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Review: Microsoft SideWinder X4 Keyboard

Kiss Your Apparition Goodbye

Not only did Microsoft make this specialized ghosting technology, but it put out a free online utility to test any keyboard for ghosting. We used it to test out the X4’s claim of up to 26 possible simultaneous button presses, as well as some of our favorite gaming keyboards: the Logitech G19 and Microsoft’s own SideWinder X6. If you’re curious about how your own keyboard fares, you can try it out for yourself by clicking this link. We ran the same tests and more on a keyboard testing application called PassMark KeyboardTest, which you can download here free for a 30-day trial.

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How did Microsoft’s current flagship, the SideWinder X6, perform? Surprisingly poor, actually, managing only six simultaneous keystrokes plus the control, shift and alt (modifier) keys. Worse yet, the six keys had to be a certain six keys, and not all keys worked together. For instance, pressing RTDFGV refuses to list all six, missing one key every time. This happens all across the board except in the WASD area, widely recognized as the most important segment of the keyboard for gamers. In some places the ghosting is far too obvious, like when you can’t press the 7, 8 and 9 key on the number pad and have all three register. It just doesn’t work.

Logitech’s behemoth, complete with its own power source and LCD screen, was much more competitive. Like the X6, the G19 registers six plus the modifier keys. The difference is that it doesn’t matter which six keys you press, they all work together, no matter how close or far apart they are from each other.

What makes the X4 prevent ghosting? A modified version of multi-touch technology, which senses pressure across the board without sacrificing performance or price

What makes the X4 prevent ghosting? A modified version of multi-touch technology, which senses pressure across the board without sacrificing performance or price

And the X4? It depends on your drivers. Without the included Intellitype 7.1 driver, the X4 supports between 11 and 15 concurrent keystrokes, not including modifiers. It’s either 11 or 15 because after installing, uninstalling and reinstalling the 6.3 and 7.1 version of Intellitype three times, the numbers never stayed constant, so unfortunately there’s no straight answer. But with the correct drivers installed, it performs as Microsoft states: any 17 keys together, all modifiers, one media (play/pause, next track, previous track) key and all six macro keys, all at the same time.

The only comparable keyboard to be released in the last few years is the SteelSeries 7G, which is specially made so it has zero ghosting across the entire keyboard. This feature makes it very expensive, and that keyboard lacks media controls and macro keys and still costs $150. It also connects via PS/2 instead of USB, though, interestingly, the USB connection limits the X4 to only 26 concurrent keystrokes. Does that make the X4 a better buy? It might.