X-Plane vs. Microsoft Flight Simulator: Which Is Better?

Are you diving into the world of flight simulation and torn between X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator? We can help.

Are you diving into the world of flight simulation and torn between X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator?

In a nutshell, Microsoft Flight Simulator features stunning graphics, but X-Plane prioritizes customizability.

That’s not the whole story, however.

In this article, we’ll dive into the strengths and weaknesses of both so that you can confidently decide which is right for you.

An infographic of the primary benefits of Microsoft Flight Simulator versus X-Plane.

Graphics

When it comes to graphics, Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) is the undisputed champion.

A screenshot of the Seattle skyline in Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane 12.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

MSFS leverages Bing Maps and Azure AI to generate a photorealistic representation of the Earth.

In other words, it uses actual satellite imagery to create the word.

A screenshot of a private jet over a photorealistic mountain in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Certain cities even feature photogrammetry (3D photos), capturing them in stunning detail.

The weather effects are fantastic, too. Real-time cloud formations, rain, and atmospheric conditions look amazing. 

Microsoft Flight Simulator also features live weather, allowing you to fly in real-time, real-life weather conditions.

A screenshot of a general aviation airplane flying through clouds in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

If you’re interested in sightseeing or Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flying – MSFS is the way to go.

X-Plane

While the graphics in X-Plane have significantly improved, particularly with X-Plane 12, it still lags behind MSFS.

The cockpit visuals in X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator have similar levels of detail, although the graphics in MSFS are more photorealistic.

For some, like those who fly according to Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), the lack of terrain detail isn’t a significant issue.

A screenshot comparing the cockpit of a Cirrus SR22 in IMC in Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane 12.

If you intend on spending most of your time inside clouds, how good your house looks in the simulator isn’t much of a concern.

It is possible to upgrade X-Plane with satellite imagery-based scenery through the use of tools like Ortho4XP and other add-on scenery. Weather addons like Active Sky also significantly improve the weather simulation in X-Plane.

However, this does require some technical skills and patience to set up.

Realism

Both flight models are very realistic, though neither feels exactly like the real thing.

The “realism” of a flight simulator involves countless factors, including (but not limited to): 

  • Terrain
  • Aerodynamics
  • Engines and Systems
  • Weather
  • Ground Handling
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Navigation Databases

Both programs simulate these to varying degrees.

When we talk about a realistic “feel,” this mostly depends on the quality of your yoke or joystick. But how well the simulator models the aircraft’s response to your inputs also matters.

In other words, how accurate is the math that figures out the forces acting on the aircraft?

X-Plane

While it doesn’t match the visual spectacle of MSFS, X-Plane excels in creating a realistic flight model.

X-Plane employs a technique called “blade element theory,” which breaks down each part of the aircraft into many small sections and calculates the aerodynamic forces on each.

A screenshot of the visual representation of blade element theory in X-Plane.

The result? 

Incredibly realistic flight dynamics.

It’s so realistic, in fact, that there is even a professional version of X-Plane that can be used in FAA-certified simulators.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

So, how does Microsoft Flight Simulator’s flight model compare?

Surprisingly well.

While X-Plane has the upper hand, the team behind MSFS have made significant improvements to the flight model since launch.

A screenshot of the aerodynamic visualization in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Aircraft Variety and Mods

Developers are creating custom content for Microsoft Flight Simulator at an astonishing rate, but it hasn’t caught up to X-Plane.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator provides a diverse selection of aircraft included in your purchase. But where MSFS shines is its integration with third-party developers.

Microsoft Flight Simulator’s marketplace is brimming with aircraft and other mods.

A screenshot of the Microsoft Flight Simulator marketplace.

If you’re not particularly technical, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of the Microsoft Flight Simulator marketplace. You can purchase and install content with a click of a button directly in the simulator.

Because MSFS is more popular than X-Plane, third-party developers are incentivized to make content for MSFS.

If you use a relatively common aircraft, Microsoft Flight Simulator is likely to have it available.

