How I gave my FSX installation a makeover and spa treatment
I have had an installation of FSX for over a year and although adding multiple enhancement packages (Ultimate Terrain, X-Graphics etc), I started noticing how good other people's snapshots of FSX default scenery looked compared with my system. I figured that along the path to FSX utopia, I've managed to screw up my system enough that only a complete re-install of FSX would be satisfactory.
I listed all the add-ons I wanted to keep installed and then zapped FSX. Reinstalling was a breeze, and had no problem re-activating. I also went ahead and updated to service pack 2 which I had put off for a while.
At first I noticed that everything in FSX worked out fine, except a minor detail. The sea and water areas were no longer there. Just sand banks. San Diego harbour looked like a scene out of Close Encounters. I turned all add-ons off, and the sea suddenly reappeared. Turns out that my Ultimate Terrain USA needed an update. Note to self: check which add-ons will need updating BEFORE updating the host software.
One thing I noticed is how incredible the scenery now looks. The only thing is that I DO have add-ons running and not sure how much is attributable to this compared with default. I think Ultimate Terrain enhances the scenery but doesn't replace original textures. It's almost like an extra layer over the top. X-Graphics enhances specific textures, but doesn't really touch most scenery textures.
The scenery is now so good that I can do a force landing and get to choose field by its texture, and if ploughed, choose to land in line with the ruts.
All of these changes also speeded up my loading time considerably. This had slowly deteriorated to the point where I'd start it up, and go off and do something else before coming back. Now the start up is really bearable taking a minute or so, sometimes a lot less and sometimes a bit more.
But there's more. I decided to run my system through a professional defragmenting tool (ultimate defrag). In case you don't already know, hard drives over time get fragmented meaning that data you need to access can end up scattered over the disk rather than being contiguous. This is a bit like a company based in a skyscraper, suddenly finding departments have moved to neighbouring states or provinces. A real pain in the rear if you deal with them frequently. In FSX, disk fragmentation could dramatically increase loading time of scenery, perhaps causing blurred scenery to appear for longer than is desirable. If the disk has to travel further for the data, then its going to cost you time. And time in any simulator means it will add pauses and ruin the whole illusion.
I ran my system through Ultimate Defrag. There is an option in that tool, to prioritize certain folders. I choose to prioritize my Windows installation and my FSX folder. What this does is places your chosen folders physically on the outside edge of the disk. The hard drive reads data at a much higher rate there than on the inner edge (because there's a bigger circumference and therefore more data passing over the disk read head than in the inner section). The end result of doing this is that my start up is now a real dream. I have significantly reduced start up delay (by perhaps 50-60%), and scenery loads in quicker now.
None of these changes required any over-clocking, replacing existing hardware, any new software to buy, or potentially hazardous messing with the fsx config file. Recognizing that your FSX install will need a service from time to time, and optimizing the hard drive that it's installed on, could do wonders for your system without spending a penny. Yes, you read that right, without spending a penny.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Jet fighter / single pilot sim, plus thinking of a 777 as a secondary sim.
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