|Min OS X: 10.2.3 Requires: USB Port|
When I was offered the chance to review Microsoft’s Sidewinder Force Feedback Wheel, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the gear. Having spent some time with the Logitech MOMO Racing wheel, I had quickly grown to love the shake, rattle & roll of Force Feedback with racing games – the steering wheel’s tightening in turns, the rattle on gravel or bumpy terrain, and the satisfactory jolt when slamming into an opponent's car or physical barrier. Racing games played with true force-feedback gear is a divine event compared to the soul-less experience of driving with a keyboard or gamepad.
Interestingly enough, I realised once the unit was shipped to my home that the steering wheel is no longer supported by Microsoft. In the summer of 2003, the Redmond-based software giants announced that they were discontinuing the entire Sidewinder product line due to the industry’s “highly competitive pricing” for gaming devices. Support for the Force Feedback Wheel, along with most of the company’s gaming input devices, was dropped in September 2004, and you’d be hard pressed to find any mention of this steering wheel, or any other of the Sidewinder input devices, anywhere in Microsoft’s websites.
So why bother reviewing this discontinued product?
Well, over the holidays, between shoveling snow and changing diapers, the urge to put my G5 through a couple laps of Feral Interactive’s Total Immersion Racing took my fancy. I rushed down to the local Mac retailer to check out their stock of steering wheels, and, lo and behold, sat on the shelf three of the Microsoft steering wheels.
And this Mac specialist wasn’t the only store in town with these contraptions still in stock. Mac stores, PC stores, even a couple electronic chain stores still had a handful of these units available for sale. A Google search will reveal a surprisingly large number of online retailers with the Sidewinder wheels still in stock, selling for anywhere between fifty and a hundred and fifty dollars. Despite being obsolete, it appears as if there's still a substantial stock of this racing wheel still floating around.
So in the interests of all Mac-loving racing fans out there, I took the time to put this steering wheel through its paces. And is this gaming accessory worth the money it's being advertised for? Read on and find out.
Out Of The Box
Straight out of the box, the Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Wheel comes with a large console that clamps onto your desk or playing surface through the use of an adjustable clamp. The clamp only fits on table tops 5/8” to 1 3/8” thick, which works with most standard office furniture, however I ended up having to shove a VHS tape between the pad of the clamp and the card table I was using as a temporary desk when I received the wheel for review. The console is also equipped with a quick release cam-lock clamp, so users don’t have to resort to screwing in the adjustable bolt every time they attach the wheel to their desks. In practice, the bolt did loosen after repeated use of the quick release clamp, and needed occasional re-tightening.
Attached to the console is the actual steering wheel. While most of the unit is made of a hard black plastic, the steering wheel is padded with a more tactile rubber roughly between the 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock and 7 and 10 o’clock positions on the wheel. The wheel also features a formed groove at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions that act as thumb rests.
The wheel comes equipped with a total of eight programmable buttons – six on the front of the wheel on either side of the center axis, which players access with their thumbs, and left and right paddles on the back of the wheel for gear shifting. In the very center of the front of the wheel is a large, LED-equipped “Force” button, which players use to activate the steering wheel’s force feedback support. The wheel is ten inches in diameter, and features a 240-degree rotational axis.
Attached to the console through a long RJ-11 cable (read: phone cable) are the console’s pedals. Mounted on a large, 13” x 11” plastic pad are the accelerator and brake pedals, which revolve around a spring-loaded hinge located on the underside of the pad. The pedals and most of the top of the large pad are covered with a slip-resistant tactile plastic finish that reduces slipping with the rubber sole of most shoes.
Finally, an additional two cables attach to the back of the console – a standard USB cable to plug into your computer, and a hefty AC adapter required to power the whole unit.