CPU? Check. Memory, mainboard and video card? Check. Oh, I had better also budget for a quality PSU, case and a HDD large enough to last me a while before I can call it a system.
Crap, did I forget the monitor? Hrmm, I did. Well, ok, the budget can stretch a little bit more I suppose (don't look at me like that Mr. Power Bill, I'll get to you soon enough).
Done and done. Wait a minute, something isn't right. Let me think - I have all the necessary internal components for my gaming system and I have the nice widescreen LCD to view the games on, but it still feels like I'm missing something. Oh well, I'm sure I'll live.
"Gosh Nathan, your new computer plays Secret of the Magic Crystals great, but why do you still have that old Microsoft optical mouse with the marks and mutated dust formations all over it that you bought five systems ago because the ball in your Microsoft ball mouse grinded down to the size of a pea?"
The reason, readers, is because I was a repeat offender of ignoring my mouse. Whether it was for a new system build, or when evaluating my next course of action for a system upgrade or two, it seems I never found the funds for a "gaming" mouse. There was a time where, to me, all those fancy expensive mice were nothing but luxury purchases for suckers with more money than sense - at least that was my justification for the constant oversight.
When it really comes down to it, a $20 generic optical mouse is going to deliver what you expect from your mouse even in heavy gaming sessions to the point where you won't really think about it too often, but then a pair of $20 joggers will probably offer the same sort of product satisfaction - that doesn't mean a $80 pair won't possibly be more comfortable, durable and offer just that tiny bit more of performance for the occasional recreational activity.
What it comes down to is in not knowing what I was missing - humans after all are masters at adapting and it really isn't until you try something new and improved that this becomes evident for yourself. With that said, when I was tasked to produce a roundup review of a few of the top gaming mice offerings on the market today, I was humbly introduced to the world I was missing out on - the world of the gaming mouse.
A quick glimpse through other reviews online, gaming magazines and checking out the system spec lists in the signature of PC gaming discussion board users worldwide reveals to me a healthy subscription to logic much different than that of my own prior to my enlightening - the gaming mouse is a well received addition to the gaming system for seemingly most PC gamers out there. The question is, which one do you choose? Some companies make enough models to induce confusion, let alone when you look at the market as a whole.
While there are certainly many more gaming mice on offer out there than what I have tested for this roundup, I believe the four I do have here offer a good varied selection suitable for both the more casual gamer and the more hardcore gamer seeking that slight advantage. On analysis today we have the Logitech G9X, the SteelSeries XAI, the Razer Abyssus and the Microsoft Sidewinder X8.
Before we jump into analysis of each mouse, let me point out that all testing was done on a SteelSeries 9HD mouse pad, which I must say beats the hell out of the old Dell pad I was using prior to this article.
So, without further stalling, let's see what our four contenders have to offer.
Logitech's G9XLogitech's G9X
The G9X is quite the intriguing mouse when looking at the retail package. The box opens up like a menu detailing all the specs and information needed to get a geek's heart racing, and also offers a quick glimpse into what the package contains - which is quite a lot. Other than the software disc and the mouse itself, the G9X package comes with two grips/shells and a neatly organized sardine can-like container with an assortment of 4g and 7g weights.
Not one for following instruction manuals, it took me a few minutes to figure out how the G9X's weight system worked, which involves removing the grip from the mouse body and pushing in the weight slot so it pops out. From there you can insert up to four weights, which means you can add up to 28g to the mouse body. I've got to say, this is a very impressive feature of the G9X which has an impact that shouldn't be understated; one of the biggest factors when it comes to finding the right mouse for your style is its weight and being able to customize that is fantastic.
Installing the G9X is a breeze and unlike some Logitech peripherals in the past, the software isn't intrusive and 'bloaty'. Available from the Logitech software are comprehensive configuration options covering the ability to define profiles and macros, as well as change settings such as scroll wheel speed and the ability to update the firmware.
The software also lets you define up to 5 DPI speed settings which you can cycle through using two buttons on the G9X near the left mouse button. For those not in the know, this setting dictates how many pixels your cursor moves per inch of real mouse movement. The lowest setting is 200 and the highest is 5700, so you have a large range to choose from.
