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X-Plane versus Microsoft Flight-Sim: which should you play?

For the majority of flight sim fans, virtual piloting starts and ends with the Microsoft Flight Simulator series. Yes it’s the granddaddy, yes it’s got more devotees than a Devo t-shirt kiosk (ask your parents), but it’s by no means the only option on the shelves when it comes to making your civil aviation simulation decision.

Of all the pretenders to the throne, perhaps the biggest is X-Plane from Laminar Research, now in its tenth edition. The chances are that unless you’re a fan already, you’ll have dismissed it as just another also-ran and moved on. Which would be a crying shame.

While Microsoft was ruling the airborne roost over on PCs in the early 90s, X-Plane snuck up on the flight sim market via the Mac. It introduced in 1993 primarily as an attempt to create a similar movement amongst those notorious games players in the Apple community. Being Mac-driven, naturally there was an emphasis on doing things more intellectually than us knuckle-dragging cavemen using PCs (their words... probably).

This mostly boiled down to something called ‘blade element theory’. Most flight simulators (Microsoft’s included) relied on what was essentially a very complicated game of Top Trumps to create their flight models. Planes all have large amounts of numerical values assigned to them, covering their varying degrees of aerodynamics, ultimately representing their individual flight behaviour dynamics. This relies on those figures being available (often a hindrance for more advanced or military vehicles), so often you’re flying an aircraft modeller’s best guess at how the plane should behave.

X-Plane’s approach is more scientific. Blade element theory models the individual parts that make up a plane (most notably the propeller blades and wings) from mathematical point of view, looking at how lift, drag and so on affect each separate part of the plane and then combining it all into a behavioural whole. More often than not, each part of a plane is further subdivided into smaller and smaller sections to make the simulation even more accurate.

The biggest advantage this gave X-Plane is to allow it to include an aircraft creation program in the core product. Users could spend many happy hours building the aircraft of their dreams, then tweaking numbers here and numbers there and seeing what effect all the tinkering has on how it flies (usually like a house brick with gossamer wings in my case). So comprehensive is it, several real-world aircraft manufacturers use X-Plane’s software in their design processes.

What X-Plane did was to take everything Microsoft was doing, make it more intellectually rigorous and give the user the tools to make their own content right out of the box. Then they slapped an appropriately Apple-y price tag on it. It proved popular enough that a Windows version followed three years later in 1996, a Linux version in 2004 and today even features versions that work on iPads, iPhones and Android platforms.

You don’t hang around in flight simulation for nearly twenty years without building a community around you and for the budding X-Planer wanting to go beyond the provided material. There’s as thriving a marketplace of X-Plane aircraft, scenery packs and more as there is for Microsoft’s flight stable. It’s certainly large enough to have spawned both an amateur scene putting material out there for the love of it, and a monetised industry of third-party add-ons that have the veneer of professionalism applied.

Of course, the big question remains if you’re already getting airborne on a regular basis with one of the Microsoft Flight Sim titles, is there any point making the switch to X-Plane?

The answer depends on what you’re looking for in your simulation.

For the casual flyer, content to potter around the skies in a less than totally realistic manner, maybe not. Microsoft’s offering is friendlier to the newcomer, with an immediately approachable front end. It provides an authentic experience of civil aviation. The default scenery is better too, although X-Plane 10’s auto-generated urban sprawls are certainly a step up from anything it’s offered before.

Perhaps the most important point to make, though, is that one of these games has the advantage of having parents that haven’t basically abandoned their child at the doorstep of well-meaning strangers and are still around to provide their precious bundle of joy with a future filled with hope, dreams and regular product updates. Clue: it’s not Microsoft’s baby.

FSX was released back in 2006 and since then, Microsoft’s development team has been gutted like a Sicilian fish. Earlier this year, one last attempt was made to push a Microsoft-branded flying experience onto the masses. Unfortunately, Microsoft Flight was a pared down abomination of the highest order, unsure of what it wanted to be and, therefore, satisfying none. Admitting defeat, Flight was pulled last August and anything to do with keeping virtual planes in virtual skies was marched out of Microsoft’s doors for good.

While, Microsoft has plummeted back to Earth, Laminar Research has kept plugging away. Version 10 of X-Plane was released in November 2011 and the team in South Carolina has no plans on stopping.

So, if nothing less than the most ultra-realistic flight dynamics are your bag, you enjoy being able to tweak the forces that affect the middle section of the Space Shuttle’s left wingtip in isolation to the way the transonic drag rise currently affects the internal aspect of the... and you like the idea of the product you’re flying having the benefit of a development team that is still working on the thing, X-Plane is the choice for you. It’s a seriously meaty flight sim package for the most carnivorous of virtual pilots.

