Microsoft's latest Joystick adds USB support to an already fine product.
Yet another joystick from Microsoft this time with USB capabilities, again we are faced with another upgrade. The big question, is this a worthy purchase or upgrade? Being a game controller fanatic, I'm always watching for the latest new gadget to improve my gaming experience. I was excited to see just how and if USB would be an improvement over the current game controller issues.
The design has not changed from the last Sidewinder Precision Pro, what has changed is the addition of USB capabilities and new control software. The version 3.0 control software that is required to enable the USB function was NOT included in the package, the choices are download the free control software from Microsoft's web site (8.07MB) or mail in a request form to have a CD sent to you by mail. Do you hear rush it to the market ringing in your ears again?
Open the box and you will find the joystick, CD-ROM, USB adapter, and a small pamphlet of instructions that includes a coupon for version 3.0 game control software.
After unpacking the few items I was ready to plug and play NOT! First I had to make a trip to Microsoft's web site and download the 8MB version 3.0 control software that would allow me to use the USB function, the only reason I upgraded to begin with!. The new control software installed without a hitch, it installed fine over my version 2.0 force feedback control software and even kept the old profiles.
On to the fun part! I plugged the cable into the USB port on an Abit BX6 motherboard and much to my surprise Windows 98 popped up the found new hardware window and proceeded to install whatever necessary to make the joystick work. Next I went to control panel and verified that the joystick was working properly. To my amazement everything checked out fine.
Not so fast, next on the list was to try a game. I clicked on Jedi Knight and that's when the fun ended. I spent the next five hours trying to figure out why I was spinning in circles. Every game that I tried had a problem with the stick. This was very puzzling because in the control panel game controller applet everything appeared fine. That led me onto a device manager journey that I am all to familiar with, I tried to move the USB controller to a free IRQ but that was futile, it insisted on attaching to the PCI sound card, network card, or display card. I love plug and play NOT! Being determined to get this stick working I kept plugging away. I got everything back to the way I had it in device manager, still thinking there was a problem with the IRQ sharing and the sound card I removed the sound card from device manager again. This time when Windows redetected the sound card and gave the older file warning I said use the older files. This was done at the end of the evening, tired I went to bed thinking I would have a fresh outlook the next day.
The next day I was at a loss of where to start, so I went to the WWW and checked Dejanews on USB, Sidewinder, etc. after reading way to many posts and not finding any info. I fired up control panel, once again everything checked out fine. Why I tried I don't know but I fired up Jedi Knight and well'a it was working. Here I am yelling at myself, I can't believe it, it's working. I have not verified it yet but it appears to have been a joystick driver problem. Now you would think that when a joystick installs its own control software that it would check the DirectX 5 joystick drivers and update them. Being that I had a Sidewinder Force Feedback with version 2.0 control software installed and working fine prior to this upgrade, I am bewildered why I would end up in the mess that I did. I will verify my suspicions and add what I find.
How does it work
Now that everything is installed and working I proceeded to try Forsaken, Quake2, and Jedi Knight. The first impression is that it will be an ok stick. There are a few things that concern me. One the spring tension is quite weak which is fine for flight sims but not for first person shooters. The tension problem is worse when you push the stick forward, there is very little to no left/right tension with the stick full forward or pulled full backward. The force feedback wins hands down in this category with the ability to choose how tight you want the handle. Another problem is when you set forward/back movement to the Y-axis (push/pull) and set slide left/right to the X-axis (right/left), when pushing the stick full forward and want to slide left or right at the same time the range for the X-axis is much smaller than when the handle is in the neutral position.
I will give an update of what I think after I play some multiplayer Forsaken and Quake2.
Version 3.0 of game controller software is the best Microsoft has produced so far. It's comprised of the profile editor and profile activator. The Profile Editor allows you to customize every button with the Game Action Recorder.
Use the Game Action Recorder to program a game action or series of game actions to the button you've selected in the Profile Editor. You can record either a keystroke or a macro for each of the programmable controls on your game controller.
A keystroke can include up to 32 keystrokes and key combinations and does not include timing information. Keystroke assignments are useful when you do not need to specify the duration of the game action you want to assign to your game controller. (For example, cycle weapons.)
A macro can include up to 32 keystrokes, key combinations, and game controller button presses. Also, macros allow you to specify the duration (time value) of each command in the game action. Macro assignments are useful when you need to specify the exact amount of time each game action should play in your game when you press the game controller button. (For example, a special move in a fighting game.)
This ties with SpacOrb as the most comprehensive control software that I have seen, top it off with 16 available buttons to program. There are four buttons on the handle and an additional 4 buttons on the base. The button by the throttle acts like a shift key to enable two levels of actions per button. Add the hat to the buttons and you have another 8 locations that are programmable. The settings section allows control of sensitivities and dead zone.
Once you get past the possible USB installation complications and get this baby working you won't be dissatisfied. I'm new to USB but look forward to the simplicity of multiple controllers that are hot swappable with instant driver setup. I have yet to find one controller that works for all games and using multiple controllers on a single game port is nothing but a pain.
As far as the tension issue, that is a personal opinion and one that should be viewed as such.
The only thing I wish the software did better is auto config to whatever game you start.
I rate this stick as #2 of my all time favorites with # 1 going to the Sidewinder Force Feedback. I have absolutely no affiliation with Microsoft I am just a control fanatic who is not willing to spend over $150.00 on a controller. I went way overboard when I bought the Force Feedback but have been very happy that I did.
Pros: USB, Smaller and lighter than Force Feedback, No Fan (quiet), Reasonable price
Cons: Weak handle tension, Small range of lateral movement when stick is full forward.