Really, though, such a range is mostly useless as the realistically acceptable range is going to be much smaller for most gamers. Personally, I like the DPI set at 800 for most, if not all games and don't really see the need to do any adjusting, but it's certainly nice to have the option not only there, but accessible during gameplay without having to resort to any alt-tabbing. Furthermore, the DPI adjustment buttons on the G9X are not easy to accidentally hit, which is another big plus for the design of this mouse.
Like most gaming mice, the G9X will also do up to 1000Hz for its polling rate, which means it has a 1ms response time over the USB connection. This is becoming somewhat of a standard in the quality mouse market, so this is just another notch on the belt of the G9X as a full solution.
As far as the full body design of the mouse goes, it depends on what grip or shell you have attached. The darker, coarser grip has the texture and feel of a slimmer mouse, while the light, smooth and wider-at-the-base grip adds a bit of a chunky feel. Either way, you can't really go wrong as the comfort level for both is top notch, although I personally prefer the wider and smoother grip. One thing to keep in mind here is both grips and the mouse itself are really only designed for right handed gamers, so lefties miss out unfortunately.
With mostly positives covered so far, it's time to point out that there really is little in the way of negatives to cover on the G9X; it really is a quality gaming mouse that Logitech have perfected over their lengthy time and experience making such devices. If there was one aspect lacking perfection, however, it would have to be the scroll wheel, or more specifically, the wheel's function as a button. At times it can be a little difficult to press it down without accidentally scrolling up or down while doing so. The issue seems to be that the wheel button is quite tough to press, so you need to apply significant pressure to achieve a click, which is hard to do from the natural position your hand takes on the mouse. You have to go almost perpendicular with your pressure to get the wheel to click and when you do, the feel and sound is a bit unsatisfying - you really want to be able to hear the click.
This isn't a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned, but it does tend to spoil an otherwise top class mouse, particularly when it forces you to release your cooked grenade unexpectedly in Modern Warfare 2. With that said, however, one cool feature with the G9X's scroll wheel is the fact you can toggle between two tightness settings via a button on the bottom of the mouse. One setting is ultra silky smooth, while the other is the normal "clickety-clack" mouse wheel on most mice out there. So while the wheel can be hard to press down as a button, it is great to use as a scrolling device.
But, back to the negatives, the G9X is also not a wireless mouse, which I know some people must have these days. I'm not one of these people, but I know it's important to some. It doesn't help that the cable is quite prone to tangles, although I can't say during my use of the G9X I ever felt restricted due to the cable tangling. In any case, with two of the other three of the models in this roundup also being wired, it's obviously not a rarity in the gaming mouse market.
At a RRP of $US 99.99, the Logitech G9X is also not the cheapest gaming mouse you'll find, but a quick glimpse on price checking websites here in Australia shows you can almost buy the G9X for $AU 99, so that is obviously not a hard lined pricing level.
Overall, the G9X is a top quality mouse and it's going to be tough to beat. It really offers the complete package with the customization both physically and in its software that the enthusiast gamer craves. However, the G9X has left some room for the rest to jump ahead, but the question is, can they?
SteelSeries' XAISteelSeries' XAI
While the Logitech G9X makes its initial impression of flashy brilliance, the SteelSeries XAI is quite the opposite. This mouse has a much more classy, understated look. The black dark packaging, the jet black body; all with little deviation from its solid dark tones, bar a logo here and there. The retail package contents is similarly simple - you get a mouse, a booklet and a box. Oh, and a SteelSeries sticker.
The XAI isn't going to stun you with its shape or visible features. This mouse looks much like the cheap ones you'll find at the weekend computer markets with its very traditional shape. As far as installing goes, the XAI is also similar to such mice in that you basically plug the thing in and away you go - with no CD supplied in the box, at least not in the one I was supplied, you'd be excused for thinking the XAI was little more than a rebadged cheapy.
