Flight simulators have been providing PC gaming enthusiasts with realistic flight experiences for decades now. In these games, airports, control schemes, aircraft, and world locations are faithfully represented. Today, many enthusiasts like myself and professional review sites like Lifewire agree that the best flight simulator on the market today is Laminar Research's X-Plane. They've released X-Plane 12, which is a very powerful, very realistic version of the game, but what kind of system can run it? Let's take a look at the best laptops for X-Plane.
What Makes the X-Plane Series so Good for Laptops?
If you’re an aspiring pilot, you might be wondering what type of laptop you need to be able to get the best X-Plane 12 experience. Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered!
Below are some suggested laptop specifications to help you get the most out of X-Plane 12. Keep in mind that these recommendations are based on performance and graphics capabilities, but you’ll want to consider your budget and other requirements as well.
Minimum laptop requirements
- Processor: Intel Core i5
- RAM: 8 GB
- Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce 940M
- Storage: 256 GB SSD
- Operating System: Windows 10 or macOS 10.14
Recommended laptop requirements
- Processor: Intel Core i7
- RAM: 16 GB
- Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050
- Storage: 512 GB SSD
- Operating System: Windows 10 or macOS 10.15
Best laptop requirements
- Processor: Intel Core i9
- RAM: 32 GB
- Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060
- Storage: 1 TB SSD
- Operating System: Windows 10 or macOS 10.16
|Processor: Intel Core i5
|Processor: Intel Core i7
|Processor: Intel Core i9
|RAM: 8 GB
|RAM: 16 GB
|RAM: 32 GB
|Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce 940M
|Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050
|Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060
|Storage: 256 GB SSD
|Storage: 512 GB SSD
|Storage: 1 TB SSD
|Operating System: Windows 10 or macOS 10.14
|Operating System: Windows 10 or macOS 10.15
|Operating System: Windows 10 or macOS 10.16
As flight simulators become more and more realistic, it's essential to have a laptop with the power to keep up. But when you're trying to pick the best laptop for X-Plane 12, choosing the right processor is a crucial decision.
In the last year or so, the CPU market has changed a lot. Apple has released several of their own ARM-based system-on-chip (SoC) modules – the M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max and M2 – with exceptional single-core performance and battery life. On the Windows side of things, AMD has managed to gain 20% of the CPU market share with their 6th generation Ryzen processors. Intel is also gearing up to release their 13th-gen processors to laptops; however, their 12th-gen chips are currently their latest. Both Intel and Apple have adopted a hybrid performance/efficiency core design (based on big.LITTLE) which gives them a performance edge. Ryzen models, on the other hand, tend to have longer battery life.
It's important to note that X-Plane is available on both Windows and macOS; I'm going to focus on Windows PC laptops here, as they're more popular among flight simmers. The processor isn't the most important part of the system when it comes to X-Plane; it's more important to get a good GPU and plenty of RAM.
When it comes to the processor, if performance is your #1 priority, then you should look for an H-series Intel or AMD chip. The choice between Core i5, i7 or i9 (or their Ryzen equivalents) will depend on your budget. However, if battery life is more important to you, you should look for an U-series chip instead. To compare processors, I use benchmark scores from 3DMark and Cinebench R23. For X-Plane, we could also use PassMark or even X-Plane benchmark scores if we can find them.
If you're looking for a budget laptop for X-Plane, look for a laptop with an AMD Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5 processor.
Recommended Processors for X-Plane 12
Here are some processor recommendations I came up with for X-Plane 12, grouped by price brackets.
AMD Ryzen 5 6600U
AMD Ryzen 7 6800H
AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX
X-Plane 12 is a powerful and popular flight simulator, requiring a good amount of graphics power to run smoothly. That means that when you’re picking out a laptop for X-Plane 12, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right GPU for the job.
In the laptop GPU market, Nvidia continues to dominate, with the recently released RTX 40 series (though these are not yet available on laptops) and its current offering of RTX 30 series cards such as the RTX 3070 Ti. However, the gap between power-limited notebook graphics and desktop graphics cards has widened in the past few years, as desktop GPUs now require more power to reach top performance.
