[HOW-TO] Graphics Settings and Performance Guide (SU5 Complete Retest) (8/2/2021)

Completely retested for Sim Update 5 build 1.18.14.0, alongside new screenshots. Major differences include much lower CPU impact with Terrain / Object LOD, and more.

Here is a detailed analysis of each setting’s visual and performance impact. I’ve benchmarked the effects of multiple different settings in a sterile scenario.

This guide is supposed to help you make decisions on visual impact versus CPU / GPU impact in the simulator.

Note that situational and hardware differences results can result different performance responses to individual settings, but this should be enough to give you a gist.


System Specifications:

  • i9 9900k, 4.8 GHZ @ 1.28v
    • Hyperthreading Enabled
  • 32GB of 3600MHZ 16-20-20-38 DDR4 RAM
  • GTX 1080 at 1987 / 5454 MHZ @ 1.093v
    |
  • Windows 10 build 21H1.
  • Nvidia drivers 471.41 with HAGS On.
  • MSFS Client + Packages + Cache is installed on an NVME SSD.

Methodology and Scenarios

Testing Methodology:

  • Tested on Sim Update 5 build 1.18.14.0 with all available World Updates

  • Screenshots are taken at GPU Bottleneck settings for greatest clarity

  • Framerate numbers are captured by developer mode FPS counter

  • GPU usage and VRAM usage are monitored through MSI Afterburner

  • If a setting seemingly requires a restart to take effect, a standardized position will be used

  • CPU / GPU dependency of a setting is determined by contrasting the performance difference between CPU bottlenecked settings and GPU bottlenecked setting


Testing Scenario:

Multiplayer: Off (Group Only)
Air Traffic: Off
Weather & Time: Custom, few clouds 12 PM
  • Camera angles kept static per each graphic setting
  • Testing locations vary between graphics settings

Test Settings:

Please note that the settings below are not meant to be copied and are only meant as a point of reference for testing. Scroll down to “Settings Analysis” for recommended settings.

Baseline Test Settings:

GRAPHICS

Display Mode: Fullscreen
Full Screen Resolution: 1920X1080
HDR10: Grayed out (in on position)
Global Rendering Quality: Custom

Advanced Settings

V-Sync: Off
Render Scaling: 100
Anti Aliasing: TAA
Terrain Level of Detail: 100
Terrain Vector Data: Ultra
Buildings: Ultra
Trees: Ultra
Grass and Bushes: Ultra
Objects Level of Detail: 100
Volumetric Clouds: Ultra
Texture Resolution: Ultra
Anisotropic Filtering: 16x
Texture Supersampling: 8x8
Texture Synthesis: Ultra
Water Waves: High
Shadow Maps: 2048
Terrain Shadows: 1024
Contact Shadows: Ultra
Windshield Effects: Ultra
Ambient Occlusion: Ultra
Reflections: Ultra
Light Shafts: Ultra
Bloom: On
Depth of Field: Ultra
Motion Blur: Off
Lens Correction: Off
Lens Flare: On

TRAFFIC

Aviation Traffic

Aircraft Traffic Type: Off
AI Airliners Traffic Density: 0 (grayed-out)
AI General Aviation Traffic Density: 0 (grayed-out)
Show Traffic Nameplates: On

Airport Life

Airport Vehicle Density: 50
Ground Aircraft Density: 50
Worker Density: 50

Land and Sea Traffic

Leisure Boats: 50
Road Vehicles: 50
Ships and Ferries: 50

AI & Multiplayer Traffic Detail

Use Generic Plane Models (AI Traffic): Off
Use Generic Plane Models (Multiplayer): Off
Traffic Variety: Medium

DATA

Data Connection

Online Functionality: On
Bing Data World Graphics: On
Photogrammetry: On
Live Real-World Air Traffic: On
Live Weather: On
Multiplayer: On

Data Bandwith Usage Limit

Bandwidth: 40 Mbit/s

Rolling Cache Settings

Rolling Cache: On
Rolling Cache Limit (GIB): 100
GPU Limited Test Settings:

Following baseline with following changes:


