The highly anticipated Microsoft Flight Simulator has released and its a good looking experience. Perhaps a little too good looking. Because, as we have come to expect in the years gone by, when MS Flight Sim turns up, it doesnt pull any punches when it comes to stressing your PC hardware. We are seeing this game pull even the biggest graphics cards and processors to their knees, if you can even run it, that is.

Through our own Microsoft Flight Simulator PC Performance Benchmarks we found that the game was really demanding on our hardware, so we have benchmarked every single Flight Simulator graphics option available to try and make sense of what options are costing the performance, which ones are the most demanding and if there are any options that are good to turn up to max settings without too much frame rate hit to your hardware.

In this article we will take a look at which Microsoft Flight Simulator graphics settings are the best to turn all the way up to Ultra and which ones can get us a little FPS boost for no real visual loss when we turn them off or down. We've compiled a list below of the most demanding graphics options in the game, so you can get a handle on what to expect when you adjust different graphics settings in MS Flight Sim to get the perfect balance of visual fidelity and FPS performance in-game.

Below you will see every graphics option listed and benchmarked against a minimum graphics setting, used as our baseline benchmark for Microsoft Flight Sim. From there we can see which graphics options have the highest performance impact on our hardware for the least visual improvement, and then we will see which options can be turned up to max and deliver the best visual improvement in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

If you want to look at some more graphics benchmarks with various gaming graphics cards running MS Flight Simulator then you can check out our Microsoft Flight Simulator PC Performance Benchmarks article instead, or you can have a look at the various Microsoft Flight Simulator PC Graphics Settings that we'll be discussing here in this article.

Microsoft Flight Simulator PC system requirements

Microsoft Flight Simulator PC performance report and graphics card benchmarks

For the performance cost result baseline we used the  graphics card which is close in performance capability to the game's recommended GPU (the GTX 970), an  processor, and 16GB of DDR4 memory.

To standardise the benchmark tests they were all carried out on a predetermined flight path over New York City with co-pilot turned on to allow for the least amount of deviations in the run. We found this run to be pretty representative of the most demanding moments in-game, when considering graphics options compared to other graphics options and their relative performance impact.

There's a lot of graphics settings available in MS Flight Sim, so we went through the 26 graphics options that Microsoft Flight Simulator has in its settings page and tested each one in turn. We recorded the average frame rates for each and then compared them to a baseline FPS that was recorded with all the graphics options either turned off or to their lowest settings.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Graphics Options Performance Breakdown

The further to the right the bar goes, the more demanding the graphics option is. You can click on this graph to enlarge it.

What are the most demanding graphics options in Microsoft Flight Simulator?

As you can see in the graphics options performance breakdown graph above, there are a lot of graphics settings available in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and each has some sort of drawback on FPS performance. But the most obvious setting that is the most demanding is the Terrain Level of Detail, with a whopping 54.78% FPS performance cost.

This is understandable when considering the 1:1 scale of the Earth's surface, and the use of satellite imagery to represent accurate 3D terrain detail. If you're experiencing a lot of frame rate issues in MS Flight Sim 2020, consider lowering this setting first as your highest priority to turn down.

On the opposite side, we have settings like Anti-Aliasing, Windshield Effects, Reflections, Light Shafts, Bloom and Lens Flare all having low impacts on your FPS. These settings can confidently be turned up to the Max graphics settings without much impact on your overall FPS.

Going from Low to Ultra in MS Flight Sim is quite a hefty leap, so some of these settings have a pretty significant impact on the frame rate in-game. Unfortunately, due to the online and simulation nature of the game, some discrepancies in the data are expected, but shouldn't affect the overall scores by a huge amount. As always, this is a guide and if your experiences differ then please share them in the comments below, so we can all benefit from these.

Microsoft Flight Simulator All Graphics Settings Benchmark Guide

Best Video Settings in Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator comes with a lot of graphics settings to tweak in order to optimize your performance. There's some options to mess around with if you're trying to squeeze out a few extra frames and fine-tune MS Flight Sim's PC performance.

