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Microsoft SideWinder X8 Mouse review: Microsoft SideWinder X8 Mouse

Microsoft SideWinder X8 Mouse

Peter Brown
5 min read

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.


Microsoft SideWinder X8 Mouse

The Good

Hybrid wired/wireless design eliminates downtime between battery charges; BlueTrack sensor expands mousing surface options; easy on-the-fly macro recording; 4,000dpi maximum.

The Bad

Scroll wheel needs a better grip; signal drop-off in wireless mode at high sensitivity.

The Bottom Line

Microsoft's SideWinder X8 isn't the only mouse that can swap seamlessly between wired and wireless modes; however, between its BlueTrack sensor and its on-the-fly macro recording capability--not to mention a competitive price--we imagine few PC gamers won't want to get their hands on it.

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.

Your thumb fits naturally between the two side buttons.

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.

You get two sets of mouse feet in the X8's USB charging station/cable anchor.

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.

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.

The X8 has an elegant magnetic cable connection.

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.


Microsoft SideWinder X8 Mouse

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7