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Behind the screen : Thoughts and Computers X-Plane 2015

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Behind the screen : Thoughts and Computers X-Plane 2015

X-Plane Reviews does reviews, but we are usually focused on the review and the details that are important to that aircraft, scenery or add-on that is important for your information and getting the best out of the simulator. But "behind the screen" is what we are journeying through the year and what we like flying  or and more personal views of what we are enjoying ourselves with or not. So every now and then these posts will pop up for a different view or angle on how the year is going from our point of view in X-Plane.

Yes it is almost Easter 2015 and another holiday period is almost here, Already three months of 2015 have almost gone by and it has been hectic in busy, busy...  busy.  X-Plane is now almost a constant flurry of activity, mostly you expect a lot of activity in certain periods of the year but the simulator has outgrown that size and you are now usually looking straight at deadline after deadline. Don't get me wrong I love the constant movement and the experience of something very new and something different every week and thankfully you are not wanting to find anything to post. The quality of the reviews are simply spellbinding today. When you think it could not get any better than that, it does and you are left more open-jawed than ever. But these aircraft and many sceneries are simply now very complex. A quick review is just not possible anymore, as the systems and feature list grows year after year. You also want to include every aspect of the aircraft or scenery but that is now simply impossible, so the angle is to find the features and show you how to get the very best out of the aircraft or scenery. My usual philosophy is "I love it...." and I want you to love it as much as I do. Nothing is perfect, in fact some of the most imperfect aircraft or sceneries are what endear us the most. But it is hard to escape how very good X-Plane as a simulator is today, not perfect but very good.

Computer trials

I wanted to write a post like this for awhile, mostly to pass on some information of my experiences with my computer. I run a 27" iMac, a late 2009 or if you are a Apple geek 11.1 version. It was the very first 27" iMacs and is known as the "Unibody iMac" and it is a brilliant machine and I have had a few Macs, I even still have an original 128K Mac, yes the very first "insanely great" computer...  Does it still work? "Absolutely no idea" but it is there in the other room... waiting to blow up again? (they had very weak and very expensive power boards).

The current iMac was fine up until very late 2013. It had a  ATI Radeon HD 4850 with 512 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM graphic chip, but as update after update of X-Plane came out I hit the line and then was under it. It still ran X-Plane quite well in most conditions but it just started to feel the pressure, and the frame-rate was going now south as each upgrade lifted the game. So you get squeezed on both sides? On the simulator side it is mostly textures and heavier HD scenery meshes. and on the other side are the more complex aircraft with again HD textures and systems. The 512mb in graphic capability soon reached its limits. You can get very creative in getting your computer to run what you want it to do (but it comes at a cost as you will see), but HDR rendering and any weather is off the fun list. But my first bit of advice is any graphic chip under 1gb, just does not cut it anymore in X-Plane, it is just that simple.

As the 2014 wore on I became more and more compromised, I was faced with a real need to update the Mac, but my car needs a new clutch as well and both are expensive as each other as they are both an important need to life.

Loans and depreciation where computers are concerned don't go well together. After years of losing huge amounts of money I won't buy a computer unless it is for cash, even buying new is throwing money away by the buckets full. As a note I bought the current iMac for almost half its purchase price (AUS$1200) at only six months old? What is different about it...  nothing. But no doubt that I was now seeing a problem.

To upgrade I would have to sell my current machine and still add $1500 to get a performer that could do the job. But events changed all that....

In early December 2014 I saw very odd things happening on the screen when doing a post? small at first but still very noticeable...  then it blew. The graphic chip went south just a few days before Christmas and the computer was useless? No doubt I had rendered the chip one poor frame-rate push too far to get some HDR shots for a review. Now I had to upgrade, so I had no choices anymore.

Problem was the broken computer was worth absolutely nothing broken except for parts? so I couldn't sell it to upgrade, it was worthless?  So I had to fix it first?  I found a great repair service centre that repaired Mac's and a new 512mb chip was going to cost me AUS$296 in real terms...  but that means I would be right back were I was in the first place?

I looked at my versions specs and realised it would accept a AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 2 Gb GDDR5 SDRAM...  2gb, cost was only AUS$200 more than the 512mb?  Problem is they are really scarce, almost impossible to source, worse at a Christmas/New Year holiday time. But early in the new year the repair guys found me one, and in it went... Another brave thought was to upgrade to a SSD drive (256mb) to run solely X-Plane. And Mavericks was out and Yosemite was in as well.