In addition, Nvidia has recently discontinued the Max-Q label for its RTX graphics cards, so an exact GPU wattage is determined by a laptop manufacturer (OEM). This results in a wide variance in graphics performance even in laptops with the same GPU chipset.
Integrated graphics are not sufficient for X-Plane; you'll need a dedicated graphics card with dedicated memory for a smooth experience. X-Plane can be run on an entry-level GPU, but it's recommended to go for better graphics cards with more dedicated memory. Both Nvidia and AMD offer multiple lines of GPUs with varying performance levels, though Nvidia's cards dominate the laptop market. X-Plane benchmarks and 3DMark scores are best when comparing graphics cards.
If you care about battery life, look for a laptop with a MUX-switch and possibly Nvidia Advanced Optimus, which allows you to switch the GPU without a reboot.
To give you an idea of the GPU performance you can expect from various price ranges, here is a table of recommended GPUs for X-Plane:
|RTX 3060; RTX 3070 Ti; RX 6800M
|RTX 3080; RTX 3080 Ti
X-Plane 12 is a highly complex flight simulator that requires a lot of RAM due to the huge environments it has to simulate. Most mid-range laptops come with 16 GB of RAM and high-end models come with 32 GB or more. The latest-gen Intel and AMD CPUs support both DDR4 and DDR5 memory, though DDR5 is still quite expensive and needs time to mature as a technology.
For most users, 8 GB is the absolute minimum, with 16 GB being a safe bet. However, for more intensive tasks like X-Plane 12, we recommend a minimum of 16 GB, and 24-32 GB for users who want the best experience. In addition to the capacity of the RAM, you should also consider the latency and frequency of the RAM as well.
For budget users, 8 GB should suffice. You may see some performance hitches while running X-Plane 12, but if you are not using the simulator extensively, 8 GB is a reasonable option. Moving up in price, you'll find that 16 GB of RAM will give you a smooth experience while playing X-Plane 12. High-end users should consider 24-32 GB of DDR5 RAM. While DDR5 RAM is pricier, it offers slightly better performance and lower power consumption at the same time.
SSDs have been dominating the market for some time now, and laptops nowadays come with M.2 slots which are compatible with PCIe NVMe SSDs, making them the standard. For budget laptops (< $900), you can expect to find 500 GB SSDs, mid-range models (around $1,000) have 1 TB and high-end laptops (~$2,000+) have 2 TB.
X-Plane isn't too demanding when it comes to system requirements, so you could probably get away with a smaller SSD. But since you're using an m.2 slot, you should make sure that you get an m.2 drive instead of a SATA drive, as those are much slower and have less storage space. Read/write speeds aren't that relevant for gaming performance, so it's best to focus on the capacity rather than speed.
External drives aren't necessary for running X-Plane, but if you plan on using your laptop for more intensive tasks such as archiving and backups, then it might be a good idea to get one for those tasks.
To make sure you have the right setup for X-Plane, here's a table of recommended SSD configurations depending on your budget:
When looking for a laptop for X-Plane 12, the display should be high up on your list of priorities. The current standard is an IPS or IPS-level screen, whereas TN is only found in the cheapest laptops. Full HD is still the most common display resolution, however QHD is most frequent in premium gaming/business laptops, while 4K is most common in professional notebooks for creators. High refresh rate screens are found in the majority of gaming laptops and while not yet widespread, OLED is becoming increasingly prevalent. Mini LED laptop backlighting may also be seen on professional laptops on occasion, notably after Apple incorporated it in their 2021 MacBook Pro range (14" and 16" models). HDR (VESA-certified) displays are somewhat niche but not exceedingly difficult to find.
A good display will not improve your framerate, however it would be a shame to spend a good chunk of money on a high-end CPU+GPU combo only to end up staring at a washed-out skyline. The display is important in a gaming laptop, especially if you're looking for a high refresh rate panel.
