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Razer DeathAdder - Mac Edition
July 21, 2008 | Bryan Clodfelter
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Early in the fourth quarter of 2006, a joint venture between Microsoft and Razer bore fruit in the form of a pair of gaming mice. First came the Microsoft Habu, a mouse with Razer guts, Tron-inspired styling, and an "everything but the kitchen sink" feature set. While the Habu was received warmly by the gaming press (including Inside Mac Games, here) it was quickly surpassed by its younger sibling, the Razer DeathAdder. Hailed as a breakthrough product, the DeathAdder has enjoyed steady popularity over the past year and a half. Recently, Razer has found it worthwhile to develop Mac OS X-compatible drivers for the mouse. Although there is no fundamental difference between the reference "Banshee Blue" DeathAdder that we reviewed in August of 2007 and this newer, "Lunar White" model, we felt that Razer's effort to reach Mac gamers and the ever-changing times warranted a fresh perspective on what is widely considered one of the best mice of all time.

Of Mice and Man: A Tale of Steve Jobs' Famous Peculiarity
Steve Jobs, whether you love him or hate him, will go down in history as something of a prodigy. Products including (but not limited to) the original Apple Macintosh, the "Bondi Blue" iMac, the Power Mac G4 Cube, and the iPod serve as reminders that Steve has fielded more "gotta have it" products than any other man or corporation in recent memory. However, although the Macintosh made the mouse and the graphical user interface (GUI) popular, most Apple mice have been one-button relics--a trait that has been accredited to Steve's belief that a single-button mouse is far less daunting to new users than a multi-button design. While this mantra has clearly changed a tad with the advent of Apple's new "Mighty Mouse," the age-old tradition of unboxing a fresh Mac and chucking Apple's latest plastic-molded turd into the trash has yet to show any sign of waning.

So, why should Apple's design idiosyncrasies be of any concern to us? While the easy answer states that our motivation for concern should be fiscal, the more interesting answer lies in how Apple's hardware design affects the inner workings of Mac OS X. To put it bluntly, Apple's single-button history has resulted in an operating system that still lacks full support for industry-standard five-button mice; without third-party drivers, the OS recognizes no more than two buttons and a scroll wheel. Since most of the software that we use today was either ported from the PC, or developed with multiple platforms in mind, the assumption that a five-button mouse is available is not uncommon. Therefore, most Mac users are at a disadvantage, whether they're surfing the web, retouching an image, or delving into the world of their favorite game, and those three little buttons are at the heart of the issue.

The DeathAdder Redux: Part One
Fortunately (at least for DeathAdder owners), Razer's Mac OS X drivers pick up where Apple left off. If you're already familiar with the Razer control panel in Windows, the OS X version of the application should be instantly familiar. At first glance, the diminutive program appears to offer only basic button configuration and profile management functionality, however, start popping open the tabs to the left and right of the main window and you'll find a formidable array of tweaking firepower. Along with the more nitty-gritty performance controls, the DeathAdder control panel includes full-blown macro support augmented by a couple of drop-down menus filled with popular OS X commands--a feature that should make the customization process significantly simpler. Should you find that a certain part of your configuration is not working as expected, Razer also included a "Pass-through" command, which tells the mouse to fall back to the default Mac OS X-driven behavior. This feature came in handy when I wanted to use the mouse wheel button to auto-scroll in Firefox 3.0, and found that my current settings precluded that from happening.


The most important feature that Razer's drivers bring to the table for Mac users is the ability to perform "on-the-fly" sensitivity adjustment. This feature is nearly indispensable from both a convenience and a performance perspective, thus, it has become nearly ubiquitous among high-performance mice. The DeathAdder is unique in that it does away with the generally-accepted set of on-the-fly controls in favor of a software-driven implementation. To operate the DeathAdder's on-the-fly mechanism, the user must to press and hold his or her chosen on-the-fly button and then rotate the scroll wheel. This raises and lowers the mouse's sensitivity by minute increments--a process that is charted by a small, unintrusive on-screen-display (OSD) that rates sensitivity from 1.0 (slowest) to 10.0 (fastest).

The disadvantage of this approach is obvious: it doesn't work without driver support. On the other hand, it has the advantage of being a faster and more accurate method of dialing in the perfect sensitivity for any given situation. Conventional on-the-fly sensitivity adjustment requires the user to repeatedly press one of two buttons (equivalent to a set of up and down arrows) to cycle between 3-5 programmable DPI set-points. Not only is this solution hugely granular, it is usually performed "blind"--in other words, sans feedback. This makes adjusting sensitivity a relatively slow process and limits its usefulness in gaming situations.

Consider the following hypothetical situation (illustrated below): as a soldier in Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4, you are faced with the task of making it down a long, narrow street in Chinatown alive. Danger lies primarily in enemies rounding the bend at the end of the street, although it is possible that someone lies in wait in a second-story window halfway down the road. Armed with both a sniper rifle and an assault rifle, one possible solution could be to scout ahead with the sniper rifle, sprint down the street with the assault rifle, and then dive into cover. This situation can be made easier by on-the-fly sensitivity adjustment: low sensitivity for accurate sniper rifle fire, high sensitivity to ward off surprises during the sprint, and moderate-to-high sensitivity for accurate aiming right before taking shelter. The following screenshots (taken from the Windows version of the game) illustrate both the situation and the Razer OSD that appears briefly when sensitivity adjustments are performed.




Although the same actions could be taken with an expertly calibrated conventional on-the-fly mouse, they would be nowhere near as fast and situationally appropriate as they could be. With the DeathAdder, all the user needs to know is how much they want their sensitivity to change--the rest is an afterthought.

Before we leave this section entirely, it is worth mentioning a minor caveat: although the Mac OS X and Windows-based Razer control panels are nearly identical, their on-screen displays are not. At first glance, the Mac OS X version seems superior--it is more aesthetically pleasing, and it offers 150% more granularity than its Windows counterpart (every "tick" in scroll wheel rotation changes sensitivity by 0.2 instead of 0.5). Unfortunately, the Mac OS X-version of the on-screen display is much harder to read by peripheral vision, and while this is a purely subjective statement on my part, the on-the-fly granularity of the Windows control panel feels better attuned to the DeathAdder's 1800-dpi sensor. Regardless, the on-the-fly on-screen display is still unlike any other OS X-compatible product, and will likely become indispensable to competitive Mac gamers and creative artists.



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