X-Plane

Renowned for its customizability, X-Plane is a modder’s dream.

While X-Plane includes a variety of aircraft by default, the possibilities of what you can add and modify are relatively endless.

X-Plane has passionate developers and users, providing thousands of mods.

Do you want to simulate very specific avionics that you fly with in real life? You can likely replicate it in X-Plane. For example, the GTN 650/750 by RealityXP is available for X-Plane, but not for MSFS.

Want to fly a niche homebuilt airplane? You will likely find one for X-Plane.

For those with a knack for creativity, X-Plane even offers Plane Maker, allowing users to design or tweak aircraft to their heart’s content.

A screenshot of the plane maker in X-Plane 12.

X-Plane also has the advantage of time on its side. While Microsoft Flight Simulator was released in 2020, X-Plane 12 is compatible with many mods from X-Plane 11 (released in 2017).

The process of installing mods (called plugins) is generally slightly more technical than in-game MSFS mods. But if you can unzip folders and move them to the proper directories, it is relatively easy.

Flight Training

The flight simulator that will enhance your flight training the best will depend on what type of training you intend to do. 

When it comes to learning navigation by visual landmarks, there’s no match for MSFS.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

If you’re working toward obtaining your private pilot certificate, Microsoft Flight Simulator will provide the most accurate visuals to practice several important maneuvers:

  • Navigation by pilotage (using visual landmarks).
  • Ground reference maneuvers using the same landmarks as in real life.
  • Engine failure procedures (both after takeoff and setting up for an off-airport forced landing).

While X-Plane will also depict roads, lakes, rivers, and other visual references, the satellite-based fidelity of MSFS will allow you to see subtle features that X-Plane will often miss.

X-Plane

There’s a reason why many commercial flight simulators use X-Plane: It’s the most realistic and customizable.

Additionally, X-Plane has advanced features built in that make it valuable for flight training, such as precise repositioning.

A screenshot of the map menu in X-Plane 12.

Microsoft Flight Simulator has third-party add-ons that match many of X-Plane’s flight training features, but the experience isn’t as seamless.

If you’re working toward obtaining your instrument rating, X-Plane is a great choice. You can use built-in tools to analyze and replay each holding pattern and approach to ensure you learn from your mistakes, for example.

Microsoft Flight Simulator has significantly improved its avionics, however. If you fly a G1000 in real life, you’ll find that the G1000 NXi in MSFS with the Working Title mod (downloadable for free from the MSFS marketplace) is a very realistic representation.

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System Requirements and Performance

Both simulators can run on mid-range systems. Microsoft Flight Simulator is more demanding, given its cutting-edge graphics.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator is cutting-edge, which means it has higher system demands. If you’re aiming for a flawless, visually immersive experience, you’ll want a system that’s on the more powerful end of the spectrum.

Here are the minimum system requirements for Microsoft Flight Simulator:

  • Intel i5-4460 | AMD Ryzen 3 1200
  • 8 GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GTX 770 | AMD Radeon RX 570
  • 150 GB Storage

Here are the recommended system requirements for Microsoft Flight Simulator:

  • Intel i5-8400 | AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
  • 16 GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GTX 970 | AMD Radeon RX 590
  • 150 GB Storage

Microsoft Flight Simulator can’t run on a Mac, but there is an Xbox version available.

A screenshot comparing a town in the mountains at dusk in Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane 12.

X-Plane

X-Plane’s system requirements are somewhat more lenient. It’s designed to perform smoothly on a broader range of computers and is even optimized for Mac and Linux.

Here are the minimum system requirements for X-Plane 12:

  • Intel Core i3 | AMD Ryzen 3
  • 8 GB RAM
  • Vulkan 1.3-capable video card from NVIDIA or AMD with at least 2 GB VRAM
  • 25 GB Storage

Here are the recommended system requirements for X-Plane 12:

  • Intel Core i5-12600K | Ryzen 5 3500 | Apple Silicon
  • 16 GB RAM
  • GeForce RTX 2070 or similar from AMD
  • 25 GB Storage

X-Plane runs on PC, Mac, and Linux, but there is no Xbox version available.