Well not quite?  The setup was that the old 1tb storage drive was left in there and the SSD drive replaced the annoying optical drive that wouldn't eject the disks again when after they first went in.  I decided against doing a fusion drive on the basis of cost to put the SSD drive and the slower 1tb drive together, but mostly I wanted X-Plane to completely only access the SSD drive for speed and virtual memory (yes I know they can fail!  but I do have everything backed up).

So here was the completed deal...   upgraded to a 2gb Graphic chip, SSD drive and Yosemite 10.10.2. I also have Mavericks on there if I want to change OS systems over so my old desktop is still in there as a completed form. I later added in another 4gb of memory to my already 6gb of memory (but it works out to 9gb as I had to take out the 1gb to install the the 4gb) and another 3gb will go in soon as well (another item impossible to source here at the moment?) I can use a total of 16gb.

The point of all this article  is to note how you can update your Mac without A...  throwing out an already good computer and B...  what performance you can get out of it for the most minimum cost.

The main interesting thing that guys in the repair shop explained, was that when you reached your maximum limit on your (in my case) 512mb graphic chip the extra performance required is then sent over to the main processors (I'm not going to get into deep discussions about internal buses and computer data allocations) but this effect doubles down your performance two fold so the limit then becomes a wall, so you get a double whammy of pain.

It was important to get both the faster 2gb chip, but also the SSD drive. One or the other would have a big benefit, but both together they both have a huge benefit and lift in performance.

So what was the results. Fast, in fact extremely fast performance and a lot of headroom for X-Plane to work well beyond anything I could run before. It has also taken a fair while to find that tuning sweet spot that I can call my base line in X-Plane settings, two months on and I still think I can fine tune it even more yet. From the first day of restarting the upgraded machine it does not feel or perform anything like the same computer I had a few months ago. It feels fresh and very fast. I go into my local Apple store and check out the new macs, (not the retina) and I can't tell the difference? certainly the new machines are better, but this is now over a five year old machine and It feels brand new and not very much different than a new one?

Startup is impossibly quick and in seconds, around just under a minute and not the long minutes that Mavericks takes (It starts up still on the old 1tb drive). And so to X-Plane.

X-Plane startup is certainly quicker but not "Quick, quick..." so a slight disappointment there, so the X-Plane startup process is still very slow, even with a SSD drive. But changes once X-Plane is loaded and it is significantly faster. I have the livery selection set on my joystick keys to (Saitek X52) in that I can flip through liveries very quickly (up or down) and this can be set by a X-plane key setting "load previous livery"/"load next livery". The selection is extremely fast now (depending on livery file size) but you can see the speed in performance. X-Plane tile load speed from the SSD drive is excellent, and the bump (or stall) that you got when the computer went to load in the next set of tiles has disappeared.

File loading in aircraft and scenery is certainly faster, again depending on file size, a huge 2gb of scenery is still going to take time to load?

But the real important difference and the aspect that surprised me the most was the extra size of the graphic chip had on the simulator. No doubt every user wants the biggest graphic chip they can buy in their machine, but a really large chip does not translate to more speed? Apple's are very hard to upgrade as well, almost impossible. but the important bit is that if the graphic chip does take more of the load then your main processors are far more effective.

When you have a bigger sized graphic chip you get what I call is the "absorption" factor. I got very good in tuning my computer to accept the best compromise between speed and visual capability. I want the most eye candy and goodies running that I can have within that 25 frame to 19 frame line. But the compromises with the 512mb limitations were far higher than I expected. HDR running was very rare, clouds were not usually an option either, texture resolution was usually set in the "high" setting and rarely above that, in reality the simulator was running at a very basic level...

Worse was any aircraft (mostly payware) that was on the limit or over that 512mb limitation. You can get around it, but not effectively. Peter's Aircraft A320 Series was a great example. In no form could I run this aircraft (with the installed 3d cockpit) except with a return of 6-8 frames, from my point of view it was totally unflyable...  and frustrating. It also made the aircraft look like it was a far more frame-rate hungry than what it actually was, so sadly for Peter Hager, I couldn't give him a fair and objective review so I didn't.

