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Behind the Screen : January 2022


Stephen
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Behind the Screen : January 2022

 

I came into the X-Plane Simulator in the last few months of X-Plane9, so the next version of the Simulator was only a step away in X-Plane10, the next update was X-Plane11 (the current version), and then like now, in just over a decade ago the next edition in X-Plane12 is now due.

In reality in that intermediate decade I have only been introduced to two new complete X-Plane versions. It actually doesn't sound like a lot of change, but there has been also huge landmark changes during each X-Plane version run in HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Vulkan/Metal API (Application Programming Interface), which are actually more significant revolutions than the new release versions themselves, they also both came to the fore with X-Plane11.

 

The change from X-Plane9 to X-Plane10 was the most significant period ever for the Simulator. The changes were quite extensive in mostly the environment additions in new mapping ground textures and "Plausable world" autogen, that in reality changed the whole face and feel of the simulator. Back then XP10 came in a metal box (Aerosoft) of nine CDs and took up around 80Gb of space on your limited hard drive. Another indirect change was the movement from 2D to 3D cockpit environments and different if early ideas on non-art clouds (Austin's little "Puffs"). A lot of users at the time stayed devoted to X-Plane9, mostly for it's very extremely light framerate use, X-Plane10 was at the time framerate heavy with it's now far more advanced scenery aspects and that demand took it's toll on the sort of graphic and processing limits of the period.

 

In hindsight X-Plane9 was the mid-point between the early basic 2D stick drawing simulation, and the more complex 3D world simulators coming after. I still check it out... mostly for nostalgic reasons, but to mostly see those 100% framerates (they are a beautiful thing).

 

X-Plane11 feels like it has been here forever, in reality the change to X-Plane12 is also a year late, so half a decade with one version feels like an eternity and it is no wonder we are all biting at the bit for something new. Noted that X-Plane11 could have been in reality two versions, before Vulkan/Metal and after the API upgrade, so the timeline there is also a bit screwed up in context.

 

That brings to mind the changes the new version will create. Most find that a new X-Plane version is also not a just a software update. Your hardware is also a consideration for an upgrade as well as X-Plane10 changed that aspect. A lot of users year in and year out change their computer configurations with the seasons, to them X-Plane12 will be just another simple upgrade.

 

I use the Tick-Tock system... in one year a Graphic Card (Tick) update, the next a Board and Processor update (Tock). But that aspect went awry with the prices of Graphic Card prices going through the stratosphere with the move to real-time ray tracing and bit-coin mining. Three times the price currently of my old card means I will have to stick with my current one for still a while yet, but it is still very good. 

 

The "Tock" aspect however is a problem. Far older (five years) since the last update means I am in trouble. In reality I should have updated my board and processor three years ago, but like with everything Covid got in the way...  to be honest until recently I was not really bothered as the system coped really well, helped along the journey with the mid-release Vulkan upgrade. But now I am seriously feeling the pressure, in that most of last year it was getting to be an ongoing struggle to keep my stutters at bay. So you were always in dialing your graphic preferences back, but I was never greedy there in the first place. But the pressures now required of X-Plane means I am feeling the growing wall of it all getting closer and the requirements getting higher, and everything is now also closing in on me every day to X-Plane's 12 release.

 

I am already in trouble as I can't upgrade with my current processor to Windows 11 either (boo to Microsoft), which seems a dumb scenario as my current chips are not actually THAT old... but no. (Most users will say "stick with Win 10 as Win 11 is shit anyway), but I like to be current in system areas like that.

 

The last time I did my "Tock" it was quite a simple choice of board (Gigabyte) and Intel i7-6700K CPU, not the most powerful at the time, but very efficient (and not too hard on the bank account), and they have performed well over the years.

 

I have already fixed one other pressure of the last year in Storage. One of the statements of the last version upgrade was to an SSD drive... back then it was a 500Gb Samsung, that quickly turned in to an upgrade of a 1Tb Samsung, only months later... The growing size of files soon found me again in fast diminishing space, cascading past my 300Gb marker with only 250Gb of space left. You think that 250Gb of space is a lot, but it isn't in today's storage terms with consistent 3Gb to 5Gb scenery files and even now big files with some aircraft, and I don't have or use the large ortho sceneries either.

 

Around Cyber Monday or with the Christmas sales there were deals, and a Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB - M.2 NVMe was secured and installed on my board.

