X-Plane 11.5b6 Vulkan Testing Results

Yesterday I committed the morning to testing graphics settings in X-Plane 11.5beta6 with three objectives: (1) understanding the performance difference Vulkan gives me over OpenGL, (2) understanding the performance implications of the various graphics settings under Vulkan on my setup, and (3) finding my optimal Vulkan graphics settings under the current beta.

As a reminder, my setup is an Intel i7-6700K 4.0 overclocked to about 4.6, liquid cooled, with 64G RAM and an EVGA GTX 1080ti Black Edition GPU with 11G VRAM. The GPU is running three screens in X-Plane, and four overall, with the motherboard GPU running a fifth screen. Full details are here. All testing was done sitting on the ramp at KVNY in the Jason Chandler SR20 I use in the sim, with Ortho scenery and no plugins. My testing setup was to compare settings in clear skies and in scattered clouds so I could understand their impact. I had a number of crashes along the way — it’s a beta, so this isn’t unexpected.

Overall it was a very interesting morning. Here’s what I learned.

First, regarding OpenGL vs Vulkan, my prior Vulkan settings (HDR, 4xSSAA+FXAA, shadows on, high objects, reflections on first notch, draw aircraft) were producing about 25 FPS on the ramp at KVNY. These same settings in OpenGL produced 13 FPS, and then quickly crashed the sim. So call it a nearly 100% increase in performance, and a big increase in stability. That’s all the OpenGL testing I wanted or needed to do.

Moving on to the testing of Vulkan settings, I reloaded the sim with all graphics settings full-left to establish a baseline performance level. Full-left settings gave me 89 FPS clear skies, 70 FPS scattered clouds. This 20-frame hit from clouds under full-left settings was the largest cloud hit I had in testing, interestingly. With the baseline established, I began adjusting one setting at a time to see its impact on frames. Here’s what I found:

  • Visual Effects: Full left 89 FPS, Med 88 FPS, HDR 80 FPS, Max 80 FPS. (I forgot to test clouds here, but more on that later). Conclusion here is that medium is as good as full-left, and moving to HDR costs about 10 FPS. One would think that max right has no impact from this, but with clouds and objects in a later test we will see this isn’t the case.
  • Texture Quality: Full left 88 FPS, Max 87 FPS. At max it loaded about 4,100 MB of data, and with my GPU it had no real effect on performance. Others with less VRAM will have other results. Interestingly, when switching other settings (like anti-aliasing or visual effects) the sim would reload textures. There would be a brief frame hit while it did so, but once they were loaded frames would return to prior levels. Conclusion (for my card): Max out the texture quality.
  • Antialiasing w/o HDR: Full left 88 FPS clear, 60 FPS scattered. 4x 88 FPS clear, 60 scattered, 8x 80 FPS clear, 55 scattered. Conclusion: 8x costs about 10 frames, and while one would expect a 20-30 FPS hit for clouds on 4x or 8x, later with objects loaded we find this is not the case.
  • Antialiasing w/HDR: I only tested 4xAA and up here, as I really don’t like the visuals without it. 4xSSAA 78 clear, 55 scattered. 4xSSAA+FXAA 75 clear, 55 scattered. 8xSSAA+FXAA 53 clear, 50 scattered. Conclusion: with HDR 8x costs about 20 frames, but does not hurt cloud performance.
  • Antialiasing w/Max Visual Effects: 1xAA 80 clear, 65 scattered. FXAA 80 clear, 65 scattered. 2xSSAA+FXAA 73 clear, 65 scattered. 4xSSAA 42 clear, 34 scattered. Given that large drop, skipped 4xSSAA+FXAA and went to 8xSSAA+FXAA 16 clear, 14 scattered. Conclusion: Max visual effects has a huge hit at 4x AA and up. Avoid as I can’t run 4x AA at reasonable frames (remember I have no objects loaded or shadows in these tests).