Below we've provided both a score for the performance impact as well as a priority score designed to recommend which graphics settings you should prioritize turning up (the higher the number, the better).

Obviously, these scores are subjective and we really do encourage you to share your own thoughts in the discussion area below on what you think are the best Microsoft Flight Simulator graphics settings. But for now, let's jump in...

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Anti-Aliasing

Anti-Aliasing TAA setting performance impact

Anti-Aliasing graphics option Off compared to TAA

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Anti-Aliasing option range: Off/FXAA/DLAA/TAA

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 5/5

What does the Anti-Aliasing setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? A technique used to blur and smooth out edges of objects. TAA provides the best quality but at the highest computing power cost, with DLAA and FXAA at medium and low quality/power costs respectively. Turning the setting off can introduce 'jaggies' to the edges of objects in-game.

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Terrain Level of Detail

Terrain Level of Detail 200 setting performance impact

Terrain Level of Detail graphics option 10 compared to 200

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Terrain Level of Detail option range: 10 > 200

Performance impact: 5/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Terrain Level of Detail setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? This setting adjusts the visual quality of all the terrain. Turning this option up will increase details on the world's terrain but will also significantly impact performance. This setting also seems to only affect the distance at which quality is preserved: at up close this option makes no difference to terrain quality, but from a distance this an be very noticeable. Not essential for the best image quality, but Medium settings are considering the best for balance.

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Terrain Vector Data

Terrain Vector Data Ultra setting performance impact

Terrain Vector Data option range: Off/Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Terrain Vector Data setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the level of Terrain Vector Data Tesselation. Turning this setting off will introduce lots of blocky patterns on textures from a distance, most noticeably on oceans, lakes, rivers, and roads.

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Buildings

Buildings Ultra setting performance impact

Buildings graphics option Low compared to Ultra

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Buildings option range: Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Buildings setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? This setting adjusts the visual quality of the buildings that have been procedurally generated. Turning this setting up will increase the detail of 3D buildings, but at a high performance cost when flying over cities, especially major ones with lots of buildings present. Absolutely not essential, as you an see this only adjusts the level of detail on Buildings and is not very noticeable when high up in the sky.

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Trees

Trees Ultra setting performance impact

Trees graphics option Low compared to Ultra

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Trees option range: Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Trees setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the quality of trees, including more 3D detail and texture resolution. A higher setting will result in much more life-like trees, but a higher performance cost. Lower settings will introduce much more pixelated trees, and a lower amount of them too. Turning this up will look a little more natural when flying over foresty areas, but is not very noticeable so is worth turning down a bit for those extra frames if you need.

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Grass and Bushes

Grass and Bushes Ultra setting performance impact

Grass and Bushes graphics option Off compared to Ultra

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Grass and Bushes option range: Off/Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Grass and Bushes setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the level of quality when it comes to grass and bushes. This is much less noticeable when flying high in the sky, and will only truly make a difference to visual quality the closer you are to the ground or when stationed on a runway. Same as the trees option above, higher settings will look more life-like, whilst lower settings will be much more blurry and lower resolution (or even disappear entirely when turned off).

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Objects Level of Detail

Objects Level of Detail 200 setting performance impact

Objects Level of Detail graphics option 10 compared to 200

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Objects Level of Detail option range: 10 > 200

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Objects Level of Detail setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the level of detail for other objects other in-game. Provides much more life-like realism of objects when turned up high, with more blurry and less detailed objects at lower settings. This option only affects how much detail is retained in objects from a distance, as up close the quality will be no different, but from a far objets can have much less detail when turned all the way down. Not really noticeable when flying, so you can turn it down to Low/Medium range to save on some extra frames.

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Volumetric Clouds

Volumetric Clouds Ultra setting performance impact

Volumetric Clouds graphics option Low compared to Ultra

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Volumetric Clouds option range: Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 5/5

What does the Volumetric Clouds setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Increases the level of quality for clouds, at a high performance cost for higher settings. In our opinion these are some of the best looking clouds in any game to date, and are absolutely worth turning up high if you are an avid flyer.

