Hardware
Renzo  /  20 Jan 2010, 22:55
REVIEW: Steelseries Xai
For a long time I have wanted to make a real, official review of something concerning gaming. You've all probably seen my "reviews" on my blogs, and they have merely been an introduction of what was stored for the future. The time for for a real review has come: Steelseries sent me their best mouse, the Xai laser mouse, to be reviewed. In the review I will be telling you about the features, the performance and the feel of the Xai.
INTRODUCTION

The Xai laser mouse comes in a cardboard box, much like any other mouse. The packaging contains the mouse itself, some advertisement and manual but no driver cd of any kind. Also, you will be getting a 3*3cm Steelseries sticker.

The package and its contents. That's all you are getting.
http://pici.se/pictures/bFoTBXEbW.jpg



Xai's installation is easy, just plug it into your computer's USB port and Windows will find you the correct drivers. However this is only for basic usage, and the Xai manual actually suggests that you to go to http://www.steelseries.com and download the latest software for your mouse.

So, what kind of mouse are we talking about? Steelseries gives us the following information about Xai on their homepage:

SteelSeries Xai Laser highlights wrote:

- Ambidextrous shape
- Pro-play performance with accurate tracking and extreme precision
- Best-in-class technology: 100-5001 CPI, 12,000 FPS & 150+ IPS
- High definition sensor sporting 10,8 MegaPixels Per Second
- Advanced on mouse menu system on built-in LCD display
- Use the same settings as pro gamers with gamer profiles
- Advanced macros through 8 programmable buttons, with the option of 10 total programmed macros

Specifications for SteelSeries Xai Laser wrote:

- Frames per second: 12.000
- Inches per second: 150+
- Megapixels per second: 10.8
- Counts per inch: 100 - 5.001 (one CPI Steps)
- Max. Acceleration: 30 G
- Sensor data path: True 16 bit
- Lift distance: ~1mm (auto-adjusting)
- Buttons: 8
- Cord: 2 m / 6,5 ft (braided to improve durability)
- Polling: 125 - 1000 Hz (1Hz increments)
- Gold-plated USB connector
- Measurements: 125,5 x 68,3 x 38,7 mm / 4,94 x 2,69 x 1,52 in
- CPI high/low indicator
- SteelSeries FreeMove Technology
- SteelSeries ExactSens Technology
- SteelSeries ExactRate Technology
- SteelSeries ExactAim Technology
- On mouse acceleration Technology
- On mouse LCD display for tweaking above technologies thru menu system
- Large pressure points that reduce friction for optimized glide
- Driverless, plug-and-play feature for LAN gamers
- Built-in memory for 5 profiles
- Operating systems: Win 2000/XP/Vista/7 / Mac OSX
* Configuration software only available for Windows operating systems

As you might have noticed, Steelseries defines a value for CPI instead of DPI. According to Steelseries' FAQ section, CPI is described the following way:


DPI is an expression from the printing world and has nothing to do with mouse movement. DPI is meant to describe that for one inch of distance you move your mouse on any surface, the equivalent number of counts are sent to the PC - resulting in movement on your screen. CPI is the correct term for this as it actually is consistent with what you seek to describe with the abbreviation.

So if you want to do comparisons against other mice, Xai's CPI means other manufacturers' DPI-values. The other features listed in the specifications are:

FreeMove technology:
A path correction technology that helps you to draw straight lines. I tested the feature using maximum allowed value and it seemed to work ok, it was quite a bit easier to draw (almost) straight line on the desktop.

ExactSens technology:
User adjustable setting for "mouse hardware sensitity". Basically finetuning the values of CPI in steps of one.

ExactRate technology:
User adjustable setting for mouse polling rate ("refreshrate", "usbrate" on hardware level in steps of 1Hz. The values I tested were 500Hz and 1000Hz, DiMouseRateDialog measured the averages being ~500Hz and ~1000Hz. Maybe need to test some random values too.

ExactAim technology:
User adjustable setting for jitter correction and prediction calculations done on hardware level. One should use this if the Xai skips or behaves erratically on some surface. Enabling this feature makes the mouse feel a bit heavy and more stable.