Community and Support

Both MSFS and X-Plane have strong community backing. The MSFS community is growing rapidly and has a greater number of casual simmers. X-Plane is less prone to crashes and bugs.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Since the latest iteration of MSFS launched in 2020, the simulator has garnered a vast and vibrant community. The community is growing at an astounding rate, with many first-time and casual simmers joining.

Online forums, dedicated YouTube channels, and social media groups offer tips and assist newcomers. 

With the backing of Microsoft, Asobo Studio, the developers of MSFS, are also heavily engaged in the community. Asobo regularly shares updates and addresses user concerns through the MSFS forum and YouTube channel.

X-Plane

X-Plane boasts a seasoned and dedicated community built over many years.

The community has built extensive databases of resources, many of them free or open source.

The X-Plane community is more technical, too. Many X-Plane users have advanced setups, and X-Plane’s customizability allows the community to innovate significantly.

Laminar Research, the company behind X-Plane, and its founder, Austin Meyer, are also deeply involved in the community. The X-Plane Developer Blog features regular and detailed updates from the development team behind X-Plane (they’re also very well written!).

X-Plane is more stable than MSFS, so you’re unlikely to encounter significant bugs that affect your flying experience. The sim loads quickly, and navigating the menus is generally faster and smoother than in MSFS.

With MSFS, you may encounter an issue or two that requires you to do some Googling to fix.

Cost

X-Plane 12 is $59.99 but features less built-in content (aircraft and activities) than MSFS.

MSFS has three tiers: $59.99, $89.99, and $119.99 – each with
varying levels of content.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator is available in three editions:

  • Standard – $59.99
  • Deluxe – $89.99
  • Premium Deluxe – $119.99

Each version has varying levels of aircraft and hand-crafted airports.

An infographic of the number of airports and aircraft included in each version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

There is less free add-on content available for MSFS compared to X-Plane. That being said, the quality of free content varies, and you’ll likely want to open your wallet to have the best experience.

X-Plane

X-Plane 12 is $59.99 but features less out-of-the-box content than Microsoft Flight Simulator.

X-Plane 12 includes global scenery (the airports are generally less detailed than MSFS) and 19 aircraft (7 of which were added in X-Plane 12).

There is, of course, a significant number of add-on aircraft and scenery available to expand the simulator to your liking.

Conclusion: Which Is Right for You?

MSFS may be the best choice if you:

  • Want to practice VFR flying (particularly for navigation by visual landmarks, ground reference maneuvers, and engine failure practice).
  • Don’t have a gaming PC, but you already have an Xbox Series X/S.
  • Prioritize graphics, visual effects, and a more game-like experience.

X-Plane may be best if you:

  • Want to practice IFR flying.
  • Prioritize aircraft systems realism or want to practice systems failures.
  • Prioritize stability and quick load times.
  • Want a sim optimized for multi-monitor setups.
  • Have a lower-performance computer or not enough disk space for MSFS.
  • Already have a Mac or Linux computer.
  • Prefer a DIY approach to improving your graphics.

Finally, if there’s a particular aircraft you really want to fly, first check if one sim includes it by default or with a free mod. This may help you avoid needing to purchase an expensive add-on.

If you’re still not sure, give each simulator a try. X-Plane offers a free demo, and MSFS can be used for $1 via Game Pass.

Both simulators have their strengths and weaknesses, and either one can be a great way to enter the simulation world. The one that’s best for you depends on what you value and how you intend to use the flight simulator.

Some pilots we work with even own both sims, switching back and forth depending on their priorities for a particular flight.

Made a Decision?

Now that you know which flight simulator is right for you, check out our Home Flight Simulator Setup Guide for an overview of what you’ll need (and what it’ll cost).

If you’re interested in exploring how a flight simulator could supercharge your training, book a session with one of our coaches here (they’re real flight instructors!).

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch to see how we can help.

Happy flying!

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