The Sidewinder brand has been applied to Microsoft’s gaming peripherals for some time now. The last mouse to boast the title was the Sidewinder X5, which had a large humpback and a distinctly cheap quality to it. The X5 was a disappointing follow-up to the already disappointing Sidewinder, as it emphasised the weaknesses of the design and skimped on extras such as adjustable weights.
Microsoft has persevered with the general design of the modern Sidewinder mouse in the X8, but refined it to have smoother curves and a less pronounced (and actually comfortable) hump. Microsoft has also chosen the Sidewinder X8 to introduce gamers to its new hyper-sensitive BlueTrack optical engine.
The Sidewinder X8 can be used either via its 2.4GHz wireless receiver or with a wired connection for completely lag-free gaming. A small magnetic connector at the end of the USB cable attaches to a recess underneath the front of the mouse. The excess cord tidies away into a neat multi-purpose device which we’re going to refer to as ‘the puck’.
In addition to the puck being a handy cable tidier, it also houses the wireless receiver for the Sidewinder X8. The rubber feet of the puck grip the surface of your desk, allowing you to unravel only as much cable as is necessary. This avoids the possibility of your mouse cable getting tangled in all your other cabling and restricting the movement of the mouse. Finally, the puck stores replacement feet for the X8, allowing you to customise the glide. This is a cool feature, but you’d be hard pushed to notice any difference between these and the pre-installed tootsies.
With the rechargeable AA NiMH battery – rated to last for 30 hours of active use - installed, the Sidewinder X8 weights around 50 per cent more than its predecessor at 144g. However, if you attach the power cord you can remove the battery and reduce the weight of the Sidewinder X8 to 114g. Unlike many modern gaming mice, there are no adjustable weights.
The Sidewinder X8 has five programmable buttons, including a customisable macro button. The mouse configuration software is easy to use, and must be installed before plugging in the mouse.
Microsoft has refined its design of vertically aligned thumb buttons with the Sidewinder X8. The buttons are now angled inwards toward your thumb, meaning that an intuitive and effortless rocking of the thumb is all that’s needed to press them. The metal scroll wheel gives the mouse a nice look, but accurate scrolling is a little tricky as the wheel is a touch slippery.
The Sidewinder X8 uses a blue LED, because gamers just love blue LEDs, don't they?
A red, backlit LCD screen reads the adjustable DPI settings as you hit one of the three dpi buttons behind the scroll wheel. With the BlueTrack technology underneath, the Sidewinder X8 is capable of achieving 4,000dpi.
The Sidewinder X8 is Microsoft’s best effort at a gaming mouse since the IntelliMouse. The design is sleek and comfortable, and the unyielding build quality adds to the satisfying feel. The feature set is a very practical one, with cable tidying and securing puck both handy extras. While we suspect many will always run the mouse with cable attached, the possibility to go wireless at any time could be useful. The dpi selection buttons, the LCD readout, and the vertically aligned thumb buttons are certainly useful. Add in to the mix the fastest tracking engine in the world, and you have one the best gaming mice since the Logitech G9.
Microsoft has since clarified that the Sidewinder X8 only operates wirelessly, sending the data from the mouse to the puck, which then talks to the PC via 500Hz USB. Our thanks to azreal on the comments thread for bringing this to our attention.