ExactAccel technology:
User adjustable setting for hardware based acceleration. Does the same as the Windows mouse acceleration, but in my opinion smaller movements feel more responsive than with Windows acceleration. Could be a problem with Xai, read more about it at the end of this article.

All of the features described above will make using the Xai feel different with different values. It's up to the user to test and set the values he likes, I personally disable them all. All that I want is accuracy.


The hardware specs look very promising. How about the software side then? As I mentioned before, user does not have to install specific drivers for the Xai to work properly, Windows default drivers will do just fine. However, if you want to use the advanced features of the mouse, you will need to download Xai's control panel software from Steelseries downloads section. Luckily enough, the control panel software is only 8MB, so one won't be wasting too much time downloading it. After you install the software, it starts up and checks your Xai's firmware version. If the firmware is out of date, you can choose to update it or continue using the old firmware. If you choose not to upgrade the firmware, it could mean incompatibility between the mouse settings and the Control panel, so it would be a good idea to update the firmware to match the control panel application whenever available.

Note!

As a sidenote, I experienced some problems after installing the control panel application. The application installed just fine, but when it started to update the firmware it took quite some time, like 10 minutes or so. After the firmware update was done, I got an error message stating firmware update was NOT successful, please try again. At the same time I noticed my Windows found the mouse again and was installing drivers, and after that reboot was required. After the reboot I checked the Xai control panel and it stated that I have both the latest software and the firmware installed (version 1.4.2). Who knows what happened, but I heard something like this happened to Xenic too, so I'm guessing this is some sort of bug in the firmware updating process.


THE SOFTWARE:

Let's take a look at the control panel then. The first page is called button assignments and you can control all the available buttons from there. You can also change the right/left handedness from here.

The first tab of Xai's control panel, useful for defining button functions.
http://pici.se/pictures/dMnHULnMl.jpg



The next tab is called hardware settings. From this page you can finetune the values described earlier in this article to match your taste and needs. Note that you can change the profile between five different profiles here too, so you don't have to use the control panel application always when you want to change some settings. You can also LOAD or SAVE profiles from/to your harddrive, meaning other people can import your profiles for their Xais or vice versa.

Xai's hardware settings tab. Probably the most interesting tab for a player.
http://pici.se/pictures/ptwkLlvZN.jpg



Windows settings tab is basically the same you get from Windows control panel, so only thing you can change from here are really the Windows default mouse settings.

Nothing fancy here, move along!
http://pici.se/pictures/bFrYOrRkJ.jpg



The last tab is called Options and it tells you the Xai control panel application and firmware versions. You can click the links provided here to update the software, and also visit downloads and support sections on Steelseries homepage.

Time for a software update?
http://pici.se/pictures/GhdxIGYEA.jpg



There's also a sidepanel for ProGamer Advice (now that sounds a bit hilarious). It's basically like a help page describing a lot of the mouse functions. Worth checking it out if you are unsure whether to use some feature or not, or what values you want you want to use.

Note!

If you don't want to install the control panel software, you can actually configure the Xai using the LCD display on the bottom of the mouse! This way you can have access to the hardware settings shown above, and it's something really welcome.


THE PHYSICAL FEATURES:

The Xai is, in my opinion, a low profile mouse. What I'm trying to say is the fact that the Xai is not as high as some other mice, for example Logitech G5 or mx51*. It's still slightly higher than Logitech G9 but not by much. The length of the mouse is another thing: Xai is shorter than G5/mx51* but longer than G9. Also, the Xai is of ambidextrous design making it viable choice for both right- and left-handed people.

Side profile of the Xai.
http://pici.se/pictures/xmiVDMyIH.jpg



The glides on Xai are rather large, but made from a really good material. As I've stated quite a few times, Steelseries makes the best possible mouse glides available today. I can't even begin to describe how huge the difference is between Steelseries glides and Hyperglide glides. How long will they last will be a good question. Unfortunately Steelseries doesn't seem to have glides for the Xai for sale on their website. Well, at least not yet.

