Topic: Building a FSX Computer

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.

FSX

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FSX Computer Parts Arrived and Assembled…

The previously described parts have arrived and were assembled without too many problems.  When I powered it up for the first time all the LEDs and fans came on, but nothing else happened.  After taking it all apart and putting it back together again, I discovered that it was just a loose connection somewhere (it only takes one!).  A quick 3DMark06 run scored over 15,000 so I was happy with that for a first shot without any tweaking. I’ll post more comments and details of it’s specific performance with FSX in the near future.  Also, I’ve been working on laying out the design for my new (no keyboard) external cockpit control panel so stay tuned for more details soon.

Building a FSX Computer – The Parts Have Been Ordered

Well, after spending about two months off and on researching components for my system, I’ve place the orders and should have things set up in about a week or so. I came in slightly over my budget but not by much. To summarize, my goal was to build a high-end (although not necessarily crazy lets go overboard super-duper-high-end) system for running FSX.

These are my comments pre-build for why I selected the various components. In a few weeks, I’ll come back with some follow-up comments about each component once the system is up and running and I have a chance to test things out. I will, of course, also start reporting on the level of performance achieved by this new system with FSX.

Anyway, here’s the parts list:

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nVidia 8800 Ultra (SLI) or 8800 GTX (SLI) for FSX

As described in recent posts, I’ve now decided to go with the Intel QX6850 for my new FSX system (currently ~$989 on newegg.com). This is currently the most powerful processor on the market that will work with an SLI system. I’m planning on ordering all the parts in the next week or so and thus I also need to decide what SLI card to order.

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My plan for QX9650 Penryn + SLI issues…

Following on from some of my previous posts about the QX9650s not working with the motherboards required for SLI I’ve had to figure out what the plan should be for my upcoming FSX system build. At the moment there is still very little news regarding the status of 680i based boards and the QX9650s. There are lots of rumors that a BIOS update will be able to fix things, but then others who have said that even after such an update the 680i boards will only be compatible with 45 nm dual-core, not quad-core, chips. Furthermore, the now delayed 700 series boards should be fully compatible with all the new 45 nm chips, but there is no word yet on their official release.
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QX9650 and nVidia 680i Saga

Well, after yesterday’s post on the new QX9650 it seems like, for the moment, nVidia SLI users can’t have their cake and eat it too! Shortly after the release of the QX9650, forums started receiving angry postings from users that just shelled out mega-bucks for a new processor only to find that, after installation, their system won’t even boot up. Subsequent investigations have found that the QX9650 isn’t currently compatible with the 680i based motherboards. Although the pre-release versions of the QX9650, those reviewed by many sites, worked on the 680i boards it appears that a few last second changes by Intel are preventing the new chips from working. There is much speculation, but the issue is allegedly related to a dispute between nVidia and Intel over obtaining an SLI license for Intel motherboards.
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Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 (45 nm Technology) and FSX

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been busy with other work; however, I expect the rate of posts will increase a lot once I build the new computer towards the end of December.

Anyway, I spent a little time today researching processors for the new system. As mentioned in a previous post there is a lot of dicussion about how FSX is a very processor heavy application and how therefore a kick-ass processor is required just as much as a kick-ass video card. Intel has just recently brought forward their first chips manufactured with 45 nm technology. The QX9650 is part of the Intel Core 2 Extreme line of quad-core processors (currently listed on newegg.com for $1,295). Yes, that’s right… for the price of just a single chip you could purchase several complete low-end systems. So does the performance of the QX9650 cure the symptoms of sticker-shock and specifically how does it handle FSX? Those are the questions I’m asking now before I decide if I should shell out the big bucks for this state-of-the-art monster or go with something a bit cheaper.
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Should I run FSX in XP or Vista? 32-bit or 64-bit?

Yesterday I discussed the summary of my findings for seeing what people had to say about SLI and multi-core processors and FSX; however, another very important fundamental point to consider when designing my new computer for FSX will be the choice of operating system. It has to be Windows, there’s no getting around that, but within the Windows platform there are a number of options.

Windows, and computing in general, are going through a major transition phase at the moment on two primary fronts. First, Vista was released within the last year and so many users are now slowly switching over to the newest generation of Windows. Furthermore, PC based computing is also slowly taking on 64-bit infrastructure. These two facts combined mean that anyone looking to build a new gaming system for FSX needs to decide what choice is best for them.

XP or Vista?
Vista and its whole catalogue of different versions (seriously, what’s wrong with just having one version with all the features like OSX?) represents, for better or worse, the future of PC based computing for at least the next several years. In regards to FSX, there are several advantages to running Vista over XP. The biggest advantage by far is the introduction of the graphics standard Direct X10. At the moment, only Vista utilizes Direct X10 although it’s possible that a later service pack may introduce it to XP. The soon to be released “FSX Acceleration Pack” contains the associated software upgrades for Direct X10 (note that you’re video hardware must also be capable of running Direct X10 or else you won’t see the associated enhancements).

There have also been many reports of people saying that FSX has been ‘designed to take advantage of Vista.’ I have not personally had the opportunity to perform side-by-side performance tests on identical hardware setups so it’s unclear exactly how much of a performance advantage (if any) is gained by Vista. However, with the introduction of Direct X10 to FSX it seems that choosing Vista is a no-brainer.

32-bit or 64-bit?
First off, what does this mean? For those who are not familiar with the difference here is a quick summary. In short, most personal computers currently on the market are ’32-bit’ systems. This means that the hardware, specifically the CPU, is looking at no more than 32 bits of data in a single processing cycle. However, a 64-bit system can look at 64-bits of data in a single cycle. The potential impact on computing power can be significant as the system can process much more data at once without physically running any faster (in terms of computing cycles, e.g. 3.0 GHz). A simple analogy would be to consider the ‘power’ of a lawnmower engine running a 2000 rpm vs. a sports car engine running at 2000 rpm. Both are running at the same ‘speed’ in terms of cycles per second, but the larger engine can output a lot more power in each cycle.

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Using FSX with SLI and multi-core processors… does it work?

The first stage of this project will focus on building a computer to run FSX. So far as gaming goes FSX is probably one of, if not the most, demanding programs currently on the market. I mean think about it, the software contains a 3D dynamic simulation of the entire world whilst also simulating the systems and physics of an airplane, traffic, ATC… all in high-resolution graphics. Not surprisingly, many people report struggling to run the software on their own systems.

Some have been very critical of this, saying that Microsoft shouldn’t release software which perhaps (although I am to test this myself) can’t be run at full power on any reasonable consumer computer. I, however, share a different view. I think it’s good for the software manufacturers to test the limits of current hardware. Specifically with FSX, one can always turn down the settings to achieve better performance. But more importantly, I think it’s great that designers are building software that demands state-of-the-art computing technology. There isn’t much point in investing in a top-end high-performance gaming computer if the software isn’t going to test the limits of the hardware!

Anyway enough of that and onto some specifics. My first area of research for building my FSX computer (as I’m calling it) is how well FSX works with Scalable Link Interface (SLI) video card technology and multi-core processors. In short, is it worth investing more project money in these additional technologies or would such an investment just be wasted money? If you’re not familiar with SLI and multi-core processors here is the super-quick summary:

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