With the Sidewinder X6 gaming keyboard, Microsoft aims at the serious PC gamer who demands programmable keys and customized functionality for various situations in gaming. The keyboard's unique removable keypad is definitely a luxury that some may find useful in terms of ergonomics. That said, the X6, available for around $60 online, is sure to please even the most hard-core of gamers.
The X6 is a slick black keyboard that measures 20.2 inches wide and 9.22 inches deep. It does take up quite a bit 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 main features of the X6 boasts 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. Say you're a southpaw who's more comfortable with the keypad to the left; the X6 can adjust to suit you.
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, something like you'd find on a car dashboard.
The X6 has a number of hot-key features that enhance the overall gaming experience. Once you install the bundled software, you can customize the 30 "S" keys found on the detachable keypad along with a row parallel to the left-most side of the standard 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 along 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) which it will then repeat for you whenever you'd like. While some might call this cheating, it's certainly useful for mundane tasks you may have to do in a role-playing or real-time-strategy game.
If you're playing games in 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 Sidewinder X6 has other vanity controls as well. Adjacent to the backlight dimmer knob, you get a volume control knob. The keyboard also has media control buttons, as well as a dedicated calculator key. In terms of comfort, the Sidewinder didn't really wow us with any sort of advanced ergonomics. In fact we actually found it quite irritating during everyday typing. The built-in hard plastic wrist pad provides no cushioning, nor is it removable, which prevents you from using a wrist rest you're more comfortable with. Also, you get no drop-down feet to raise the height of the keyboard. Almost every keyboard we've ever seen has the ability to change its height and the fact that it's not included here feels like an oversight, given that it's such an easy feature to add. We did, however, like the feel of the keys and their relatively silent operation; the X6 has a certain unique smoothness to it that we really enjoyed.
While we didn't quite enjoy the X6 for everyday typing, the experience we had while using it to play games was a lot better. 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.