The sensor, glides and four Steelseries logos.
http://pici.se/pictures/vftjbaAmH.jpg



I also think the Xai is of very light weight design. Moving the mouse on my Steelseries 9HD mousepad feels almost like moving a feather. The Xai is probably the lightest mouse I've used so far, but it's possible my memory fails me. I don't know if the lightness is good or bad thing for a gamer, as everyone has their own tastes, but it's something I personally like. It's also worth mentioning that you can't add weights to the Xai as you can do with some Logitech mice.


PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:

Not everything is as great as it could be. I have pretty big hands, so I hold mice in certain way. The way I hold the Xai makes me push the sidebuttons on the right side of the mouse almost constantly. Above anything, that is something really annoying. Perhaps it's just me not used to the mouse yet (usually it takes like month for me to get used to different shaped mouse than the previous) but even so I have to give it a "minus" at this point. I'm pretty sure even left-handed people will notice this if they hold the mouse as I do. If so, their problem will be the sidebuttons on the left side of the Xai.

As for the buttons, they feel pretty much ok, but the positioning of the thumb-buttons could be better. Player doesn't need to use too much force to make clicks happen, even though the middle button is slightly stiff. The buttons aren't noisy but they aren't silent either. The mousewheel is actually by far the loudest button of the mouse when using it for scrolling. The sound from scrolling can be a bit like rattling at times, so someone might find it annoying.

As for the settings. I created 5 different profiles. Profiles 1 and 2 have same settings except for the polling rate (500Hz, 1000Hz). Similarly profiles 3 and 4 have same settings except for the polling rate, CPI was increased from 400/800 to 800/1600 compared to the profiles 1 and 2. The fifth profile has 1000Hz polling rate and 5000 CPI accuracy. You can change the profiles during gaming on the fly and it should just work fine. You can also specify two different CPI values for each profile that can be toggled using CPI-button just before middle mouse button.

Now, this is the second thing I'm not so fond of. Why only two settings? What I mean is Logitech G5 and G9 (probably other models too) can toggle between multiple DPI-values. For example I have set 5 different DPI values for G9 (400, 800, 1600, 2400 and 3200 dpi) which I can toggle using the DPI-buttons. Considering the fact that the Xai is more advanced mouse, it should probably have a bit more flexible configuration regarding CPI-values and CPI-button.


DOES IT SKIP?

Using Steelseries 9HD mousepad, no

A few words about 9HD since the testing was done using it. Steelseries 9HD is the latest mousepad Steelseries has to offer, released earlier last year around summer. It is actually built for high precision gaming, meaning the surface is closer to smooth than rough, yet still in between the two surface types. What's special about this mousepad is the fact that it has very constant friction (which is very low by the way). So when you start moving your mouse, it will feel the same as when you are already moving your mouse. The overall glide is very smooth, much like that of Steelseries SX's, but the surface is softer since it's made from plastic. I've also read that the Xai and the 9HD were meant to be used together. Well, sort of, or that's the impression I got from Steelseries. To be honest I think I understand the reason why after testing them both. This is of course a personal opinion, and considering the premium price 9HD costs, I'm not so sure if it can be recommended for everyone.

Other mousepads tested

Steelseries SP, SX, S&S, 5L, QcK+,
Razer eXactmat (both sides)

I didn't notice any kind of problems with those mousepads. SP and S&S felt quite good, the feeling of 5L improved a lot from the last time I had tested it, and eXactmat felt pretty good too. All of the Xai's hardware settings were disabled and I was using 800CPI (sensitivity: 18cm for 360).


IS THERE ACCELERATION?

I've heard some reports of Xai not being able to disable its hardware based acceleration completely for some reason. Of course I want to test if this is true, so I made up an obstacle course on my desk using Xai's cardboard box and my coffee cup. After this I moved the mouse very slowly from left to right and checked the distance travelled. Then I moved the mouse back to left using fast movement. This is where things became interesting: there certainly is quite a big difference (by big I mean 3-4cm in ~20cm). I actually had noticed exactly the same effect with my other mice too on Windows desktop when the W32mouse handles everything. Therefore we can't conclude the experiment here.

