Hardware recommendations

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Note  FlightGear is currently undergoing a lot of huge changes. More importantly: Adopting OSG 3.6+[1], moving to the OpenGL core profile, WS 3.0, Osm2city buildings, Photoscenery and Compositor shadows & lights.

In addition, adopting OSG 3.6 means that the experimental CompositeViewer Support can be more widely enabled and tested[2] (it is already enabled by default on next).

Also, as part of the CompositeViewer effort, Canvas FBO rendering is in the process of being moved out of the scene graph into dedicated viewer-level cameras, which provides better support/integration with OSG threading and fixes the long-standing issue where Canvas textures were being rendered twice per view unnecessarily due to the original new/far camera scheme.

It is likely the non-shader code path (fixed-function pipeline) will also go away in the next twelve months (~ early/mid 2022). We tried to communicate this: 2020.3 is the last release that will work on really old hardware: 'next' and future releases will need a more modern machine with an OpenGL 4 / DX12 class GPU.[3] 'next' is work-in-progress: likely 12 or 18 months before it becomes a release. In that time the build dependencies, minimum system requirements, performance baseline and basically everything else are going to change (and keep changing). Of course, we'll try to make it work on as wide a range of hardware as possible, but right now we don't know, and it would be incorrect to speculate or promise anything. (Eg, we cannot say 'an Intel 4000 will work but an Intel 3000 won't - we have no idea!)

If 'next' works for someone, that is great, but if you want stability, stable FPS and compatibility with older hardware, there is an easy answer: use 2020.3. That's what we recommend for everyone who wants to fly and enjoy flying. [4] The macOS and Windows nightly builds are now running OSG 3.6.5, so people can hopefully start testing WS3.0 [5] Also, be aware that the binary builds also switched to OSG 3.6, so that may have an FPS impact as well (either higher or lower…)[6]

These hardware recommendations for FlightGear are based on community feedback, be sure to consult other sources before making serious decisions regarding computer hardware.

The performance of FlightGear depends on three main components in your computer: the CPU (processor), which makes all the computations; the graphics card, which renders the visual aspect of FlightGear, and RAM (also known as memory) which generally allows FlightGear to have more information running (for the lack of a more technical phrase).

You may also want to check out the following article on building your own FlightGear box based on decommissioned and refurbished server at Howto: Build a cheap FlightGear box, and also learn about how the FlightGear project handles old hardware support at FlightGear and old Hardware - see Minimal Startup Profile to start with a bare minumum and turn up settings one by one.

Also see: FlightGear Benchmark


Recommendations for FlightGear in 2021 (2020.3 LTS)

This section is a stub. You can help the wiki by expanding it.

FlightGear can scale the quality to run on a huge range of hardware at different quality settings.

Note for old hardware: Towards the less powerful end of the range, for FlightGear to run smoothly, it requires a video card with OpenGL drivers 2.0 or higher. You need to spend some time learning settings, and tweaking for bottlenecks, to run FlightGear on very old systems. See Minimal Startup Profile to start with a bare minimum and then turn settings up.

Quick notes:

  • The LTS you should be running is the current 2020.3.8+ LTS. (March 2021).
  • People buying new hardware with FlightGear in mind are encouraged to wait until LTS after the current 2020.3 LTS, if possible - that is, if they imagine they will be using the hardware for a long while so it makes a difference.
    1. Future performance requirements will not be known until the LTS after the current LTS. Some of the big projects underway on the FlightGear next branch need to be finished before requirements can be determined. These projects include moving to: the new Compositor rendering framework, the next generation scenery rendering and data format, a higher version of OpenGL, in-sim UI replacement, and so on.
    2. Hardware prices will be expected to drop once the situation with the pandemic eases. Hardware is getting steadily faster. Hardware with the same performance is getting cheaper. You should never buy hardware for a future version of FlightGear or any other program. It's always better to wait until the application releases (and until the hardware purchase is justifiable as you have time to start using it properly).
    3. There is a 1st rollout of buildings, roads, and objects for the world based on OSM data. Please don't buy hardware based on this rollout. The performance in future rollouts will improve drastically as objects are changed to a newer format. See OSM2City 1st Worldbuild for details.
  • For current hardware requirements (with scenery layers containing the new OSM2City world-build disabled): FlightGear 2020.3 LTS is faster than the 2018.3 LTS. The 2018.3 LTS hardware profile below is valid - but only one profile and hardware build is available in the 2018.3 LTS section as of writing this.
  • The DDS texture cache should be turned on:
Qt Launcher > Settings tab > Rendering > Show more > enable Cache graphics for faster loading or,
in-sim menu > View > Rendering > enable Use disk space for faster loading (DDS texture cache).
The DDS texture cache makes loading faster, and can make the sim feel smoother. it also helps older systems - as it reduces VRAM usage on the Graphics card (GPU), as well as reducing RAM usage. The DDS texture cache will grow in size mainly as you try new aircraft. It will grow in size a bit as you visit new locations, if you have scenery objects like landmarks enabled.
  • There is a new graphics profile system being developed for future FlightGear. This will at least have some named settings presets which can be associated with some hardware and performance categories.