With the upgrade to the 2gb graphic chip, things changed dramatically. Your going to say "well of course it will with a bigger chip in there" but they changed in a way I didn't expect? We will go back to that "absorption" factor because it is important. My actual graphic usage didn't really skyrocket like I expected it to?  I very rarely now go over 1gb in memory or usage and the average is usually only 500mb? I expected with a heavy scenery and a heavy aircraft file to use 1.5gb or more and even the whole 2gb, but I rarely go over the 1gb zone? It is nice to have the headroom, but I rarely use it.

The strange issue is Peter's A320 series in that it does not absorb that much more in actual mb, but it now flies well within the capabilities of X-Plane and the 3d cockpit is more than easily usable...  If the A320 had used say 1.7gb in graphic memory then I could go "ahhh ha!" there you go. but it doesn't go anywhere near that and is only around that 500mb of usage, that is actually under the 512mb limitation of before, so you work that out...  I can only put it down to the "absorption" factor or how much graphic work in 512mb guise was pushed over to the main processors?  And that maybe the key, with a larger graphic chip you are keeping all the graphic work just in one area making the system more efficient or X-Plane can use my four cores to their full potential.

Carenado KingAirs (all of them) were also another strange fish? They flew very well, but once you turned on the overhead panel lighting my frame-rate was reduced to dust?  Every KingAir did that and the 1900D was simply impossible to fly? but now  there is no effect from any lighting effects at all...  and the graphic limit is well under or around 1gb of usage? 

In fact no aircraft I review or use is now effected by the graphic memory limitations, and very rarely goes over 1gb and the highest I have seen is usage of 1.2 gb of memory? (I will note I have not yet used any HD scenery, so that is not part of this assessment)

The biggest surprise is more of that "absorption" into the graphic chip. I can easily run HDR, and night flying is now a joy and not a pain. Trees can be on (another no no before) and clouds are also on all the time now, but still major limits with the very dark compressed clouds that still send my frame-rate south, no doubt is that clouds still need far more refinement and work from Laminar Research and are still really the biggest frame-rate killer in the simulator.

So the end result was that I found that the graphic chip absorbed far more than I expected, and my headroom is now very good...  Any disappointments?

Large scenery loads even with a lot more memory installed seems to have a slightly larger hit on frame-rate, so that strangely has gone the other way? and I can't seem to adjust that out either by my usual texture resolution settings?  And my jaggies are worse even with the anti-aliasing right up at the maximum setting?

But the benefits are huge, huge gains and a very efficient computer by its old standards.

So the point is you don't need to spend a lot of money to upgrade a Mac. Check your specifications to see if it will take a larger graphic graphic chip, but still a 1gb size will get you out of trouble. The SSD drive is a significant investment, I'm going to go up to a 500mb as soon as I have saved up for one. Another item that needs to be changed is the Mac fan control smcFanControl is great to get maximum performance, these aluminum backs can get seriously hot and ruin your innards. I recommend to use different settings for different work which you can set, full on is best for any X-Plane running, but a 70% setting will save your fans when not.

Apple Mac's or Apple laptops with X-Plane are always going to be a compromise. A new Apple is very nice, but Apple products are expensive. I was in a difficult situation, but the upgrade gave me a few more years of headroom and it has certainly given me a far better simulator experience...  for a lot less money.

Flying

With the added capabilities of the remaxed out computer any aircraft is now my oyster. The one I have spent the most time flying between and sometimes as part of a review is Peter's Aircraft A320 Series. There is a a few areas that the JARDesign A320neo is actually better, okay many areas...   but the PA A320 is very easy to set up and fly unlike the JARDesign version and the Airbus flight laws are better in the simulation as well. I still haven't moved on from it and that is a sign of a good investment.

The Airliner Update Review: Boeing 757 Professional "Extended" Series v1.2 by VMAX was upgraded with the -300 version. And I spent a lot of hours on the aircraft. You can't get pass this aircraft as a simulation, but you do have to go the whole way in full flight planning and following every procedure by the letter...  It will be great if Laminar Research do get the ATC system more workable to add that extra layer on top an already heavy cockpit workload, but as an experience it is certainly top notch.

