Building a PC for Flight Simulator 2020

Introduction

On August 18, 2020, Microsoft finally released Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. This new version of Flight Simulator is getting very good reviews from both actual pilots and flight simulator aficionados. Be warned though, FS2020 requires a very powerful gaming PC if you want to see it in all of its glory. This post will talk about some key considerations for building a fast PC for Flight Simulator 2020.

Jon Peddie Research made some headlines with their prediction that Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will stimulate billions in PC hardware sales. They estimate that FS2020 will generate 2.6 billion dollars in PC hardware sales over the next three years. Personally, I think that might be a conservative estimate…

Flight Simulator fans are easily prone to spend quite a bit of money on their hardware and dedicated control peripherals in order to get the best performance and experience possible.

Building a PC for Flight Simulator 2020
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

I would stop and do some research before you rush out and buy a new machine (or upgrade an existing machine). Otherwise, you could easily make some expensive mistakes.

Build Timing

Update October 12, 2020: NVIDIA has released their RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 video cards, and both have been extremely hard to get so far. Supplies of RTX 2000 series cards have also been low. I do see a decent supply of GTX 1660 Super and GTX 1660 Ti cards, both of which are decent mid-range cards.

There are a couple of interesting factors that I think you should consider before you start buying parts for a new machine. First, NVIDIA is on the verge (September 1) of officially announcing (and hopefully releasing) their next generation AMPERE video cards. This means that it is a very bad idea to buy an existing high-end NVIDIA video card right now.

Just wait a few weeks to see how things shake out. If you simply must play FS2020 “right now”, I would use whatever GPU you already have available. If you don’t have any GPU available (or what you have is extremely old and slow), then consider buying a mid-range GPU (like a GTX 1660 Super) to use as a stopgap.

The second factor is the recent release (on November 5) of the AMD Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 series desktop processors. If you decide to build a new system right now, I would take extra care to make sure it can easily handle upgrading to a Zen 3 processor in the future. This means choosing a good quality B550 or X570 motherboard rather than a B450 or X470 motherboard.

Existing B550 and X570 motherboards will need a BIOS update to use a Zen 3 processor. Even if you buy a brand new B550 or X570 motherboard, it may have an old BIOS version that does not work with a Zen 3 processor. I have a blog post that discusses this issue in more detail.

My YouTube video below shows how to overcome this (if the motherboard has a BIOS flashback feature).

You would also want to get good quality DDR4-3600 RAM with tight timings, picking at least 8GB sticks. This is so you can easily go to 32GB without having to replace any existing DIMMs. I think you can save yourself a significant amount of money in the future by being strategic about what you buy now.

What Do You Need to Run Flight Simulator 2020?

Microsoft’s minimum and recommended hardware requirements for FS2020 are unrealistically low in my opinion. If you have an older, relatively modest system that meets or exceeds these requirements, FS2020 will run, but you are not going to be very happy.

This is similar to how Microsoft says that the minimum hardware requirements for SQL Server 2019 is 1GB of RAM and a 1.4GHz processor.

Minimum Requirements

Here are Microsoft’s minimum requirements for FS2020. FS2020 will work with this level of hardware, but you are going to have to use lower quality graphics settings and resolution to make it an acceptable experience.

Recommended Requirements

Here are Microsoft’s recommended requirements for FS2020. FS2020 will work better with this level of hardware, but you still will have to be careful about what quality settings and resolution you choose.

Building a PC for Flight Simulator 2020

The nice thing about building a powerful PC for Flight Simulator 2020 is that it will easily handle pretty much any other existing game(s) that you might also want to play. FS2020 is a very demanding title at its higher settings and resolutions!

FS2020 only appears to use four CPU cores heavily while it is running, but it will push your GPU to 100%. Personally, I don’t think you really need a 12C/24T or 16C/32T AMD CPU just to run FS2020. You may want one for other use cases, but having that many cores doesn’t help FS2020.

The download for the premium Deluxe Edition of FS2020 is 127GB. Having that much content is a good reason to have a PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD. Unfortunately, I don’t really like the existing, 1st Gen PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD models. I would get a Samsung 970 EVO Plus for now, and then upgrade to a Samsung 980 PRO later, as they become more readily available.