Recommended hardware for FlightGear 2018.3 LTS

Only one target performance and settings profile has been written below. Other settings profiles are to-do. FlightGear can scale the quality to run on a huge range of hardware at different quality settings.

Note for old hardware: Towards the less powerful end of the range, for FlightGear to run smoothly, it requires a video card with OpenGL drivers 2.0 or higher. You need to spend some time learning settings, and tweaking for bottlenecks, to run FlightGear on very old systems. See Minimal Startup Profile to start with a bare minimum and then turn settings up.

Before selecting a GPU and CPU have a look at the benchmark lists in the profile below for an approximate idea of performance. If you are choosing a laptop see the manufacturers website for that model to find out your GPU and CPU, and check the list. Remember the slowest component will be the limiting component. For example: if you want high graphics but your GPU is slow, having a very fast CPU will not help. Higher resolutions need faster GPUs: for example, you can't run FlightGear at 4k resolution with a laptop if your manufacturer has not included a very fast GPU, even if they have included a reasonably fast dedicated GPU - in these laptops you need to run FlightGear at lower resolution, or find a laptop with faster GPU. If you run out of RAM then you cannot have really high visibility ranges or object densities even if your GPU and CPU is fast. The tips in the sections below about avoiding Intel integrated GPUs, mobile laptop GPUs, and low range NVIDIA GPUs (xx10, xx20, xx30, xx40) apply.

Note on hardware requirements

Requirements are only valid for a target FPS, monitor resolution, usage, and graphics / simulation quality settings. People have a huge range of hardware.

For flight simulators the usage can vary depending on the craft used, how the craft is used, and over what scenery the craft is used. The visibility range can change with altitude, and how fast the scenery is loaded can change with speeds. How complex the visuals are depends on how much vegetation, or man-made buildings/objects, are in the visible scenery. The following all place different demands: slow and low with a balloon/pterosaur/glider/wingsuit/ground effect vehicle, slightly faster and higher in a single prop C172P/C182/Cub/PA, fast and low in a supersonic Viggen/F-14 jet, higher altitude but slower in a A320 airliner, fast and high in a Concorde, extremely fast and high in suborbital craft like the X-15 , or using a Shuttle or Vostok-1 space craft that is fast enough to reach orbit. View distances can vary from individual grass blades in airport keep to seeing entire continents from orbit using a separate orbital renderer. Flying over a dense forest can mean vast amounts of trees are in view, while flying over a barren desert or ocean can mean there are few objects. You can always fly with a lower scenery loading distance and/or a lower visibility distance. A cloudless day can mean there are fewer clouds to draw and also may be lighter on CPU to simulate as Advanced Weather tracks lifecyles of individual clouds. On very old systems turning down cloud density and visibility range can help - as can turning off parts of the Advanced Weather simulation, or using basic weather. If you are flying at night using instruments for navigation, you can turn down graphics settings a lot :) . Different craft place different demands on CPU and GPU. Some craft have detailed electrical, electronic, and mechanical systems which are demanding on the CPU to simulate, while a craft like a glider does not. Some craft have high fidelity graphics and complex electronic displays - these can be demanding on the CPU and loading times, not just the GPU!. Some craft have options to reduce graphics. Some craft have options to reduce CPU usage by making parts of the simulation less responsive or less fine-grained - but these craft tend to be craft which are demanding on the CPU to start with.

Tip: If you have a slow GPU or CPU, you may be able to find craft that are less demanding for your bottleneck. Different aspects of craft can be demanding on the GPU or CPU - systems & instruments, aircraft interior art, aircraft exterior art, or flight dynamics model (FDM). For example, some craft may have detailed systems and instruments but have simple interior art. Some research projects just produce a flight dynamics model with no art and simple systems. Don't worry about the CPU time taken by the flight dynamics model - it isn't really heavy on CPU to simulate - think of an offline flight dynamics engine like JSBSim as a photo viewer for digital fine-art - it may take hours, days or weeks to render a fine-art quality ray-traced digital image but your web browser can display it very quickly - similarly JSBSim can take the results of computational fluid dynamics done on a supercomputing cluster (like a ray-traced digital image), or taken from windtunnel data (like taking a photo), and simulate flight dynamics quite quickly. Tip: You can use the filter in FlightGear Qt Launcher > Air craft tab > Browse > Filter using ratings > click Adjust minimum ratings (video tutorial) to lower minimum ratings and look for craft which have e.g. good systems and flight dynamics model but simpler art - but this only gives a small clue - some craft like a glider may not have much systems to simulate or have a simple model so they are not demanding even when recreated in detail.