Those are the settings that are GPU-limited. I then turned to the CPU-limited settings (and my system is definitely CPU-limited, given the age of the i7-6700K):

  • Shadows: Visual effects and AA full left, no objects, 80 FPS shadows off, 70 FPS shadows on. Max objects: 30 FPS shadows off, 15 FPS shadows on. Conclusion: Shadows have a minimum 10 FPS hit in Vulkan, at least for me.
  • Objects: Full left 80 FPS. Low, 60 FPS. Med 45 FPS. High 35 FPS. Max 30 FPS. Conclusion: Deciding to have any objects at all gives the biggest frame hit for me, at 20-25 FPS. After that each increase in objects appears to hit my CPU for a lower number of FPS (15, then 10, then only five from High to Max).
  • Reflections: On my rig I only get an FPS hit when reflections are set to the third setting or higher, and that hit is significant (10 or more frames). Conclusion: Might as well use them on the second notch, but never more.
  • Parked Aircraft: Did not test as I know they have a negligible effect on my system.

With this testing done I went into final trials of what could be optimized settings for my rig, at least in this Vulkan beta.

  • Option 1 high objects no shadows: Visual effects medium, textures max, AA 8x, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft: 47 FPS clear, 44 FPS scattered. (Note that with these settings clouds have a minimal hit on frames.)
  • Option 2 high objects with shadows: Visual effects medium, textures max, AA 8x, shadows on, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft: 39 FPS clear, 27 FPS scattered. Note the big FPS hit from shadows, and that they made the clouds impact higher as well.
  • Option 3 max objects no shadows: Visual effects medium, textures max, AA8x, shadows off, objects max, reflections low, parked aircraft: 30 FPS clear, 27 FPS scattered.
  • Option 4 HDR high objects no shadows: Visual effects HDR, textures max, AA2x, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft: ~40 FPS clear, ~30 FPS scattered.

My primary conclusions from all this testing are that:

  • For me, shadows are not worth the performance hit, even with Vulkan.
  • I can run at 8xAA if in medium visual effects.
  • HDR is not worth the price of performance it has at higher AA settings, and I will use it only at night when I can turn down the AA and not see the jagged effects.
  • I can run at high to max objects if the above are true, and depending on the density of the objects.

Based on these tests I’ve settled on two visual setups, primarily because I find HDR necessary if I’m to enjoy X-Plane lighting at night:

  • Daytime: Medium visual effects, 8xAA, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft
  • Nighttime: HDR visual effects, 2xAA, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft

Given that going from high to max objects only costs me about five to 10 frames with these settings, if I’m not in a highly-populated area I may load with max objects, but these will be the defaults. From a plug-in standpoint, the only graphic plugin I will run on top of these is the FlyAgi Tweak Utility, which is my preferred visual-modification and frame-limiting plugin. I use it with the level of detail knocked down three clicks, which sets the LOD to about 82% (and which is where I like it).

So how do these settings work? To test them yesterday afternoon I did a PilotEdge flight from Palm Springs to San Diego using ortho scenery and the “Daytime” settings above. Visually it was the best flight I have had in four years with the home cockpit. I have a video of the flight below, and I also believe that visually it is the best video I’ve streamed to date (the 1080p60fps stream works very well, and the Vulkan performance is nearly devoid of stutters). Beginning on the ramp at Palm Springs I had 50 FPS. They dropped to about 35-40 during takeoff, climbed back up to 50 en-route, and were at 30 coming over San Diego and at landing. Weather was clear but I know from the testing that clouds would have cost me only about five frames. (Finally, if you watch the video, note that the audio was off for the first 4:20.)

Visual performance in flight simulators is very rig-specific. Your testing may vary widely from what I learned and have posted above. But it also might be helpful to you, even if it you simply follow a similar process. Regardless, it’s clear that Vulkan is going to be a game-changer for X-Plane.

Center Pedestal Console Plans (An Early Holiday Gift For You)

Yesterday I was able to build the center pedestal console I’ve been wanting to build for some time, and I thought that today it would be nice to share my plans here as a holiday gift to the cockpit builders who frequent the site, and as a thank you for their readership. So here they are (and this is a preview of what will be in the guide I’m writing). Happy holidays!

