What kind of computer do you need for a home simulator?

Whether you fly FSX, Prepar3D, or X-Plane, you will need a computer that can handle the graphics and still give a good frame rate.

Frame-rate is the number of times the picture refreshes per second. A framerate of 20 to 30 is a good minimum to shoot for. If you can get a computer that will get up to 60 frames per second that is even better. Some people try to get higher frames up to 120 or more.

Realistically, 20-30 frames is fine and any more than that will cost too much money to be worth the tiny bit of difference to your eye.

The other side of frames is the graphical quality. This determines how realistic everything looks, and how many objects can be drawn.

Both frame rate and graphical quality are a product of two things:

  1. Your graphics settings
  2. Your graphics hardware

Another important issue with the frame rate is that it changes constantly. When you are flying in clear skies it will be higher than when you are flying near clouds. Whenever the graphics card has more work to do the frames will go down.

You can display the frame rate on screen in most simulators to get an idea of what your performance is. In X-Plane, for example, go to settings and then look for the data output tab. Find the frame rate row and check the first box. You will then see frame rate at the top of the screen.

Turning on the frame rate counter in X-Plane 11


A good starting point to determine how much computer power you need is to use an online benchmark. I will share my two setups with you and what kind of performance I get.

There are several benchmarking sites out there but the best one, in my opinion, is userbenchmark.com.

It allows you to “build” a computer and get a virtual estimate of its performance.

This is my old build that got me up to 40 frames but usually around 20. Whenever I encountered any clouds it would always bog down below 20. It is fair to say that this is the absolute minimum performance where the simulator is useable!

CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GT 740
RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR4 2400 C16 2x8GB
MBD: Asus P8Z68-V LX

Plugging these into userbenchmark.com shows a virtual gaming performance of 19% (Which is marked in red because it is BAD)

I upgraded this computer a few months ago with a new graphics card. My new build is below, with only the graphics card changed. With this one change, I am now at a 62% virtual gaming performance. This has been a huge improvement and I almost never drop below 20 frames per second. I am usually between the high 30s and low 50s. Everything runs smoothly. I would call this a reasonable minimum setup. It works fine and looks good. I want for nothing, but in a few years the demands from simulators will be greater and it will be time for me to upgrade again.

CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K
GPU: Nvidia GTX 1060-3GB
RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR4 2400 C16 2x8GB
MBD: Asus P8Z68-V LX


Getting 39 frames flying near clouds and mountains in X-Plane 11. This picture was taken with my new build, listed above.

Did you notice that the graphics card alone made a huge difference? That’s because the graphics card is the most important part of your computer’s performance with a simulator.


This doesn’t mean that you can have a terrible CPU, but it does mean that you can get an average CPU and pair it with an excellent graphics card.

If you are looking at buying a computer online, plug the specifications into userbenchmark.com and see what kind of performance it estimates for you. A desktop will usually be less expensive than a laptop with the same performance.

If you already have a working computer for the simulator, help out your fellow pilots and post your build to social media with your gaming performance, specifications, and opinion about how well it works. It would also help to post this article along with it!