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Tag Archives: System

Putting together a combinations of add-ons, softwares, and procedures to perform and evaluate the seemingly oxymoronic idea of solo formation practice. Using FSRecorder, TacPack TPS, and Tacview as a system seems to be useful.

Best to watch on YouTube at 720p resolution.

Extending and refining the ideas in a previous post, below is a link to a package of 20 Lua snippets that are to used with DCattaneo’s T-45C model.

The code snippets perform a variety of switch functions in the VC of the model. Included with the package is a document that includes how we have programmed our kit using the Lua snippets.

Download here.

If you have questions or comments, you know how to catch me.

Enjoy.

UPDATE: Here is a tool that allows you to manipulate the USB registry and devices directly. With this tool, you can disconnect all the duplicated devices and identify which registry keys need to be edited for power management.  Here it is: USBTool

Most users of FSX will likely find all of this information superfluous. They will migrate from Windows 7/MS-FSX to Windows 10/FSX-SE or to entirely different simulation platform(s). No need for you to comment that it doesn’t apply to you.

If you are in the scenario where Windows 8.1 and FSX-MS is your combo, I would be very happy to trade advice with you.

As Tom Tsui says, regarding application of his experience, “Your mileage may vary.”

With that caveat, here is a brief overview of the issues with running the Microsoft version of FSX on Windows 8.1, presented in the order they were encountered.

ADMIN RIGHTS

Getting FSX to run without admin rights on Windows 8.1 was not very different than on Windows 7. Installing into a custom folder location with appropriate security rights is the most important step. Many add-ons require admin rights to install, so the installs must be done under an admin user account. In a few cases (Milviz data, TacPack, changes to exe.xml/dll.xml), certain files have to be copied from the admin user’s appdata into the regular user account’s appdata files.

You must turn UAC off however. FSX is not UAC aware and will crash if the operating system attempts to use the UAC mechanism. Many legacy addons are also not UAC aware.

USB DEVICE PROBLEM

Windows 8 and 8.1 have a power saving feature that could possibly save electricity but produces much gray hair if you are using certain kinds of USB hardware. USB devices designated as “passive” are not detected properly because Windows 8.1 is constantly trying to turn them off if not in use. This seems to be related to the joystick drop out problem so many FSX users have reported in Windows 8.

The solution is to turn the power management features off for the specific USB devices. Unfortunately this must be done in the registry. Reference this article: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2900614/en-us. The big deal is actually figuring out which devices are the issue in the system registry. Powered USB hubs can also be a complicating factor in this problem.

FSX_Win81_USBThanks for making the setting so obvious and easy to use

Thrustmaster Cougar MFDs fall into this “passive” category and presented the greatest example of this challenge for our system.

COMPATIBILITY MODES

Windows 7 had some useful application compatibility modes that would allow legacy apps (that’s you, FSX) to run seamlessly in the modern security environment. Windows 8.1 (and Windows 10) compatibility modes are even better, being able to analyze the program code and recommend a compatibility mode. Deliberate testing of FSX and associated apps on our new system without compatibility analysis/mode revealed a LOT of random crashes. FSX would crash when weather was injected by OpusFSI, for example (but not every time).

Under the properties of any .EXE file, there is a compatibility tab where the operating system can analyze the code and recommend an application execution mode. The list for this new computer looks like this:

FSX — Windows Vista SP2
OpusFSI– Windows 7
TrackIR — Windows 7

Note that all .dll and .exe that are spawned by FSX, will also run under the Windows Vista SP2 compatibility mode, thus reducing the need to check them individually.

FSX_Win81_CompatOne of the best and most under used features of Windows

FSX.CFG TWEAKS

Here are the only fsx.cfg tweaks used for this install of FSX:

[GRAPHICS]
HIGHMEMFIX=1
[Display]
WideViewAspect=True
[Main]
FIBER_FRAME_TIME_FRACTION=0.4
DISABLEPRELOAD=1

BUILTIN SOUND CARD

While troubleshooting a particularly vexing performance issue involving KSEA, Orbx PNW, and Orbx FTX Global, it became apparent that turning the sound off in FSX could increase FPS by up to 30%. Simply hitting “Q” and toggling the sound on/off made dramatic differences in FPS. The builtin sound card uses CPU cycles to process/output the sound files.

With an addon sound card, this processing is offloaded to the card instead of using the CPU, thus more instruction cycles are available for visual render processing. The gaming community as a whole seems to have a good grip on this issue, so an addon sound card is in our future.

