The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
YOU DON'T NEED…
One piece of hardware you probably won't need is a math co-processor. This is an add-on chip that costs a hundred dollars and speeds up the number-crunching capability of the CPU. Since computer graphics depend on a lot of complex mathematical calculations, some people suffer from the delusion that a co-processor will speed up the frame rate.
Not true. With a few esoteric exceptions, no flight simulation software is "aware" of a co-processor. In order for a program to take advantage of these specialized chips, the program has to be written with one in mind—as are many spreadsheet and CAD (computer-aided design) programs. On the other hand, if you find yourself favoring one of the few games, like Falcon, that can utilize a "co-pro," it will enhance the highest levels of game play.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Okay, let's put it all together.
Software developers know hardware requirements better than anybody. Their idea of the center of the home computer universe is a 25-MHz 486SX with one or two megabytes of RAM, an 80-megabyte hard disk, and VGA graphics. But go to any computer show and you'll see them demonstrating their wares on sleek, Pentium-powered machines, so don't be surprised if the same software doesn't look as good at home on your father-in-law's hand-me-down 6-MHz IBM AT.
WHAT ABOUT PORTABLES?
If you've got more money than good sense, you may want to try a portable computer: laptop, notebook, whatever. My advice? Forget it; they make terrible game machines. My objections? 1. Lousy ergonomics [cramped keyboards and nonstandard location of arrow keys, for example]. 2. No way to attach a joystick without an external parallel port adaptor]. 3. Without an expansion slot there is no external sound capability. 4. The display is, of necessity, small and usually monochrome [unless you're willing to spend a ton of money for color). And 5. Slow doesn't begin to cover it.
Dollar for dollar, you get about twice as much performance from a desktop. Plus room for expansion, the video setup of your choice, room-filling sound, an easily installed joystick, and maybe a HOTAS throttle.