X-Plane 12 vs MSFS 2020: Ultimate Showdown of Flight Sim Giants

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Diving deep into the heart of aviation simulation, this article contrasts “X-Plane 12” and “Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020,” exploring which platform best elevates the flight experience for enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Key Takeaways

  • Advanced Flight Physics vs. Stunning Visuals:X-Plane 12” shines with its sophisticated flight dynamics, while “Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020” captivates with unparalleled graphical fidelity.
  • Aircraft and Airport Detailing: Both simulators boast an impressive array of aircraft and detailed airports, with each having its own approach to realism and immersion.
  • Community and Mod Support: “X-Plane 12” benefits from a robust modding community, whereas “Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020” offers a curated selection of high-quality mods and expansions.
  • System Requirements and Accessibility: “Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020” demands high-end hardware for the best experience but is optimized for diverse systems, including cloud gaming platforms.

When it comes to flight simulators, there are two major players currently dominating the scene: X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. These two franchises are at the cutting edge of flight simulation, enabling both aviation enthusiasts and professional pilots to experience realistic flights from their sofas. 

Despite this, one question is frequently asked by flight simulator enthusiasts: which is better, X-Plane 12 or Microsoft Flight Simulator? The question is not as simple as it seems.

X-Plane 12, developed by Laminar Research, is renowned for its advanced flight physics, making it a popular choice among aviation professionals and enthusiasts. On the other hand, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, developed by Asobo Studio, has been hailed for its outstanding graphics and highly detailed world rendering. 

Both simulators have their strengths, and this article aims to provide an in-depth comparison between X-Plane 12 and MFS 2020, covering various aspects such as development history, system requirements, graphics, aircraft and airports, flight physics, the modding community, pricing and future expansions. 

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By examining these aspects, we aim to provide a comprehensive guide for those trying to decide which simulator best suits their needs, whether for training, entertainment or exploring the virtual skies.

The Evolution of Flight Simulators: Tracing the Legacy of X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator

The journey of X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator as leading flight simulators has been one of continuous innovation and improvement. X-Plane, originally launched in the 1990s, has evolved considerably over the decades. It was one of the first simulators to use blade element theory to model aircraft, offering a more realistic flight experience. This commitment to realism and physics has been a constant in the development of X-Plane, of which X-Plane 12 is the latest iteration.

Microsoft Flight Simulator, whose origins date back to the 1980s, has a longer history. It is rightly credited with popularising the genre. The 2020 version marked a significant step forward, using Microsoft’s Azure AI to reproduce 3D models of the entire planet, offering an unrivalled rendering of virtual flight. The 2020 version has been hailed as a technological marvel.

Both franchises have consistently pushed the boundaries of what is possible in flight simulation. While X-Plane has concentrated on the physical aspects of flight, to such an extent that aerospace companies even use it.

Microsoft Flight Simulator, on the other hand, has broadened the accessibility of the genre, bringing it to a wider audience thanks to its accessibility and stunning visuals.

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Graphical Fidelity in the Sky: Comparing Visuals of X-Plane 12 and MSFS 2020

Graphics and scenery are perhaps the most significant differences between X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. These elements can play a crucial role in immersion, depending on the audience. 

X-Plane 12 offers improved graphics over its predecessors, with enhanced textures, more realistic lighting and improved atmospheric effects. The attention to detail in the aircraft models is striking. However, where X-Plane 12 falls a bit short is in the rendering of the world. While airports are well rendered, landscapes and cities lack the vibrancy and complexity found in its counterparts. Although Laminar research frequently releases updates to improve the graphical experience, you’ll have to turn to the modding community to improve X-plane 12’s scenery. 

MFS 2020, on the other hand, sets a new benchmark for world rendering. Using Microsoft’s Azure AI and Bing Maps, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 offers photorealistic landscapes and detailed urban environments. The level of detail in the rendering of cities, weather and environmental effects is unprecedented and without comparison. Flying over familiar cities and landmarks in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is a breathtaking experience. Even 3 years after its release, the graphics of the game developed by Asobo Studio leave you speechless. 

