Death to Gaming Mice

The Wireless Gaming Mouse Deathmatch: Mamba vs. SideWinder

Newly reeducated in the ways of the mouse--and wearing RSI gloves that make me look like a UFC contender--I'm ready for combat. The Razer Mamba and Microsoft SideWinder X8 wireless mice may now step into the octagon.

Razer Mamba packaging
Presentation
Winner: Razer Mamba

The Mamba comes in a honking, huge plastic display case. Do they expect me to store this in a museum dedicated to the gaming gods? Once you lift the lid and daintily pull out the separate mini-shelf boxes, you can piece together your peripheral. A little overboard? Maybe. Green? Doubtful.

Razer Mamba
Style/Construction
Winner: Razer Mamba
Without a doubt, the Mamba is the sexier of the two. Razer simply gets the feng shui of mouse design, going for curves and rubbery textured surfaces, while making sure it feels a little more substantial. The result falls somewhere between a luxury Lexus and the 2009 Batmobile. I especially like the fact that if you don't want to go with the stylized display charger for the Mamba, you can easily plug the charging cable directly into the mouse for a full-on wired experience.

One other bit of good news: Both mice have on-the-fly speed-adjustment buttons sitting on top, next to comfortable mouse wheels. Some bad news: Neither mouse suits southpaws. Extra adjustment and action buttons camp where the right thumb has easy access. The SideWinder X8, in contrast to the Mamba, feels more like a Transformer toy when I grip it. That said, I have to give points to Microsoft for stacking the thumb buttons on top of each other (a smart move that puts less stress on the thumb), and for including a recessed QuickLaunch button that opens the Game Explorer window in Vista.

Software
Winner: Microsoft SideWinder DX
Microsoft wins a truckload of points for flexibility and ease of use. You want to monkey with what each button does or set up complex macros? Easy, just go to the Mouse section of the control panel, and you're in business. The Mamba, on the other hand, doesn't have as many assignable buttons, but its macro assigning is fairly sweet: You can record time delays, mouse movements, and keystrokes. Add on top of that the fact that you can store those moves in the mouse's on-board memory so that whenever you're on the road it'll take your custom macros with you. One warning: You'll encounter slight hiccups with the 64-bit drivers for the Mamba--you'll need to employ a little extra TLC for it to work.

Performance
Winner: Razer Mamba
The SideWinder slides along at a fairly fast max of 4000 dpi--the Mamba, 5600 dpi. How much does that matter (unless you're in a pro-level competition tournament against a team of Red Bull guzzlers)? Diddly. I mean, the 5600 dpi was way too fast for my tastes. What does matter is whether a mouse works on a number of different surfaces and how long the thing will last between charges. Both mice boast BlueTrack technology, and that tech works as its makers say on everything from wood and fabric to metal. Where the heck do these guys think I'm using my mouse--the floor?

The other thing that impressed me is that both mice worked equally well plugged in or wireless. I saw no drops in accuracy. In fact, I tried plugging in my trusty Logitech G9 wired mouse, and the wireless units kept up just fine for my gaming needs. Last, but not least, is the battery life. The SideWinder claims about 30 hours with a single AA NiMH battery. The Mamba promises 72 hours of use with its lithium ion battery--try closer to 40, even with firmware upgrades. Still, the longer battery life is just enough to give the Mamba an edge.

Microsoft SideWinder X8
Ergonomics
Winner: Microsoft SideWinder X8
The Mamba feels largely ambidextrous (save for the previously mentioned righty-oriented thumb buttons) and works fairly well in a pinch. Unfortunately the sloping hump in the middle forces my large hand into using the mouse the wrong way (according to my physical therapist). The chunkier, clunkier X8 fits my hand better and lets me naturally tap buttons the way I'm supposed to--but the SideWinder is even more righty-biased than the Mamba. If Microsoft refines its design a little more and maybe adds a silkier texture, it would have a clear victory rather than squeaking past. Again, though, let me say that your mileage will absolutely vary if your hand is smaller than mine.

Overall Value/Price
Winner: Microsoft SideWinder X8
Neither mouse is exactly cheap--the choice just comes down to how much you're willing to fork over for the latest mouse flavor that'll no doubt be replaced in five months with more features and glowing lights, sporting a goofier name. The Mamba sells for $130. The SideWinder goes for $100. In a competition this close, you have to make the call on what matters most to you. Savings? Comfort? Something else?

Don't just take my word for it--or any reviewer's word for it. Your mouse preference is a very subjective and personal thing. If you're on the market for an input device, head down to the local electronics store for a little hands-on time.

Me? I just want a mouse that fits my Frankenstein-y mitts.

Need even more nerdity? Follow Casual Friday columnist and PC World Senior Writer Darren Gladstone on Twitter (gizmogladstone) for game-swag giveaways, odd links, and time-wasting tips.

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