Despite their cord-free convenience, wireless mice have a poor adoption rate among serious PC gamers because of lag and signal hiccups. Microsoft's feature-heavy SideWinder X8 solves that problem with a hybrid design that lets you swap almost seamlessly between wired and wireless connection. Throw in Microsoft's souped-up BlueTrack sensor technology, a well-sculpted design (for right handed people), and a handful of other features, and the SideWinder X8 fits comfortably among the gaming mice elite. Even at the suggested price of $99, the SideWinder X8 is a worthy addition to any gamer's arsenal, but especially when you can find it for a little as $70.
The SideWinder X8 has an attractive, futuristic design that's smoothes out some of the rough edges from earlier incarnations of Microsoft's new generation of SideWinder mice. The X8 features a hard angled midsection encapsulated by an elegant series of curves that offer logical resting spots for each finger. This design helps your hand fall into a natural grip. Holding the SideWinder in your left hand feels comfortable enough, but the two side buttons on the left side of the mouse were obviously tailored with your right thumb in mind.
Right-handers will appreciate the layout and design of the two side-buttons. Like the earlier SideWinders, the X8's thumb buttons have a stacked, vertical layout. But instead of the older models' rounded nubs, the X8's side buttons slope inward, providing a cradle for your thumb. This design lets you simply rock your thumb up and down to press the buttons, minimizing the need for a discrete thumb motion that takes you out of primary control flow. That might sound inconsequential to nongamers, but we expect the first-person shooting twitch crowd will approve.
The X8's two primary buttons perform as expected, but we don't love the metal scroll wheel. A cross-hatch of metal ridges along wheel are supposed to provide some extra grip, but they don't get the job done, which results in a less certain, "soft" feeling to the scroll wheel than on other mice.
Beyond the button layout, Microsoft distinguishes the SideWinder X8 most uniquely with its proprietary BlueTrack sensor. BlueTrack debuted in a few Microsoft mice last year, and it offers better sensitivity and performance than traditional optical or even laser mice. That improved performance lets you use the X8 and other BlueTrack mice on an expanded range of surfaces, including marble, carpet, wood, or most anything except for transparent or mirrored glass. Some sites have reported that BlueTrack doesn't get along with cloth mouse pads, but used the X8 for an extended period on XTracPads' cloth RipperXXL mouse pad with no trouble. A wooden desk, a book, and a marble sheet proved equally reliable. You also get three sets of different feet for the X8, which lets you tailor the tactile feel of the mouse to whatever surface you choose.
Perhaps more importantly to gamers than surface flexibility, the X8 offers a reasonably large range of sensor sensitivity, from 250dpi to 4,000dpi. That's a respectable range for a gaming mouse, and while it's not quite as high as the pricier, 5,600dpi Razer Mamba, we suspect few gamers will actually push either mouse that far.