Both simulators feature day/night cycles, dynamic or real-time weather and seasonal changes. For users who prefer to fly in a virtual world that sticks to reality, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has no competition.  

Winner: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

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Aircraft, Airports and Scenery Showcase: The Realism of X-Plane 12 vs. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

The variety of aircraft and airports is another key factor in any flight simulator. X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 both excel in this area but with different priorities and strengths.

X-Plane 12 features 23 aircraft, ranging from light aircraft to commercial aircraft, helicopters, seaplanes and even fighter jets. Each aircraft is meticulously modelled, with detailed cockpits.

What’s more, X-Plane’s open modelling approach means that there are plenty of opportunities to enhance the aircraft library with content created by the community.

As for airports, the Laminar research simulator is no slouch, containing over 17,000 detailed airports. However, X-plane 12’s scenery is procedurally generated and looks more like Sim City than the real world. 

The simulator from Asobo Studios offers 20 aircraft in the standard version and 30 in the Deluxe version, ranging from Boeing 747s and Cessna 172s to private jets such as the Cessna Citation Longitude. 

The 40th-anniversary update of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has added helicopters, gliders and historic aircraft that were missing from the original game, improving the depth of aircraft available. 

MFS 2020 has 37,000 airports modelled using satellite images and photogrammetry, as well as 341 cities modelled in the same manner.

Asobo regularly offers free updates with more airports and cities.

In short, while both simulators offer a rich selection of aircraft and airports, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 offers more scenery content, which greatly enhances immersion in Asobo’s title.

Winner: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Flight Physics: X-Plane 12 vs. MSFS 2020’s Realism

Having a list of aircraft and airports as long as your arm is all very well but the heart of a flight simulator is its flight physics. 

In this department, X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 approach these aspects with their unique strengths.

X-Plane 12 is renowned for its advanced flight model. Using blade element theory, the simulator calculates the forces acting on different parts of the aircraft in real-time, providing an extremely realistic flight experience. This approach enables stalls, spins and other complex aerodynamic phenomena to be simulated more accurately. 

For aviation professionals and enthusiasts who appreciate the technical precision of flight dynamics, X-Plane 12 offers an unrivalled experience. X-Plane’s control systems are also highly customisable, allowing users to fine-tune their configuration to achieve the most realistic reactions.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, while offering impressive flight physics, is often considered slightly more forgiving than X-Plane 12. This makes it more accessible to new or recreational users. The flight model is still realistic, accurately capturing the essence of flying different types of aircraft. The controls are intuitive, so you can even play with a joystick. 

Both simulators feature realistic weather conditions that influence the physics of flight, adding to the realism. Turbulence, wind variations, thermals and other weather phenomena are well represented. They have an impact on the aircraft’s performance and force pilots to adapt their flight techniques accordingly.

In this respect, X-Plane 12 is more accomplished than its competitor. It is often preferred by those looking for an ultra-realistic flight experience. 

In contrast, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is praised for its balance between realism and accessibility, making it attractive to a wider range of users, from beginners to experienced pilots.

Winner: X-Plane 12

The Modding Scene: Community-Driven Content in X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator

The modding community and the support it provides play an important role in the longevity of flight simulators. X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 both benefit from active modding communities, but there are differences in the scope and nature of the support they offer.

X-Plane 12 has long supported mods created by the community. Its open architecture allows enthusiasts and third-party developers to create and share a wide range of content, including new aircraft models, scenery, airport improvements and more. This openness has given rise to a vast library of mods, which enrich the simulator beyond its original content. 

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 also supports modding, although it initially took a more controlled approach. The introduction of the Microsoft Flight Simulator Marketplace has streamlined the way mods are distributed, providing a platform for professional-quality add-ons. While this ensures a certain level of quality and integration, it also means that the modding scene is a little more regulated than X-Plane. Nevertheless, the simulator has seen a sharp increase in community-created content, ranging from improved scenery to complex aircraft models.

