“What do I need to run Flight Simulator?” Chapter 2

In this chapter, I’m going to continue the discussion about how to choose components appropriate for use with Flight Simulator for either a pre-built computer or a computer you are planning to build. As a reminder, don’t forget to check out FSSetup.com for a complete summary of everything you need to play. And don’t get too worried about what computer will work. I’ve used Flight Simulator successfully on $300 to $2000 computers. Just remember, the faster the CPU and the more graphics memory you can afford, the more performance you’ll get out of Flight Simulator. IOW, the more scenery you’ll be able to see, and the less likely you’ll notice pausing or see blurred scenery the faster you fly.

I happen to prefer to build my own computers.  That way I can choose the components I want, and typically build it for less than I could purchase a similar pre-built computer. As part of preparing for my latest class, I recently put together a desktop computer, and I’ve listed the components I used below. Whether you plan to purchase a pre-built computer or to build one yourself, the following list of components can help guide you in purchasing the computer that’s right for your needs and budget.

For purchasing computers and parts, I use two main sources; Newegg.com and Microcenter.  Newegg is online only, and Microcenter has an online presence, but also has stores across the country, with one here in Boston on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Which source is better than the other? I tend to go by price, though sometimes component availability or convenience plays a roll as well. Make sure to check both for low price; for instance, Microcenter sold the CPU for $200, while Newegg sold the same CPU for $280, but Microcenter didn’t even carry a similar graphics card at a comparable price. I’ll also search other sources as well, but I trust both these stores, they have excellent return policies if something doesn’t work or you don’t like something, and I’ve found it pretty hard to beat their prices.


ComponentProductPriceVendor
MotherboardGigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R$189Microcenter

CPUIntel i7-950 3.06 GHz$200Microcenter
CPU pasteAntec 5 (silver)$5Microcenter
Memory6GB CORSAIR DDR3 1600 Triple Channel Kit Model TR3X6G1600C8-D$109.99 (w/coupon)Newegg
Hard DriveSAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM$64.99Newegg
Graphics CardMSI N560GTX-TI Twin Frozr II/OC GeForce GTX 560 Ti (Fermi) 1GB 256-bit GDDR5$249Newegg
DVD PlayerSamsung OEM$17.99Microcenter
MouseGIGABYTE GM-M7600 Wireless$9.99 (w/coupon)Newegg
CPU Fan AdapterZalman 9500, i7-950$8.99Microcenter

Some other Components I had lying around from previous builds, with current prices if you were to purchase them:


ComponentProductPriceVendor
CPU FanZalman 9500$35Newegg
Computer CaseAntec 900 Gaming Case$79.99Newegg
KeyboardHad one lying around from an old computer$5Microcenter
MonitorAlready had one, I like 21″ or larger 5ms response time, highest brightness (I use them outside sometimes)~$150 or more

Total – less than $1000 and this thing screams!

I’d also like to get a 128 GB SSD SATA III drive for the FSX installation. I would load FSX on this disk, and my operating system and other programs and files on the other disk. FSX must transfer huge amounts of textures while you fly, and Solid State (SSD) disks are basically disks made from memory chips, so they are extremely fast. Not only that, but it also allows the computer to split the load on disk accesses, which can also improve performance. By splitting the two, the operating system can process its disk accesses at the same time FSX is processing its disk accesses. But the disk I’d like to get, a Crucial SATA III 128 GB disk, is about $225 at Newegg right now, so I think I’ll wait till I can justify the expense.

I could probably have saved about $100 by going with an nVidia GTX 460, which is also a very good graphics card, but the reviews on the GTX 560 were just too good, and a Newegg had a very good price for this model, which is overclocked out of the box.

As far as the CPU goes, the favorite among most builders these days is the Intel i7 series, anything from a 920 or better. Apparently, they are easy to overclock if you are so inclined, and are very strong even just right out of the box.

The CPU paste is a material that goes between the CPU and the CPU Cooling fan to increase the heat transfer between the two components. Even though the fan’s bottom surface may be in direct contact with the CPU, no matter how smooth the two surfaces may look to your eyes, there are microscopic and smaller gaps in the surfaces. The paste has silver granules in it, which gives the paste a very high heat transfer coefficient. When putting the CPU fan on the CPU, a very thin layer of paste fills in those gaps on their surfaces to maximize the contact between the two and therefore maximize the heat transfer between the two. Heat is your enemy, and this is one of the best tools you can use to combat it.

Choosing the right memory isn’t easy, there are just so many choices. What I do is choose a motherboard, then go to the manufacturer’s website and go through and choose a product from their list of recommended memory. Make sure to use all the same memory in each of the slots to get the best performance, and to read the instructions on how to install the memory chips if you are installing them. It can be important which slot you install the sticks into.

Hopefully the above list and the discussion in Chapter 1 are helpful as a guide to choosing a computer that fits your needs. In the next Chapter, I’ll discuss your options for controllers. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions.

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About FlyingsCool

Our mission is to introduce children and adults to flying using flight simulation and other innovative multi-media tools through classes with hands on experience, educational enrichment programs for schools, and eLearning products for use at home. Our goal is to use the natural fascination people have for flying as a tool for education and entertainment. "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire." - W.B. Yeats
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