HEPT

The same vexing performance issue led to a potential problem related to the HEPT timer. Gamers using ASUS motherboards seem to report HEPT as a source of graphics stuttering. Not exactly a deal killer on our new system, but turned off anyway because it is not needed.

UIAUTOMATIONCORE

The most persistent, random, and annoying crashes of FSX on this new system seem to have been related to the infamous UIAutomationCore.dll phenomenon familiar to many Windows 7 users. We never had this problem with FSX in Windows 7 and always suspected that it was because of a specific addon software, not necessarily FSX.

With FSX on Windows 8.1, it felt like it was happening with certain addon aircraft more frequently than others, but the overall frequency, while apparently random, was relatively low….until we installed the VRS Superbug The Superbug was extremely reliable in producing this kind of crashing. We could never get thru the manual start sequence, not even once, without FSX crashing.

Conventional wisdom about the UIAutomationCore.dll issue is that it is only a solution if you are having crashes with the FSX in-game menus. This does not appear to be the only scenario in Windows 8.1. All of our very reliable crashes with the Superbug were generated by clicking switches in the VC.

Similar to the compatibility modes, Windows Error Reporting (WER) was available in Windows 7 but enhanced and expanded in Windows 8.1. Looking at the app crash logs in WER clearly pointed to UIAutomationCore.dll as the faulting module.

FSX_Win81_CrashHiding in plain sight

Subject to more thorough testing, placing UIAutomationCore.dll version 6.0.6001.18000 (Windows Vista 32 bit) in the same folder with FSX.EXE seems to have exorcised the crashes. Interesting to note that Windows 8.1 recommended Windows Vista compatibility mode for FSX.

2015-5-23_19-50-16-729Well worth all the trouble

Updated 01/10/2015 to reflect current simulator installs

(TL;DR Dinking with computers may actually be finished for a while. “All statistical models are wrong, some are useful” — George E. P. Box.)

We’ve had a new, more powerful, computer running for a few months now. And briefly mentioned some of the overall system design just a few weeks ago.

The new computer, running an Intel processor at 4.8GHz, is a big jump in performance and is our primary simulation system. The previous computer, an AMD processor running at 4.0GHz, is in use as a development/testing system.

The new computer should last 4-5 years based on the past five years of flightsim history (more about this in a minute).

Left largely unsaid was that neither of these computers were in their final configuration as of a month ago. In the last 4 weeks, we have reformatted and re-installed operating system/applications/add-ons on both of these computers twice. That is correct, a total of 4 re-formats and re-installs in 4 weeks.

Our task(s) were a bit less daunting than the average excruiatingly painful re-install because we designed our disk drives such that data, operating system, and applications were separated. Of course, apps and add-ons had to be re-installed, but we did not lose all the individual settings configuration when re-formatting the operating system drives. Along the way, we devised a way to mass activate several gigabytes of installed scenery files in FSX, FSX-SE, and P3D, but that is another discussion.

We can finally say “final computer configuration” after all the R&D that has been going on since May of this year.

The primary simulation computer (which we will call YUREI), is running Windows 10 operating system and has 4 simulation engines installed. Starting out as Windows 8.1, it was removed from our Active Directory domain and re-installed as a clean Windows 8.1 OS so that we could get the Windows 10 upgrade license.

The simulation engines installed on YUREI are:
1) FSX boxed edition by Microsoft
2) Prepar3D v2.4 by Lockheed Martin Removed and refund requested
3) X-Plane 10.36 10.40 by Laminar Research (via Steam)
4) DCS-World 1.2 by Eagle Dynamics/The Fighter Collection

Interesting to note, 3 of these 4 simulators are due for signficant upgrades any day now.

The development/testing computer (which we will call KITSUNE) is running Windows 7 operating system and has 3 simulation engines installed. Also installed are a variety of SDKs and development tools such as Sketchup, AFX, Airport Design Editor, GIMP, etc. Starting out as Windows 7, we did a clean install of Windows 8.1 only to see that many of the development tools would not work in our security environment. As a result, we formatted and re-installed it as Windows 7 for now.

The simulation engines installed on KITSUNE are:
1) FSX-SE by Dovetail Games (via Steam)
2) X-Plane 10.36  10.40 by Laminar Research (via Steam)
3) Rise of Flight by 1C Game Studios/777 Studios (via Steam)

These past few days have mostly been about performance benchmarking in P3D, the newest engine in the hangar. So far, the results are very good.