On The Ground

Most of early 2015 has been dominated by 10.30 updates and there was a few updates to get through (losing the computer for 4 weeks didn't help either), but otherwise there was a lot of really excellent scenery to bed in and enjoy.

Airport Review : EGHI - Southampton 1.2 by Pilot Plus by Pilot-Plus was the first but late to review, but worth the effort. EGHI is a first release by Pilot-Plus is a great entrance to the complex world of scenery design. EGGD-Bristol is coming next I can't wait to land there.

But I found myself really getting a lot of use out of airports that I wouldn't really use and a little off the well worn routes. Airport Review : LYBE - Belgrade “Nikola Tesla” Airport v1 by MB Sceneries is far better than it looks but you need to fix the over-bright textures of which I did. But once done I really love the destination and it has been on rotation more than most and in-out night-flying here is excellent (From Italy, Munich or Vienna).

Scenery Review : LEVC - Valencia Manises by DAI-Media is another gem that I use constantly and love the animations and now animated boarding gates (LEVC has been updated here...  LEVC - Valecia update 2015 ), but this airport has been on my routes since I installed it in Jan 2014...  a great investment.

Moscow UUEE was released late 2014, but I didn't get around to getting it sorted and actually working till just a few weeks ago. Airport Review : UUEE Sheremetyevo Airport XP by Drzewiecki Design surprised me on how good it really is for a FS crossover. To me if a scenery beckons you back and even keeps up very late for a few hours filling in static aircraft then it must have something good going on. I fixed the over-saturated night textures and put a few extra gate equipment items to fill it out. Drzewiecki Design have noted that they are going to do an upgrade to UUEE and even add in some winter textures for the coming 10.40 seasons feature. But if I thought that planning routes through Moscow was high on my list a year ago it was a bit of a stretch then it shows how much I like and use this Russian scenery. Well worth the investment.

 

Butnaru released his KATL ( Airport Review : KATL - Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta Intl Airport by Butnaru) and didn't disappoint...  I had a few issues with the Gateway "Global Airports" popping up regularly that drove me daft (LEVC was another victim) and here it really screwed up the review... and ruined a day's flying fixing. But over all I was very impressed with KATL and was still there while doing the FF/VMAX Boeing 757 update. Butnaru does do great sceneries, but he is a little sparse on the details outer fringes to make his work exceptional. The walking animations however and certainly at KATL are simple excellent... 

I found myself fixing a lot of payware ortho scenery to match the surrounding default X-Plane textures...  I complained loudly a lot about it as well. In most cases the designers are simply lazy in matching these textures up, and photoshop users can auto-mate actions that can wizz through them in minutes...  but why should you have to do them at all? Just plain lazy...

Rose tinted glasses

It has become simply unbearable to click onto "Rotate" site to look at his MD-80. I just can't go there anymore...  painful..  "agghhh". Over the years for some reason the DC-9/MD series has become my real favorite aircraft (The Vickers VC10 is my overall love, but what chance of that as a payware?...  zero)  anyway the DC-9/MD has become an obsession. I have flown a lot on the aircraft over the decades and is saving up to go on a Qantas B717 (A sort of modern relation) that still route around Australia. But to fly one?  We have that unfinished XPFP MD-82 beta. But a full design of the aircraft is a gut buster. Watch a few MD-80 series cockpit YouTube's and tell me you don't want this aircraft...  if you don't you are lying. 

"oh the pain...."

Finally signs the IXEG Boeing 737 Classic might actually land on your runway this year, it is as good as it looks (no I haven't actually flown it yet) but how long can a beta program go?  And JARDesigns A330 in final beta as well, and PMDG...  well they are finally coming soon as well...  The second quarter of 2015 is going to be a blockbuster if you need to start saving now.

Carenado have released their PC-12 and it looks great...  So keep an eye out for the review that is coming soon.

Stephen Dutton

21st March 2015

Copyright©2015: X-Plane Reviews

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Hi stephan! Updates to LYBE are under way...even if i thought the vivid overlays would have pleased many customers...i fixed them to a more natural colors.

For the "gateway airports" problem...this it is not a real problem if the correct exclusions are put in the scenery, if the are not it is easy to find overlapping objects! I do not know why many payware sceneries are still affected by this problem...it is easy to solve!

Inviato dal mio iPad utilizzando Tapatalk

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