Thursday, April 16, 2009

FSX vs: X-Plane 9

This not a comparison per se. Both FSX and X-plane 9 are excellent flight simulators worthy of anyone's attention. Consider that Microsoft FSX is an effort of a large team of the best programmers money can buy, and X-Plane has its humble beginnings in the mind of one dedicated man, Austin Meyer, and you might guess my bias. That said, I use FSX at least as much as I use X-Plane simply because of how I have chosen to configure FSX for my own purposes, more on that later. The real point is these two programs are both flight simulators using the latest geographical mapping tools available and using similar but actually entirely different flight modeling systems. How can something be similar and different at the same time? To the casual user, the flight modeling will seem similar in the two programs. To a serious or engineering oriented user, then the similarities become superficial. FSX and X-Plane approach flight simulation from quite different angles.

FSX is a mass marketed high end PC game with easy to use graphical interface. Its forte is the availability of consistently good aircraft from many third party sources, as well as literally hundreds of add on modules, landscapes, and tools. It simulates commercial flying with a sophisticated ATC and GPS(as well as other avionics). It has many bells and whistles that add functionality and "glitz" to the interface. If you love FSX, you will probably not be impressed with X-Plane. If you are a plane designer, like to know what airfoil your plane has, its Reynolds number, drag coefficient and a hundred other flight conditions and parameters X Plane will be attractive to you. If you want to drop bombs, fire guns, and rockets, scoop up water with a tanker and put out forest fires, again X-Plane will be interesting to you. If you want to fly on Mars, simulate and control three different space shuttle re entries, analyze a plane design real time in flight, then again X-Plane will be of interest to you. Want to get dropped from a B-52 at 30,000 feet, land on a carrier, catapult launch from same, get aero towed or winched in a sailplane? Then X-Plane will be your sim.

FSX, is a relatively compact installation of, in my case, 15 Gigabytes. And I said that in one breath! Compact? This includes Cumulus X, simprobe, a dozen add on planes, Cassiet gauges add on, several scenery add ons, and an auto gen enhancement. FSX is a decent sailplane sim with these additions.

My X-Plane install includes only the stock U.S. scenery plus Europe so far, plus about two dozen add on aircraft. It occupies 22 Gigs of space. A complete install of X-Plane with all the worlds scenery will take 70 Gigs, with a few add on programs and aircraft can eat up 90 Gigs! Space is a consideration.

X-Planes scenery is more detailed in some ways than FSX. There are more buildings and given scenery settings, the airports tend to blend in more with surrounding terrain, giving a more natural look. But X-Planes roads and other items seem less accurate as compared to real life. FSX roads are more reflecting actual roads, but are not high res at close proximity. You can land on the roads in Xplane, and they are sharply in focus. I think the water effects are better in X-Plane, but so much depends on the user and your equipment blanket statements are difficult to make.

A little about the system I am running so you can have an idea of what is required. I don't have a super gaming system. The motherboard is an Asus M2N68-CM running an AMD X2, 2.6 GHz processor with 1mb L2 Cache. The graphics card is a 1 Gig Nvidia DDr2. I have 1 gig of system memory, and two 160 Gig Sata hard drives. What I can say is that on the same machine running graphics almost maxed out, X-Plane delivers consistently higher frame rates. Not a precise statement, but observed in my case. The control of graphic settings is different in FSX and X-Plane, so to say the rendering options are equal is impossible. My impression is that Microsoft uses a lot of resources for the slick user friendly graphic interface while X-Plane has a simple drop down menu interface, in exchange for a better sim experience. Honestly X-Planes menu system is clunky and difficult to use until you get used to it. X plane uses a lot of hard drive. The drawbacks to X-plane are that there are not as many third party planes and applications available, and the stock planes are not particularly impressive to my tastes. I have managed to add a few dozen planes to my X-Plane folder, and many are top notch. Beware that if you download the free planes from the X-Plane forum, many are done by amateurs and are not so great. Payware planes are available from many sources and offer a better choice.

X-Plane is a designer tool and offers an airfoil design and analysis program embedded. Airfoil data for the flight model is derived from lift polar data for each airfoil, you can choose appropriate Reynolds numbers and edit any selected airfoil. It also has a sophisticated plane designer program embedded. This requires previous design experience to use, and there is a bit of a learning curve. That said with my previous design experience I was able to concoct a crude unpainted aircraft in a few hours with no manual. And it flew! I can't list all the X-Plane features here but there are many tools available to test almost any aircraft component or system. FSX gets high marks for mass appeal, ease of use, and airline simulation. It has marketability. X-plane I would say is a techno geek tool and simulator. You have to judge for yourself which one suits you. I can't live without either.

Note red plane pics are screen shots from X-Plane 9, white plane is FSX. both taken at Innsbruck Austria. from approximately the same spots.

The following slideshow depicts some shot taken in both FSX and X-Plane 9 at the Grand canyon. The graphics setting are what I think are about equivalent. Note the frame rate difference. 50 in X-Plane, 25-30 in FSX.

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