UPDATE (9/20/09): If you are running FSX under Win7, read this: Running FSX under Windows 7
With the recent news that ACES studio has been closed, it is going to be a more than a couple of years until we see a new version of Flight Simulator (although people are talking about the end of the franchise, I think it is more likely that the code will be archived and resurrected by another, post-ACES team when the economy starts settling down). This means we may as well squeeze the most out of the FSX engine as it exists. Following the release of Service Pack 2 and Acceleration (plus the new Deluxe version of FSX), FSX was given a Direct X 10 rendering engine, which a lot of people have trepidations about turning on (the dreaded ‘DirectX10 preview’ mode). I recently decided to make the permanent move to DX10, so I though I would share my experiences in order to lessen the pain for others.
First off, why use the Dx10 Preview mode? Here is a list of benefits:
- If you have a DX10 (i.e. modern) graphics card, it is a waste to not use all the advanced features which the card is optimized for.
- Some graphics card companies are focusing their advanced driver features on the DX10 version of the drivers, not DX9
- Most importantly: The DX10 preview mode is significantly faster (more FPS) that the DX9 renderer with the same hardware.
Basically, when you turn on the DX10 preview mode, you can have far more fancy rendering options turned on for the same frame rate. Which means a far prettier game, and a better overall experience. This is particularly true for the bloom effect, and the fancy water reflections (on my system, 2x Medium and 2x High water effects run at the same frame rate). Truly a case of getting something for nothing (if you already have a DX10 card, that is!).
And a pretty video:
There are some problems with the DX10 preview mode though – some you can work around, and some I have not found a workaround for yet. The downsides are:
- FS9 models (and sceneries) appear white and untextured. Native FSX models/sceneries appear fine (can be fixed).
- The ‘progressive taxi’ (yellow markers indicating your route while taxing round the airport) do not appear (can be fixed).
- There is some polygon flickering where taxiways intersect with runways, and on some ground markings on some graphics cards (no fix yet).
- Some effect bitmaps (the little coronas on the lights, for example) do not show up on some graphics cards (no fix yet).
The most serious two of these four can be easily fixed – but you need to spend a little cash. The first problem can be solved with Addon Converter X, which is a very clever little app that places itself between FSX and the textures on the disk. When FSX wants to load a texture, Addon Creator X intercepts the call, examines the target bitmap, and if required, converts it so that it displays correctly in DX10. All this is transparent to you – it slows down texture loading a little at first, but it builds its own cache on disk, so that once a texture is converted, it no longer needs to convert it again. You also have control over which sceneries/objects to convert, and you can also pre-process all the bitmaps so that you don’t have stutters while you are flying. Addon Converter X works very well (now that they have fixed a bug with quad-core machines), and you can download a free demo to see for yourself. It sells for US$20.
The second problem can be worked around fairly nicely. Daniel van Os long ago released his Follow Me utility, which places an animated ‘Follow Me’ truck into any airport in the FSX world. Some people prefer this to the progressive taxi option, because it is more realistic (I can’t recall the last time giant neon yellow arrows appeared at an airport I was at). Follow Me sits in your systray as a SimConnect application, and begins automatically when you start FSX. When you need a truck, simply get your taxi instructions form the tower, then hit the hotkey (default is 0, but you can set that), and the truck appears. The truck drives at a set distance ahead of you (also settable), and waits for you if you stop. If you lose the truck somehow, you can re-call it to yourself. This handy addon goes for about US$15 (actually 10 Euros). Very important: To run Follow Me under SP2 or Acceleration, you need the latest patch for the addon.
For the final two problems, we need to wait for the graphics card companies to update their drivers (a settable value for Z ordering resolution to solve that flickering would be nice, all you UCT guys at Nvidia..).
If you have a fairly beefy machine with a good DX10 card, I would recommend that you give the DX10 preview mode another try. Start cranking up the graphical detail settings, and notice that your frame rate does not drop…