Flight Sim Buying Guide: How to Have the Best Flight Sim Experience

  March 6, 2024

Flight Sim Buying Guide: How to Have the Best Flight Sim Experience

Flight simulation games are some of the most demanding games you’ll find on any platform, but especially on PC, where the potential for higher resolutions, detail settings, and frame rates gives them a particularly high ceiling. Even the best gaming PCs face a stiff challenge with the latest flight sim games. Which is why, if you’re looking to buy, build, or upgrade to a gaming PC specifically for playing flight sims, it’s important to know what you need.

If you just want to buy a powerful flight sim gaming PC, Chillblast has a range of flight sim PCs you can pick from – all of them are fantastic for high-detail, high frame rate gameplay in a range of flight sims. But, if you want to dig into the specifics of what makes a great flight sim PC and how you can hand-pick the components and accessories you need to unlock a whole new flight sim experience, read on.

Here’s everything you need to know about buying the best flight sim PC possible in 2024.

Image credit: Ubisoft

What makes a great Flight Sim PC?

Flight sim PCs aren’t that different from most other gaming PCs, but there are some unique qualities of this sort of game. The first is that they are typically quite high-end experiences. That is, they’re more akin to your average AAA game than they are casual or indie titles. That means that a powerful graphics card is going to be necessary if you want to turn on many of the visual features that make the expansive world above the clouds feel more alive. Especially when you dip below them and enjoy the view.

That means top-tier graphics cards like the RTX 4080 Super, or AMD RX 7900 XTX are attractive picks for 4K gaming in flight sims like Microsoft Flight Simulator. The new RTX 4070 Super and RX 7800 XT are a great buy if you’re playing at 1440p, while 1080p gamers might want to look at the Intel ARC 770, AMD RX 7600, or Nvidia RTX 4060.

However, where graphical power is a requirement for almost any high-end game, flight simulators are uniquely built to demand a lot from your central processor. With the multitudes of physics calculations and management of civilian vehicles, handling live plane data and weather tracking, flight sims can be incredibly stressful on your CPU – especially near major airports in large cities.

To that end, flight sims need a powerful processor to run well. While a lot of AAA games can get away with a mid-range CPU paired with a powerful graphics card to hit high frame rates at the top detail settings and resolutions, a flight sim PC needs a high-end CPU too. That means one from AMD’s Ryzen 5000 or 7000 generation, or Intel’s 13th or 14th generation.

Although flight sim games are getting better at using lots of CPU cores, they thrive more on individual core power, so the top Intel CPUs, like the 14700K and 14900K offer some of the best performance, while AMD’s RX 7800X3D and 7950X3D tend to smooth out the 0.1% lows that bit better for a stutter-free gaming experience.

For memory, while high-end flight sim games like Microsoft Flight Simulator only recommend 16GB of RAM, that’s only enough if you’re looking to play at 1080p. If you want to play at higher resolutions and higher detail settings, and especially if you’re interested in Flight Simulator 2024, then you want at least 32GB. There’s even an argument to be made for 64GB in some cases, but a fast 32GB will really help boost your performance.

A fast SSD is a must in any gaming PC too, but with how big some of the top flight sim games can be, a large and fast SSD is particularly important for a flight sim PC. That goes hand in hand with a fast internet connection if you’re playing games with streaming elements, like Microsoft Flight Simulator. It streams data on certain weather patterns and some textures, so having a fast connection and a fast SSD to receive all that important data can really help maximize your flight sim PC’s visuals, whilst maintaining steady performance.

Flight Sim PC vs Xbox Series X

There’s no denying that the Xbox Series X is a powerful console. It sports an AMD processor and graphics chip that let it play a range of games at 4K 120Hz, which would be demanding for even the most capable of gaming PCs. However, there’s also no denying that the Xbox Series X is a console that’s a few years old and is no longer running cutting edge hardware. And it was never able to run Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 at a smooth 4K 120Hz, anyway.

Since the Xbox Series X release, we’ve had several new generations of processors and graphics cards. So, cutting-edge gaming PCs of today are vastly more powerful than even the Xbox Series X. That means that you can get that true 4K 120Hz experience (or beyond if your PC is really powerful), and leverage some of the more advanced visual features available on PC to enjoy a more realistic and immersive flight sim experience.

And that’s not to even mention the accessory compatibility. While the Xbox Series X does have access to a range of flight sticks and other peripherals to enhance a flight sim experience, there’s just no competing with the modular support available on PC. PCs support a wider range of accessories and peripherals, giving you greater choice in the type of flight sticks, yokes, throttles, seats, instrument panels, button boxes, and more.

That array of options and modularity extends to the software front, too. Where there are a handful of excellent flight sim games on Xbox, there are decades worth of playable flight sim games on PC. Many of those games have also been modded and updated by other users, offering flight sim gamers an ever-expanding array of new content to explore, and new game modes to play.

While it’s perfectly possible to have a great flight sim experience on the Xbox Series X, there’s just no denying that a properly built and configured flight sim PC, just offers a better all-round experience.

What accessories do you need?

It’s important to remember, nobody needs any accessories to play a flight sim game and have a great time. You can play Microsoft Flight Simulator on a keyboard and mouse, or War Thunder with an Xbox controller. These games are designed to be accessible to a wide range of gamers and very much playable on standard hardware.

