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Microsoft Sidewinder X4 and X6 Keyboards

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Note: As of June 2012 X6 is discontinued; only X4 survived. As of June 2013 both are discontinued, although X4 can still be bough for around $45 on Amazon.  If the price shoot higher  Logitech G510s Gaming Keyboard and Logitech G110 are reasonable alternatives. They allow using LUA scripting.

An important consideration in selection of the keyboard is that webmasters, programmers and Unix administrators usually type all day long. Often for 10 hours straight, and few make breaks. In essence they behave like gamers. That sometimes lead to developing professional illnesses connected with this activity. Typically this is a carpal tunnel syndrome. From this point of view using high quality programmable keyboard and mice is not a whim but a necessity, especially as the person became older. While high quality low cost keyboards also exist (see for example  Dell SK-8135 USB Enhanced Multimedia Keyboard ) programming them is more difficult (AutoHotkey + ArsClip is probably the best alternative) and they do not allow creating macros on the fly using built-in macro recorder.

Ounce of prevention is always worth pound of cure. Cutting number of keystrokes even by just 5% represents an advantage well worth  approximately $40 investment. But programming is immensely flexible and please note that many time-saving shortcuts and abbreviations can be implemented using programs like ArsClip. True  they have a serious limitation -- you need to use mostly Right-Windows (or Left-Windows) based shortcuts -- you cannot assign  complex key combinations like Ctrl-C to a single key. But there is always a way to improve your productivity even if programming keyboard is not available.

Microsoft used to ships two types of SideWinder Keyboard: X6 and X4.  Both are now discontinued .

X6 has detachable keypad that can be attached to the keyboard either of left side or on right side using magnets. For "normal" right-handed people it allowed to use numeric keypad at the left as a set of programmable keys which was very convenient as you can hit the keys with the left hand (assuming that you use the mouse with the right hand). 

Having Enter and Del key of the left side is also extremely convenient. You can buy a separate USB numeric pad to imitate this but you can't use Intellitype with it. See for example Connectland CL-USB-NUMSPC USB Numeric keypad with 19 keys + Space Bar . You can also buy a gamepad, for example, Logitech G13 gamepad which are programmable. this was you can imitate X6 functionality in slightly more clumsy ways. And it will cost more.

If you use a lot of macros you can assign one button (for example calculator button) to be on the fly, custom macro button dedicated for a macro you create during your current work. if it proves to be useful in other tasks you can later assign it permanent shortcut, if nor simply discard. 

That capability is present only in X6 and disappeared in X4 (actually Microsoft plays dirty tricks with its Intellitype driver severely restricting its capability for every keyboard other the Sidewinder X6. )

X4 is later model (released March 2010) despite the lower model number. It has correct positioning of Esc key and as such is better for administrators, but is a step back in almost all other categories:

In comparison with X6, Sidewinder X4 keyboard is one step forward but seven steps back:

  1. Looks like numeric pad no longer can be used as a bank of macro buttons. Keys are not visible in Intellitype menu and there is no "enable macro pad" check button for each banks of keys in Intellitype if X4 is selected.
  2. They removed Intellitype invocation button from the keyboard, so now invocation of the Intellitype changes the context in which it is done. That makes creating and debugging application specific macros more difficult.
  3. Button on the hand rest, which extends S1-S6 to S7-S12 ((Macro Toggle key) was also removed in X4. They would be better off adding physical second column of buttons like in original XT keyboard (and some Logitech keyboards like G110).
  4. They now provide legs to tilt it up,  but still do not provide an additional USB port for the mouse which is sad for this this price range. 
  5. I would say that in addition to being non-detachable, hand rest is unusable in X4.
  6. There is no way to create macros that use the keyboard ability to decode simultaneous pressing of multiple keys (accords). This is a huge shortcoming as number of "special" keys in X4 is minimal. 

Advanced features on both keyboards do not work without special Windows drivers (require IntelliType Pro 7.1 or later) so they are OS dependent for their macro programming functionality. As such they cannot be used with Linux if macro programming is the feature that is desired. 

