You get three hard buttons running down the middle of the X8 to let you switch between DPI settings on the fly, and you can use Microsoft's IntelliPoint software to assign each button a particular setting. We've come to demand accessible dots per inch switching buttons on gaming mice, but it's also occurred to us that purely hardware driven scaling might be the next logical step. Rather than limiting you to three buttons and a fraction of the dpi spectrum at any one time, why not a slider or a secondary wheel that lets you select from a mouse sensor's entire dpi range?
The X8 also includes a small LCD screen that informs you of the current dpi setting. This isn't necessarily as handy as it sounds, because the real feature is the capability to change modes, not displaying their strength. If you're ever unsure about the X8's sensitivity level, you'll know from either your preset dpi button assignments, or as soon as you use the mouse. Using the screen as a battery life indicator would have been more informative, although it does give you cues to assist in recording macros.
The macro recording process is actually quite simple. A dedicated button in a niche on the left side of the X8 enables the recording mode. The mini LCD instructs you to push the button that you want to map the macro to. This can be the one of the vertical side buttons, the right-click button, or the scroll-wheel buttons. Then, simply enter your commands for the macro and accept the recording by clicking the flashing, dedicated macro button. From there, you can assign further macros through the IntelliPoint software. You can create universal macros, or make them specific to a particular game or other program.
If the X8 isn't as sensitive as the Razer Mamba, the two have quite a bit in common in that they share a hybrid wired/wireless design. Each model comes with a USB charging station that doubles as a wireless receiver. The two also let you connect the mouse directly to the USB cable for charging and the data connection, ensuring that you lose no uptime when your mouse runs out of juice.
If many consumers have grown accustomed to wireless mice, wireless gaming isn't without its difficulties. The SideWinder X8 communicates with 2.4GHz wireless signal which polls at a rate of 500MHz. We found the X8's wireless response time generally adequate during our Team Fortress 2, Dead Space, and Red Alert 2 testing, but it seemed to have difficulty maintaining a clean signal when we ramped the sensitivity up to 4,000dpi. We can't feel too disappointed here, as you can always go to wired mode if you need to use such a high setting, but in contrast, the Razer Mamba and its 1,000MHz polling rate showed no such drop-off.
While the X8 and the Razer share the wired/wireless concept, each has a slightly different design. The X8 has an inline hockey puck-style base station with a hardwired USB cable. To go to wired mode, you need to unwind a second cord that ends in a magnetic tip, which pops into a magnetic receiving end on the underside of the mouse. The Razer's base station has a removable USB cable with a uniquely designed USB input that pops out of the base station and plugs into the Mamba below the scroll wheel. We find the magnetic end of the X8's cable a pleasing solution that makes Razer's design look clunky, if not necessarily a deal-killing flaw. Off the cable, the X8 lasts about 30 hours on a full charge from its AA NiMH battery.