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USB bonanza! Over 15 controllers add to your gaming pleasure

November 19, 1999
Web posted at: 10:36 a.m. EST (1536 GMT)

by Joel Strauch


(IDG) -- Ever use those little USB ports on the back of your PC? Most likely you haven't. But you will. And soon. Universal serial bus peripherals are beginning to show up in serious numbers, especially in the form of gaming devices.

We've gathered a flock of USB peripherals and given them all some play time to see how they stack up against their mundane connection counterparts. From mice to gamepads, from joysticks to steering wheels, USB has become the hip way to hook up.

I hate those meeses to pieces

The mouse has been one input device that manufacturers have leapt on like classic Star Wars fans on Jar Jar Binks. A serial or PS/2 mouse has a report rate of 40 times a second (how often it broadcasts its position). But USB mice can have report rates of up to three times higher, leading to greater sensitivity and control.

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Logitech Wingman Gaming Mouse
This mouse may not offer any fancy wheels or trackballs, but what it does toss in the ring is a comfortable design and excellent sensitivity.

Kensington Orbit
The $50 Kensington mouse model we tested was designed for a Mac, but another beauty of USB is cross-platform functionality. We had to download the latest Kensington software to use all of its functions, but the device worked fine on our PC. One of these aforementioned functions that we really dug was the ability of the mouse software to automatically place the mouse cursor on the active button-if a dialog box popped up with a yes-or-no question, our cursor was instantly placed over the default answer for convenient clicking. Very nice.

Logitech MouseMan Wheel
If you need a scroll wheel mouse for better browser and application maneuvering, look no further than the MouseMan Wheel. This $50 mouse has an ergonomic design that's pleasing to the palm. The thumb button provides an extra programmable option in gaming and allows one-click equivalents of a double-click while on the desktop. The scroll wheel, while suited for zooming in and out or weapon selection, can also be used as a fourth programmable button.

And the rest
There are literally tons of USB mice out there. (It's true. We've weighed them.) The ease of setup and faster throughput makes these input devices a perfect ride for this bus. One mouse we especially can't wait to get our hands on is Logitech's force-feedback mouse that will let you "feel" what your desktop looks like.

Padding USB down

Hardware innovation

Gamepads have been one of the slower USB genres to grow, but the trickle is becoming a flood across the industry. Almost all of the big manufacturers (save Microsoft, but it's on the way) have at least one USB gamepad to offer up, although they're all in the no-frills category.

WingMan Gamepad Extreme
The $35 Gamepad Extreme features the nifty new tilt sensor, so you can change directions in a game just by leaning the pad one way or another.

Gravis GamePad Pro USB
This $30 gamepad is at the low-end of Gravis' line of controllers. This basic pad works well. You can use the directional pad or screw in the joystick handle for control. The 10 buttons (4 primary, 4 flippers, start, and select) are programmable and USB makes it truly plug and play. It's a fairly simple device without any really special features, and we recommend waiting for the USB version of the excellent Exterminator.

Suncom SFX Plus
Equally plain, the $20 SFX Plus from Suncom provides basic gamepad functionality with USB connectivity. Installation was smooth using its own USB device driver-although the instructions were sparse and not in English. But the pad worked well, with 10 programmable action buttons and a comfortable directional pad.

CH Products USB Gamepad
This $30 pad features a nifty transparent design (just in case you've ever wondered what was going down on the inside of your gamepad). The controller uses the default Windows driver, so it is truly plug and play, with no software installation of any kind. With the appropriate game support, up to 16 of these babies can be connected to one system. Unfortunately, there's no pass-through USB port, so you'll need a hub to install more than two to a PC.

Noticeably missing from the Gamepad front is Microsoft and its Sidewinder. The latest version of this popular gamepad, the Sidewinder Gamepad Pro, will be USB-enabled and will be available this fall.

Joystick that in your pipe and smoke it

The most popular gaming peripheral on the market is also the most popular gaming device for USB. There are close to two dozen USB joysticks on the market right now with plenty more on the way.

AVB Top Shot USB Joystick
This well-designed $45 stick features an eight-position POV hat and eight programmable buttons.

CH Products F-16 CombatStick
The $80 USB version of the excellent flight sim stick from CH Products puts the USB connection to good use. In addition to easy plug-and-play setup, the USB version can be programmed separately. (The non-USB unit required the separate Pro Throttle for programming.) All in all, a solid stick that works well in USB.

CH Products GameStick 3D
This $50 stick is a boon for southpaws who aren't ambidextrous. Its even balance and ergonomic design function well in both right and left hands. As with the non-USB version, the GameStick's handle twists to control motion along the Z-axis, and the well-designed base makes it suitable for lap or desk gameplay. While not featuring as many controls as other sticks, the Gaming Center USB software allows for easy programming of the four fire buttons and four-way POV hat.

Logitech WingMan Force
This $130 joystick ain't tiny and it ain't cheap. Weighing in at over four pounds and packing in every feature-including force feedback-you could possible throw into a stick, the WingMan ships with a nice bundle, including Descent: Freespace, Redline Racer, and five free hours of WarBirds.

Macally iStick
Designed specifically for the Mac, Macally doesn't provide PC drivers at their site for its $79 iStick. Although the stick will work with the default Windows driver, you're probably better off running with a different peripheral for PC use. Review coming.

Microsoft SideWinder Precision Pro
Currently the only Microsoft joystick available in USB, the $75 Precision Pro is an easier install than its gameport counterpart. Features, such as the rotating handle for Z-axis control, editable profiles for binding a set of game actions to one button, and adjustable control sensitivity make it a great all-around stick.

Suncom FX4000
You won't find a joystick for much cheaper than the $25 FX4000 from Suncom. But you get what you pay for. This simple, four-button stick does feature built-in throttle control and suction cups to hold it to your desktop, but that's about all. If basic USB functionality is your bag, this stick will meet your needs-barely.

Suncom SFS Flight Controller
Suncom's $30 Flight Controller gives gamers quite a bit more than the FX4000. Based on the F-15E Strike Eagle's flight stick, the solid stick really provides a nice flight-sim feel. Its four fire buttons and eight-way hat are easily configurable with the provided USB software. And, like the FX4000 (and real combat planes), the included suction cups can be attached to hold the stick to a flat surface. For ultimate simulation, the stick works with with Suncom's $90 SFS Throttle to provide two-handed control.

What Else is Out There?

And that's not all. Scanners, printers and lots of other peripherals are showing up on USB. But there are other gaming products as well.

CH Products LE Flight Sim Yoke
If you're serious about your flight sims, check out the Flight Sim Yoke from CH Products. This $109 device will take up a big chunk of space on your desk, but with 14 configurable buttons and three axes of control, you won't find a better way to fly outside of a cockpit. Best suited for non-combat flight sims because of the design (this ain't no shoot-em-up cockpit), the USB software makes the Yoke easy to set up and configure for any flying games.

Logitech WingMan Formula Force
It's the only USB steering wheel out there, but it's a good one. At $177, it'll cost you, but this solid (the wheel-and-pedals combo weighs more than 12 pounds) and comfortable set takes you on a nice force-feedback ride.

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