The support of these communities has greatly enhanced both simulators, offering users a constantly evolving experience. Whether in the form of free mods or paid add-ons, the availability of additional content greatly enhances the appeal of both simulators.

While both X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 offer strong community support, X-Plane 12 has a more open and extensive modding community. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 offers a smaller but rapidly growing selection of community-created content.

Winner: X-Plane 12

System Requirements: Which Rig for X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

When comparing X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, it is essential to consider the system requirements. The two simulators are not suitable for all configurations.

X-Plane 12 is more GPU-intensive than CPU-intensive, but it still requires a robust system to work properly, especially at higher settings. 

Laminar Research recommends the following configuration for X-Plane 12: 

The recommended configuration will not give you extraordinary performance, and X-Plane 12 suffers from several framerate drops depending on the aircraft used or where you are flying. It should be noted that the Laminar research simulator seems to perform better with Nvidia GPUs.

In our test of X-Plane 12, we were able to run it on a MacBook Pro M1 at 30 FPS with average settings.

xplane 12 system requirements

With an Intel i9-13900K configuration, an NVidia RTX 3090 24GB GPU, a Samsung 980 Pro SSD, and 64GB DDR5, we were able to run X-Plane 12 decently with 60fps and all settings at maximum.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, on the other hand, is well optimised and performed better than its competitor on the same machine, while offering photorealistic graphics.

The simulator’s use of real data to render its environments makes it particularly resource-hungry.

System requirements for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020: 

  • OS: Windows 10
  • Processor: Intel i5-8400 | AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
  • Memory: 16 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 970 | AMD Radeon RX 590
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 150 GB of available space

Unlike X-Plane 12, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 does not run natively on macOS.

With the same Intel i9-13900K configuration, an NVidia RTX 3090 24GB GPU runs perfectly with no drop in framerate, and with all settings at maximum.

To take full advantage of what each simulator has to offer, a top-of-the-range system is almost indispensable. 

This can be a decisive factor for users, depending on their current hardware and their willingness or financial ability to upgrade.

For cloud gaming enthusiasts, only Microsoft’s title is available on Xbox Cloud Gaming. Unfortunately, neither X-Plane 12 nor Microsoft Flight Simulator are available on GeForce Now.

Winner: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Cost Analysis: Evaluating the Value of X-Plane 12 vs. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 

Generally speaking, price isn’t usually a factor when it comes to choosing a game. Only when it comes to buying a flight simulator, price and value for money can be important factors, given how much content can require you to dip into your pocket. 

X-Plane 12 vs Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 both offer different pricing models and value propositions.

X-Plane 12 is available for a one-off purchase, which includes the base title with a variety of aircraft and detailed global landscapes. This initial cost provides full access to the simulator and its major updates. Laminar Research has announced a price increase for X-Plane 12 to support the ongoing development and improvement of their flight simulator, from $59.99 to $79.99.

There is a wide range of free and paid add-ons, which can significantly enhance the experience, but also increase the overall investment. 

X Plane 12

Game name: X-Plane 12

Release Date: 17 December 2022

Available on: PC & Mac

Buy X-Plane 12 on Instant Gaming

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has a distinct pricing model, available both as a one-time purchase and as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription. This flexibility is particularly attractive to those who want to immerse themselves in the world of Flight Simulator 2020 without a large initial investment. When using Xbox Game Pass, only the standard version of the game is available, and you will have to pay extra to obtain the Deluxe version and its content.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Game name: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Release Date: 18 August 2020

Available on: PC & Xbox Series

Buy MFS 2020 on Instant Gaming

Asobo Studio regularly releases free updates to the game’s scenery, continually enhancing the game’s already impressive visuals and global coverage. 

Although the base game offers substantial content, it should be noted that the cost of additional content, such as extra planes and airports, can quickly add up.