Keyboard has three settings for key assignments called Banks which are numbered 1,2 and 3. This bank setting is persistent between reboots.  In banks 2 and 3 numeric pad can be converted into a set of  17 ( S13-S30) macro keys.

Personally I assign three banks to my three major modes of work:

The current mode is identified with the light at the top of the keyboard next to bank switch button. Also the keyboard backlighting provides a visual cue which banks you are using -- more specifically in which mode the Key Pad is in. It changes from red (Num Pad) to amber (Macro Pad).

In essence keyboard has three distinct personalities that you can fit for three mode of work, for example working with email and MS office, working with Unix and Web development. By default mode 1 has  numeric pad enabled while in modes 2 and 3 numeric pad keys are set as bank of macro buttons which are initially undefined.

The "restore defaults" button in Microsoft IntelliType Pro 7.1 driver works on banks level: it restore default values for the currently active bank, but not for others. 

To assign keys or change settings, start  IntelliType Pro using special button or via Start/All Programs/Microsoft Keyboard/Microsoft Keyboard 

The keyboard requires to use Microsoft driver to get access to all functions. Functionality on non-Windows OSes is limited to standard keyboard functions.

Shortcomings

While programmable keyboards can provide unique functionality, they are far from being perfect. For the price they are sold, they are extremely primitive (X6 is around $60, the price of a decent Smartphone).  IMHO it should be CPU and memory in to provide OS-independent functionality on such models, they probably should not rely on the driver only.   Of course drive can provide unique OS-specific  features like application specific key mappings (which Intellitype actually provides). In this case you key assignment and key mapping changes dynamically when you switch from one bank to another, no manual switching of banks is required.

Often programming keyboards have idiosyncratic keys layout that greatly complicate things as few programmers/system administrators can create for themselves an environment where you used only one type of keyboard. This also put severe limits on customarization keys and number of shortcuts one can use -- excessive zeal backfires. 

This also limits the applicability of such keyboards: they are suitable in environments where the programmer/admin can move keyboard to different location and maintain the same type of keyboard at home and at work.

While SideWinder is one of the best programmable keyboards on the market and is reasonably priced in comparison with competition (almost 50% cheaper that its main competitor Logitech G110) it  has several problems (two of them can be classified as blunders) in its construction:

  1. In Sidewinder X6 Esc key is positioned incorrectly, not above "~/`" key , but above S1/S2 key. This is blunder  of Microsoft designers which was corrected in version X4.  It really hurts people used to traditional keyboard layout.  I solved this problem by remapping Escape key to F1 and F1 to both S1 and Left Windows key (which is usually not used). This is far from perfect solution, but this is a solution. I tries also using tab key that is not often used but it looks like it still used and that created huge problems in Unix terminal environment. I came to conclusion that generally you need to avoid reassigning keys that are used, even if they are used rarely as "muscle memory" will create problems with adjusting to new layout which cannot be used on traditional keyboards  (Caps Lock to Left Ctrl reassignment is the only exception that proved to be really beneficial, as Sun keyboard use it by default) .
     
  2. Keys are smaller and looks more like laptop keys then regular full size keyboard keys.  Or more precisely they are somewhere in between laptop and a normal keyboard. The keyboard has a flat laptop like design with less gaps between keys, than standard keyboards. The made possible to get additional line of keys (S1-S6) in the same space as regular keyboard without such an XT-style line.  Each key is not mounted solid and can tilt a little bit left and right (rocks side ways). 
     
  3. F-keys are twice more narrow that usual and that makes more difficult to hit the right key after working with a regular keyboard.  This is another shortcoming if you work with multiple keyboards. But generally the  adaptation is quick and painless.
     
  4. There is no Right-Windows key like on many LITE-ON keyboards ( for example Dell SK-8135)
     
  5. Keys have more shallow travel then Sun Type 5 keyboard or Dell SK-8135, which reminds laptop more then full size keyboards. But this is a minor thing: travel is not as short as a typical laptop keyboard  and the adaptation is quick and painless.
     