Without target FPS, monitor resolution, usage, and settings, requirements are meaningless other than for maximum settings (i.e. meaningless for what hardware people actually have) - even maximum settings are hard to predict as they depend on what scenery a flight can take place. It's not trivial to find exact specifications, even for commercial applications with lots of test systems. Some commercial 3d applications do give out specifications for less than max settings but these mostly do not give target performance/quality/usage at all, and a lot of 3d applications like games have limited usage patterns making it easier to check - since commercial screenshot galleries tend to be on the most powerful systems at time of release without stating hardware, not giving detailed performance/quality/usage targets is also a way of making people forget quality may not look anything like advertised on their hardware. The topic of quality and performance is not as simple as commercial applications make it out to be in their advertising. People should consider that a bit of time spent tweaking settings for the performance bottlenecks in your hardware, for your typical usages, can make a huge difference to visuals and FPS.

Mostly high and Max settings with 2015+ mid range GPU

Target performance:

  • 20-30 FPS with default C172P. Monitor resolution 1920 by 1080 (also known as 1080p , Full HD, or FHD).
    • Note: actual smoothness depends on frame-spacing spikes - average FPS helps lower overall frame spacing.

Target settings: rendering and scenery:

  • Renderer: ALS (advanced renderer)
  • View > rendering dialog:
    • Maximum shaders: all shader sliders maxed (i.e. overlays: on).
    • Scenery layers: Vegetation density: Very High (if you run into RAM issues try turning this down).
    • Scenery layers: Vegetation shadows: on.
    • Scenery layers: Buildings: Random buildings - or OSM2City with light scenery near small towns, but not OSM2City near areas dense with big buildings (heavier scenery needs a faster CPU). Tweaking random building density: Try setting/sim/rendering/building-density in the range of 1-10. You can set this in the property browser, or as a command-line option set in various ways including the Qt launcher,
    • Scenery layers: everything else on: Scenery objects (includes airport terminals), roads and railways, pylons, random scenery objects
    • Cloud density and visibility range sliders: max.
  • View menu > Adjust LOD ranges dialog
  • Anti-aliasing: 4x or 8x Multi-sampling(MSAA). Transparency anti-aliasing (called Adaptive anti-aliasing on AMD GPUs): Multisample.
  • Environment > weather > detailed weather dialog:
    • Advanced Weather: on.
    • Advanced settings dialog: Enabled features: All: Cloud shadows, Realistic visibility, Generate thermals, Terrain effects, Terrain pre-sampling, etc. Max visibility : 250km

Hardware build:

  • GPU (Graphics Processing Unit, or Graphics Card): A GTX 960 or 1050 Ti - or equivalent performance. More than 3000 ratings in this list: as of April 2021. Direct link (Note: ratings numbers and list may have changed by the time you see it). Note: a GPU with this performance is capable of much more than 30 FPS.
  • CPU: 4 core Intel Sandybridge i5 2500 (released 2012) or faster. This build will be limited by the CPU . Try to get a newer generation Intel CPU, or equivalent AMD Ryzen CPU, if possible - e.g. a 4th generation Intel Haswell (4xxx) i5 CPU, or faster. For a fairly approximate idea of CPU performance needed (Sandybridge i5 2500 has a rating of ~1700) see this archived copy of a single-core benchmark list: April 2021 . Direct link (Note: this direct list may have changed ratings numbers by the time you see it). This list only gives single-core performance - and it is approximate - for example, when an application uses more than one core processor the frequency will drop slightly lowering performance. The only reason a 2012 Sandybridge 2500 can manage 20-30FPS is because core performance hasn't gone up that much - it has increased by about 2x. FlightGear uses multiple cores. Some people may be able to get FG to run fine with a fast high clock 2 core CPU from a newer generation of CPU. But a 4 core is recommended as future FlightGear will use cores even more.
  • Memory (RAM): 8GB (12-16 GB preferred). If you lack RAM you need to reduce the level of detail ranges so less scenery is displayed.
  • Disk: to do! .

