X-Plane 10 vs. FSX: Which is better?

What is the difference between X-Plane 10 from Laminar Research and Microsoft Flight Simulator (FSX)? More importantly, which one is better?

A quick search on Google will reveal about a million results to these questions, and you’ll quickly discover is that there isn’t a clear and definitive answer to this. Everybody has their own opinion on the subject, and this X-Plane 10 vs FSX comparison just happens to be mine.

X-Plane 10 vs FSX: My thoughts

Let me begin by saying that I consider myself to be an average (horrible) flight simmer, as opposed to a totally hard-core wannabe pilot who does everything by the book. I try to follow procedure as closely as I can, but I’m still learning the in’s and out’s of complex SIDs and STARs, fuel and weight calculations, and other complex systems.

Even though I am still new to all this, I do know enough to fly around efficiently via basic GPS navigation and autopilot functions. Heck, even my landings are halfway decent! Except for my last landing at BCN where I got sloppy and overran the runway by a few hundred feet. Oops. But that’s a topic for another post…

Anyway, I am the type of person who prefers visual realism over highly accurate systems and flight dynamics. I’m not a pilot in real life, and I have no desire to become one so there is no burning desire for a hard-core sim experience.

I just want to fly around the world as visually realistic as I can and look at all the pretty scenery along the way. Real-world functionality is indeed necessary, but it’s slightly lower on the list of priorities for me.

My history with X-Plane 10 and FSX

I started my flight sim journey with X-Plane 10 in May of this year, and believe me: I struggled a LOT trying to decide on X-Plane vs FSX. I am a Mac user however, so that pretty much was my only option even though I had heard great things about FSX.

I do admit that I felt like I “settled” for a lesser flight simulator, but those feelings were washed away as soon as I installed it and started flying around. It was my first flight sim experience and to say that I was blown away is putting it mildly.

On the ground at Chicago O’Hare!

On the ground at Chicago O’Hare with the default X-Plane 10 747-400 (read my trip report from this FRA-ORD flight)

Several months passed, yet I still couldn’t stop thinking about FSX. I really wanted to try it, so I broke down and installed Windows on a separate partition on my Mac (Bootcamp rocks), downloaded the service packs, and installed all the software.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was not impressed the first time I loaded it up. It was difficult to navigate, the graphics were bland, and for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like the planes flew accurately – at least compared to X-Plane. But remember, I’m not a real-world pilot, so that last point doesn’t carry much weight. At this point, I was pretty sure that Laminar Research had won the X-Plane 10 vs FSX battle. For me anyway.

However, it didn’t take long before I was adding more and more third-party extras to FSX (REX essentials, GEX terrain, Aerosoft scenery, etc). The more I added, the better the experience became. It took a lot of time to get everything added and installed but I now have a really great setup with FSX and it’s a pleasure to fly.

Comparison of X-Plane and FSX: Pros and Cons

I use both X-Plane and FSX equally now, so I feel I’m well-qualified to do this X-Plane vs FSX comparison. Both have their pros and cons though, which are listed here:

X-Plane pros:

  • It’s a very stable platform and crashes very rarely
  • Add-on’s are easy to manage – just drag and drop into the main folder and it’s installed!
  • Really good default weather engine
  • The software is evolving daily. Laminar research is heavily developing the platform and offers great support.
  • New scenery and aircraft are being added all the time
  • Really nice flight dynamics
  • Very realistic default terrain

X-Plane cons:

  • Crude interface (this is being reworked, according to Laminar Research)
  • It’s still a young platform so aftermarket support is not as established as it is for FSX
  • While the default terrain is very nice, there is no winter or snow in the world of X-Plane. It’s summer 24/7/365 no matter where you fly in the world.
  • There are no city or airport buildings included in the default scenery package

FSX Pros:

  • With a lot of aftermarket plugins installed, the experience is untouchable by any other flight sim
  • The default scenery includes airport buildings (and some city buildings)
  • Aftermarket and third-party support is mind-blowingly good

FSX cons:

  • Initial set-up takes a long time, and you’ll have to constantly tweak your settings to get the best experience possible. I dread the day when I get a new computer and I’m going to have to re-install and configure everything again.
  • FSX is very bland without any additional plugins. This means that if you want a really great (realistic) experience, it’s going to get expensive.
  • Microsoft is no longer developing FSX and has stopped all support. The software is already 6 years old at the time of this writing (2012), and it’s basically dead according to Microsoft.
  • FSX has been highly unstable for me– be prepared for a lot of software crashes

Which is better? X-Plane 10 or FSX?

So, based on all that, which one do I think is better? Both are really (really) good but I’m going to have to give the nod to X-Plane 10. Yes, the graphics are more detailed in FSX, the aftermarket support is downright incredible, and it greatly satisfies my desire just to fly around the world and look at great scenery.

But X-Plane 10 just seems so much more refined. Once you get past the crude interface, it really shines. The flight dynamics, default weather engine, and overall stability make it very easy to like.

I’m very excited about the future of X-Plane and the direction that Laminar Research is taking it. I’m tightly buckled in and ready for the ride!