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Microsoft Sidewinder X4 early review: Ain't afraid of no ghost

We get our hands on the Microsoft Sidewinder X4 -- the latest in Microsoft's range of high-spec gaming keyboards, featuring anti-ghosting technology and a customisable macro bank

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Luke Westaway

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What do hardcore gamers fear most? No, it's not being told to get out the house and find a job -- although that can be pretty terrifying. The correct answer is ghosts. More specifically, ghosting: the unpleasant gaming phenomenon when a keyboard can't handle the amount of keys being pressed down, and fails to register any additional inputs.

When performing the kind of nimble-fingered hand gymnastics most gamers find essential, a crucial key press failing to register can be fist-through-screen frustrating. Microsoft's Sidewinder X4 exorcises this problem -- an unconventional wiring setup means you can hit up to 26 keys at once without any hits failing to register.

That's not the only trick up the X4's glossy sleeves though -- read on to find out what we think of the style, the hardware itself, and the all-important price tag. We'll have a full review of the X4 in two shakes, so stay tuned.

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The X4 is unusually stylish as gaming keyboards go, with a black gloss finish and a pleasingly slim frame. It's also quite small -- at a humble 48cm wide, it won't hog your valuable desk space. The keys themselves have a high travel for such a slim device, and a fun bounce. Input time is around 2 milliseconds, which is swifter than most gaming keyboards.
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You can cycle through backlight brightness levels using this special key, but red is the only colour on offer. The media keys along the top let you skip track, play/pause and mute, and happily you can tinker with their functions and which programs they launch, if you wanted (heaven forbid) to stray from the default Windows Media Player.
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Over on the left you'll find the X4's six macro keys, divided into three banks, giving you a total of 18 macros that you can record on-the-fly or take your time programming using the included software. You can also set the keyboard to recognise programs when you open them, so you won't have to remember which macro set you assigned to which game. A feature new to the X4 is the ability to repeat macros -- tell the keyboard to do so and your macros will repeat over and over until you switch them off.
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We have some reservations about this textured handrest -- it's too shallow to offer any real comfort or support, and with your fingers on the WASD keys, your wrists will most likely end up landing on hard, unforgiving desk, bypassing the handrest altogether.
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The Microsoft Sidewinder X4 will be released on 17 March, and will set you back a grand total of £50, which is reasonable for such a serious piece of kit.

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