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.
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.
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.
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.
- Windows 10, version 1903
- 8GB RAM and 2GB of VRAM
- Intel Core i5-4460 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200
- NVIDIA GTX 770 or AMD Radeon RX 570
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.
- Windows 10, version 1903
- 16GB RAM and 4GB of VRAM
- Intel Core i5-8400 or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
- NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD Radeon RX 590
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.
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X on Amazon
- Alternate CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X on Amazon
- Alternate CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT on Amazon
- Alternate CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 on Amazon
- CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D15 chromax.Black on Amazon
- Motherboard: Gigabyte B550 AORUS Master on Amazon
- GPU: MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 Super Gaming X on Amazon
- Alternate GPU: MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Gaming X on Amazon
- Note: These are just a placeholder or temporary GPUs
- Memory: G.SKILL Trident Z Neo (for AMD Ryzen) Series 32GB on Amazon
- Storage: 1TB Samsung 980 PRO M.2 NVMe storage card on Amazon
- Alternate Storage: 2TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus M.2 NVMe storage card on Amazon
- Case: Lian Li LANCOOL II MESH RGB on Amazon
- Power supply: ASUS ROG Thor 1200 on Amazon
- Alternate Power supply: ASUS ROG Thor 850 on Amazon
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.
I have written a number of other posts related to this subject that you might find interesting:
- Flashing Your BIOS with No CPU Installed
- Essential AMD Desktop PC Configuration Checklist
- What Speed RAM Do You Need For a Zen 2 CPU?
- Preparing Your System for Zen 3 Processors
- $900 AMD Gaming PC Build Guide
- Building an AMD Threadripper Workstation
- Building an MSI B450 Tomahawk System
- $1500 AMD Gaming PC Build Guide
- T-SQL Tuesday #128 – Learning From Mistakes
- Building a B550 Aorus Master System
- Should You Buy an AMD Ryzen 3000XT?
- Avoiding Common DIY PC Building Mistakes
- Replacing My Wife’s Computer
- Checking Your Memory Speed
- How Do You Orient Case Fans?
- Building an AMD Ryzen 9 3950X System
- Gaming PC Component Choices
- How to Tell if You Have XMP Enabled
- Seven Setup Tips for a New AMD Ryzen 3000 System
- Ways to Save Money on a New Desktop System
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!