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Texture Resolution

Texture Resolution Ultra setting performance impact

Texture Resolution graphics option Low compared to Ultra

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Texture Resolution option range: Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 4/5

What does the Texture Resolution setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the resolution of textures seen in-game. Higher settings will result in much more realistic looking textures, but can significantly impact FPS. The middle ground is much more rewarding here, with decent looking textures at a lower performance cost. Does not seem to affect the textures on your plane, so turning this down will keep the detail in your cockpit area as well as the whole plane itself.

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Anisotropic Filtering

Anisotropic Filtering 16X setting performance impact

Anisotropic Filtering graphics option Off compared to 16X

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Anisotropic Filtering option range: Off/2X/4X/8X/16X

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Anisotropic Filtering setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Affects the level of quality for textures and surfaces when viewed at oblique angles. This won't make much of a difference when high in the clouds, but down on the ground can make distant textures and objects appear much more blurry when viewed at oblique angles. Not hugely noticeable, and worth turning down for some extra frames if needs be.

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Texture Supersampling

Texture Supersampling 8x8 setting performance impact

Texture Supersampling graphics option Off compared to 8x8

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Texture Supersampling option range: Off/2x2/4x4/6x6/8x8

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Texture Supersampling setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Supersampling is the process of rendering images at a higher resolution, and then downscaling to the monitor's resolution. This can dramatically increase the quality of textures, but also at the cost of performance. This setting doesn't make a whole lot of difference, but is useful at lower values for the least amount of performance impact and increased image quality. Most noticeably, at lower settings you'll see the end of the runway slowly fade from a blurry mess to a more detailed surface.

However, this setting only seems to take effect in conjunction with Anisotropic Filtering, as when both settings are turned down/off you get the blurry image above. Turning either one up will result in the higher quality image.

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Texture Synthesis

Texture Synthesis Ultra setting performance impact

Texture Synthesis option range: Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Texture Synthesis setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? The process of constructing a larger image from a smaller texture sample using the basic structural content (keeping the same proportions etc). This is great for enhancing detail in textures especially at a distance, but is not essential for an enjoyable experience especially considering the high FPS performance cost.

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Water Waves

Water Waves High setting performance impact

Water Waves graphics option Low compared to High

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Water Waves option range: Low/Medium/High

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Water Waves setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the resolution level of wave simulation to create more realistic looking waves in oceans. Turning this setting down will make oceans appear more flat and less dynamic in movement. Not at all essential in our opinion and worth turning down if you need the extra frames.

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Shadow Maps

Shadow Maps 2048 setting performance impact

Shadow Maps graphics option 768 compared to 2048

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Shadow Maps option range: 768/1024/1536/2048

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Shadow Maps setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? This setting adjusts the resolution of shadow maps, resulting in more accurate and detailed shadows on more complex objects. Absolutely not essential when flying high up in the sky and is barely noticeable unless on the lowest quality and right up close to some shadows on the ground.

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Terrain Shadows

Terrain Shadows 2048 setting performance impact

Terrain Shadows graphics option Off compared to 2048

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Terrain Shadows option range: Off/128/256/512/1024/2048

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Terrain Shadows setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the resolution of terrain shadows from a distance, essentially keeping more detail in terrain shadows when viewing them from afar. You can see how at closer distanes this will make the shadows softer and less harsh when turned up to Ultra, as well as preserving shadows in the distance. This is not at all a big deal for lowering down, especially considering the high performance cost.

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Contact Shadows

Contact Shadows Ultra setting performance impact

Contact Shadows option range: Off/Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Contact Shadows setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? This setting adjusts the quality of shadows for screen space objects up close, resulting in more detailed shadows for objects near each other. This setting is more noticeable on the plane you are flying, and can help add that extra layer of immersion when flying in the cockpit view.

