DCS-GPU

Best PC Build & Setup (2023) for Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the most demanding PC games ever made. The sim seems to get a lot of hate for it but personally, I think its justified. You see flight sims are not really like other games. Other games only have to show you a small space while flight sims have to show you hundreds of kilometres worth of terrain in appreciable detail. And Microsoft Flight Simulator does a wonderful job of showing you this scenery and terrain in glorious detail.

Before we get to brass-tacks though, there are certain general observations about PC performance and Microsoft Simulator that you need to be aware of:

  1. Despite is visual fidelity, MSFS is still a very CPU intensive game because the CPU has to perform a lot of calculations before passing on that data to the GPU for processing . Most of the CPU load is on a single core so single core performance is paramount. Cache memory is also important for average FPS and we’ll get to it in the CPU section.
  2. GPU is next in importance but its far easier to balance than the CPU. Why? Because you can simply reduce settings and lower the load on your GPU. This can’t be done with the CPU.
  3. An SSD is almost mandatory for gaming today.
  4. A flight stick or yoke is highly recommended for MSFS.  In fact, this is one area you can splurge on because the stick will last you far longer than a graphics card or a CPU. They dont become obsolete.
  5. VR is highly recommended. I personally haven’t played any flight sim without VR since 2016. That being said, you can totally play with a monitor too and I have some very good recommendations for both.

With that out of the way, its time to dive deep into each component. Note that you don’t necessarily have to buy the exact model as these are general guidelines. Also, please make sure to check for compatibility between different components as it can be quite confusing for new builders.

 

1. CPU

Sale
Intel Core i9-13900K Desktop Processor 24 cores (8 P-cores + 16...
  • 24 cores (8 P-cores + 16 E-cores) and 32 threads. Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 770 included
  • Performance hybrid architecture integrates two core microarchitectures, prioritizing and...

The 13900K   is the absolute top end choice for MSFS right now. It has best single core performance and that is what matters right now. If you want the absolute best, this is it. To be fair there are other chips that come close to it like the AMD 7000 series but the Intel still has a slight edge in MSFS in my testing.

There are several factors to consider here. While chips like the 5800X3D  have superior cache which makes the average FPS pretty good, the 13900K has better 1% and 0.1% lows due to better raw performance. When there is a cache miss, the absolute speed is what matters and that is why the 13900K wins. That being said, you will still be fine with any of these chips and you won’t notice a difference 95% of the time.

Sale
AMD Ryzen™ 7 7700X 8-Core, 16-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor
  • This dominant gaming processor can deliver fast 100+ FPS performance in the world's most popular...
  • 8 Cores and 16 processing threads, based on AMD "Zen 4" architecture

The AMD 7700X  is my top mid-range option. It will give you almost 90% of the performance of the top end AMD and intel chips for a much lower price point. Sure the 7950X has more cores but you don’t need them for most games. They are not utilized. So if you are on a budget, then this is a great option that will pretty much give you top tier performance for a mid-tier price point. I have tested it extensively and its definitely one of my favourite chips of this generation.

2. Graphics Card

Sale
ASUS TUF GeForce RTX® 4090 OC Edition Gaming Graphics Card (PCIe 4.0,...
  • NVIDIA Ada Lovelace Streaming Multiprocessors: Up to 2x performance and power efficiency
  • 4th Generation Tensor Cores: Up to 2X AI performance
Sale
ZOTAC Gaming GeForce RTX 4090 Trinity OC 24GB GDDR6X 384-bit 21 Gbps...
  • NVIDIA Ada Lovelace Streaming Multiprocessors: Up to 2x performance and power efficiency, 4th...
  • Boost Clock 2535 MHz, 24GB GDDR6X, 384-bit, 21 Gbps, PCIE 4.0

The 4090 blows everything out of the water for Microsoft Flight Simulator and literally any other game for that matter. I managed to snag a Founder’s Edition and its one of the best cards that Nvidia has ever made. Period. Sure, it costs a lot but so did previous gen cards like the ridiculously overpriced 3090Ti or the Titan class cards. The difference is that those cards were never worth it. They barely had a 10% improvement over the next cheaper model while costing far more. The 4090 is one of the first top-tier cards to break this trend. It actually performs significantly better than anything else on the market.

The architecture changes on the 4000 series cards are truly impressive. I have been testing my 4090 against my 3090 and 3080 and it even consumes less power while giving as much as 50% more performance in some cases! Although I should mention that you still get CPU bottlenecks in some cases so make sure your CPU is your first priority, especially for VR.

If you want something slightly lower prices than the AMD 7900XT   is a great option. The real problem with this one is the availability at MSRP. But that should ease up in a few months and you can get it for significantly cheaper than a 4090 and get about 75% of the performance. Thats perfectly fine as long as you are not playing in 4K or in VR.

3. RAM

Sale
Kingston Fury Beast 32GB (2x16GB) 6000MHz DDR5 CL40 DIMM (Kit of 2)...
  • Improved stablility for overclocking
  • Increased efficiency

MSFS needs at least 32 GB of RAM. 64 GB is recommended. Gamers tend to meme that 64 GB of RAM is overkill, but we are not really gamers. We are simmers. And flight sims most certainly benefit from that extra RAM because of the ridiculous amount of textures that are loaded in and out constantly.

RAM speed and latency is also very important. With a 13th gen Intel chip that supports DDR5, you can go as high as 7400 MHz but it will cost you. Personally, I think 6000 MHz is the minimum you should go for but its simply a measure of your price sensitivity. With AMD 6000 MHz is the most you can go without stability issues. The brand doesnt matter – G.Skill is usually considered the best, Corsair is the most common and Kingston is also good. The actual RAM modules are made by SK Hynix and Samsung anyway.