FlightGear settings tips:

  • This build is limited by CPU. If your CPU is not faster (newer generation), at least you can try turning up graphics more to give the GPU something to do (try increasing Anti-aliasing, turning up transparency anti-aliasing by selecting super-sampling variety, increasing tree density).
  • GPU limited: Try turning down the resolution and anti-aliasing if you are GPU limited. The higher the resolution the more work the GPU must do. A 4k (UHD) resolution is like the pixel shader load of rendering on four 1080p screens at once! See The trade off between graphics content, FPS, and graphics settings like anti-aliasing
  • GPU: For 4k monitors: Try reducing resolution to 1080p. A lot of laptops come with slow GPUs but have 4k screens. You should try the equivalent of a GTX 1080/2070 or a rating of about 7800 in this archived list, but you may have to tweak settings a bit: April 2021. Direct link (Note: ratings numbers and list may have changed by the time you see it). See the advice on the anti-aliasing page.
    • Notes: It's overlays and tree density that can put stress on the GPU.
  • GPU: overlays require strong GPU power (that level of detail is not trivial).
  • CPU: Aircraft that are heavier on CPU than than the C172P can drag down performance more if you are CPU limited.
  • RAM & GPU: Trees at ultra consume a lot of RAM. They need GPU power too.
  • RAM: If you run into RAM issues try turning down : LoD:Rough (in View menu > Adjust LOD range), tree density, and LoD: bare.
  • CPU & RAM: Using OSM2City scenery can also use up RAM and CPU. OSM2City version 2017.2 is compatible with FlightGear 2018.3 LTS. Try turning off roads and pylons if you are CPU limited. Try turning down LoD:rough if you are RAM/CPU limited. Random scenery objects can be heavy on CPU, try turning them off.
  • GPU: ALS shaders sliders can be maxed in a lot dedicated GPUs, even quite old ones provided they are dedicated GPUs (and not integrated/mobile GPUs). It's mostly the scenery layer settings including tree density and LoD ranges that can be intensive.
  • GPU / Disk space: turn on the View > rendering > texture cache for smoother FPS frame spacing and faster loading. This will take up extra space.
  • ...what does this look like? Only the screenshots that have been uploaded to the wiki by volunteers are available right now. There is a wiki category with roughly high settings screenshots. Note: a lot of these screenshots use settings that are below this profile, the overlays screenshots typically have transparency anti-aliasing higher than multisampling, some screenshots are with a much older FlightGear, a substantial amount of screenshots laptops with weaker GPUs or computers with less than 16 GB of RAM, some screenshots are at slightly higher settings than this profile or at 4k resolution.To get to the highest settings in the category at 1080p and trees at ultra, you would need a GTX 1060 or higher (about 4100 in ratings), 12-16 GB of RAM - lowering LoD ranges will help (low ranges are fine for low altitude flights especially in mountain areas). Not turning up transparency AA will help. The CPU would be maybe a bit faster than i5 2500 to populate trees quickly at ultra e.g. a fast Haswell i5, or an overclocked Sandybridge i5 2500k @ close to 5GhZ.

Recommended hardware for FlightGear 3.20+

Generally, if you want to see frame rates in the 20's and above and medium/high graphical settings, which is typically preferred, you should have a budget of at least $1000. The following list is recommended hardware. It is not required to any degree; however, if you're purchasing a new computer dedicated to FlightGear, it is highly recommended that you get a computer with at least these requirements.

Display
  • A screen with a resolution of at least 1024x768 @32bpp (most GUI dialogs cannot be used otherwise currently)
Graphics processing unit
  • A 3D video card (with AMD or NVIDIA chipset) with support for OpenGL 2.1 or better and at least 1024-2048MB of dedicated DDR3+ (DDR5 preferred) VRAM (i.e. 512 Mb VRAM minimum). FlightGear requires an OpenGL 2.1-compliant hardware-accelerated 3D video card to run at reasonable frame-rates. Most modern PCs have hardware-accelerated 3D cards. If your FlightGear video is not running smoothly, see Graphics drivers configuration.
  • See Supported Video Cards for a list of video cards known to work with FlightGear.
  • Cards with working GLSL/shader support will enable FlightGear to run with more visual effects.
  • If you are serious about running FlightGear, you should avoid Intel HD/GMA cards at all costs - these are integrated chipsets that provide only basic OpenGL/GLSL support. See problematic video cards for a list of video cards that may not properly run.
Processor
  • At least 2-4 Gb free RAM (and more is better: when building/buying a new system, consider 6-8gb total the absolute minimum these days). FlightGear uses more than 500 Mb of RAM by default. If less free RAM is available, FlightGear would be slowed down significantly due to OS swapping.
  • At least a quad core processor with ~ 2 GHz each, 64 bit architecture (and operating system) recommended (multi-core processors have benefits for some FlightGear components such as the threaded tile loader). When buying a new computer, buying at least a quad core computer (i.e. i7) is a good idea these days.
Storage disk
  • 5 Gb HD space for a minimum installation, approx. 10 Gb if you want to compile it yourself, plus up to 80 Gb for optional world-wide scenery. More space is required for people wanting to check out the latest base package from Git. People using Scripted Compilation on Linux Debian/Ubuntu, will approximately need 30 Gb of disk space in total.
Input devices
  • A three button mouse or two button mouse with scroll wheel
  • An optional joystick/yoke and/or pedals - Gameport or USB (HID compatible), see $FG_ROOT/Input for a list of input hardware known to work with FlightGear.
Sound card
  • An optional sound card, Soundblaster compatible, preferably with EAX support.

