Video and Hardware

What's a good PC configuration for X-Plane?

Generally speaking, the more money (hardware) you throw at X-Plane the faster it will run and/or the fancier the scenery it can manage. What you get depends greatly on what you can afford. The availability and prices of PC components change daily. Tony Gondola maintains web pages with recommended components for low end and high end PC configurations. Also see the X-Plane system requirements for recommended configurations and links.

What graphics cards are best for X-Plane?

The ATI Radeon and nVidia GeForce cards are your only real choice. Both work well, have good OpenGL support, and both have their religious adherents.

Note!! ATI's OpenGL drivers for Linux are not very good. If you're running X-Plane on Linux nVidia is your only choice.

Which model you get depends on how powerful the rest of your system is and how much money you feel like spending. Remember that OpenGL is implemented in both hardware and software. A top end graphics card in a 2 year old PC is a waste of money; conversely, a mediocre graphics card will cripple a cutting edge CPU.

Avoid the GeForce MX and Radeon SE series. These are cost-reduced cards with substantially lower performance and capability than their non-MX or non-SE counterparts.

Certain video manufacturers do not ship proper OpenGL drivers. For example, Matrox cards does not work well with X-Plane and show visual anomolies or poor performance due to an inadequate OpenGL implementation. Some folks are quite happy with the results they get with Matrox Parhelia cards, but I've also heard claims that their OpenGL performance lags their Direct3D performance.

How do ATI and nVidia cards compare in performance?

See this chart that ranks the cards according to comparable performance.

I have a PC with an Intel integrated video chip

How well will this work with X-Plane?

It may or may not. I've seen mixed results posted in the tech list. It works OK for some people, runs but with lousy performance for others, doesn't work at all for still others. Results vary greatly, depending on the particular generation of Intel chipset and the rest of the machine. For example, I've had a report that the Core 2 Duo MacBooks run X-Plane quite decently. If you're considering a machine with Intel graphics, try the demo before you buy anything!

Here's Ben Supnik's answer on the subject:

I have gotten reports of Intel integrated graphics not working; I have not gotten any reports that it does, but people don't tell me "everything's okay".

This is a little bit awkward, but X-Plane 802 raised the bar a little bit for what we require out of would have been nicer to have that requirement right out of the box, because people ask us to 'put it back', but really we should be using the implementation we have now.

X-Plane 802 uses Vertex Buffer Objects for terrain, and X-Plane 820 uses them for terrain and objects. They represent a significant improvement in our geometry processing compared to display lists, which is why we use them more and more. Unfortunately they seem to not always be handled well by current drivers, perhaps because they are a newer OGL feature.

So can I upgrade this machine to run X-Plane?

It depends on whether it has a real video card slot - either AGP or (on newer machines) a 16-way PCI-Express (PCIe) slot. If it does, buy yourself a real video card (see rest of this page) and ignore the on-board video. If not, it's a good machine for email and web browsing, but trying to run X-Plane on it will only lead to frustration.

Where can I get detailed reviews of video cards?

A good place to look is the video section of Tom's Hardware Guide.

Are there benchmarks of X-Plane configurations?

Recent versions of X-Plane have a built in benchmark feature that allows you to run repeatable performance tests. You use it by running X-Plane from a command line with the --fps_test switch. For details on running X-Plane from a command line, see Ben Supnik's blog entry on the subject.

There is no currently available list of benchmark results.

Eric Fourchault used to run a benchmark page. If you want to benchmark your own system, get his benchmark procedure. [This page is currently offline. If it remains offline I will remove this link.]

Why is it getting foggy?

As I fly, the fog rolls in and there is less and less visibility. What's going on?  
X-Plane reduces visibility if your frame rate drops below a certain threshold - usually 20fps. Flying into an area with a lot of objects - structures or taxiways - will cause a drop in frame rate.

While I was flying, it got increasingly foggy and then X-Plane hung.

You've probably run out of Video RAM. Frame rate starts to drop sharply when you're close to running out. Reduce your screen resolution or texture resolution.

I have a widescreen LCD monitor, and X-Plane's display is all distorted

Problem is you've let the monitor scale X-Plane's display and mess up the display's aspect ratio. You need to fix it in X-Plane's Rendering Options menu. You have a couple of options:
  1. Uncheck the "Set display resolution" checkbox. This means your display will be left at its original (presumably max resolution) setting when you start up X-Plane. Of course, now X-Plane will be running in a little window instead of filling the screen, so...

  2. Change the display size in X-Plane's Rendering Options to match your screen size. This will fill your screen. However, in the 2D panel view, you won't have any panel image on the sides. There's no way to fix this, other than to always fly using the 3D cockpit view.