You’re reading the flight sim channel at PCGamesN. We combine new, original content with feeds from the best flight sim websites and reader submissions. For the best, new stuff about all flight sims, check our homepage and follow our flight sim Twitter account for regular updates. Check our retail partner SimStop for Flight Simulator add ons and more. 

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Comrade Vorgon's picture

X-plane for the flight model, MSFS for instrument procedures.

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X-Plane great and different models

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flight simulator is better because it is more realistic and easier to use

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X PLANE JUST WINS FOR ME WITH THE GRAPHICS

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cool VR headset will be great with higher res

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brilliant and look forward to seeing it in action

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it was really good because i was like i was actually there

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Predator's picture

flight sim x ftw

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Only ever tried FSX so it's got to be that:)

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only ever played fsx so i will say fsx although i would like to try x plane in the future.

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fsx just about to try occulus

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good idea more info whats the price //

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fsx

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FSX 'COS I have invested time and money and the brain cells are hard pressed to take on new ideas at present

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Really VERY interesting to see Oculus Rift being demo-ed at RAFM Cosford BTW! FSX so far for 3D with nVidia 3D Stereo Vision, plus DX10 with self-shading... but X-plane for the flight model and AI ships rolling and pitching at sea!! ;-)

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X-Plane handles twin screen out of the box - if you've not got the best graphics card! However they are both great.

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X-plane has way more developer support allong with realistic fluidics so I would choose that for a home built simulator. FSX is a bit more friendly and the raw graphics are better allthough its architecture is way more processor heavy than it should be. Casual = FSX Simulation = X-plane

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Have used Flightsim since first version, bought X-Plane but never even installed it, Will get around to it one day!

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FSX all the way at the mo, headset is brill.

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X-plane. More realistic

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use fsx as there are far more add ons and trust microsoft

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I prefer x-plane 10 because it is more realistic

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Flaming Cliffs rules

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Xplane coolio

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So far FSX still get my bucks, but that could change

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Fsx is best because of all of the addons and the better graphics. Xplane 10 can be complex for the new user

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xplane for performance and graphics, flight sim for addons and developer addons

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Prefer MSF have not used Xplane.

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Flight simulator x is great for scenery and realism.

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robfisheruk's picture

I find that for the instruction of cadets, the fact that flight simulator x is more user friendly and simpler to use makes it better for our needs.

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I think Xplane is better for the modles of the plane and the engines

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Which is best...X-plane has a lot of appeal to me as it runs on OS X (Mac). However I still use FSX more as at the moment it is better supported for addons. Though X-Plane is catching up. Plus FSX is not supported by Microsoft anymore.

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As I am interested in military sims, especially World War II, I would lean towards Microsoft Flight Simulator as opposed to X-plane. However, you want a good online WW2 sim try Aces High by www.hitechcreations.com (end of plug).

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In my personal opinion I prefer FSX, I believe it is more user friendly, The interface is easier understand and the control scheme is more friendly to beginners through to experts, The pick up and play ability makes the experience is one that allows some one who has never flown before pick it up, Go through the tutorials and begin flying, I started my flying on FSX and have only improved with each flight, Being able to change the difficulty settings on the go and before is a nice touch as not everyone can fly like an airline pilot instantly and just want a bit of fun, With the added multiplayer it allows you to have a friend join you in the cockpit and help them fly on the sim, Even have an experience in the ATC, X-Plane is not as good having not long had a play earlier today, I found it is hard to use and not as nice with the interface, The only thing it has is the graphics, I will always prefer FSX.

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robfisheruk's picture

ive been flying since 2004 and ill always prefer fsx over x-plane

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FSX for add ons X plane for future dev.

Occulus support essential for development of both.

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I've been a simmer for more years than i care to remember, and for years ive heard this question. In my option its not an easy question to answer, I think i would say fly both. Saying play is totally wrong for a sim.

Both sims are stunning in their own right.

For graphics and aircraft at the moment i would say FSX is currently in the lead, however physics wise nothing touches Xplane.

of course with the fact microsoft has stopped developing FSX, then X plane is certainly in a great position to overtake FSX as the flight sim of choice.

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A great idea; look forward to the high-res version, with on screen-hands - for IL2 and Rise of Flight

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FSX has a wider range of addons allowing for a more diverse and realistic experience. X-Plane looks reasonable out of the box and runs far better. FSX is current but X-Plane will likely be the future.

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I've tried both but I like FSX due to the support for other software. X-Plane is very good graphically. I fly multi engine Airbus and Boeing. I still continue to spend far to much money on FSX including hardware as well as software.

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X-Plane. Important to have a developer who is actively supporting their software. Give it some time, and it will surpass Flight Sim X in all aspects!

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fsxn00b's picture

fsx for the win, just much more fun to play

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