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Windshield Effects

Windshield Effects Ultra setting performance impact

Windshield Effects graphics option Low compared to Ultra

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Windshield Effects option range: Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 4/5

What does the Windshield Effects setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? This adjusts the level of quality for rain effects and reflections on the windshield. Goes without saying that this effect will be more noticeable when in the cockpit view, and whilst not essential, is a great way of adding immersion in certain situations.

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Ambient Occlusion

Ambient Occlusion Ultra setting performance impact

Ambient Occlusion graphics option Off compared to Ultra

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Ambient Occlusion option range: Off/Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 4/5

What does the Ambient Occlusion setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? A technique used to create artificial shadows on objects and surfaces close to each other as a way for increasing quality of lighting without a huge performance impact. This setting looks great when turned on at least, as when you turn it off all objets in the world will appear flat and brightly lit, so worth keeping on Low at least if you need a performance boost.

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Reflections

Reflections Ultra setting performance impact

Reflections graphics option Off compared to Ultra

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Reflections option range: Off/Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Reflections setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Adjusts the quality of reflections on reflective surfaces. Higher values increase the resolution of reflections. A great setting to turn up high if you can, as lower values result in blurry reflections (or none at all!) that can reduce immersion, but is not at all essential.

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Light Shafts

Light Shafts Ultra setting performance impact

Light Shafts option range: Off/Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Light Shafts setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? A technique used to simulate shafts of light from bright sources, which can add a lot of depth and enhanced immersion in certain situations. These come few and far between and are not hugely noticeable, and you certainly won't miss them if you turn them off. Absolutely not essential, although can be turned up relatively high for little to no performance impact.

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Bloom

Bloom On setting performance impact

Bloom graphics option Off compared to On

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Bloom option range: Off/On

Performance impact: 1/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Bloom setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Enable or disable the effect of bright light lens bloom. Mostly comes down to personal preference, but has little to no impact on FPS performance. As a screenshot it an look really distracting, but in-game can actually add a little more immersion as it can look just a tad bit more realistic.

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Depth of Field

Depth of Field Ultra setting performance impact

Depth of Field graphics option Off compared to Ultra

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Depth of Field option range: Off/Low/Medium/High/Ultra

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Depth of Field setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? A technique used to simulate background blur when viewing certain objects. This setting affects the level of quality, with higher settings resulting in more intense and clean depth of field. As far as I could tell this only affects the camera when you enable focus mode to get some nice pictures and in certain cinematic instances, and is not present at all whilst flying around in general. So worth turning down for those extra frames if you need them.

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Lens Correction

Lens Correction On setting performance impact

Lens Correction graphics option Off compared to On

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Lens Correction option range: Off/On

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 1/5

What does the Lens Correction setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? A process which corrects camera lens distortion. Completely down to personal preference, but can make for a more 'cinematic' effect. Since this is personal preference you can absolutely turn this setting off for the extra performance if you want.

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Lens Flare

Lens Flare On setting performance impact

Lens Flare graphics option Off compared to On

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Lens Flare option range: Off/On

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Lens Flare setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? A technique that adds small flares to bright light sources. Another setting based on personal preference that can once again can add a 'cinematic' effect to your game. That means you can easily turn this setting off if you want and won't miss it, but won't impat performance much if turned on.

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Use Generic Plane Models (AI Traffic)

Use Generic Plane Models (AI Traffic) On setting performance impact

Use Generic Plane Models (AI Traffic) graphics option Off compared to On

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Use Generic Plane Models (AI Traffic) option range: Off/On

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Use Generic Plane Models (AI Traffic) setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? If you're having trouble with CPU and RAM usage whilst flying around other AI air traffic, this setting will help alleviate that by creating much more generic models for the planes controlled by AI.

You can see in the image above how there are a multitude of various plane styles and sizes, but when turning this setting on it will turn them into more generic models saving power on the CPU and RAM.

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Use Generic Plane Models (Multiplayer)

Use Generic Plane Models (Multiplayer) On setting performance impact

Use Generic Plane Models (Multiplayer) graphics option Off compared to On

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Use Generic Plane Models (Multiplayer) option range: Off/On

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Use Generic Plane Models (Multiplayer) setting do in Microsoft Flight Simulator? Same as above, this technique will use more generic plane models when flying around other players online, useful if you're experiencing high CPU and RAM usage in these instances.