Basement_Sim_Schematics_-_SketchUp_Make_2016

Basement_Sim_Schematics_-_SketchUp_Make_2016 4

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Photo Dec 22, 5 23 32 PM

Photo Dec 22, 5 50 48 PM

A2A PA28 Cherokee FIP Gauges

Topa28_s-tec_30_resizem Tsui’s excellent set of Saitek FIP gauges continues to grow, now with a set for the A2A PA28-180 Cherokee. This is the sim aircraft I use when I’m practicing for my real-world flight training, which I do in a PA 28-161 (and the 180 is plenty close for me). While I most of Tom’s new gauges are for the six pack (for which I use generic general aviation gauges in RemoteFlight on the iPad) it’s great to have an accurate RPM gauge, and I know the engine gauges are soon to follow, as is the turn coordinator with autopilot. Thanks again, Tom!

a2a_pa28_gaugess

Tom Tsui Does It Again

intfg

As I noted in this post, Tom Tsui has been working on FIP engine gauges for the A2A 172 and 182. They are now done, and this mean Tom now sells a full set of gauges programmed to work specifically with these A2A aircraft. The noise you hear is the sound of many A2A / Saitek simmers simultaneously praising Tom, the Lord, The Universe, or whatever deity they favor, for the existence of FIP gauges that correctly read the data of these highly accurate yet custom-programmed aircraft. Thanks, Tom. You do really great work for our community.

As for me, I’ll be grabbing them ASAP. I’ve eagerly awaited a manifold pressure gauge for the A2A 182, and now thanks to Tom, I will have one (and can now properly fly this airplane simulating appropriate throttle / prop settings).

You may get them here.

AVSIM Prepar3d Guide Now Online

Rob Ainscough, P3D beta tester and AVSIM moderator, has put online at AVSIM a user guide for Prepar3d. It’s already getting great reviews, and it’s free. Get it here, and here’s the description.


 

thumb-82fdc290dcfb168b64c903c90aeb34e3-avsim-logo1This AVSIM Prepar3D Guide will cover the following topics to help users get the most of Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D platform.  Some of the information in this guide is applicable to prior versions of Prepar3D (V2.x and V1.x), however the primary focus of this guide will be for Prepar3D V3.x onwards:

  •           Installation and purchase
  •           Updating to a more recent Version 
  •           Configuring Graphics Settings
  •           Working with Configuration Files
  •           Configuring 3rd Party Add-Ons
  •           SimConnect
  •           Troubleshooting
  •           Hardware, Overclocking, Performance
  •           Input Control Devices (TrackIR, Yokes, Throttles)

The basic flow of this guide will take you thru; basic purchase and installation process, how to update your Prepar3D installation when new versions are released, configuring your graphics settings, exposing what settings increase process loads, adjusting you 3rd party products configuration settings to improve performance, some Prepar3D configuration settings (often called “tweaks”), setup of SimConnect (used by many 3rd party products), working thru compatibility with older FSX products, a quick guide to basic overclocking, and finally setting up input control devices (controllers).

This document will assume limited computer experience, but it will cover both easy and advanced topics.  Parts of this document will expect users to understand how to use a text editor (like Notepad) to edit/modify content in text files.

Hopefully there is some information to be gain in this document for the new user and the experienced user.

PilotWorkshops.com

PilotWorkshops.com

Here’s a link worth following: www.pilotworkshops.com. PilotWorkshops runs an online proficiency center to provide professional training to general aviation pilots. With my membership to AOPA I get free access to their Pilot Proficiency Portal, but there are a number of free resources on the site as well, and many more for those who register. I look forward to using the site as I continue my real-world training, and many of the resources there would be a real value to any simmer interesting in making it “as real as it gets” with their own simulated pilotage.

A2A 172/182 FIP Nav Gauges

a2a_cessna_nav

A follow-up to this post: Tom Tsui has now released the Saitek FIP nav gauges for the A2A 172 and 182. Get them here. The engine gauges are next, although Tom says it may be a month or so before they’re available. If you’ve not used his FIP gauges, I highly recommend them. They look great, work perfectly, and his support is top notch. Getting FIP instruments that work correctly with the A2A LNAV set has been a problem for some time, and Tom has fixed it. Great job, Tom.

ForeFlight 8

ForeFlight 8

While I was away ForeFlight released version 8 of its great iPad and web-based electronic flight bag. I had a chance to play with it some over the past few days, and it’s a real upgrade of an already great product. I won’t go into the details here, as Sporty’s iPad Pilot News has an extensive summary online that’s well worth reading, but it’s worth the look for both your real-world and simulated flying. This is even more true with the recent updates to ForeFlight 8 on the web, which make it an online flight planning tool at least equal to SkyVector, especially now that the route you plan online immediately syncs to your iPad.

Oh, and how does one connect ForeFlight with Prepar3d or FSX? Via the FSXFlight plugin. It costs a few bucks, but it works seamlessly.