GRAPHICS

Advanced Settings

Render Scaling: 200
CPU Limited Test Settings:

Following baseline with following changes:


GRAPHICS

Advanced Settings

Render Scaling: 30


Anti Aliasing: Off

Terrain Level of Detail: 200

Objects Level of Detail: 200


Volumetric Clouds: Low

Shadow Maps: 768
Terrain Shadows: Off
Contact Shadows: Off

Ambient Occlusion: Off
Reflections: Off


Foreword:

  • Fullscreen typically nets you the lowest performance loss

  • V-Sync is recommended to be disabled unless you can constantly maintain the same framerate as your display refresh rate, otherwise there will be frame pacing issues.

    • Suggested to force V-Sync via graphics driver instead of using sim implementation
  • Some settings were benchmarked at larger increments (eg. AF 0x, 4x, 16x only) to save time.

  • Always set “Full Screen Resolution” to your native monitor resolution, and tweak rendering resolution with the “Render Scaling” slider. This ensures lowest input lag, and the UI will be as sharp as possible.


Settings Analysis
(right click > view image in new tab, in order to full screen and see effects in full detail)

* - indicates that further testing is required
** - indicates that setting is broken with current Sim Update 5

Graphics

Anti Aliasing

Off

FXAA

DLAA

TAA

Recommended Setting: TAA

Performance Impact:
No impact on CPU performance.

Off gives 23.3 FPS
FXAA gives 22.9 FPS (1.8% reduction)
DLAA gives 22.8 FPS (2% reduction)
TAA gives 22.3 FPS (5% reduction)

Visual Impact:

- FXAA and DLAA seem to have some post processing / coloration issues

  • Geometry aliasing is visible in motion on Off, FXAA, and DLAA, which is not present in TAA.
  • Running <100 Render Scaling with TAA enabled reconstructs the image to native resolution, netting the performance impact that would come with a lower resolution but the image quality similar to a higher resolution.

I highly recommend using TAA as it helps denoise Ambient Occlusion, Reflections and other effects.

Terrain Level Of Detail

Photogrammetry:

10

100

200


Synthesized

10

100

200

Recommended Setting: 100

Performance Impact:
This setting impacts both CPU and GPU performance as it is increased.

Under a CPU bottlenecked scenario,
10 at 142 FPS
100 at 130 FPS (9% reduction)
200 at 120 FPS (18% reduction)

Under a GPU bottlenecked scenario,
10 at 26 FPS
100 at 22.4 FPS (16% reduction)
200 at 20.8 FPS (25% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Linear quality increase up to 100, but going past 100 leads to lower framerates with smaller visual impact.
    |
Terrain Vector Data *

Recommended Setting: Ultra*

To be tested at a later date. Should control quality of elevation data (e.g. mountains, etc).

Buildings

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Medium (low end), Ultra (high end)

Performance Impact:

Under a CPU bottlenecked scenario,
Low at 74 FPS
Medium at 72.5 FPS (2% reduction)
High at 71 FPS (4% reduction)
Ultra at 70 FPS (6% reduction)

Under a GPU bottlenecked scenario,
Low at 24.8 FPS
Medium at 23.1 FPS (7% reduction)
High at 22.8 FPS (9% reduction)
Ultra at 22 FPS (13% reduction)

Visual Impact:

Main impact on synthesized buildings.

  • Low has very barebones buildings.
  • Medium adds clutter / objects to buildings.
  • High and Ultra improve the shading on the buildings.
    |
Trees

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Ultra

Performance Impact:

  • No impact on CPU performance

Low ran at 23.4 FPS
Medium, High, Ultra ran at 22.8 FPS (3% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Higher settings increase draw distance
  • Low has higher contrast appearing on the tree textures, and looks flat / billboard like.
  • Medium makes the trees look significantly more lush and 3D, and somewhat fixes the aforementioned contrast issue.
  • Will have a larger impact in more forested areas
    |
Grass and Bushes

Off

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: High

Performance Impact:

  • No notable impact to CPU performance

Off gave 23.6 FPS,
Low gave 23.2 FPS (2% reduction)
Medium gave 22.5 FPS (5% reduction)
High gave 21.7 FPS (9% reduction)
Ultra gave 20.9 FPS (13% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Density and render distance of the grass changes as the settings increase.
    |
Objects Level of Detail