  3. If your video card is acting overloaded because of the increased display size, pick a lower resolution for the monitor that preserves the aspect ratio (1280x768 is a possible example).

  4. If you want to stay with the 2D panel view but don't like the clear views on the side, set X-Plane up with a display resolution whose height matches the height of your monitor setting and whose width makes a 4:3 aspect ratio (1024x768 to match the 1280x768 example above).
For display resolution tradeoffs, read on...

I have a fast CPU and video card and a wide-screen display. What's the best resolution setting for X-Plane?

    There are some tradeoffs and decisions you have to make. Different answers will be right for different people. Let's say you have one of those cool wide-screen flat panel displays with a resolution of 1440x900...

    If you're using the 2D cockpit view:

The cockpit bitmaps may range from a 4:3 aspect ratio to 1:1. X-Plane typically displays a 4:3 maximum aspect ratio view and and allows you to scroll an extended panel up and down. You can set any display size you like (within limits) in the Settings -> Rendering Options menu. X-Plane scales the cockpit view to fit the smaller of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the resolution you declare, relative to the 4:3 ratio. The larger dimension is filled out with additional field of view. However, if you declare a more square cockpit view, you will see more of an extended panel.

      So, for example, you could set up a resolution of 1200x900, and X-Plane would scale the panel to match. If you declare the full 1440x900 resolution, the panel won't scale any larger, but you'll get additional field of view on either side. Problem is this only looks good with the glider and fighter cockpits that have complete side boundaries. The others just cut off, and you'll have an open view where there should be more panel.

    In the 3D cockpit view, X-Plane simply fills the screen size you've selected with the 3D cockpit view, so if you have a wide screen and want a wide cockpit view, just go for it.

    There are some potential issues with scaling up the panel:

    1. You will increasing the rendering load on your graphics card, requiring more VRAM and reducing frame rate.

    2. Prior to version 8, X-Plane did a lousy job of scaling the text on the panel (instrument readouts and labels) - it looks blocky and distorted. This problem is substantially fixed in V8 - the panel instruments and text look a little "grainy" when they're scaled up, but are quite acceptable.

    So in terms of filling your screen, you have a tradeoff. You'll get the cleanest and sharpest view of the scenery (and the airport you're trying to land at) if you run the display at maximum resolution and declare that to X-Plane's Rendering Options. However, your graphics card has to work harder and in versions prior to V8 text will look lousy. Or you can leave X-Plane's resolution at 1024x768 and set your display resolution to 1024x768, allowing your display hardware to scale the display to full size. This gets you better frame rate and a cleaner text and panel view in older versions, but the scenery will look a little fuzzy. Display resolution is just another piece of the rendering load that you can trade for visibility, roads and buildings, etc.

I have a really powerful video card, and I still get frame rate warnings and fog

You're probably running out of cpu power, rather than rendering power in the video card. This is most likely to happen with high object density (lots of buildings and trees, streets, taxiways, etc.) While the video card turns the 3D objects descriptions into a 2D view, the cpu must decide which of the many objects are currently in view and transmit the geometry descriptions of those objects to the video card - every frame. X-Plane uses relatively simple rendering techniques but has huge object counts if you're flying over a densely built up area, so it's typically the cpu that gives up first. If you have a very powerful video card, you can take advantage of it by increasing your screen and texture resolution and turning up anti-aliasing.

Does X-Plane support multiple monitors?

For example, so I can get the panel view on one and another view on another?

As of V8.15, there is limited dual monitor support (e.g., scenery view on one monitor and panel or map or instructor console on the other). For details, see the V8.15 detail page.
Other than that, however, X-Plane only supports one display per computer. You can get multiple monitor support for a single extended view using the Matrox Triple Head to Go product. This gadget makes three monitors look to the system as if they were a single superwide monitor.

For more flexible use such as multiple different views, you can get multi-head support (among other features) with networking.

Why doesn't X-Plane support multiple monitors on a single computer?

X-Plane uses up pretty much all the compute resources available on a single machine. A modest amount of that goes to the flight model, but most of the compute resources are used by the graphics. (On the other hand, as of V8.60 all aircraft use a full flight model, so putting many aircraft in the sky will run up the cpu load quickly.)

Most of OpenGL is handled in the video card, but there is still plenty of work left over for the CPU. Yes, there are dual processor systems around, as well as systems with two video card slots, and X-Plane doesn't do a lot with multi-threading (yet). Dual processor systems haven't been around long enough to motivate the X-Plane developers to support multiple views within a single copy of X-Plane.