So, it's time to fire up ezQuake using in_mouse 3 (the mighty raw input) and start testing there. As you might know, raw input ignores everything OS-level except the USB data and moves the cursor accordingly. The method I used was to point certain point in the map, then move cursor slowly to another point and mark the distance on the table, then move the mouse to left very fast and see if it hit the starting point. Uninterestingly enough, the difference seen in the another test on the desktop was mostly gone.

However, this kind of testing methodology is far from accurate, so the results can't really be considered to mean anything. To test this properly, I would need a robotic arm programmed to move the mouse a certain distance in different speeds and see how much difference there would be.

This is why I can't make any conclusion about this, but it seems that w32mouse is inaccurate with different speeds even if you have disabled any and all accelerations, but something like raw input is much more accurate. Still, I can't deny the fact that the cursor moves different distances at different especially under Windows desktop, suggesting that there is something unwanted going on.


THE VERDICT:

Steelseries Xai has to be one of the best mice I've tested so far, even with its flaws. It feels really comfortable in my hand, glides like a dream through the mousepad, and has a lot of customizable settings via easy to use control panel. On top of that the Xai has more than enough profiles for your settings. The only downside is the price, 65-80 euros is quite a lot to be spent on a mouse, even if it's this advanced.

Pros:
+ The shape and build
+ The glides
+ Customization options
+ The technology behind the mouse
+ Responsiveness
+ Accuracy

Cons:
- Thumb/sidebuttons are somewhat misplaced
- Mousewheel can be noisy
- The latest firmware (1.4.2) is bugged
- Positive acceleration (fw update needed in the near future)


Thanks go to:

- Louise from Steelseries for sending me the Xai for this review
- Xenic for taking some photos for the review



Updated 21.1:
- Steelseries 9HD info
- Other mousepads tested
- Some minor corrections to the article
Comments
2010-01-20, 23:26
Nice review!

I've also been using Xai myself for couple of months now (mostly on a SteelSeries QcK clothpad), and here's my 5 cents:

The tracking and the feel of the sensor is by far the best I've ever exprecienced. That is when it works.. The mouse has a tendency to randomly freak out. This happens VERY rarely on my SS QcK, but never on my Razer Destructor mousepad.
The mouse feet produce large amount of friction on clothpad compared to other mouses I've tried.

The LCD screen on the bottom of the mouse is very sexy. No drivers are needed and you have total control on every feature with it, except macros.

The feel of the buttons is great, but my mouse2 has been kind of broken for a while now. There's a little empty space in between the part that you press with your finger and the thing that registers it. Can't describe it better, sorry for that. While it's not a big deal really, it has a tendency to fuckup every other RJ I try to pull off. 49% of this is obviously the lack of proper skills. The mousewheel is pretty stiff. Both to scroll and to click, but I don't mind it really.

The positive acceleration:
I'm hoping they will release a firmware fix on this. Not entirely sure if it's possible tho'.
Personally I can't notice this in game, but it messes up my head a little knowing it's there. I even tried Deathadder for a week or so after reading about it, and while it felt more solid, Xai is still so much better in everything else except sweepshots maybe.

Being the purist that I am, I haven't really given the predictions and jitter-correction thingys a chance so can't really say anything about them.

The exactrate thing is bulls**t. Only traditional values like 125,250,500 and 1khz work as they should.

The firmware is not downgradable, which kind of sucks.

SteelSeries Customercare is a joke. They have 99% of their resources on marketing, and it really shows.

Hoping to hear more about the mouse on different mousepads from you Renzo.

