Good Laptop for FS X?
October 3, 2011 1:27 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to find a laptop for my son (age 9) so he can play Flight Simulator X to his heart's content this Xmas. Here's the hurdles: I know NOTHING about laptops and I have very little money to spend. Help!

I'm fine with looking at used machines and I'm giving myself some time to shop around. The thing is, I've never used anything but Macs. I have no idea what to look for in a Windows laptop, other than the basic memory/video card requirements on the FS X website. I know that this simulator needs a lot of recources to look reasonabley good and play smoothly. Can anybody give me a hand?
(And yes, he's played X Plane on the Mac, but I want to give him his own dedicated machine so I can get some damn work done!)
posted by biddeford to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Laptop is going to be pretty tricky for FSX; even on modern top-of-the-line desktops (which are significantly more powerful than most laptops), performance can be a bear. FSX is largely CPU-bound -- that is, the processor has more impact than the graphics card -- but both are going to be weaker with a laptop.

If you aren't married to the idea of FSX, most gaming laptops will, off the shelf, run X-Plane happily. If you are, I'd strongly (almost to the point of saying that the alternative isn't really worth it) suggest a desktop and nice monitor setup. Put the extra money saved towards a great Saitek yoke and CH pedal set, if he doesn't already own them.
posted by ellF at 1:30 PM on October 3, 2011

Specs for FSX:
• Microsoft® Windows® XP SP2 / Vista
• PC with 1 GHz equivalent or higher processor
• 256 MB of system RAM for Windows XP SP2 / 512 MB Vista
• 14 GB available hard disk space
• DVD-ROM drive
• 32 MB DirectX 9 compatible video card required
• Sound card, speakers or headphones required for audio
• Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device
• 56.6 Kbps or better modem for online play
These are the bare minimum, as posted on Feb. 24, 2010. Depending on what your kid will withstand from the game (lowered resolution, lowered framerate), it looks like you could get something pretty inexpensively that could work, though it might not look as great as it could.

Why are you focused on a laptop? A desktop machine will be cheaper, though bulkier, and you can upgrade pieces more easily and for less money down the line.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:39 PM on October 3, 2011

1up recommends a 3GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 512MB videocard, 'ouch' indeed. That's going to pretty hard to find in a reasonably priced laptop.

The HP Pavilion dv6t might handle it, but it's going to be almost $1000.

Do you have a Microsoft store near you? They're very friendly places, along the lines of Apple stores, but with a variety of machines from different manufacturers. The associates at my local one are happy to let you play around with a variety of machines and I'm sure would let you try the game out on them for yourself before you made a decision.
posted by IanMorr at 1:46 PM on October 3, 2011

Not cheap, but if I wanted to run FSX on a laptop I wouldn't go for anything less than this.

Alternatively, your son can run FS2004 with extra add-ons and plugins. It runs a lot smoother than FSX, and it looks really good with added scenery packs/packages.
posted by helloworlditsme at 1:52 PM on October 3, 2011

Thanks filthy light thief, you have a good point. He's been playing it on a friend's laptop, but if I can find a desktop computer that works better and costs less, I'll happily go with that. Something that upgrades easily is always a huge plus.
posted by biddeford at 1:53 PM on October 3, 2011

I've been playing flight sims for decades. I would highly suggest getting a desktop. It will perform better and be cheaper, to boot.

You can take the money you save and get him a flight yoke - something like this or this.

Joysticks aren't bad either, and cheaper, though most kids tend to prefer a yoke. The CH Flightstick is an old mainstay, but large for a small kid. The Saitek Cyborg is more adjustable, but less resilient.

Head trackers are amazing as well and really add to the immersion.

There is a whole rabbit hole of flight sim addons you can buy.

Some of this is overkill for a kid, perhaps, but useful if he seems to be into it as he grows up.

One last thing - if your boy really likes flying, the EAA has a youth program called Young Eagles. They do free plane rides for young kids.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:37 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

OK - going from IanMorr's link (from 2006, mind you), that's completely doable in a desktop PC. Plus, it could be pretty cheap. The one thing to watch out for is the graphics. Lots of inexpensive towers have integrated video support, which could be fine for FSX, but if your son wants to get involved with more modern games, you'll want a better video card than 512 mb.

My suggestion would be to check out the online coupon listings for local chains (assuming you're in the US): Stables, Office Max, Office Depot, Best Buy and whoever else you can think of. Computers are frequently discounted $100-$250, so if you're buying at sticker price, you could probably get a better deal elsewhere. The sales change from week to week, so if there's nothing that you like now, you can wait a few days and check again.

Also, if you find a system that is great, except it's lacking a good video card, that's an easy enough fix. Make sure it has space for a good/modern video card, and you can buy one online. Again, look for the sales, and you can cut the cost of the machine by quite a bit.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2011

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