The size of your screen depends on your needs and budget. If you're looking for a long-haul flight simulator, look for a large display (15"+). If you're looking for something more portable, 13" or 14" should be enough. When comparing displays, I use various tests such as color accuracy, contrast ratio, brightness (nits), and refresh rate tests.
What should you aim for in each price range?
Minimum: A decent TN panel; 280 nits; 80%+ sRGB coverage
Recommended: IPS; 300 nits; 90% sRGB coverage; 120Hz refresh rate
High-end: IPS/OLED/mini-LED; 350 nits; 100% sRGB; 240 Hz refresh rate
If you're looking for the best possible experience in X-Plane, consider getting a high refresh rate display with G-Sync or FreeSync support (if you're not going Nvidia). That said, your decision on what display to choose for X-Plane 12 should still be based on your budget and the performance expectations you have in mind.
5 Best Laptops for X-Plane 12
- Excellent price
- Good gaming performance
- Solid array of ports
- Bad battery life
- Rather plain design
- Weak GPU yields unsatisfactory frame rates
- Screen only so-so despite 144Hz refresh rate
The HP Victus 15 provides solid gaming performance at an affordable price, with its impressive 144Hz display and competent CPU and GPU. However, its subpar battery life and plain design are notable drawbacks.
- Delivers smooth gameplay at 1080p.
- Fast SSD.
- No VRR to reduce screen tearing.
- Slow response time on the 144Hz display.
- Lightweight and well-built design
- Good FHD 300Hz and QHD screen options
- Significant performance improvement over the previous generation
- Good battery life with USB-C charging support
- Some ergonomic quirks
- Ports mostly concentrated on the left edge
- FHD 144Hz screen option should be approached with caution.
The ASUS TUF Dash F15 is a powerful and affordable laptop that offers a good balance of performance and price. With a lightweight and well-built design, it provides a great user experience. However, potential buyers should be cautious about the FHD 144Hz screen option.
- Stylish and sleek form factor
- Gorgeous display
- Webcam quality is poor
- No biometrics
- Solid build quality and design
- Good screen and IO
- Competitively priced
- Competent CPU with multiple GPU options
- No Thunderbolt or biometrics
- Hotspots under heavy loads
- Poor speakers
- So-so battery life
The Lenovo Legion Pro 5 offers good value for its price, featuring a solid build quality, a good screen, and ample performance. However, potential buyers should be aware of its hotspots under heavy loads, limited battery life, and lackluster speakers.
- Strong performance for the price
- Quality build and port selection
- Display quality and battery life are just decent
- Bulky and heavy
- Strong overall performance
- Big, bright, and fast display
- Per-key RGB lighting
- Some flex to keyboard deck
- Poor battery life
With its powerful i9-13900HX processor and RTX 4090 graphics card, the Lenovo Legion Pro 7i 16 delivers exceptional gaming performance while maintaining a sleek and unassuming design. It offers great value for the price, making it a compelling choice for gamers looking for a long-term investment.
- QHD display with 165 Hz
- Expandable working memory
- Slightly below-average performance for a RTX 4080
- High noise level
- Excellent 4K display with AdobeRGB
- High-quality case
- Thunderbolt 4 PCIe 4.0
- Very high system performance
- Lower graphics performance than the predecessor
- Performance not completely stable under combined load
- Not Wi-Fi 6E compatible
- 720p webcam
The Dell XPS 17 9720 impresses with its excellent 4K display with AdobeRGB, high-quality case, and high system performance. However, it falls short in terms of graphics performance compared to its predecessor, and the cooling system could be better. Overall, it's a solid choice for those seeking a powerful laptop with a stunning display, but it's in need of some updates.
- Comfortable keyboard
- Solid gaming performance
- Removing the base to upgrade is difficult
- Fans run quite loud
Table of the Best Laptops for X-Plane 12
|HP Victus 15
|ASUS TUF Dash F15
|Lenovo Legion Pro 5
|Lenovo Legion Pro 7i 16
|Dell XPS 17 9720