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What is a Computer Simulator?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2016
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A computer simulator is a program run on a computer for the purpose of simulating some sort of system, in order to get a better idea how the system functions. A computer simulator may also be used to simulate another computer. There are two main types: the full-system simulator and the Instruction Set Simulator (ISS). This type of computer simulator is often used to test new software on a wide range of hardware configurations, without actually having to use the physical computers.

At its most fundamental level, a computer simulator is used to recreate a real-life situation where testing many different states wouldn’t be easy or safe. In this case, using a computer simulator saves a great deal of time and resources, and may actually allow for in-depth testing that would be physically impossible in the real world. Computer simulations have been used in engineering and science for some time, and in recent years, as hardware has become more robust, and software has become more sophisticated, these simulations are able to accomplish more and more.

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An example of a use of a computer simulator might be an engineering company working on designing a better wing for aircraft. Rather than spending resources building prototypes of each new design, and testing them in wind tunnels or on real aircraft, a simulation can be run instead. If the fluid dynamics of the wind are accurately modeled, any number of variables can be modified to test a virtual wing in a million different scenarios, some of which might be impossible to recreate in the real world. Additionally, if a design turns out not to be ideal, it can be easily modified and retested, without the need for building a new physical object. In this way, hundreds or thousands of designs can be tried in a relatively short period of time, allowing for a much greater degree of fine tuning than would otherwise be possible.

With the proliferation of hardware, software manufacturers also find a need to simulate different environments for their programs. Since it would be infeasible to run a piece of software on every computer on earth, much less to run it on every modified system with more or less video memory, third-party sound cards, and the dozens of other components that can be customized, a computer simulator is used instead. In this way, the software can be run on tens of thousands of hypothetical hardware configurations, and bugs can be detected and fixed long before the product is shipped out to customers.

Instruction Set Simulators are commonly used for this task. They are able to have variables modified that represent different hardware limitations of different machines. These variables can be changed, the program can be run, and then the variables can be changed again, allowing a programmer to test through many systems in a short period of time.

Another type of simulator is the full-system simulator. Although similar to an ISS, a full-system simulator allows for a much more comprehensive environment, by allowing entire operating systems and software drivers to be simulated. This allows for an even greater degree of accuracy in simulation, which provides a better opportunity to detect and repair bugs.

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GraniteChief
Post 4

Aircraft simulators are my favorite kind of computer simulator software. Even from the time when I was a young kid, my family had the ability to get computer flight simulation software that while graphically made a pleasing, it gave you an awesome feeling and was more advanced than some kind of video game system.

One of the most fun parts about using a computer simulator was the use of the joystick to control the virtual helicopter or aircraft. Computer flight simulator games often offer some kind of course of mission they must complete at a challenging task to the operation of the simulated aircraft.

Microsoft flying simulator was a classic for me as a child. I have fond memories of using fight simulators on computers.

IceCarver
Post 3

I think some interesting aspects of simulation that people seem to forget about is the way the simulators were created before the use of computers. Before the days of computer plane simulators, there were mechanical ones that were powered by a variety of different methods.

The combination of hydraulics, electrical motors, and other mechanical devices were used to create the motion simulation that people undergoing training require. Because of the advanced technology used inside an aircraft flight objects today, it is not likely that this all in analog form of simulation would be a reality to train today's workforce. It is a must to use a computer for flight simulator experiences.

NightChef
Post 2

@FrogFriend, Israel about the concept that simulators are extremely expensive and that is what thwarts the ability for inexperienced operators to be able to train more thoroughly on a simulator. More than just automobile and airplane simulators are available on the market and there seems to be every day more and more opportunity for businesses to purchase equipment to move along the training process faster and safer pace.

A good example of this or forklift and heavy equipment simulators. Instead of risking hundreds of thousands of dollars on training the worker on a tractor it might be cheaper to purchase a simulator. This line of thought only works for large corporations however because the simulators are still too expensive for most small businesses are construction equipment companies to purchase.

FrogFriend
Post 1

Old driving simulators have been used in years past for the education of young people in their first getting their license to drive an automobile, I think the technology is advancing far enough is the reality and the realism that is presented inside simulators to actually depict an accurate experience of what driving is like.

As the cost to develop these simulators becomes lower and lower the likelihood of more students be able to experience them becomes greater. This experience is vital to keeping people safe on the road as young people take the diamond will for the first time and pull on the public streets.

Perhaps we should take the responsibility as a society and endure the cost of these expensive simulators to help ensure a more safe driving experience for everyone.

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