  6. Space key is visibly more narrow and longer that in Dell SK-8135 USB Enhanced Multimedia Keyboard  which I used before (great, but not programmable keyboard).  Both space and Alt key has regular, not "ergonomic" size. Truth be told this keyboard is not marketed as ergonomic. This is also pretty minor staff.
     
  7. Touch typists are very sensitive to tactile feel of the key click and key travel and they are more laptop like, then expensive mechanical switch type of keyboard most Unix admin prefer.  Click on the keyboard on the Sidewinder is different from Sun Series 5 or Dell SK-8135, but still it provide a  good feedback. Still you can adapt to it without problems.
     
  8. X6 model do not have legs to tilt it up. It feels a bit flat to the desk. For many, including myself,  this is slightly  bothersome. The simplest solution is to put two erasers under both sides of the keyboard. They can be even glued to it.
     
  9. Sidewinder does not have built-in USB hub with a couple of USB ports like, for example Dell SK-8135.  That's an oversight close to a blunder, as many laptops are short on the number of USB ports and it is very convenient to connect mouse to the keyboard as un classic Sun keyboard. Especially if you like many programmers and admins do not like wireless mouse and prefer to use a wired one. 

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov


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Old News ;-)

[Sep 14, 2012] Help with Microsoft Sidewinder X6 macros

An interesting idea...

Mar 2009 Tech Support Forum

Vercogen

Hi I'm new here

Ok i got my new Sidewinder X6 keyboard, but have a stupid question.

The keyboard's numpad is removable and i would like to use it instead of the w,a,s,d buttons.

All the numpad buttons is macro buttons as well, thus i want to use the (8) button instead of the w, but if i convert it and run any game the (8) doesn't let me walk forward but only act if i'm pressing (w) once.

I have tried setting the game's options to use Numpad 8 to move forward etc, but when you go in macro mode the whole numpad switch to macro keys thus i cant use them that way.

Any suggestion?

McNinja

Re: Help with Microsoft Sidewinder X6 macros

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hey Vercogen,

I've got the Microsoft X6 sidewinder too. Unfortunately I don't even use the software for the keyboard as I find its broken and every time I try to play a game or type with it it will remember my previous typing and do that even without pressing the macro keys I think.

The numpad automatically turns to macro on the left side of the keyboard. IF you attach the numpad on the right side it'll be normal. Its kind of dumb that way.

I would think that Ryan's solution might be the best out there right now. I refuse to install the software for the keyboard as when I play Left 4 Dead 2 my character will start moving in the wrong direction and resist my movements. The keyboard itself is very nice to type on and the keys have little pressing action but aside form putting the numpad on the right if the software is installed or uninstalling the software and using it on the left, I don't know what to say.

Sorry for the rant!

ryantheleach:

The only problem I've had with the driver is games that are running as admin need to have the macro program running as admin.

to run itype as admin do this.

Quote:

push ctrl shift esc.
end process itype.exe.open explorer and goto C:\Program Files\Microsoft IntelliType Pro

right click on itype.exe and go run as admin.

also some disinformation about the keyboard


Quote:
Originally Posted by mcninja

The numpad automatically turns to macro on the left side of the keyboard. IF you attach the numpad on the right side it'll be normal. Its kind of dumb that way.

this is easily configurable using the Intellitype pro software.


Quote:

hit start and search for microsoft keyboard, goto key settings,

where you see the bank select, is what config you are editing there are 3 which are show on the keyboard as lights next to the 123 select button.

underneath that you should see a checkbox with enable macropad this option will change the backlight of the number pad to orange and turn it into the macro buttons.

now to give a full answer to vercogen if he EVER comes back to this necro'd thread, i necro'd it as i had the answer when searching for a solution to another problem.

