This is a trivial observation, but you will need at least one computer in your cockpit. After all, you are gonna make a simulator. And, until a better invention to simulate the reality goes into our lifes, computers are a essential part of the process.
How Many Computers?
It is not unusual at all to see some cockpit projects with almost a data center installed in their cockpits. That is not necessarily bad, but you should have a good reason before using more than a single high-end PC for your simulator.
There are some historical reasons to explain why some people believe they need so many computers. This is a hobbie that dates back to the late 90’s. With Intel Pentium processors just released, the capacity of the computers was far away from what we are custom today. With this very limited hardware profiles, the simulator itself had to be very optimized to provide a simulation experience that was still pretty limited. In that time, adding more tasks to run in the same PC meant overwhelming its capacity. Additional computers were needed to execute the supporting software and preventing it to exhaust the main computer resources. Also the graphics card of that time didn’t support multiple displays, what is a must for an airliner cockpit.
Many years have passed since then. The CPU clocks have been increased from 100Mhz to over 4Ghz. The main memory passed from dozens of megabytes to several gigabytes. Real parallelism came into processors so it’s not unusual to have 4 cores with hyperthreading support. The speed of the memory and the rest of circuitry of the motherboards has been dramatically increased. Yes, the simulators are more sophisticated as well, indeed. But even so the resources of a PC running FSX or Prepar3D are underused. Modern graphic cards also supports multiple displays simultaneously, so that’s not a constraint either. If we consider also that interfacing software as Command Gateway does not demand high computing resources, using more than one PC for your cockpit might be completely pointless.
You probably do not need more than one PC, but not any PC.
It is highly recommended not to use a laptop or a barebone. Yes, they are small and can be easily racked in some corner of the cockpit occuping little space. But you are not gonna chat, browse and write docs with it. And that’s what laptops were designed for. You are going to execute a simulator that would require a considering amount of CPU cycles and will lead your graphics card to its limit. If you don’t want to see how your laptop melts in final approach, consider adquiring a PC.
PC? Not Mac? Well, that depends on the software you will use. Open Airbus Cockpit uses Microsoft Windows with Prepar3D, so a PC is a good choice. Of course, you can use a Mac with Mac OS X and X-Plane if that’s the software you have chosen. Nevertheless, the software of Open Airbus Cockpit doesn’t support that setup.
And what would be the hardware profile of that PC? Well, there is one computing resource your simulator will demand the most: 3D acceleration. Make sure you have a high-end graphics card. Brand? Up to you. Some people recommend NVidia, some other ATI. That’s your choice but make sure you get one with a performance enough for gaming. Don’t use a low-end, motherboard-embeded Intel graphics card or similar unless you want to flight below 10 FPS.
Another relevant consideration would be the number of display outputs the graphics card supports. Depending on your visual setup, you may need several displays for the visual. Also depending on how do you implement your glass cockpit and its displays, you may need additional ports in your graphics card. Make sure your graphic cards supports as many displays as you’ll need.
What about CPU? Any modern processor with 2 or 4 cores would be enough. Memory? FSX/Prepar3D consumes from 2 to 4 GB of memory. 8GB is more than enough. SSD is useful if you want to reduce the launching time of the simulator and may have some impact while loading textures from disk. But that’s not strictly necessary.
So that’s more or less all you need. It’s important to know that surpassing this specs doesn’t mean you’ll have a better simulation experience. A 16 cores processor would be idle most of the time and would have similar results to one of 4 cores. Additional memory won’t be used at all by your sim, as a larger hard disk won’t make it faster. Only your graphics card could be a limiter to your framerate. In this sense, it could be interesting to have a motherboard that supports more than one graphics card so you can stack them to increase its performance. Search the web and read more about the best profile for your simulator. It would be applicable to your cockpit as is since as it was mentioned above the rest of the software would consume an insignificant amount of resources compared to the simulator.