That said: there are some accessories which can make your flight sim experience feel far more immersive, and if you have some real-world flying experience, you’ll be able to translate that into the game far more effectively with more authentic accessories and controls.

For those just getting started with your flight sim journey, or if you want a more affordable way to enhance your flight sim experience, a stand-alone three-axis flight stick is a great place to begin. A high-quality flight stick gives you a real-world-like control system with all the nuance you need to make subtle adjustments to your plane mid-flight, along with additional on-stick buttons so that you aren’t always reaching for your keyboard for macro keys and shortcuts.

For a more advanced version of this, you could opt for a HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) which bundles (you guessed it) a hands on throttle with a flight stick. It lets you adjust the throttle in a more satisfying, granular fashion, and the throttle often comes with its own buttons and switches too, for improved control and customization.

If you’re more interested in flying commercial airliners than you are fighter jets and helicopters, then you could instead opt for a flight yoke. These dual-hand control systems make adjusting for fine manoeuvrers that bit easier, while solid mounting point options help you bolt your flight controls to your desk or other surface, so that they feel sturdy and secure during use. You also get additional buttons and programmable switches that you can use to customize your flight experience, and some even include a stopwatch display, which can make timing your approaches and take offs that bit easier. Much more immersive than using your phone or some other timer.

You can then pair it with a separate throttle, for that nuanced throttle control. Some also include multiple levers, letting you adjust other parameters like your flaps, or fuel mixture, depending on the game and aircraft in question.

For those who really want to immerse themselves in the professional pilot experience, you could consider rudder pedals, or any of a range of modular instrument panels. They can run the gamut from basic button boxes, to artificial horizons and digital readouts of various parameters, so you always have the information you need to be an informed and effective digital pilot.

Image source: Flight Simulation Association

Can you play a Flight Simulator with a mouse and keyboard?

This does somewhat depend on the game, but most major flight simulator games, like Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020 and 2024), include mouse and keyboard support on both PC and consoles. However, that’s not typically the way most flight sim aficionados would recommend that you play it.

There are some flight sims and space sims that are designed with simple controls where the mouse can do all the hard work for you – classics like Freelancer come to mind. Even in modern flight sims, like Microsoft Flight Simulator, you can set the level of realism to low, and the flight controls will be simplified enough where you can do most of the general directional flying with the mouse and control the various aspects of the aircraft with your keyboard.

However, modern flight sims offer much more expansive control schemes to better emulate their real-world counterparts and you just won’t be able to really explore that with the limitations of a keyboard and mouse. To truly experience what these games have to offer, and to have the kind of nuanced control which makes flying planes so much fun, you really are better off with at least a basic flight stick.

Image source: Flight Simulation Association

What are the best Flight Sim games?

Whatever kind of flight sim experience you are looking for, there are a range of games you can enjoy in 2024. From classics from more than a decade past, to the most cutting-edge experiences with the most enhanced graphics and features. Here are the best flight sim games you can play today.

Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020): The most iconic flight sim available today, Microsoft Flight Simulator is the latest version of Microsoft’s classic franchise. It features gorgeous visuals, an expansive (and ever expanding) range of aircraft to pilot, the whole world to explore with tons of major cities and hundreds of major airports. It’s available on PC and consoles, in 2D and VR, and even leverages Microsoft’s cloud processing and AI to deliver up-to-the-minute real-world weather and flight paths.

Elite Dangerous: Prefer flying spaceships to planes? Elite Dangerous offers the entire Milky Way galaxy to explore, with a wide range of mission types and spacecraft to pilot. It’s much-more combat orientated, but you can play a trader or a peace envoy if you want, it’s up to you. This is as big as flight sim games can get, and if you want to go really, really fast, there’s nothing quite like it.

War Thunder: Step back in time to the planes and aircraft of your grandparents in War Thunder, where you’ll fight in and fly a range of aircraft from different eras in a never ending conflict from yesteryear. There’s seriously detailed combat here, and if you’re a history nerd, you can get a lot of enjoyment from exploring these iconic airframes in all their capabilities.

Kerbal Space Program: This one has a special place in my heart because I’ve barely stopped playing it since the early 2010s. You’ll need to build the planes and rockets you fly in KSP, but you can take them from the launchpad all the way to the “Mun” and beyond. Part space agency manager, part flight sim, KSP is a game that will give you hundreds of hours of explorative entertainment, and it’s not even too taxing to run.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024: OK so technically this one isn’t quite ready yet, but it’s going to release in 2024 and if you are buying or building a flight sim PC, it’s the most cutting-edge game you can play (soon). The sequel to Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020), it will include a new career-based retrogression system with various missions to run, including new types like aerial firefighting, mountain rescue, skydiving, and air racing, among many others. The game will have new aircraft to fly, like hot air balloons and gliders, and new environmental features like tornadoes, auroras, animal migration, and life flight tracking will enhance the look and feel of the game further.


Interested in buying or building a new flight sim PC? Chillblast is here to help. We have a range of off-the-shelf flight sim PCs ready to ship to you right now, but we can help build you something custom if you prefer. Just get in touch and one of our expert flight sim PC builders will talk you through everything you want and need to truly enjoy your next flight sim experience.


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