"Is that it?" It is weird at the minute sized board compared to some of my older 12GB (yes only 12GB) drives I use to prop up my monitor, and for the minute size it is a little powerhouse of M.2 NVMe storage... so is the advances of computer hardware.

 

Installing was the easy part...  recompiling X-Plane and every required windows application to the new drive is a BIG job. It is amazing on how or much or how many applications work in the background to make X-Plane function correctly. Every aircraft (and even now sceneries) have to be also reauthorised back in one by one...  it was a huge job that took weeks to get to a refined running situation of a transferred, if slimmed down clean X-Plane install.

 

Bonus is that I now have a spare 1.3TB space to fill, that alone feels good... or last at least I'm safe for another 12 months.

 

But my main dilemma remains, a new board and processor. The earlier mentioned Intel i7-6700K CPU was good but not the top of the range in power, so I never had "Tons of Power" at my disposal. I was always okay with that as it was a good benchmark for reviews. But sometimes you really missed that grunt, I also have what I call a few "Bleeders", the worst is xEnviro at around 10 fr to 15fr, which really is at the current core of my problems, bigger problem is that I can't switch it off for the bonus environment it creates against to almost everything it ruins, it is a real love-hate application.

 

Being slow or late updating my processor has oddly brought me a significant benefit. 12th Generation Intel processors. Super powerful and heavily multi-core, they are Intel's reaction last year to the decades dominance of AMD Ryzen in huge power and speed. The desirability factor goes through the roof "POWER" all that power, but a 12900KF comes with a significant cost, many in fact.

 

The problem is not just buying a new expensive board (you need a new motherboard to run the new 12th Generation chips in a LGA 1700 socket), but other factors as well. The i9-12900KF chip requires more power (It sucks down power like running a small country in electricity), secondly the i9-12900KF is like having a mini nuclear reactor sitting in your desktop computer... it runs seriously HOT, Cray computer hot!, this makes my current processor arrangement look benign.

 

So it is not just as simple as installing the new board and chip, but giving it more power and keeping it some how cool (or cooler) is going to cost... a lot. So what was just a simple upgrade is turning into a megalomaniac scenario, but just the thought of X-Plane running with all it's bells and whistles flowing can only bring anyone to dream of well....  megalomania.

 

Your answer is maybe then just buy a cheaper but less demanding processor like last time, but I have been down that road for the last four or more years, jealous of others having it all, plus there is the actual practical side of having power to do what I want for reviewing, I am also tired of compromises, fighting applications and stuttering framerate to just do simple jobs, I just want the tools to do my work.

 

Thankfully I have time... try to buy an Intel i9-12900KF and you are faced with "Not in Stock" or the currently high blackmarket prices. There is a computer chip shortage going on out there as well, again thanks to Covid.

 

Here starts the mind games. Will dropping xEnviro and a few other power hungry applications cancel out the extra power requirements of X-Plane12, in other words "come out even". Tricky one isn't it. If not I'm in trouble as I have nowhere else to currently go. Laminar Research did note that X-Plane12 will run fine on current computers, they themselves have not bought any new hardware for the new X-plane version, but the requirement specifications released early in the month puts me on the side of the lower and not the "Recommended" requirements required to pass the banner. X-Plane12 will obviously run on my current system, but how well I don't know, or I'm in the dark.

 

X-Plane 12 is also an unusual Simulator update version. Most numbered updates have had very significant banner features to get you to upgrade to the next version...  X-Plane12 is nothing like that at all.

 

Basically it is a fix it all up upgrade, more of the same but just done far better, and in the fixing all the things we have wanted (or should have been) fixed for years.

It would have interesting what sort of different Simulator upgrade it would have been if Microsoft had not brought back their original Simulator last year. There are a lot of changes in X-Plane12 relating directly to MSFS 2020, the non-fixed abandoned elements, that suddenly got attention because MSFS 2020 highlighted them. Environmental, ATC, Lighting, landscapes, Seasons... even down to the newer and better ground service vehicles that all reflect on the highlights of MSFS 2020... and the very areas we have all moaned about for years.

 

Did Laminar's roadmap get highjacked? or how different would have X-Plane12 been if Laminar had in fact just been their usual selves. No doubt MSFS 2020 was a serious wakeup call in the X-Plane Simulator's weaknesses, is that to our final benefit or to the loss of other innovative ideas.

Personally I think the changes are to our benefit. My coda is that if the basics are running right then the rest will follow, and the basics to be honest are currently a mess...  left there languishing far too long in the "To hard to do basket".

So the release of X-Plane12 may on the surface look like more an update than an upgrade, deep down though it will be a significant change to the Simulator...  another benefit is that now that crowded list of problematic issues have been finally addressed and fixed, the table has been finally and thankfully cleared up. So Is X-Plane12 the upgrade we all had to have. This also then allows Laminar to get back to what it does do very well in innovate again.

 

X-Plane12's single aim however no matter which way you seriously look at the release is just to counter the effects MSFS 2020. This is not for the Gamers out there (but that would be nice). But with the hard core Simulator Users. These are the ones that spend and build up their collections. And where the money goes, then follows success and activity producing for that platform.

X-Plane has a serious advantage in the high quality of it's aircraft and tools, it is in the experience that MSFS 2020 gets to do better. Balance that effect better and X-Plane will become the more serious (even competitive) Simulation platform. For years I have noted that core city areas, followed by autogen surrounding areas is the most effective way to run a Simulator. In reality X-Plane12 again misses this aspect, and that is where our biggest concern is...  A few token city objects was always going to fail in context.

 

Over the last six weeks or so Laminar have been tempting us with X-Plane12 previews in images, videos and even waterbottles. The focus has been mostly on the Airbus A330 that will be the leading new default aircraft, but it is in the smaller revels that we get a glimpse of what X-Plane12 will be. Because there are no extravagant tentpole features coming in X-Plane12. Then our expectations are not extremely high this time around either, but that may also be why X-Plane12 may will be the most interesting release for a long time.

It will change the way we will do Simulation again, but not in the usual way, but in the nuance of the changes it may change our Simulator to the far, far better simulator, and in that aspect it is very exciting, and getting more exciting day by day to the release of the beta.

 

When will that release be? Most say Easter, but I think still it will be way before then...  hopefully soon, very soon.

 

Stephen Dutton

1st February 2022

Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews

 

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Nice article as always.

 

In my opinion, regarding upgrading your PC, I suggest to wait and see how it will perform once XP12 v1.0 is out, I think you will appreciate the upgrade much more :), further more I do not suggest to upgrade to the fastest Intel CPU, see X-Force suggestion in YouTube, pick the middle performer (1 notch down) for a more balanced price/performance.

 

Regarding the "too hard to implement features", On that side, I think that I side with LR when it comes to graphical performance (world rendering). If I understand them correctly, it was only when they transition to Vulkan/Metal they got a whole new set of APIs that allow them to implement some advanced rendering technologies in an easier and stable way, dropping OpenGL is the way to move forward since the desktop platform they are supporting are abandoning this technology too as a main rendering API.

 

My prediction, and I'm shooting randomly here, is that the textures day one won't see significant changes from what we see in XP11, but after the first year we might receive a whole new texture implementation (maybe it will be regionally and not for the whole world) once they will finish implementing their new texture technology for terrain rendering. Again this is probably won't be the case, but it is plausible since it is very hard and time consuming rebuilding the terrain textures while focusing on other time consuming technologies. 

 

Regarding City areas, I do not see LR investing in this part more than the minimal needed, they will probably continue relying on third parties autogen and scenery to fill in those areas. It will never be MSFS level, and in my opinion that is fine as long as there are good VFR point of interest implemented in the sim.

 

Cheers

Saar  

 

 

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Thank You for your PC advice, I may take it yet. Yes I totally agree on the Vulkan/Metal transition...  from Laminar's point of view it was and is the main focus, later in X-Plane 12's run those benefits will come to the fore, like with the earlier 32/64 bit transition.

 

As I have noted repeatably the missing whole new texture implementation is the reason I got so down with the earlier XP12 announcements. In my eyes they were the most important factor, One to counter MSFS global visuals, but secondly and more importantly I think for X-Plane  long term is to bring back those extensive missing 3rd party (orbx) city sceneries to the platform. It may still happen, but any developer currently won't do so unless the base textures are better.

 

That said, with most of the (annoying) other details now fixed in X-Plane12, Laminar could do a full new texture implementation unhindered as you noted. So I come full circle as I think that with the new texture implementation will also come multi-threading? So you can see where I am going with the i9-12900KF and it's 16 cores.

 

Thanks for the Comment 🙂

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