Here's a nice site for those who are interested in more technical aspects: http://wikis.jp/interfacedevice/index.php?MouseSensor
2010-01-20, 23:29
actually meant: http://wikis.jp/interfacedevice/index.php?MaximumSpeed_en#notefoot_2
2010-01-21, 01:53
Great mouse. Ive been using it for some weeks (had deathadder before) now and it works like a charm..
2010-01-21, 08:17
I don't feel any positive accel because my sens in qw is very high (12cm/360). Great mouse btw. Most qw players won't have a problem with positive accel.
2010-01-21, 08:20
Try 50cm/360 for your accel test.
2010-01-21, 12:04
Tested it for a few povs and a mix, which is ofc by no means a fair amount, but I have to say I went pretty quickly back to my good old Death Adder. It has to be just in my head but somehow the response from DA just feels more immediate and accurate. I also had a problem with XAI that vertical movement felt slower than what I'm used to so my rocket jumps ended up 50% lower than I meant them to be.
2010-01-21, 12:14
Oh and also where as with DA I have trouble reaching the second thumb button, with XAI I simply couldn't reach it at all.
2010-01-21, 12:32
blAze, there's always a problem of getting used to the new mouse when decide to change one. Atm I'm kinda struggling with Xai, but I think it will get (a lot) better after using it for a while.

I have had to spent a lot of time getting used to new mouse when doing the following changes in the past.

Logitech pilot -> dual optical: two or three weeks, but I was a lot worse player back then.

Dual optical -> mx310: At least a month. After that I still had some pains in my mousehand when playing the first 30 minutes of the day or so.

Mx310 -> Mx510: A month again, totally different shape and feeling.

Mx510 -> G5: No time needed to get used to it.

G5 -> G9: 3-4 weeks at least, and it felt REALLY strange for that time. After that I could never touch mx510/G5 shape again, just horrible.

G9 -> Xai: I guess we'll just have to see
2010-01-21, 12:43
Ah yes dual optical, I think I had that too once. Funny what they had to do back then in attempt to get even a working optical. Yeah maybe I was too impatient since I don't really switch hardware ever. Before DA I had mx500 for god knows how long and now I don't even remember if the mx/da switch took time to get used to.
2010-01-21, 12:45
I guess my main problem was that XAI didn't really feel any better than DA so why suck in Quake for weeks in hopes of getting used to it, when I can just keep playing with DA and be happy.
2010-01-21, 13:29
Nice article
2010-01-21, 15:25
Nice review!

Changing mouse is probably the biggest impact from any hardware change you can get. After my DA broke, i decided to never buy razer shit again since everything i buy from them seems to fuck up / get broken after a few months use. Went for a logi g9x, and it still feels really weird playing with it. Had to lower my sens abit as well since i could not handle it at all with at my previous cm/360, plus change my weapon handling abit due to some mouse buttons just being too weird to press compared to what I was used to.

I guess this also could be good alternative to Razer. Any comment on how the quality of the physical product seems? Cheap plastic? Buttons which gives the feeling they could break after some use? Stuff like that...
2010-01-21, 20:11
And when will they do a mouse without scroll again? I wont change mouse untill that
2010-01-22, 09:33
ok98: hell yeah, that would be nice. Would much rather have a big button like button 1 & 2 instead of that silly tiny wheel thats on every mouse these day
2010-01-22, 11:04
Rikoll: Build quality on Xai is much better than most razer mice. Buttons on my brand new Diamondback are squeaky and move a lot. Unlike the DeathAdder there are no glossy slippery sides. This really annoyed me on DA.

With your high sens (3cm/360?) you won't feel any positive accel. Xai is a great mouse but a bit pricey.
2010-01-22, 12:32
How would ppl spam fast enough during eql and nqr finals without the mousewheel?!?
2010-01-24, 23:19
i use mousewheel up and down to shoot sg/ssg. and mouse3 to fire sng..
i like the wheel
i use it also to set quad/pent time :>
2010-01-25, 15:40
i use it to report coming from location (mwheelup) and no/cant (mwheeldown)
pretty noobish usage perhaps but have gotten used to that over the years...
2012-10-17, 05:37
Heh, I just noticed that SteelSeries uses part of your verdict in their flash ads for the Xai...

"Steelseries Xai has to be one of the best mice I've tested so far" - QuakeWorld

http://static.hltv.org//images/xai_review_468x60.swf
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