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Do all of those warm, fuzzy feelings of showcasing epic gear on your desktop translate into better performance in-game? Do they at least turn into a heightened sense of satisfaction while you play? In order to test this out, I put all of our peripherals against a battery of games that represent a wide selection of game-types, and tried to make use of the peripherals’ unique features in each game to whatever extent was possible.
The MMO is probably the genre that makes the heaviest use of macros, custom keyboard commands, and key bindings. The current reigning king in the MMO empire is Blizzard's World of Warcraft, so I decided to give each of the devices and their respective features a run through a couple of WoW raids and dungeons. For added flavor, I also included Guild Wars in the mix (another gorgeous MMO that has tons of customization options).
MMOs aren’t the end of the story, though. A number of us play third-person adventure games, RPGs, and other titles that have complex interfaces as well. To test some of these out, I played The Witcher, a game with challenging combat mechanics that could be aided by peripherals emphasizing precision.
No gaming peripheral test would be complete without running through a handful of first-person shooters. Conveniently, I’ve been meaning to play through Far Cry 2, and already had Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare installed. For a little more frenetic action and a faster pace, I also decided to run through Team Fortress 2, one of my favorite time-wasting multiplayer games.
Now that we have our games installed, all we have to do is line up the peripherals to test. Some peripherals predictably shine through more, depending on the type of game you play. But whether or not that difference is palpable enough to make them worth purchasing remains to be seen.
In order to be as scientific as possible, we need a control group, a set of peripherals that don’t have the bells and whistles that high-end gaming peripherals feater. From this, we can establish a performance baseline.
I started with a standard Dell media keyboard and USB optical mouse, the kind you can expect with any Dell system. Both peripherals are very basic USB devices without any gaming-specific features. The mouse is a standard 2-button optical unit with a scroll wheel and no programmable buttons.
For competition, Logitech’s new flagship gaming keyboard, the G19, takes the spotlight from the much-loved G15. Microsoft is in the gaming keyboard mix with its new SideWinder X6 keyboard, a backlit low-rise model featuring programmable keys and media controls. Saitek builds on the success of its Eclipse line with the Cyborg Keyboard, which also sports backlighting and programmable keys, and is targeted squarely at gamers.
In our lineup of mice, Logitech sent its ever-popular G9, which I matched up against a Razer Lachesis. Microsoft sent its X3. And Gigabyte jumped into the mix with its newly-released M8000 high-end gaming mouse.
In the audio category, I dug up an old, generic desktop microphone and a pair of unremarkable Sony headphones. Razer sent the fairly-new Megalodon 7.1 headset, which I compared against a pair of Sennheiser PC 350s.
Gamepads were a bit trickier. Either you use them or you don’t, so I decided my control in this case would be to simply not use one. During testing, I tried the Saitek Cyborg Command Unit and compared it against the Belkin Nostromo N52, which came highly recommended from some of my MMO-playing friends.
I tested each peripheral for a week to get a deep feel for it, making sure to spend many hours with each device during normal gameplay.