NVIDIA

April 2021 note: Check a GPU benchmark list like this for a rough idea of performance: Direct link (April 2021 archive). If you are selecting a laptop find out what your GPU is - ask or check the manufacturers website page for the model of the laptop. Laptop GPUs: Laptops with NVIDIA 9xx and earlier series GPUs often have the mobile "M" variant. These are a lot slower than the normal version e.g. a GTX 960M is slower than a GTX 960. NVIDIA 10xx series and later use desktop equivalents in all laptops, or close to it. This is due to recent GPU technology using less power making it easier on laptop batteries. There are also Q-MAX variants that are only slightly slower than normal versions but use less battery - e.g. a GTX 1060 Q-MAX is only slightly slower than a GTX 1060 - see benchmarks. (April 2021)

Recent NVIDIA price/performance trends (March 2021):

  • Each GPU slot tends to get the performance of the GPU slot above it from the last generation. e.g. A GTX 1650 (xx50 slot) will get the a the performance of a GTX 1060 (xx60 slot).
  • The price and performance sweet spot are the midrange cards xx50, XX50 Ti and xx60. xx50 Ti might be around the best slot.
  • The fastest cards are released first each GPU generation (e.g. xx80 Ti or xx90), and are priced high to sell to enthusiasts - for GPU chips yields are also low to start so there's a limited number of hardware.GPUs are released in decreasing order of performance to tempt people to buy a performance range that they don't need. AMD follows the same pattern.
  • Hardware prices are expected to drop as the situation with the global pandemic eases.

Stay away from nVidia GPUs with a low second digit (x20, xx20, x40, xx40). Higher 2nd digit means more CUDA cores.

The number of CUDA cores matters much more than a few Mhz in frequency, since you can process more, in parallel. Also watch out for bus width, as that has a big impact on data throughput. The more CUDA cores it has, the better. A GTX680 is lots and lots and lots more important than a CPU with a zillion cores.

In case of doubt, go for an older generation x60 (460, or 560), even a 260 would be much more of an improvement than the 620. Basically, Nvidia cards compile GLSL shaders and OpenCL kernels into CUDA kernels (sort of), so more CUDA kernels = more shader power.

Whatever GPU (and other hardware) you get, first of all make sure that it is fully supported by your OS of choice. Thorsten mentioned in another thread that he purchased a computer with an NVIDIA GTX670 that ended up not being fully supported under Linux, so I'd suggest to be really careful here.

Notebooks

If you are interested in running FlightGear on a notebook, you may also want to check out Notebooks known to run FlightGear. A regular notebook is not recommended if you plan to fly often on FlightGear.

Components

Your overall experience on FlightGear generally depends on these components:

  • Your CPU, which makes all the calculations. This component isn't as important as your graphics card. However, you should keep in mind that your CPU is the brain of your computer. As stated above, it's recommended that you purchase a CPU that has at least 4 cores.
  • Your graphics card, which renders the visuals of FlightGear. This component is extremely important. If you have an amazing CPU but a lackluster graphics card, your framerate will be low. Also, it's recommended that you purchase a relatively new graphics card, as old ones (even if very powerful) have been known to cause rendering glitches.
  • Your RAM (memory), which allows temporary storage of information. Memory is probably least important of the three when it comes to framerate; however, any less than 4 GB memory has been known to cause crashes in FlightGear.

Should I purchase a computer or build my own?

It is generally recommended that you build your own computer. Your money will get you much farther. However, it is also recommended that if you build your own computer, you know someone who knows their way around computers. Buying parts that you think may be powerful but truthfully are not, or worse case, not compatible, can lead to disappointment.

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