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When most of us buy PCs, our put together our own, we usually have to decide on what input devices to buy.
Any home builder might have to skimp on the mouse and keyboard in order to maximise on the hardware that they buy, as they are undoubtedly on a budget. They may well end up with a 'regular' keyboard and a fairly innocuous mouse that covers all the necessary bases by simply having buttons on it.
The off the shelf PCs are more likely to come with slightly better input devices, especially mice. Ultimately though, any PC owner interested in gaming is going to notice just how bad their mouse is.
The Big M Steps In
Many people may regard Microsoft as being a software house, but they do also make a number of input devices. They have in fact been making mice for almost a decade now, and if you buy an off the shelf PC the chances are that you are using a rebadged Microsoft mouse.
Since they have been making mice for so long, they have become rather adept at this little known art. The first mouse they made was exceptionally ergonomic (a buzzword at the time) and extremely well weighted. It was this design that really started to make such a name for Microsoft rodents.
At the time though there were very few games that would really require fast, precise mousing action, and for those that did (such as Doom) there was no real difference drawn between one mouse and another.
Years passed and Microsoft redesigned the mouse, at the cost of many millions, in order to provide a shape that was yet more ergonomic, and suited to both right and left hand users. This became known as the MS Mouse v2.0. By this time gaming had progressed, and gamers were beginning to take a little more note of the quality of their mice.
After hitting on such a winning design Microsoft have updated their mouse with a scrolling wheel, which not only aids scrolling in Internet Explorer and other apps, but also helps with fast weapon switching in games like Quake.
This mouse became the choice for many gamers thanks to its comfortable shape, good weighting, smooth action, and precise control. The MS IntelliMouse was really making a name for itself in the gaming world...
With the advent of USB, sampling rates increased, yielding greater input accuracy, and making the MS IntelliMouse a must have for any gamer. Of course, other companies like Logitech have tried to keep up, and to some extent they have with some preferring the different shape and feel that Logitech provide.
But now Microsoft have jumped ahead again, with an improvement so sophisticated that it rivals the invention of the mouse itself!
Advanced Mouse technology
Since the 1960s the mouse has utilised two sets of rollers connected to grooved wheels that translate to x and y co-ordinates. When these grooved wheels spin they cut a beam of light that registers the movement.
By this method the mouse translates the movement of the rollers into instructions to move the mouse pointer in the desired direction. In most cases these rollers have been moved by a hard rubber mouse ball.
It is here that Microsoft have made their change. With their new mice they have replaced the entire mechanism with a fully optical set up. Instead of a moving ball and internal wheels there is nothing. There is only a glowing red light that emanates from the bottom of the mouse, from which all the movement is detected.
The added advantage of using an optical mechanism is that there are no moving parts that require cleaning, which will banish the endless comments regarding dirty mice and poor play.
To be fair, we have seen optical mice before, but in the past the they have required a special mouse mat with precise tracking dots in order to function. Should you wear out or lose it you would have to fork out whatever the company wanted to charge you for a new one. Microsoft's new mouse will work on more or less any surface though.
So How Does It Work?
The new mechanism, dubbed IntelliEye by Microsoft, works by scanning the surface at a rate of 1500 images per second. By using a powerful 16Mips processor it can then determine not only the direction of movement, but also the rate.
This in theory means that the IntelliMouse with IntelliEye should be able to track just as fast, if not faster, than any other mouse on the market. It should also be able to do this more accurately too.
Unfortunately there is a problem, as there always is. While yielding super accurate tracking and immense response most of the time, under certain conditions the mouse can become as useless as a doorstop.
Microsoft themselves say that while the mouse will work on almost any surface, one should avoid reflective or transmissive surfaces like glass or a mirror, and also avoid certain types of repeating patterns like wood grain.
When one looks closely, it does appear that while it doesn't require any special mousing surface like previous optical mice, in order to achieve good operation a sensible mouse surface still needs to be used.
It's very easy to see when the mouse isn't tracking properly, as the pointer will begin to move in a random fashion or refuse to move at all. I myself went through half a dozen mouse mats before finding one that provided a good surface to track on.
Most importantly though, how does the IntelliEye technology fare in games?
Well, in slower RTS style games, for which I used my personal favourite HomeWorld, the mouse action is smooth, which translates to fine control over both the camera and units.
But how does it fare in a much faster paced environment, such as Quake 3 Arena? Regrettably, I must inform you that while in general it provides a high degree of accuracy, which is great for precise camping with the railgun, under moments of extreme combat where lightning fast mouse response is mandatory for survival, the IntelliEye started to show its limits.
At key moments the tracking failed resulting in random movement that proved very disorientating in a deathmatch. It is possible that this was due to the mouse surface used, but under other circumstances no glitches occurred, which does tend to imply that there is simply a problem with tracking very rapid movements.
IntelliEye is a great technology, and it is very nice to use. It takes a little while to get used to a mouse with no ball, but once adapted it becomes a joy to use. Graphical apps like PhotoShop become a joy to use, as the tracking is just that bit more accurate, which in turn allows for much easier graphical manipulation.
Slower games will also benefit from the smoother mouse action, but when it comes to a serious hardcore deathmatch the IntelliEye can't quite touch the regular mechanical mouse. It is sad, therefore, that I cannot recommend the IntelliMouse with IntelliEye wholeheartedly, as it will not suit everyone's needs.
If however, you do not play many first person shooters, and will therefore not require such rapid mouse response, this mouse is extremely capable and certainly deserves consideration if you are planning to replace your old mouse.
While it isn't an "absolutely must have" product, it is highly commended for bringing such a new approach to an old technology.