Just like with the AI Traffic setting above, except specifically focusing on planes used by online players. You can see this time more clearly in the comparison image above how it completely changes the look and design of the plane to allow more room on the CPU and RAM.

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Microsoft Flight Simulator CPU, GPU and RAM usage

There's no denying that this year's MS Flight Sim is pretty demanding on our hardware, even some of the top end GPUs at the moment will struggle to run this game above 60fps on Ultra settings. Bottlenecks are most surely going to appear no matter your setup, so we took a look at the CPU, GPU, and RAM usage whilst running Microsoft Flight Sim...

First of all, these screenshots were specifically taken using a rig that had an Intel Core i9-9900K processor, an RTX 2080 graphics cards, and 16GB of RAM installed. Graphics settings used were the Ultra preset as well as 1440p resolution.

CPU usage in MS Flight Sim

As you can see in the image above, CPU utilization remains mostly at the 40% mark with a couple higher spikes during some moments where certain objects like traffic were loading in, causing a strain on the processor. You can see though that MS Flight Sim likes to make use of every second logical processor starting with the first, with logical processors 1, 3, 5, and 7 being used the most. However, you can see in the bottom right that logical processor 16 takes the cake being almost completely maxed out all the time.

GPU usage in MS Flight Sim

In comparison, the GPU utilization in MS Flight Sim remains at 70/75% most of the time, but you can see that the graphics card's VRAM is pretty much maxed out. The RTX 2080 itself comes with 8GB of video memory, so again we find MS Flight Simulator will take ownership of almost any size hardware it is offered. Considering that the Radeon VII card is the AMD equivalent of the RTX 2080 under MS Flight Sim's "ideal" system requirements, between 8GB and 16GB is recommended for VRAM.

In both of these screenshots you can clearly see that the system memory is almost completely maxed out most of the time, even reaching 15.2GB RAM out of 15.8GB. The "ideal" system requirements listed for Microsoft Flight Simulator require 32GB of ram, so if you definitely want the best in terms of performance, 32GB is recommended.

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Conclusion

Microsoft Flight Simulator graphics settings performance results and conclusion - Looking at the graphics settings available in Microsoft Flight Simulator and the frames per second performance cost for each one, there aren't a whole lot of options to single out as the best ones to focus on first (except Terrain Level of Detail obviously).

The fact is that there is just a whole lot of settings available in MS Flight Sim, and each one will come with its own drawbacks for turning off or all the way up, so will most likely come down to a lot of personal preference for how you want the game to look and how many frames per second you can manage to get out of the game. This is good for those who want to customize their experience and tailor the visual style to their own needs.

However, there are some clear cut settings that you can turn all the way up knowing you won't be affecting your FPS too much like Anti-Aliasing, Windshield Effects, Reflections, Light Shafts, Bloom and Lens Flare. Everything else is pretty much middle-ground territory that you can mess with to your heart's content.

Its worth pointing out that Flight Simulator, even on the RTX 2080 system, stuttered during on occasion even on low graphics settings. So while FPS had a reasonable average, there were still blips where the game dropped to 2FPS.

Another interesting point is that, if you run on low graphics settings in MS FS then you watch the images of houses and terrain load in all around you. This is visually jarring and it actually feels like a smoother game experience if you put up the graphics settings to medium, and take the FPS drop. Because when you are up in the sky you can see vast distances and if the game is popping in detail all around you all the time...well its just not pleasant.

Overall though, Microsoft Flight Simulator has a pretty impressive amount of graphics settings which you can tweak to optimize your MS Flight Sim PC performance, with a few settings that can easily help to squeeze out a few more frames, and another that will severely affect your overall FPS.

Ok well over to you guys, please share your experiences and suggestions below to help all our GD'ers and fellow gamers and dont forget you should be able to click on the images above to get a slightly larger screenshot to view. We are currently working on adding larger screenshots in future.