Quote:

once in the microsoft keyboard program click the macro key you wish to edit, say s19 for num8, click configure instead of assign macro.

click choose from a list of commands, and click next.

find Keystroke.. in the list select it and click next.

push w in the text box, click next

click ok and your done.

hope people find this useful. also to help people find the solution to the problem i was having a list of keywords.

dota w3l.exe frozenthrone.exe frozen throne pvpgn loader run as admin

bassically if the keyboard doesn't work in game for your macros follow the above instructions to run it as admin.

this is needed due to the pvpgn loader needing to run as admin to inject the dll into warcraft 3 in order to log in to pvpgn servers which use a different login security type then battle net servers.
__________________

Phædrus241

Re: Help with Microsoft Sidewinder X6 macros

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One thing to note is that the numpad on the X6 has poor rollover, meaning you may have blocked keypresses. It's actually kind of complicated; but basically, you may find that a three key combination may not work on the numberpad, for instance you may be holding 8+4 to run forward and strafe, but then you press 9 (or whatever) to reload--and you don't reload, because the key was blocked.


This can make gaming very difficult. I believe the X6 has "anti-ghosting" which means they flesh out the matrix around the WASD keys for gaming, but in order to do that you have to also reduce the matrix in the right side of the keyboard (again, it's a bit complicated, and I'd rather not go into a detailed explanation), thus making the numpad even less amenable to gaming.


I don't know about the software side of it, but I predict problems with the hardware due to the keyboard's matrix under the numpad. You could try it with the Sidewinder X4, which has NKRO (n-key rollover, any set of key combinations will pass), but I don't think its numpad is removable.
__________________

[Jun 01, 2010] MS Sidewinder X6 problem on Windows 7

Hey guys ! i got my keyboard working.

I went to Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound -> Devices and Printers -> Right Click Microsoft Sidewinder X6 and select 'Troubleshoot'.

Then it stated that there's no driver installed for the keyboard (thou i have installed it with Windows 7 x64 driver) and i chosen 'Fix It'. After some time i was told that driver was installed and my keyboard runs perfectly !

Thanks everyone who gave me help on this !

Cheers

  • hursday, October 22, 2009 7:48 PMmpweKe

    Hi Kevinphuah88.

    I did have the same problem, so i saw this forum and tried to fix it, and i succeded. =)

    Right click on computer and go to Device Manager, locate your keyboard and update the drivers:) Its that easy, apparently.

  • SideWinder X6 Keyboard Review

    ExtremeTech

    Sure, there are some keyboards that claim to be for gamers that have no such function, but it's just far too useful to leave out. It's of special important to MMO players, who often perform a long sequence of keypresses with very specific timing, and do it many times in the course of play.

    Along the left edge is a row of six keys, labeled S1–S6 (and S7–S12) with a button beneath them to switch from the 1–6 bank to the 7–12 bank. Simply press the macro record button, press the S-button here that you want the macro assigned to, then press the series of keys you want that macro to perform. Press the macro record button again when you're done, and you're all set. While the rest of the keyboard's backlighting is red, these macro keys are amber.

    click on image for full view

    In Mode 1, the number pad is always a number pad and has red backlighting. Switch to mode 2 or 3 and you get a whole different set of 12 macros on the S-keys, as well as turning the whole number pad into macro keys (and switching their backlighting to amber). When the pad is on the left or right, you'll get an extra 17 macro keys this way. So if you're the type to make a whole mess of macros for every possible situation, you have plenty of room to spread out.

    The keyboard software is pretty basic, allowing you to adjust the function of most of the special keys along the top row (though curiously not the quick launch button; the one key we really want to reassign) and set up the S-keys to individual macros or to do things like launch programs. You can disable the Windows key between CTRL and ALT in the software, too. Fine-tuning your macros is a matter of choosing which keys to depress and for how many milliseconds, and separating them with wait times (also in milliseconds).

    Recommended Links

    A Review of The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 -- alternative to X6/X4

    Problems of Microsoft IntelliType

    How To Create Your Own Keybinding In Microsoft Windows

    Microsoft IntelliType Common Questions

    Human interface device - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Enhanced Keyboards and Windows

    AutoHotkey - Free Mouse and Keyboard Macro Program with Hotkeys and AutoText

    HOWTO keyboard macros macro in linux [Archive] - Ubuntu Forums



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