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In the Zone

Here’s the gear you need to make flight simulation take flight

Kevin Jacoby's picture

by Kevin Jacoby on 01/19/2021
Blog Category: devices

Guess who’s gearing up to spend some big bucks on PC hardware? Yup, the gamers are back, and with their credit cards ready. 
 
But now it ain’t Fortnite they’re after. This time it’s a whole new journey. 
 
Due to the pandemic, we may not want to travel in the real world, but we’re sure lining up for flight sims. Over the next 3 years, gamers will spend some $2.6 billion on PC gaming hardware just to run the latest version of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, predicts Jon Peddie Research.
 
Flight Simulator 2020
 
Flight Simulator 2020: unbeatable realism—but only with the right gear
 
Some of those billions will come from the $60 to $120 each flight-sim enthusiast will need to spend to buy the game itself. Jon Peddie believes they’ll buy some 2.27 million units of Flight Simulator 2020 over the next 3 years.
 
But that pile should also include the billions of dollars enthusiasts will spend gobbling up high-performance components, flight-control peripherals and even virtual reality (VR) gear.
 
So what does a good flight simulator rig look like these days? Glad you asked.
 
Need for speed
 
Make no mistake, you can’t run the latest flight sim on Dad’s old ultrabook. Just getting onto the ground floor of performance and frame rates requires a hefty rig, one that’s ready to churn like a Pixar render farm. 
 
First of all, any virtual pilot pining for a truly great flying experience will need to secure a heavy-duty processor. To power your 787 Dreamliner and all the lush scenery below, only the heartiest engines will do. If you’re looking at anything less than an Intel Core i9-9900K, keep looking.
 
Having the right graphics card is important, too. Flight Simulator has the option to bring in real-time mapping and meteorological data from Bing. Processing all those trees, clouds, buildings and other bits of hyper-realistic terrain at 30 to 60 frames per second requires a GPU with VRAM to spare. 
 
If a high frame rate and 1080p or better resolution is required, then it’s worth considering something like the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. While this GPU costs a bundle — around $1,200 — it brings to the party 11GB of GDDR6 VRAM. That should be more than enough.
 
NVIDIA GeForce GPU
NVIDIA GeForce GPU: hi-res, fast frames
 
Main memory matters, too. And when it comes to flight simulators, the question is not only “how much?” but also “how fast?” As Jarred Walton’s tireless research for TomsHardware.com shows, 16GB of RAM running at the DDR4-4000 speed can actually outperform twice as much RAM (32GB) running at the slower speed of DDR4-3600.
 
Keyboard overboard!
 
Can you fly a simulator with your standard PC keyboard? Sure. 
 
But is that the best way to have the most fun? Absolutely not.
 
In fact, to fly the friendly skies in true style, you need the right peripherals. Get rid of that keyboard and start instead with the Logitech Flight Yoke System + Rudder Pedals
 
Logitech’s setup includes a yoke, throttle quadrant and rudder pedals. With it, computer pilots can simulate real-world aircraft ranging all the way from a lowly, single-engine Cessna to a gargantuan Lockheed C5 Galaxy. 
 
Logitech Flight Yoke System + Rudder Pedals
Logitech’s Flight Yoke System + Rudder Pedals
 
However, due to the overwhelming popularity of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, Logitech says it’s currently sold out of the Flight Yoke System + Rudder Pedals. Fortunately, other retailers, such as the appropriately named MyPilotStore.com, have the setup in stock. They’re offering it for around $400. 
 
Virtually real 
 
Good as flight simulation is, it gets even better with virtual reality. VR makes total immersion possible, and without the cost of multiple high-res displays. 
 
One cool VR option comes from Asobo Studios, the designer of Microsoft’s vaunted Flight Simulator. Last month Asobo released a free software update; it enables OpenXR-compatible VR headsets such as the Windows Mixed-Reality Headset shown below to be used with Flight Simulator. 
 
Acer Windows VR helmet

Acer Windows Mixed-Reality headset: now ready for Flight Simulator

Imagine turning your head to see out the side window of an Airbus A380 cockpit. You look down to the churning Pacific waves below, then glance up at the contrails of a distant jet. Your head swivels back to center as your eyes flick from the altimeter to the airspeed indicator. Then back to the window for a view across the nose of a jumbo jet that few will ever get to see
 
The channel soars
 
PC sales are on the rise, having pushed up 26% in Q4, according to IDC. For the channel, that’s a welcome tailwind. Now it’s time to kick in the afterburners.
 
With its bleeding-edge components and high average sale prices (ASP), gaming continues to be a winning niche market. The new Flight Simulator 2020 represents a niche within the niche. 
 
This could be your chance to soar. Bon voyage!
 
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