Along with the release of their newest gaming mouse, the Sidewinder X5, Microsoft have also made available a new, high-end gaming keyboard, the Sidewinder X6. Jam-packed with features, the X6 is clearly aimed at the likes of Logitech G15 and co. But is the X6, Microsoft’s first fully independently designed gaming keyboard, really as good as the market leaders from Razer, Logitech or Saitek?
Layout & Design
One of the features of the X6 keyboard is the LED backlighting – red LEDs are spaced throughout the keyboard to achieve this. Not only do they illuminate the keys from below, but the light also shines through between the keys themselves, making typing in dark conditions an absolute pleasure. A big plus here is that the backlighting can be steplessly adjusted with one of the two knobs located on the top of the keyboard.
As one would expect from a high-end gaming keyboard, the X6 features a full 104+ key layout, along with a row of 6 dedicated macro keys along the left side of the keyboard (more about these later). Furthermore, the keys that form the Numpad double as macro keys, customizable to the user’s heart’s desire. Additionally, the X6 features a variety of additional keys, including four media control keys (more below), a shortcut key to Windows Vista’s Games folder, a never-before-seen “Cruise Control” key, as well as two keys for recording macros and switching macro modes respectively. Next to the aforementioned dimmer for the backlighting, you will also find a second knob for regulating the volume – neatly indicated by a small, discreet pop-up that will appear on your screen if you change the volume (and have the appropriate Windows Intellitype driver installed).
Media Control & Gaming Keys
Seeing how the X6 was intended to be a gaming and multimedia keyboard from the beginning, the inclusion of corresponding keys is only appropriate. The aforementioned multimedia keys are located above the F-keys, slightly offset to the right. Play/Pause, Skip Back, Skip Forward, and Mute buttons are available. To the right is the dimmer for the backlighting, while the volume control is located in the top-right corner of the keyboard. As would be expected, the multimedia keys function perfectly fine with a number of media players. Our only gripe here is that the Play/Pause button, if it is pressed while no media player is open, will launch Windows Media Player – even though users might prefer a different player. We would have liked to see an option to reconfigure this to launch iTunes or VLC Media Player.
Regarding special gaming/macro keys, the X6 is almost in a league by its own. Along the top-left side, the keys for launching the Games folder, engaging Cruise Control (this should be fairly self-explanatory – you hold a button as well as Cruise Control, and are then free to release both, while the input from the key is still registered. Note that this won’t work with macros, sadly, but it will accept up to four standard keys just fine), as well as recording macros in-game.