Mentioned in a previous screed, it seems we are living in a multiple sim world. We have had some very good, challenging and interesting discussions on Facebook and over chat about this idea, its ramifications, and not surprisingly, the future of flightsim. This discussion is taking place in many forums as well.

One of the viewpoints we read used Google trends to make a business case that a particular flight simulator under development should not confine itself to flight simulation. Although the business decision to make a multi-purpose simulation engine is very good (and being done by some other teams), the manner in which Google trends was used was very clumsy and un-nuanced.

Check out this dramatic looking Google trends diagram:

TrendsExample1We are way past our prime

Not only is the “Interest over time” in “FSX” declining but look at the yellow “flightsim” line. After the viewer catches their breath, they might want to look at the dates along the bottom. Of course, FSX searches were more frequent from 2006-2009. One to three years is the prime lifespan for most gaming software. The fact that “FSX” is a more common search term than “flightsim” says more about the longevity and legacy of FSX than it says about the decline of flightsimming hobby. Note also, that the trend analysis has “FSX” more or less stable over the next 2-3 years.

Further to this point, removing “FSX” from the search terms creates this diagram:

TrendsExample2More detailed

The “interest” in “flightsim” continues to decline and is predicted to continue to decline. However, “interest” in specific flight simulation products is on the rise. This is not say that there are the same number of people buying flight simulator software today as there was in 2008. In fact, we would say there has been real decline in the total number of copies sold between 2009 and today.

However (and if these “interest” statements hold any validity), the number of copies to be sold in the next 2-3 years is on an upward trend. Further, users are more educated about the products as shown by the decline in the generic “flightsim” “interest”.

All of this is relevant to me (yes, switching editorial perspective) primarily because of the scarcity of flight time in my schedule. I want to continue development of some scenery products but frankly, I am a pilot first. The results of my little survey and data such as these trends tell me where to focus my efforts. I will confess to some interest in iconoclasm of opinion based on the un-mensurated.

FSX-SEJudging by the number of internet hits

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we uploaded a spreadsheet based HOTAS programming reference.

There have been a lot of changes to our systems since then, one in particular being that we use Tripod’s SuperScript for programming our Thrustmaster HOTAS for use with the VRS Superbug.

Here is how we have the HOTAS set up as of today:

  WarthoThrottleBaseSuperscriptuchi WarthogThottleSuperscriptuchi WarthogStickSuperscriptcuhi ThrustmasterMFDSuperscriptuchi

And, for your personal use, a graphical HOTAS programming reference that can work even if you are not using SuperScript.

Enjoy.

As a result of our participation in a few forum discussions concerning FSX performance, the website is getting a good bit of traffic for the information about we how analyzed and tweaked our system(s). And, a couple folks who were helped by our scars from work on Windows 8.1 have made some very kind and appreciative comments. Perhaps the time is right to discuss in more detail our latest system, including the software load.

The basic hardware specs for this computer are in the “Details” link at the top of the page. The best purchase decision we made was to go with a motherboard that did “one click” overclocking. The complexity of overclocking our system from 4.0 GHz to 4.7 GHz was limited to one drop down menu in the BIOS configuration. Literally, one decision, one setting to overclock almost 20%. We highly recommend this feature (and the ASRock motherboard). The second best purchase decision was a sealed system water cooler for the CPU. No mess, no fuss, easy assembly with an added bonus of much quieter sound levels from the box. The baseline performance of the system with almost no add-ons was a nice surprise.

YureiInProgressIn progress

From the earliest beginnings of this journey, we envisioned running the simulation system as a network of 2 or more computers. When the simpit build is awakened from hibernation, it will undoubtedly have an embedded computer running as a mate to our current simulation desktop. For now, the simulation-desktop-before computer (referenced in “Details” as the “Development/Testing Workstation”) is only being used as it’s moniker implies; no concurrent processes with the new workstation.

There are 5 separate hard drives in this workstation. We are not just using the machine for FSX, but also X-Plane, DCS World, and Prepar3d (to come a little later this year). It made sense to distribute the software loads across multiple drives. More significantly, we have a drive dedicated for the installs of all the ancillary programs, applications, and utilities for the various flightsims. This “AddOns” drive allows to install the programs outside of the default “c:\program files” structure to reduce the need for admin rights. There is also a side benefit to performance by having the active apps on a separate disk spindle from the operating system. The “AddOns” drive has a folder “AddonScenery” where all the custom add on scenery for FSX/P3D is installed. More on this a little later.  Finally, there is the “Workspace” drive. This drive is an “everything” else storage area. It is shared across the network so we can trade files between the 2 computers.

