Microsoft is aiming the SideWinder X6 keyboard at the serious PC gamer who demands programmable keys and customisable functionality. In our opinion, the X6, available for around £40 online, is sure to please even the most hard-core gamer.
The X6 is a slick black keyboard that measures 51.3cm by 4.6cm by 23.4cm. It takes up a fair amount of room, so be prepared to clear some space in order for it to rest comfortably. Its thick rubber feet are sure to keep it from slipping during gaming sessions.
One of the X6's main features is a unique, removable number pad. Depending on your preference, you can connect the keypad to either side of the keyboard via a magnetic contact.
The keyboard also has an adjustable backlight display that illuminates every single key. Standard keys glow red, while the keypad and programmable buttons have an amber hue to them. The intensity is adjustable via a large knob at the top of the keyboard.
The X6 has a number of hot-key features that enhance the overall gaming experience. Once you install the bundled software, you can customise the 30 'S' keys found on the detachable keypad, as well as a row of keys down the left-hand side of the keyboard. You can also store these keys in one of three save states, which gives you a way to switch between a work mode and play mode, for example. A convenient button on the top row allows you to switch through these profiles at any time. Through the included software, you can also assign specific configurations to particular games. These custom layouts will automatically load with the game they're bound to.
Not only can the keyboard learn three modes, it can record macros on the fly. During gameplay, you can press a button that will log any sequence of keystrokes you wish. We had great success with this feature when buying weapons at the start of a Counter-Strike match.
In addition, there's an interesting 'cruise-control' button that lets you teach the keyboard a specific keystroke -- up to four buttons pressed simultaneously -- that it will then repeat for you whenever you like. It's certainly a useful feature for accomplishing mundane tasks in a role-playing or real-time strategy game.
If you're playing games in Windows Vista, a dedicated 'game explorer' button will allow you to instantly navigate and choose which game to launch. Unfortunately, this feature won't work with Windows XP.
The X6 has other vanity controls as well. Adjacent to the backlight-dimmer knob, there's a volume-control knob. The keyboard also has media-control buttons, as well as a dedicated calculator key.
In terms of comfort, the X6 didn't wow us with any sort of advanced ergonomics. In fact, we found it quite irritating to use for everyday typing purposes. The built-in hard plastic wrist pad provides no cushioning, nor is it removable, which prevents you from using a wrist rest that you're more comfortable with.
Also, there are no drop-down feet to raise the height of the keyboard. This a strange oversight, as almost every keyboard we've ever seen has the ability to change its height. We did, however, like the feel of the keys and their relatively silent operation. The X6 has a certain smoothness to it that we really enjoyed.
While we didn't enjoy using the Microsoft SideWinder X6 for everyday typing, we had a much better experience when using it to play games. Even though its angle isn't adjustable, the default positioning of the board is great for resting your fingers at the default 'WASD' key positions. Our trial runs with Left 4 Dead and Far Cry 2 proved that we could easily spend hours playing comfortably using the X6.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet