphics settings up to max without much of a performance hit; however, turning up the autogen or traffic all the way is sure to kill the fps. Both of these processes are very CPU intensive. With some experimentation, one can find a decent balance between performance and realism with these settings.

It’s no fun to fly into an airport that’s totally deserted so some traffic is a big plus. I find I can take the sliders up about halfway for the traffic without too much trouble, but beyond that I get a signifigantly increasing performance hit. One other side effect of the high traffic is the fact that FSX’s default ATC often isn’t very good at managing a lot of traffic. Anyone who’s tried to fly into a busy airport with the traffic turned way up will have experienced the ATC lining up another plane for approach a mile in front of you, only to have ATC wave you off for landing (once this happened to me on the approach and the go-around!). Also, some crazy things can also happen when you have a lot of ground traffic at the airport. Once, a fuel truck decided to pull out right in front of me and then proceeded to taxi between me and another jet or a bit. Needless to say, even if performance wasn’t an issue things can get a bit crazy.

It’s a similar story with the autogen scenery. Without the sliders maxed out, Manhattan will always look a bit bare; however, most other areas look decent without having to crank up the autogen too much.

I previously discussed the components used in this new system and the list can be found here.

At the moment, everything is running at factory speeds with no overclocking. I’d also just again point out that yes I know the SLI dosen’t provide much benefit with FSX; however, I do use this system for other programs where the SLI does help out. I’ve done some rough unscientific testing with the SLI on and off in FSX and only noticed a minor increase in fps during most situations. FSX is still very much a processor bound program and it’s a tough match for even the best of the best multi-core processors currently on the market.

In closing, I’m very happy with the performance achieved and it should work out nicely with the desktop cockpit. I’m looking forward to not having to use the keyboard and joystick buttons for all my controls! Stay tuned for more updates, and videos, in the future.

Postscript: I was having some trouble loading the Fraps videos into Windows Movie Maker (I generally use iMovie for most of my video editing). It turns out that the Fraps Codec isn’t compatible with the 64 bit version of Windows Movie Maker. After following a tip from the Fraps website, the problem was solved by first converting the files (to standard AVI) using a simple little free program called VirtualDub. Anyway, that did the trick so if anyone else is experiencing similar problems with Fraps and the 64 bit version of Windows Movie Maker, then head on over a check it out.

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6 Comments on “FSX Video Performance Testing – Quad-Core QX6850, 8800GTX SLI, 4GB RAM and Vista 64 bit”

  1. Craig

    Very nice site. Thanks for taking the time to document your thoughts. I went through this in 2006, I ended up with a dual core extreme (water cooled) with an NVidia 8800 card.

    I was going to set up SLI, but I haven’t done it just yet (the card is just sitting in the box).

    My main issues were driver issues. At the time Nvidia was change the drivers weekly.

    Also was the Vista issue. I finally backed off from Vista.

    I would really like to read a summary re-cap. Youve done and excellent job with the web site.

    What kind of frame rates to you get with the new rig?

  2. Thanks for the comments. I see frame rates of about 25-30 around the ground and 50+ at higher altitudes. This is with most of the graphics settings maxed out although autogen density and traffic levels backed off a bit (as these are big CPU hogs). These figures are for flying around 99% of the world… obviously if one tries to buzz NYC the fps goes down a bit. 😉

    So far I haven’t had too many major issues with Vista (knock on wood) although there are certainly some things I find very annoying. For a start, Vista asking special permission anytime it does anything is very annoying… that’s not well programed security that’s just Microsoft saying ‘Hey, from now on if something breaks we can just say it’s your fault since you clicked OK.’

  3. Jonny

    You have an impressive machine, but I think a 8800gtx sli system is over the top for the FSX. The Flight Simulator does not need a fast graphics card, it’s just CPU limited. I do not see any differences when I run the FSX in high resulutions with AA and AF or in lower resuluions with no AA and AF selected. In contrast to this, reducing the traffic options or autogen has a much bigger effect.
    But, off course, you have done nothing wrong with your CPU which is defenately fast enough to handle the FSX, as your framerates show.

  4. Nice site. I am building a FSX capable computer. I will use a 3.16 GHz E8500 processor, as in all the test setups I’ve seen the quads don’t increase frps, so it would be a waste of money. SLI also doesn’t help, so it will be a single card, but I am not certain which. 9800 GX2 has the same frps as the Ultra, and in another test (Tom’s) the Ultra is just .6 frps faster than the GTX. Since I like the single-GPU simplicity and better cooling designs of the Ultra and the GTX, I am leaning towards them. Or perhaps the 9800 GX2 will future-proof my PC, like FS 11… What do you think?

  5. Sam Marsh

    Hi There, I have a similar setup with dual 8800GTX cards, 4GB of Dominator 8500, QX6800 CPU, Dual 74GB Raptors Striped.

    I find my FPS and behavior similar to yours as well. One question though, have you had any stuttering issues? if you have, how have you corrected it in YOUR setup? It seems very slight and constant. I disable just about everything on the OS, but does not seem to alleviate it… Wonder if you have tinkered with increasing the FSX.exe process priority and/or FSX config file…

  6. That must be amazing. I wish that I could do something like that. How much does a setup like that cost??

    Flight Simulator ATC
    Air Traffic Control
    Airline Virtual
    Airlines Virtual

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