However, after some snooping around the supplies manual, you'll learn that software is available for the XAI from the SteelSeries website. And, after snooping around the mouse itself, you'll notice a small LCD on the base of the mouse. The two go hand in hand, in fact. The software, which is quite feature packed, lets you modify the profile settings of the mouse and the LCD on the mouse lets you shift between them. To access the LCD, you hold the triangle shaped button down from the wheel for 2 seconds or so and release, and you use the left hand side buttons to cycle through the profiles.
While this isn't ideal from the standpoint of being easy to change profiles without disruption, the fact the XAI has onboard memory for up to five profiles starts to show this isn't just some rebadged piece of junk.
And if that doesn't do it for you, maybe the software will. As mentioned, the SteelSeries XAI software is feature packed and offers a lot of fine tuning capabilities. In fact, the amount of options is a little overwhelming. SteelSeries ExactAim? ExactSense? ExactRate? FreeMove? ExactAccel? Each of these has a slider bar you can adjust and knowing what each does is anyone's guess.
Not to worry, though, as the software has you covered with a very handy information breakdown of each setting, neatly accessible down the right hand side of the utility. For example, ExactRate is just a fancy name for polling rate, which you can define to the hertz between 125 and 1000Hz. Before long you'll be able to take your mouse configuration to a new level and while each setting alone won't make a huge difference, collectively they allow for an impressive level of fine tuning when it comes to moving your small 2D arrow around the screen. You can even download profiles from the web, including a few from top CS 1.6 gamers from the SteelSeries website.
So while the initial impression of the XAI was quite underwhelming, once you delve a little deeper this mouse really starts to show its muscle. You get the impression SteelSeries was not trying to push the XAI out there as a super mainstream option, but rather as a niche offering for those gamers who know what SteelSeries do and know to check out their range before making a purchase decision.
And perhaps it is because I'm also using a SteelSeries surface, but the XAI just seems to glide with so much ease. The base of the mouse has some very smooth and slippery feet, requiring little effort to move around. The body is also quite comfortable despite its extremely simplistic approach. In fact, this simplistic, traditional approach to the design of the body means the XAI is ambidextrous, at least in theory ; I can't really confirm this as I'm hopeless with my left hand, but it seems to be a symmetrical design, so I can believe it. The weight is also at a very comfortable level. Every button feels solid and crisp, including the scroll wheel, although there is no side scrolling functionality on the XAI.
And that's pretty much the only significant complaint there is to be had of the XAI - that it lacks side scrolling. Like the G9X, the XAI is a wired mouse and, also like the G9X, the cable tends to tangle fairly easily, but likewise again this never really became an issue at any point other than perhaps being ugly to look at. The minimalistic approach to the mouse as far as buttons and onboard gadgets goes means you only have two DPI settings to toggle between (as defined in the software), but like I said in the G9X analysis, do you really need so many to choose from? Two seems suitable to me.
SteelSeries have a winner with the XAI and they have done so while keeping things simple and minimal. The XAI is a modest but very worthy gaming mouse that just feels right. At 79.99 Euros, the XAI translates to a price slightly higher than the G9X as far as RRP goes, but likely significantly higher in the real world since the G9X is supplied in far greater retail channels. Nevertheless, our next mouse up, the Razer Abyssus, has certainly got its work cut out for it.
Razer's AbyssusRazer's Abyssus
In similar fashion to the XAI, the Razer Abyssus is also quite a plain and simplistic looking mouse, but with a bit of an edge - literally. The black matte-like surface on the top looks and feels very sleek and the shiny black plastic on the bottom that it forms around creates a distinct edge around the body which looks stylish without losing its subtle appeal.
Unlike the XAI, however, which also looks minimalistic but actually has quite a few buttons, the Abyssus sports a grand total of three buttons - the left and right click buttons and the wheel button. There are no side buttons or anything else on the top of the mouse, which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, the lack of extra buttons does limit the ability of the Abyssus as a fully fledged gaming mouse somewhat, but then, how many people really use all those extra buttons? For some gamers I could see this being a problem, but for the average gamer who doesn't mind leaving a few functions/abilities to the keyboard, the lack of extra buttons won't be a big deal.