People have run multiple copies of X-Plane on a single machine, each with its own display. However, you need a really powerful multiprocessor system to do this, and running multiple instances of a single application and having them network with each other using local connections is a tricky business.

Future development trends in X-Plane suggest an emphasis at using multiple cpus to perform other tasks such as scenery loading and the flight model, not running multiple copies of the rendering engine.  So to run X-Plane with multiple monitors you need to use networking.

I have a really powerful computer and video card with two monitors, and my frame rate is nowhere near as good as it should be

Turn off 3D acceleration on the other monitor (i.e., the one you're not running X-Plane on). Just having 3D acceleration enabled uses a significant part of the video card's capacity.

When I switch to the external view or the 3D panel view my frame rate tanks

This problem results from the way X-Plane renders the panel in 3D views. Ben Supnik explains:

The way we do the 3-d cockpit object is: first we draw the 2-d panel. We then copy it from the back buffer to a texture. We then draw the world, draw the cockpit object using this texture, and then we skip the 2-d panel draw that would have come later.

The problem is that sometimes rather than transfer from screen to VRAM strictly on the card, instead OpenGL decides to transfer the texture back to system RAM, process it by hand, and send it to the card. This round-trip is what murders framerate, and it's a question of driver support... some drivers only do this at certain bit depths, which is why I mention it.

It is worse in 820 because starting in 820, we do the full 1024x1024 in two transfers, rather than 1024x768. This makes life easier for authors but means we transfer 30% more data.

Probably the optimization we need is to not use the panel texture in external views...but there may be cases where the plane will not render correctly without it. This is a tricky issue because it divides the X-Plane worlds into "haves" (for whom these things cause ZERO framerate hit) and the "have-nots" (for which the sim becomes unusable).

When I record a Quicktime move or take a screenshot, it comes out all black.

This is a known problem with ATI video cards and drivers. You need to turn off anisotropic filtering in your ATI control panel and/or in X-Plane's Rendering Options.

The letters and numbers in the panel look all blocky and distorted

This problem applies only to X-Plane versions earlier than V8. (I'm not sure exactly when it was fixed, but 8.0 is a good guess, given how much got reworked at that point.)

The problem is that X-Plane's "native" resolution is 1024x768 (800x600 in version 5). All the lettering is rendered with a bitmap font sized for 1024x768 (or 800x600), and the image is subsequently scaled to whatever screen resolution you've selected. Bitmap fonts looks terrible when you scale them, especially by a small ratio like 800x600 vs 832x624.

My terrain textures are confused

The terrain texture seems to get confused and picks up object textures too. It took me a while to work out why I was getting red, blue and yellow surface colours until I viewed it from 5000ft and could clearly read the MacDonalds and Texaco adverts! It seems to run in stripes with the proportion of correct texture to object texture being related to the amount by which I set the rendering size over the size of the primary screen.

This sounds like texture memory corruption. It usually happens because you're out of VRAM. I don't know whether this is X-Plane's or OpenGL's fault, but one or the other is not real good about running out of memory cleanly. Try reducing your texture resolution in the rendering options (worst comes to worst, try cutting back to 16 bit color) and see if this makes the problem go away.

The display doesn't look right

<Insert your bizarre display symptom here.> Most strange display problems are solved by getting new OpenGL drivers for your video card. Newer versions of X-Plane have started using progressively more and newer OpenGL features. Check your manufacturer's download site or the OpenGL sites. Macintosh users running OS 10.3.x are strongly encouraged to ugrade to 10.4.x.

Older video cards may not support some of the newer OpenGL features and may have trouble with details of X-Plane's display, such as runway lighting. Some display problems may be cured (at the cost of reduced frame rate) by disabling sprites or vertex buffer objects, by running X-Plane from a command line with the --nosprites or --novbos switches. For details on running X-Plane from a command line, see Ben Supnik's blog entry on the subject.

Terrain polygons are flashing around borders and coastlines

Austin's following reply applies to version 6.12 and up:

This is because I now handle the depth buffer in a way that works better MOST of the time, but results in the flashing on CERTAIN ATI VIDEO CARDS.

If you are one of the people that has such a card, NO PROBLEM! Just go to the RENDERING OPTIONS SCREEN and turn on the z-buffer offset button in the upper right. That should solve the issue.

Basically, we are at the point here where we are "fine-tuning" the algorithm for each video card, and this button lets you do that.

I would rather NOT have any buttons for you to set at all, but at this point I see no good way to automate this, so you can just experiment with it both ways to see which works better for you. OFF is the recomended setting.

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