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X-Plane Explained

Why you should try X-Plane

This article was written by Frank Fisher CIX VFR Club member and unashamedly an X-Plane enthusiast.

This is aimed at anyone just looking to upgrade to another sim, or just want to know what XP 11 is all about. It hopefully will entice you to give it a go. X-Plane is one of a number of Flight Simulators currently available, so what is different?
In this article, I will refer to

  • Microsoft Flight Simulator 10 as FSX.
  • Lockheed-Martin's Prepar3D as P3D.
  • X-Plane 11 as XP 11.

XP 11 is the latest iteration in a long line of X-Plane Simulators, created and written by one man, Mr Austin Meyer, and his Company, Laminar Research, with a small group of experts, aided by a large group of unpaid testers.
It is written on a Macintosh machine and ported to run also on a Windows based machine or a Linux machine. Although originally a 32 bit application, Version10.20 came as a 32 bit and 64 bit application.

XP 11 is now 64 bit only. XP 11 is also NOT tied to the Windows Operating System (OS). It runs in it's own self-contained folder structure separate to the OS, and can be installed onto any drive.  It can be moved, copied and pasted as desired. In contrast, FSX and P3D are still using the 12 year old 32 bit coding and they are tied to the Windows OS. The problem with 32 bit programs, is that they have a 3.5 Gb RAM limit, even on a 64 bit computer. A 64 bit program can use an unlimited amount of memory (RAM). This allows X-Plane 11 to run on current machines that are using 64 bit operating systems. Unlike FSX, XP 11 is continually evolving, with updates every 3-4 months free for the current version.
Currently, most of the sims are limited to using just one of the currently available central processor unit (CPU) cores on the host computer, most of which now have 4 or even 8 CPU cores. (There are very few single core machines today). Saying that, Laminar Research has managed to move some of the functionality to another core, one reason why XP 11 does not need a much bigger machine than previous versions to cope with the added features. Currently Laminar Research is working to update XP 11 to use all the cores in the host machine, XP 11 will then be even smoother and faster than it is now.

A very important difference between the Microsoft family of simulators and X-Plane 11 is that the FSX and P3D flight model is controlled by tables detailing how the aircraft behaves under various conditions. XP 11 uses "blade element theory" in which the "virtual airflow" over the whole of the aircraft is continually being assessed. This gives a more realistic feel to the flight.

Graphics performance is of course vital to any game or simulator of a visual experience. FSX and P3D are almost limited to CPU use, due to the 32 bit code, but a lot of possibly inelegant workarounds in the coding partially overcomes this limitation and helps improve their performance. XP 11 on the other hand uses fully both the CPU and the graphics processor unit (GPU).

To get the most performance out of XP 11, you will probably need a top of the line machine manufactured within the last 3 - 4 years, and incorporating an Intel Sandybridge or Haswell processor with a clock speed of 3.8 or higher, or the equivalent from other chip manufacturers. For a graphics processor, you should incorporate an Nvidia 1000 series, maybe 1040 or higher, or equivalent graphics processor.

If you are interested, or simply curious about X-Plane 11. then go to, and download the Demo version. The demo restricts you to flying round the Seattle area, but it does give you an idea of how your machine copes with it. And gives you a chance at learning how to use XP. Flight time is restricted to 15 minutes, after which your controls are disabled. However, you can run the demo as many times as you like. If you then wish to purchase it, the demo gives you an option of buying online the digital version. It can also be purchased in DVD format from a vendor or through the Steam Franchise

The advantage of the digital download version is that it is fully functional on your PC, only requiring a login password to be entered. Tthe DVD version from a vendor requires you to use disc one to start the sim every time, which is inconvenient at best. With the digital version, you will receive an email which provides your digital key, and instructions on down loading the Sim. (Keep a copy of the Key somewhere safe)

XP 11 is an almost complete rewrite from XP10. Nevertheless, many of the XP 10 aircraft and sceneries can be used in XP11. Unlike the Microsoft based sims, installing aircraft and scenery is simply a matter of opening up the downloaded zip folder and dropping the contents into the appropriate folder. There is no tricky or lengthy install process. Removing them is just as easy no "uninstall" required - simply delete the appropriate files and folders. The radical revision of XP10 to XP 11, removing redundant code, rewriting code, updating the user interface and settings page, has resulted is a cleaner and meaner sim which will run on a machine that happily ran XP 10 or the other sims with no problems. It does not really need more resources to cope. (However, an updated machine for an updated sim isn't a bad idea - future proofing).

There are a growing number of XP 11 dedicated aircraft and scenery packages. Both freeware and payware, although a lot of the freeware offerings are as good as payware. The number of 3D airports is growing, written by a group of enthusiasts and incorporated into the next update. We have a small group of X-Planers here in the CIX VFR Club, all to ready to help out with any concerns.  They are not experts, perhaps, but have been involved with XP for some time. Between then, they are almost certainly able to sort out most beginners problems.

So what are you waiting for? Dip your toes in and have a go, you never know, you may be hooked.