Here is what I recommend for a system that you can build today.

Note: Links to Amazon are typically monetized on my blog (affiliate links) and may return a commission of sales to me from the retailer. This is unrelated to the product manufacturer and does not increase the price you pay.

Related Posts

I have written a number of other posts related to this subject that you might find interesting:

Final Words

I purposely chose a very high quality (and expensive) B550 motherboard to avoid having a chipset fan like most X570 boards have. The GIGABYTE B550 AORUS Master absolutely dominated the B550 VRM thermal testing that Hardware Unboxed recently did.

I have this motherboard, and I did a YouTube video about it.

The Zen 2, Ryzen 5 3600 CPU is a good budget choice that you could replace with a Zen 3 CPU in the future. I also picked a very good “budget” GPU that you could swap out for something better in the near future. All of the other component choices are high quality parts that that would give you a lot of flexibility for future upgrades. For example, the 1200 watt power supply should let you run even an NVIDIA RTX 3090 with quite a bit of capacity to spare.

If you have any questions about this post, please ask me here in the comments or on Twitter. I am pretty active on Twitter as GlennAlanBerry. Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “Building a PC for Flight Simulator 2020

  1. Thanks for such a great article. For the recommended system, is there a monitor your would recommend that would both work with the budget cpu/gpu as well as the new generation ones that would eventually replace them?

    I guess the real question is, since the 1660 will run best at 1080p in FS2020, is it possible to use a 1440p monitor with the 1660 for the time being? I’m likely looking at the 3070 a bit later on a 1440p monitor, and was hoping to just make one monitor purchase.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Thanks for the kind words! This LG 27GL83A-B 27 Inch Ultragear monitor has pretty good specifications, and doesn’t seem crazy expensive. It will work with any half-way decent, modern GPU.
      https://amzn.to/3ljThPD

      There is no reason to get a second monitor as a replacement. You should get what you want (and are willing to spend the money on) right up front.

      A GTX 1660 Super is a decent mid-range GPU that can run many (but not all) games at 1440p. You can also run FS2020 with this GPU at 1440p, although you will probably have to turn the quality settings down a little bit. I think a GTX 1660 Super is a good placeholder card that you can use until the RTX 3000 series is fully available.

      BTW, make sure to use a DisplayPort cable instead of an HDMI cable, since DP can go higher resolutions with a higher refresh rate.

      1. I really appreciate the prompt and detailed reply. Like many right now, I seem to find myself in a bit of a pickle wanting to run FS2020 NOW – and on a tight budget – but also knowing what all is coming down the pike. Couple this with really wanting to run this on a wide 1440p monitor. I feel like for a flight sim, this is leaps and bounds more immersive than a standard 1080p display.

        And that’s really my end goal – I don’t have the desire to move up to 4k for quite some time. And, I mostly ONLY play flight sim as far as gaming goes.

        So I’m currently building from scratch and have the 1660 super And the Ryzen 5 3600. The rest of the specs are per your recommendations. Both the cpu/gpu are within a return window, and I’m still going back and forth about returning the gpu or both. For another $100 the 2060 could be had which I think will run this at 1440p quite well, which is my main goal. Any thoughts there?

        BTW, I’m also a SQL Server DBA!

        Thanks again, Glenn!

      2. Depending on where you bought the CPU, and on the constantly changing relative prices, a Ryzen 5 3600X might be a worthwhile upgrade from the 3600. Lately, Micro Center has had it at either $10 to $20 higher than the 3600.

        If you are ultimately planning on getting a 3070, I would stick with a 1660 Super for now. But there may be shortages of the 3070 for a while after it is released, so moving up to a 2060 could make you happier in the meantime. I would try to get a 2060 Super if you can find one. It is a nice jump from a regular 2060 for not much more money. The problem is that 2060 and 2060 Super cards are a little hard to find now.

        TechPowerUp does good GPU reviews, that show the relative performance of different GPUs that make it easier to compare different ones.

        https://www.techpowerup.com/review/msi-geforce-rtx-3080-gaming-x-trio/32.html

  2. Thanks again, Glenn! Think I’ll just stick with what I have for the time being. And thank you again for the monitor recommendation – exactly what I was looking for.

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