4. SSD

Sale
WD_BLACK 1TB SN850X NVMe Internal Gaming SSD Solid State Drive - Gen4...
  • Get the ultimate gaming edge over your competition with insane speeds up to 7,300 MB/s(1) for...
  • A range of capacities from 1TB to 4TB(2) means you get to keep more of today’s games that can...
Sale
Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB NVMe M.2 Internal Solid State Hard Drive,...
  • ALWAYS EVOLVING SSD: Faster than the 970 EVO, the 970 EVO Plus is powered by the latest V-NAND...
  • LEVEL UP PERFORMANCE: The 970 EVO Plus reaches sequential read/write speeds up to 3,500/3,300 MB/s,*...

An SSD is mandatory for gaming these days. With the prices coming down so much, there is no reason not to get one. As to which SSD you actually get – it doesn’t matter much as the speeds are so similar you won’t really notice. I prefer NVMe over SATA simply because they look cleaner, although they tend to get a lot hotter due to their location right on the motherboard. There is a lot of things you can research about SSDs like Single-Layer Cell, Multi-Layer Cell, VNAND and an endless list of such jargon. I’ll probably create another article about all of that but the TL;DR is for a normal user, it doesn’t matter. These things matter for data centres and such which have to use them constantly 24/7.

I personally use two brands of SSDs and now NVMe. The Samsung Pro series and the Western Digital 850X. I think the Pro is totally overkill and even the Evo or Evo Plus series is totally fine.

5. Joysticks/ HOTAS/ Controllers

Thrustmaster TCA Officer Pack Airbus Edition (PC)
  • Ergonomic 1:1 scale replicas: sidestick and throttle quadrant inspired by the flight controls found...
  • Joystick featuring 4 swappable head button modules, 12 Remappable buttons, built-in throttle, plus...
Sale
Logitech G PRO Flight Yoke System, Professional Simulation Yoke and...
  • POV Hat, 14 button controls, and 3-position mode switch
  • Stainless steel yoke shaft and 2-position clamp

When it comes to controllers, you have two main options. A yoke set or a HOTAS (joystick + throttle). I personally prefer a HOTAS because I fly a lot of combat sims like DCS, IL2 and even space sims all of which use HOTAS or even dual joysticks. When it comes to civilian jets, some of them like Airbus use a stick while Boeing still uses a yoke. So it really becomes a matter of personal preference.

If you really want to dive deep into the yoke vs stick debate and picking the best one, click on that link for a detailed article to help you decide. But if you are new and arn’t sure, then a stick is usually the safer and more versatile option.

6. Monitor

Alienware 34 Inch Curved PC Gaming Monitor, 3440 x 1440p Resolution,...
  • IMPECCABLE DESIGN: Featuring a sleek QD-OLED curved 1800R panel with the new Legend 2.0 ID,...
  • INFINITELY IMMERSIVE: Quantum Dot Display Technology enables a slim panel design and delivers a...

This 34″ Alienware is one the best gaming monitors out there currently. I prefer the ultra-wide resolution and this OLED 3440×1440 hits the sweet spot between resolution and performance. If you go higher towards 4K, you will start to lose performance. But if you are rocking a top tier graphics card anyway, that shouldn’t be a problem.

I personally use the 38″ Alienware ultrawide but its more for work and less for gaming as I play flight sims in VR exclusively. But if you want to play on a monitor, get an OLED for the best colours and an ultrawide or 4K format based on personal preference. This detailed guide on the best monitors should help you if you need to dive deeper.

7. VR Headsets


HP Reverb G2


  • High resolution of 2160x2160 per eye
  • Unmatched clarity to read all the dials, gauges and radar on your aircraft
  • 90Hz display, decent vertical and horizontal FoV
  • Comfortable for long flights, moving your head around

Buy from HP Store

Reverb-G2

If you have decided to go with VR (as you should), then the HP Reverb G2 is simply the best option out there. There are better headsets out there but they cost 4x more for only slightly more clarity. While the cheaper headsets you can buy are simply not good enough for flight simming. None of them come even close to what the Reverb offers at its highly reasonable price point. I have been using the Reverb since 2019 when the first model came out and then I got the Reverb G2 version 2 in 2022. While its not perfect, its clarity wins over every time I try out any other mainstream consumer headsets. Check out this article if you need more details on the best VR headset for MSFS.

8. Rudder Pedals

logitech PRO Flight Rudder Pedals
  • Self-centering pedals with adjustable damping / Foot rests adjust to fit all sizes and include...
  • Precise rudder and braking control / Tension adjustment - choose resistance to suit the way you fly

Pedals are not really mandatory for MSFS if your stick has a twist axis or if you can bind it to something else. Its not just that often except for a bit of taxiing on the tarmac. Pedals are mostly useful for WW2 sims and helicopters. But since helicopters are a thing in MSFS now, you can consider getting yourself some pedals. The Logitech G PRO Flight Rudder Pedals are a mid-range option that should suffice most use cases. They are not so cheap that they will break, nor are they overly expensive. Here is a more detailed guide on rudder pedals.

About the Author

Gary (Flanker)

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Gary has been "hard landing" into runways and driving his Mitsubishi Evo off of cliffs since the early 2000s. These days, he spends most of his precious hobby time with his favorite flight, racing and space simulations in VR.He also has an Engineering Degree in Computer Science which helps a lot with his obsession with optimizing PC hardware like CPUs, Graphics Cards, VR Headsets, HOTAS, Racing Wheels etc. for high end sims.