Like all the mice in this roundup, the Abyssus can also adjust its DPI setting on the fly, although the implementation is probably the weakest of the bunch. Having the switch on the bottom of the mouse isn't a big deal, but the switch itself is a little flimsy with its 'left-middle-right' style setup and the hard settings of 450, 1800 and 3500 DPI didn't really do it for me - I tend to shoot for between 800-1000 myself as mentioned, so the Abyssus never really felt that comfortable for me; 1800 was tolerable, but not ideal. The DPI setting you're comfortable with could be completely different, however - it's really a personal thing. Even so, though, not being able to define the DPI setting to a truly custom value is a bit of a letdown for the Abyssus. Sure, you can change the slider in Windows to achieve a similar effect, but it isn't quite the same.
On the bottom of the Abyssus also exists a 125/1000Hz switch which is toggling between those two values as polling rates which, in case you missed the explanation earlier, dictates the general responsiveness of the mouse. Between the two settings, you're looking at a response time of 8ms vs 1ms, which sounds quite significant, but probably isn't as significant in the real world usage of a mouse. It's definitely a nice feature to have, though, and will surely be one of the first settings changed by gamers when using this mouse.
The software for the Abyssus has a few settings and values to change including the likes of sensitivity and mouse wheel speed, as well as macros and the ability to assign an on-the-fly sensitivity feature to one of the buttons, but in general is a fairly light weight piece of software which isn't quite on the same level as the other offerings in this roundup.
Despite the coming up short when it comes to software and customization, the Abyssus is still a nice mouse to use. It's a little light I must say, but the shape is comfortable, the texture is nice and the size is just about right. The design is ambidextrous like the XAI which again comes back to the simple approach both SteelSeries and Razer have taken with their respective mice, which is perhaps not a coincidence - while the big market players in Logitech and Microsoft opt for the approach of shouting "I'M A GAMING MOUSE!", the niche market players in SteelSeries and Razer keep their modesty in check. Perhaps it is because the latter two are aiming for a slightly different market, or perhaps given their status as gaming only peripheral makers, they simply don't need to over advertise the fact.
At a RRP of $US 49.95, the Razer Abyssus is easily the cheapest mouse in this roundup and while you could argue that this shows, it doesn't show to the extent you'd expect at such a price drop. The Abyssus isn't the highest quality build out there and it doesn't feature much beyond the bare minimal when it comes to a gaming mouse, but it's still a quality feeling mouse with all the basics the average gamer would be looking for.
From this extreme we go to the next - the most elaborate and only wireless mouse in this roundup; the Microsoft Sidewinder X8.
Microsoft's Sidewinder X8Microsoft's Sidewinder X8
The Sidewinder X8 is not the type of gaming mouse that tries to masquerade as a normal desktop mouse - this is a loud and proud gaming mouse that almost looks more like a model of a combat aircraft than a computer peripheral. Unlike the XAI and perhaps the Abyssus, the X8 is never going to be mistaken for a no-name brand mouse from the bargain bin.
I guess some might say the X8 is a bit ugly and to an extent I agree. The sharp, precise angled surfaces of the X8 don't exactly give off an essence of elegance and there's really no attempt made by Microsoft to hide some of the 12 buttons subtly into the design of the body - some stand out like a sore thumb.
In time, though, the X8 grows on you. The design works because the X8 isn't trying to be something it isn't and this starts to work from a practical standpoint - there are a lot of buttons, yes, but they're all very accessible while remaining comfortable to use. The body has a fairly generic shape when it comes to where your palm rests and this offers a fairly good comfort level, particularly if you like a fairly large feeling mouse. The only complaint I can imagine for the feel of the X8 is it does perhaps feel a little "hard" - the other three in this roundup somehow feel ever so slightly softer.
With so many buttons you'd expect a fairly robust software package and Microsoft deliver on this front, which is no surprise really given Microsoft is of course known much more for their software than their hardware. The options available cover everything you'd expect such as, of course, programming the buttons (not all 12, but 7, which is still a lot), macros and DPI settings, which are available to modify on the fly via the three buttons on the mouse body just underneath the wheel. Further down the body you'll also find a square button which launches the MS software, making customization exceedingly easy to access.