10

100

200

Recommended Setting: 100*

Performance Impact:

Under a CPU bottlenecked scenario,
10 at 70 FPS
100 at 63 FPS (11% reduction)
200 at 60 FPS (17% reduction)

Under a GPU bottlenecked scenario,
10 at 24.2 FPS
100 at 24.1 FPS (0.5% reduction)
200 at 23.4 FPS (3% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Controls render distance of the LODS of various objects in the world, such as traffic cars and planes.
    |
Volumetric Clouds

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Medium (low end), High (mid range), Ultra (High end)

Performance Impact:
No notable impact to CPU performance.

Low ran at 27.4 FPS
Medium ran at 25 FPS (10% reduction)
High ran at 22.5 FPS (22% reduction)
Ultra ran at 19.5 FPS (40% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Mainly affects cloud resolution (presumably noise texture resolution)

Anything below high looks like mashed potatoes :smiley:

Texture Resolution *

Low

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Ultra*

Performance Impact:
Setting had no noticeable impact to CPU or GPU performance. May have slight impact to GPU performance if on older GPU with lower memory bandwidth.

If you run out VRAM on your GPU, consider lowering this setting.
VRAM usage difference yet to be measured

Visual Impact:

  • Textures on low are generally blurry and pixelated.
  • Textures on ultra more crisp
    |
Anisotropic Filtering

Off

4x

16x

Recommended Setting: 16x*

Performance Impact:
No notable impact to CPU performance

Off gave 23.3 FPS
4x gave 22.7 FPS (3% reduction)
16x gave 21.2 FPS (10% reduction)

Performance impact will lessen with higher GPU memory bandwidth.

Visual Impact:

  • Removes some of the texture blur caused by mipmapping.
  • Provides noticeable increases to quality up to 16x
    |
Texture Supersampling *

I think this setting is potentially broken with SU5. I suggest 4x4 for now.

Texture Synthesis *

Difficult to benchmark, studying later.

Water Waves

Low

Medium

High

Recommended Setting: Medium

Performance Impact:
No notable impact to CPU performance.

Low gave 23.8 FPS
Medium gave 22.7 FPS (5% reduction)
High gave 21 FPS (13% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Waves become more detailed as setting is increased
    |
Shadow Maps

768

1024

1536

2048

Recommended Setting: 1536

Performance Impact:
No notable impact to CPU performance

768, 1024 and 1536 gave 23.4 FPS
2048 gave 23 FPS (2% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Shadows get sharper / higher detailed the higher resolution they are set to
    |
Terrain Shadows

Off

128

256

512

1024

2048

Recommended Setting: 512

Performance Impact:
No impact on CPU performance.

Off gave 29.5 FPS
128 gave 29.3 FPS (1% reduction)
256 gave 29.2 FPS (1% reduction)
512 gave 28.9 FPS (2% reduction)
1024 gave 28.2 FPS (5% reduction)
2048 gave 26.5 FPS (11% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • The screenshots were taken at very similar time of day.
  • The shadow sharpness and accuracy increases as the setting increases.
    |
Contact Shadows

Off

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Ultra

Performance Impact:

Off gave 23.8 FPS
Low gave 23.2 FPS (3% reduction)
Medium gave 23 FPS (3.5% reduction)
High gave 22.9 FPS (4% reduction)
Ultra gave 22.8 FPS (4.5% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Trees and grass are get SSRT shadowing when enabled
  • Quality / Amount of shadowing increases with higher settings
    |
Windshield Effects

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: High

Performance Impact:
No impact on CPU performance.

Low gave 19.7 FPS
Medium and High gave 19.3 FPS (2% reduction)
Ultra gave 18 FPS (9.5% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Raindrops become more dense and smaller at higher settings.
  • Low seemingly renders no raindrops on windshield.
  • Ultra adds SSRT reflections to windshield.
    |
Ambient Occlusion

Off

Low

Medium

High

Ultra


Off

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: High

Performance Impact:
No notable impact on CPU performance.

