The Microsoft SideWinder X4 gaming keyboard aims to provide hardcore gamers with plenty of features, without monopolising desk space. The X4 supports up to 18 programmable macros, offers customisable media keys and sports 'anti-ghosting' technology. But will the extra tech actually make a difference to your gaming experience?
The X4 will be available in March for around £50.
Hardcore but handsome
For a gaming keyboard, the X4 is remarkably good-looking. Gaming hardware has a tendency to embrace a Death Star aesthetic, but the X4 has a sleek design, and, at 48cm long, is no wider than most standard keyboards. This means it's ideally suited to both hardcore gaming and everyday computing -- something that may please gamers with day jobs.
Like most SideWinder products, the X4 sports a red backlight for gaming in low-light conditions, and a key along the top of the keyboard allows users to cycle though several brightness settings. The keys themselves have a pleasing bounce to them, and the travel distance is deep for a compact piece of hardware such as this. We particularly like the extra-wide spacebar, which ensures that reaching that all-important jump key is never a stretch.
We took issue with the wrist rest. Although pleasantly textured, it's too shallow to provide any support and, with your fingers resting on the W, A, S and D keys, your hand is likely to arch over the wrist rest entirely, making it fairly useless. We wouldn't recommend prolonged gaming sessions with the X4 without the use of an additional wrist support.
Macro-oni and keys
The X4 has six macro keys, each of which can store three macros, allowing you to program 18 macros in total. A key at the top of the X4 allows you cycle through each bank of six macros. On-the-fly macro programming is simple enough -- hit the record key, then the macro key you wish to assign the macro to, and finally plug in the keys you want recorded. The macro keys themselves are slightly out of finger reach, which is rather inconvenient if you're playing a game in which every second counts.
Although the keyboard will work as soon as you plug it into your computer's USB port, installing the included software lets you tinker with more advanced settings. You can customise the media keys; programme macro banks to automatically associate with certain programs, so you won't have to remember which macro banks you've assigned to your favourite games; and set up macro repeating, so that macros continually repeat until you stop them.
The keyboard input time is around 2 milliseconds, which is pretty darned swift. That kind of speed is vital if you're playing a game which relies on lightning-fast twitch skills.
The much-touted anti-ghosting technology eliminates a problem suffered by many keyboards -- press too many keys at once and additional key presses fail to register. The X4 allows for up to 26 simultaneous inputs, so you can bash out some fiendishly complex button combinations. The X4's predecessor, the SideWinder X6, had huge ghosting problems, so it's good to see Microsoft listening to user feedback. Anti-ghosting capability isn't something that everyone will find useful, but the feature could prove invaluable for some.
The Microsoft SideWinder X4 is a decent piece of gaming kit that does effective double duty as an everyday keyboard. It's expensive for a device that lacks the advanced features you might find in other gaming keyboards, and the uncomfortable wrist rest is a definite downside. That said, the X4 is very usable and unlikely to disappoint gamers. If you're new to the exciting world of high-end keyboards, we're happy to recommend the X4.
Edited by Charles Kloet