It dawns on me that I have the Cessna 172 on both programs, and can recreate my real C172 flights on both platforms and compare the experience. I start with the FSX at Austin Mueller and head for Taylor, just a few miles to the north. Everything seems normal, except the long take-off roll and some ground handling difficulty. The settings were the same I have been using, with brown and green out the window, generally identifiable landmarks, and sparse buildings. After landing, I reset the graphics to high and take off from Mueller again and head south to San Marcos. This time, the airport has hangars, there are buildings and trees all over the place, and I even find the state capitol building downtown. The only problem is, the simulation is incredibly slow to respond to any inputs and even freezes up occasionally. Not realistic!
I close FSX and open FS2004. I have not messed with the settings at all, and it is very detailed, with seasonal trees and a more textured aircraft. The views change quickly, and scroll seamlessly. I fly from San Marcos to Austin, easily following the freeway. The scenery below is not super detailed, but the city has buildings and the rivers and transmission towers are where they should be.
I go back to FSX and change all the scenery settings to low, then spawn at Austin Executive in the C172 with the glass cockpit. This time, the view is all brown, with no buildings at all, but the highways and runways are well represented. The glass gauges take a little getting used to, but the view changes and scrolling are quick. I easily find my way back to Austin Mueller.
So, with my 10-year-old Dell running Vista, the FS2004 seems the better choice. Since most of my flights are VFR, it is important to be able to look out the window and see more than just a drab, featureless landscape. However, a smooth simulation is also important. The FSX works fine with settings in the middle, and there is always the option of getting a newer computer.
Cessna 172: FSX v. FS2004
C172 G-BAFM (FSX); N176CM (FS2004); N700MS (FSX)
From: KATT (Austin Mueller, Texas)
To: T74; T98; 3R3; KATT (Taylor, San Marcos, Austin Executive, Austin Mueller)
SEL: 2.1 hrs.
3/31/1990: C172 N9627V AUS-T74-AUS 1.0 hrs., 4 landings
3/16/1990: C172 N4980D AUS-T98-AUS 1.6 hrs., 5 landings
4/8/1990: C172 N75931 3R3-LCL 1.3 hrs., 6 landings