As the only wireless offering in this roundup of gaming mice, the X8 has an edge for those who want to rid their desk of the cable clutter; although, while you do lose the cable, you will gain a hockey puck looking object, which will actually take up more desk space than a wired solution. This puck acts as the receiver for the mouse and also the charging pod - you unravel a very skinny charging cable and magnetically clip it into the X8 body when you need to charge, effectively turning the X8 into a wired mouse when charging.
As a side note on the wireless, I'm not a huge fan of 2.4GHz peripherals that aren't network related and this happens to be the frequency the X8 uses. The retail package proudly proclaims an interference free implantation, but I literally defied this claim within minutes of using the X8 as streaming video over my wireless network sent the mouse cursor spluttering all over my screen like a remote desktop session on dialup. Some wireless channel config on my router fixed the issue, but combined with the rather large puck, I wonder if a wired version wouldn't have been better, at least for my preferences.
Once everything was good with the wireless, it's hard to fault the performance of the mouse. While the polling rate appears to max out at 500Hz, I'm not sure I can make too much of an issue out of a 1ms difference in effective response time. Like the full bevy of software customization, the X8 offers some level of hardware customization via changeable feet on the bottom of the body - the only of its kind in this roundup. It isn't as cool an implementation as the G9X's variable weight (which the Sidewinder series has seen before in the X6) and multi grip choice, but it's a nice touch which can help the performance of the mouse given your own tastes in glide feel.
Despite some initial hiccups, the Microsoft Sidewinder X8 is no doubt a very solid gaming mouse that won't appeal to everyone, but for those who like the look of this thing from the onset, I can't see disappointment being the end result. The RRP comes in at $US 99.95, which is not as high as you'd expect for the Sidewinder branding and actually only the second most expensive here behind the XAI in real world prices. This is going to be a tough choice.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
Before we get into my pick of the litter here, let's lay a few truths - all four of these mice are good choices, each of which could easily be the top choice for any given reader of this roundup. The mouse you use is a very personal thing - for me, it used to be a sign of a lack of respect for peripherals as I plodded along with a cheap hunk of crap.
All four mice are also obviously made by companies that know what they're doing. Between Logitech and Microsoft, you have two industry giants that probably make up something like 95% of the PC mouse market. And between Razer and SteelSeries, you have two somewhat similar gaming focused niche companies that rely on designing good gaming peripherals to survive. The reality is, all four of these offerings are top class, in some shared ways and in a few unique ways between the lot.
So, with that said, let's summarize the four contestants. The Logitech G9X is not perfect, but darn near close and has some amazing hardware customization abilities. The SteelSeries XAI is sleek and traditional, but with a really impressive gaming feature set when you scratch underneath the surface. The Razer Abyssus lacks spectacular appeal and doesn't really do anything the best in this roundup, but it's half the price of the rest. The Microsoft SideWinder X8 is the brawny and cliche gamer's choice, kind of like an Alienware is to the laptop market. The offerings are varied, but there can only be one for me.
And that title goes to the SteelSeries XAI. Yes, it is probably the most expensive of the bunch when it comes to real world prices, and while this 'most expensive' tag might be hard to grasp given the XAI really doesn't look all that special at first, we're not really talking a massive difference in price here unless it's the Abyssus we're comparing to. And with all due respect to Razer and the Abyssus, if the XAI wasn't my choice, the G9X or X8 probably would have been, because I'm a convert - when it comes to gaming and even just general PC use, the gaming mouse is worth the money, which seems to be around the $US 99.95 mark.
In many ways "gaming mouse" isn't even an overly suitable title, as what works well while gaming is going to work just as well browsing the net or using a graphics design program. If a mouse can excel in the heated, fast paced action of gaming hand movement, then it's going to do pretty well elsewhere, too. It is this fact which steers me towards the SteelSeries XAI - it looks the part of a classy every day mouse, but delivers on every level as a gaming mouse.
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