Off gave 25 FPS
Low gave 24.3 FPS (3% reduction)
Medium gave 24.1 FPS (4% reduction)
High gave 23.4 FPS (7% reduction)
Ultra gave 22.3 FPS (12% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • No ambient occlusion is present at off setting.
  • Resolution increases at higher settings.
  • The amount of ambient occlusion increases at higher settings.
  • Ghosting / Artifacts may be present without TAA.
  • Ghosting / Artifacts more severe on lower settings.
    |
Reflections

Off

Low

Medium

High

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Ultra

Performance Impact:
No notable impact to CPU performance

Off gave 25.9 FPS
Low gave 23.9 FPS (8% reduction)
Medium gave 23.7 FPS (9% reduction)
High gave 23.2 FPS (12% reduction)
Ultra gave 23 FPS (13% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • No screen-space reflections are visible when setting is turned off.
  • Reflections artifact at lower settings.
  • Resolution increases with higher settings.
  • Reflection length also increases with higher settings.
  • Reflection resolution / quality scales with rendering resolution.
    |
Light Shafts

Off

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Ultra

Performance Impact:
No impact to CPU performance

Off gave 22.5 FPS
Ultra gave 21 FPS (7% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • No light rays when turned off.
Bloom

Off

On

Recommended Setting: On

Performance Impact:
No measurable impact to CPU or GPU performance.

Visual Impact:

  • Adds a “blur / bleed” effect to exceptionally bright areas
    – Employed to emphasize bright light beyond a monitor’s peak brightness
    |
Depth of Field

Off

Low

Ultra

Recommended Setting: Ultra

Performance Impact:

No impact on CPU performance.

Off gave 20.5 FPS
Low, Medium, High, Ultra gave 20.3 FPS (1% reduction)

Visual Impact:

  • Depth of field seems to only be visible in drone camera and in main menu hangar
  • Depth of field is not present when setting is off
  • Probably on/off switch, no difference found between low and ultra
    |
Motion Blur

No visual demonstration can be provided due to difficulties with video compression

Recommended Setting: User Preference

Performance Impact:

No effect on CPU performance

Visual Impact:

  • Intensity of motion blur increases at higher setting
  • Quality of motion blur remains the same at every setting
    |
Lens Correction **

broken with SU5 asobo pls fix

Lens Flare

Off

On

Recommended Setting: On

Performance Impact:

  • No visible impact to CPU or GPU performance

Visual Impact:

  • Simulates a camera lens artifact when looking at bright objects such as the sun.
    |

Wishlist to Asobo:

  • Comparison images between Low and Ultra built directly into the sim (see Ghost Recon Wildlands, Watch Dogs 2)
  • More descriptive advanced settings
  • Ability to adjust post process shaders currently applied in the sim (such as sharpening, eye adaptation, bloom strength, film grain. Currently only possible by editing configuration files.)
  • Higher than ultra settings (especially for LOD)
  • Loose tips on potential CPU / GPU impact on performance (see Forza Horizon 4).

Made possible by help from:

@OddSobriquet - Thread Formatting
@DeferredGull247 - Light Rays implementation
@nxtherLOL - Quality Assurance


To learn more about how you can support my projects, view more information about this guide, or download a .zip version, click here.

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Discussion thread here

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Thread Changelog:

8/2/2021

  • Complete retest of performance with Sim Update 5
  • Retook all screenshots in Sim Update 5
  • Hardware configuration changed
    • i7 6700 > i9 9900k
    • HDD install > full NVME install
  • Minor formatting changes

3/16/2021

  • Added AI traffic benchmarks
  • Updated wishlist
  • Note that hardware has slightly changed over time, sim + cache now installed on NVME SSD and community folder on SATA SSD, Nvidia drivers updated to 461.72

1/08/2021

  • Updated wishlist
  • Added description to terrain vector data
  • Added forewarning to different hardware behaviour

10/28/2020

  • Updated for new TAA (new benchmarks + screenshots)
  • Tested newly introduced “Motion Blur” setting from update 5
  • Retested “Lens Correction” + “Depth of Field”
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