YureiDrivesDisk overview

You will note that none of the drives are super huge in storage space. Distributing the data like this across multiple disk spindles not only increases overall application/system performance, it also reduces the probability and effects of any single drive failure. We have been working with disk drive technology for over 40 years, beginning in 1974 with removable 640 byte platters on an IBM 1130. The one absolute from this arranged marriage of 4 decades is: All hard drives fail, be ready. A secondary empirical observation from working with literally thousands of computers is: More spindles are better than bigger drives.

Both of the active sim computers are backed up each day to our file server  (a current backup is part of the “Be Ready” axiom). Our file server has 6 hard drives arranged into 3x RAID1 volumes. With this configuration, any single drive failure failure on the server will not create a problem. In fact, the server ran from July 18 until August 10 with a drive failure on the main data volume with no ill effect.

The entire server is backed up every night to a portable disk. The portable backup is what will make it out of any potential house fire or hurricane event.

Server cabinetThe Moroccan theme paint job on our custom server cabinet

No joke, this new computer really hurt our pocketbook and sim budget. We are on very tight purchase restriction until next summer as a result. Still, it is a long term investment and we are hoping to get 5 years from it running the various sims.

Stay tuned for details of our software configuration.

We got a new simulation computer with our tax refund, finally got it assembled and ready for testing. We chose Windows 8.1 as the operating system in anticipation of the upcoming Windows 10 availability. Right now, just doing basic stability and configuration drills.

Along the way, got some pretty stunning examples of the differences between regular FSX scenery and photoscenery.

TestLocationThe location of the photos

WhitingDefaultSceneryTestDefault scenery, all sliders to the right, 80-90 FPS

WhitingPhotoSceneryTestPhotoscenery, all sliders to the right, 250-300 FPS

OpusFSI running in both examples.

Detailed specs to come as we finalize the software loads and configuration settings.

(Updated 28/6/2014..screen cap incorrect now)

Long time readers know that I use a Windows command file to run FSX. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I use SimLauncher by Maarten Boelens as a front end interface to load a flight directly into FSX. After configuring the flight, SimLauncher executes the command file with the name of the .flt file to start FSX. SimLauncher has a lot more options for starting a flight, like the state of the plane’s systems.

Secondly, and more to the point of this post, the command file sets the processor affinity and thread priority on FSX and all the FSX related processes. Using the command file, I give FSX.exe free and exclusive use of multiple cores and have it run at a higher priority than other programs. The batch file has been working very well, thank you, for almost 2 years.

Recently, I updated my Nvidia video drivers and installed GeForce Experience software. The GeForce Experience application includes ShadowPlay, Nvidia’s native video recording software. ShadowPlay works great..BUT, the extra Nvidia “stuff” running in the background of GeForce Experience was noticeably hurting my FSX performance. Background processes such as checking for driver updates that are really not needed.

I tried to turn these processes off, but GeForce Experience, and by extension, ShadowPlay would not start without those executables running. So began the experimentation with affinity and priority in an attempt to at least confine those programs to only a small part of the processor.

Last year, in a forum thread on using FSX’s native processor affinity settings, Simmer2050 (not his real name) indicated he used “ProcessLasso” to set the processor behavior of FSX. At the time, I was happy with the way my command file was working and mentally filed the thread away for future investigation. Turns out, ProcessLasso is exactly what was needed to tame those Nvidia programs.

ProcessLassoas it is running on my system

Some things to note from the image:

  • FSX.exe is the only FSX related software running on cores 1-6 of my 8 core machine. It is also running at a “High Above Normal” priority.
  • All other FSX related programs are confined to core 0 (the first core). Except for TrackIR, all are running at “Normal” priority.
  • The Nvidia apps are confined to core 7 (the last core).

With this configuration, no FSX related app is going to take processor capacity away from FSX.

The basic version of ProcessLasso is free and can be found at bitsum.com. If you are interested in this arcane sort of knowledge, give it a try.

Some very interesting FSX tuning information based on the NN school of tweaking can be found here. The topic has been bumped as recently as 20/5/2014 and seems a good more like the SK school. Despite my prejudices and that forum’s history, the information is very good.