X-Plane 12, on the other hand, tends to offer more free content from the community, which can be a crucial factor for users looking for a rich and customisable flight simulation experience at no extra cost. The abundance of community content in X-Plane 12 adds significant value, particularly for users who value depth and customisation in their simulation experience.

As a result, both simulators cater for different budget levels and user preferences. For budget-conscious users, Microsoft Flight Simulator offers a better price/content ratio, thanks in particular to Xbox Game Pass and free updates.

Winner: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Future Horizons: Upcoming Expansions and Updates in X-Plane and MSFS 2020

The future expansion plans and update cycles of flight simulators are crucial to their longevity and relevance. Both X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 have defined roadmaps for their future development, promising constant improvements and new features.

Laminar Research is known for its commitment to the continuous improvement of its simulator. The community can also expect ongoing support from third parties, with new add-ons regularly enhancing the simulation experience. The commitment to an open platform ensures that X-Plane will continue to evolve through contributions from developers and the community.

Check out the update roadmap for X-Plane 12.

Now in its third year, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has demonstrated a commitment to expansion and evolution. Since its release, Asobo Studio has provided frequent updates, including world-specific updates that enrich the simulator with more detailed landscapes and points of interest. 

Asobo Studio’s roadmap extends to the end of 2024. However, with the announcement of Flight Simulator 2024, which looks set for release in the second half of 2024, the frequency and breadth of updates to Flight Simulator 2020 may diminish as attention turns to its successor.

X-Plane 12, being more recent, could benefit from longer-term development and improvements made by the community. 

Despite these differences, both platforms remain solid investments for enthusiasts, each offering unique experiences and advances in flight simulation.

Winner: X-Plane 12

Conclusion

In this comparison between X-Plane 12 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, we have explored various aspects that are crucial for flight simulation enthusiasts and casual gamers alike. Both platforms have their own strengths and cater for the different preferences of the flight sim community.


X-Plane 12 stands out for its extreme realism. It is particularly well-suited to those looking for an in-depth, customisable simulation experience, whether for professional training or in-depth aeronautical hobbies.
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, on the other hand, excels at creating an incredibly immersive world thanks to its stunning graphics and vast environments. It offers a more accessible yet realistic flying experience, making it an excellent choice for those who appreciate visual realism and the thrill of exploration, as well as those new to flight simulation.

While I have spent many hours flying both simulators, my preference goes to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. I don’t have the pretension of being a professional pilot, but the visuals and accessibility of Flight Simulator win the day. More experienced pilots may prefer X-Plane 12 for its more advanced physics model.
Both simulators offer rich, engaging experiences that put the thrills and challenges of aviation right at your fingertips.
Whether it’s X-Plane 12 or MSFS 2020, the skies are waiting to be explored in these remarkable virtual worlds.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The only additional comment I would make is that on the whole, the quality of the default airports in X-Plane is far better than the majority in MSFS. Sure, MSFS has a few handcrafted airports, but X-Plane has long had the scenery gateway and that means that you can land almost anywhere and the airport will offer a realistic rendition – unlike the majority in MSFS. For those of us with slightly less than optimum hardware, X-Plane tends to offer a smoother experience – I use both sims, but find X-Plane to be a smoother and less frustrating experience. That said, for low, GA flying, you can’t beat MSFS.

    • Thank you for your comment. X-Plane’s Scenery Gateway system does indeed offer a more consistently realistic experience. The downside, however, is that it also leaves the possibility of passing through trees and buildings, which I find a bit of annoying.
      In my opinion, the perfect balance would be a mix of the two simulators.

      Your comment about performance on less powerful equipment is interesting. I wasn’t able to test MSFS on a weaker machine, but I’ll do my best to compare this important point. As mentioned, I was able to test X-Plane 12 on a Mac M1 Pro, but not MSFS, which only ran on a large configuration and is not compatible on a Mac.

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