Review: Microsoft SideWinder X4 Keyboard

 When it comes to computer peripherals, there are two schools of thought: moot features are unimportant, and moot features are the most important. Microsoft released its powerful and well-received SideWinder X6 gaming keyboard last year. That keyboard is by no means a traditional gaming keyboard. A removable number pad, thirty programmable keys with three different profiles, full media controls, and excellent marks make it an exceptional piece of hardware.

That’s why the X4 comes as a confusing surprise. Coming on the heels of the X6’s success, it’s both a lower-numbered device--indicating it’s somehow a lesser product--and lacks so many features that the X6 has. So, why did Microsoft bother?

As Alice Cooper wrote, it’s the little things. The X4 has one distinctive feature you won’t find on most keyboards, gaming or otherwise: anti-ghosting. Ghosting on a keyboard is the effect you get when you push several keys simultaneously, but one or more keys doesn’t register. This occurs differently on every keyboard design, though with most of today’s gaming keyboards, the focus occurs near a small, select group of keys: WASD, shift and control, the number pad, and the arrow keys.

Why? Those are the keys gamers use, often at the same time. But even then, no two models are alike. Some keyboards only allow pressing two arrow keys together, and pressing a third won’t do anything. The keystroke will go unregistered--a “ghost” in the system. The X4 does away with that, to a point. The question is, how many simultaneous keystrokes will this keyboard actually register?

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  • thats actually pretty cool I might be tempted to buy one if my current one dies
  • I thought the DAS keyboard also had a ludicrous amount of simultaneous key-types.
  • Nice that it can register 11 to 15 keystrokes at once.
    Shame humanity lack fingers to use all of those at once.
  • stupid razer and their lack of support for win7...makes the lycosa ghost on like every game: Crysis, CWars, MW2, BF2, anything...even on google chrome, it ghosts
  • I want to know how it is to type on it. I work on the same machine I game on. My favorite keyboards are in this order DasKeyboard, Logitech Illuminated, a Cherry brand keyboard with brown Cherry MX switches and an old DSI left-handed keyboard with ALPS switches.
  • davendork, typing on keyboards is extremely personalized...for instance, I love the old IBM clicky laptop keyboards, that you find on T42's and older models. They don't make them anymore.

    The X4 is good to type on, slightly higher profile than the X6, but much lower profile than the G19. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the DAS keyboards or the Logitech Iluminated, but I can say that the X4 isn't a keyboard you should buy if you want the best typing experience. It's a keyboard you buy if you have a great need to defeat ghosting.
  • I love my SteelSeries 7G - probably the best keyboard in history (if you want mecanical without the clicky)

    due respect to the DAS I trialed it and it was nice also.
  • point of note - cash spent on a decent keyboard will be an investment that benefits every day for many years and builds.
  • I don't know memeroot, I couldn't stand the 7G. The keys were way too high profile (I like low profile keys), and I felt like I was pressing the "big red button" for every keystroke. It was a pretty basic keyboard too, so for $150 it felt like I was stolen from. I like mechanical keyboards, but the key height really makes a big difference for speed typing.
  • not sure how many low-profile mechanical keyboards there are... the 7g has 2/3rds movement compared to most (ie the das) - though having said that the clicky keyboards mean that its easier to pull a half stroke.

    What keyboard did you go for in the end?

    regardless for speed typing yes you're correct a clicky keyboard is the way forward.
  • I still don't understand why there aren't any ergonomic gaming keyboards.

    Gamers are typically on the computer for hours - the perfect targets for ergonomic gear. Then add in the fact there's a PERFECT slot for macro buttons in the middle of the keyboard...

    I just don't understand why no one's made one yet... Until they do, I'm staying away from gaming keyboards.

    I have the Belkin n52te - its ok if you're lazy but to be honest you're better off with a decent keyboard
  • damn it. every time we come close to finding a good anti-ghosting keyboard, our hopes are destroyed by design flaws.

    a wrist-rest that doesn't come off being this keyboard's flaw.

    bulkiness and redundant gimmicky features (at least to me) such as lcd screens on logitech ones...

    heavy and lack of basic multimedia keys on das keyboards. i admit das is still in the lead for design now that the x4 has a permanent wrist-rest.
  • The term "ghosting" isn't being used properly. Ghosting is when you press 2 keys, and a 3rd key appears on the screen that you didn't press. That's the ghost key. It's extremely, extremely rare to find ghosting on any keyboard at all; controllers are designed to block all possible combinations of keystrokes that would result in a ghost key being sent.

    The term that refers to how many keys you can press at once is rollover. But the reason that companies like MS, Logitech, and Razer don't use it because it's defined by the FEWEST number of keys you can press. Even if you can press up to 20 keys at once, if there's another combination of just 2 keys that results in blocking, it's still called 2-key rollover.

    There are plenty of boards with full n-key rollover (as in, you can press every single key on the keyboard at once), but they are all mechanical. NKRO requires that either a diode is placed in series with every keyswitch, which isn't feasible on a membrane sheet. It requires a PCB.
  • Hmm, I'm still considering getting a Macintosh aluminum keyboard (the one without the numpad).
    How sexy a keyboard is comes into factor, and while I dislike Mac laptops, I do like the keyboard and its laptop keys (not all of us care to have a loud click or deep key).

    The Saitek Eclipse II is also a contender for my desk space. =)
    Sorry Microsoft, I'll use your OS, but nothing else...
  • what melon head presses 6 keys at once anyway??
  • blackmancer: some people do :-)

    You have split screen games, you have NBA-games that use a lot of keys, etc.

    On the cheaper OEM-like keyboards, you can even have problems with as little as 3 keys(!). It's because it works in a grid.. eg. if you try the ghost-test on W + E + D, some keyboards will fail.

    Others have made a higher resolution grid below the keys, but many producers only move it to another place, to minimize problems.

    I have tested the x6 today and it really works as advertised.. It looks a bit cheap maybe, but I think it will perform well.. I'd like shorter stroke on the keys.. but hey, cant get it all for this low sum :-)
  • I say this is a good keyboard if your new to gaming and can barely think of 6 macros let alone 30!