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volume 1, issue 30

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

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Geek Toys :
Mouse Huntin'






By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Toy: USB Wheel Mouse
Creator: Logitech
Average Price: $40


’ll admit it…I got suckered into all the USB hype. How could I not? It sounded so…perfect. For those of you out there who aren’t familiar with the big draw behind USB, let’s do a quick run-through of its benefits.

  • Literal plug n’ play installation.
  • Sample rate that’s over 150% of a standard PS/2 port.
  • Hot pluggable. (You can plug in a USB device and start using it instantly without having to restart your computer.)
  • Daisy-chain capable.
  • USB port derives power: no external power supply needed.
  • No IRQ assignment needed.

Sounds great, don’t it? Well, while I still think USB is a good thing indeed, if there’s one thing it isn’t, it’s not the perfect thing it was supposed to be. Yeah, it’s got fantastic plug n’ play installation, which hey…is pretty cool, I’ll admit that. And it’s hot pluggable, which for geeks like me who are always installing new stuff, that’s pretty nice. But as for the rest of them…well…in my experience it doesn’t quite live up to those expectations.

The sample rate is higher than a PS/2 port. No question about that. But thanks to new software, you can actually make the PS/2 port sample higher than a USB device. I’ll come back to this, because it’s a big deal for anyone who’s thinking about getting a USB mouse. As for daisy chaining…well…that’s another problem. Like SCSI devices, many USB devices simply don’t like being daisy chained. Make sure you know whether or not your device can actually do it before you try it. The power supply thing’s another disappointment. I suppose I’m not surprised, but the only USB devices I’ve seen that don’t need power supply boxes are well…mice. And those never needed them to begin with. Oh well…no big deal there.

The IRQ setting is my big beef. Because since day one with my new computer, this has been a problem. Individual USB devices do not use an IRQ slot. This is true. The USB hub as a whole, on the other hand…does. And making things worse, on my ABIT BX6 board, the last two PCI slots share the same IRQ as my USB hub. This is a bitch, especially when you’ve got as many PCI cards as I do. Try and put a card that doesn’t use an IRQ, like a 3DFX card there if you can. That’s the only real way around this problem that I’ve found. Then of course, there’s all the issues with Windows 95. Since USB support wasn’t in the initial Win95 specs, it was added on with OSR2, and it was sort of buggy. My advice? If you’re going USB, upgrade to Win98 first. Getting it to work under Windows 95 will only cause you pain.

As I am a huge fan of Logitech’s mice, the first USB mouse I got my grubby hands on was Logitech’s initial USB offering, the aptly named, USB Wheel Mouse. This is a pretty standard offering from Logitech. You get the tried and true mouse shape, small and comfortable, and a nice little wheel for scrolling (or weapon switching in Turok 2…yeah, baby!). Until very recently, this was Logitech’s only USB compatible mouse, but thankfully, they’ve just started offering their MouseMan Wheel, with its wonderful design, thumb button, and textured wheel for precise movements, in a USB model. Kickass.

But, the question arises…is switching to USB worth it for games? Well, that’s just what I set off to find out. I am a mouse freak, no question about it. Maybe it’s because I use them for a significant part of my day, but I take my input devices very seriously. So, when it came time to pit my PS/2 MouseMan Wheel against my USB Wheel Mouse, I was certainly up to the task.

Before I get started, let me take a minute to point out the software I used here. For the USB mouse, I used only the default drivers. No extra software was needed to be installed. Very nice. For the PS/2, I did not use Logitech’s drivers, but instead the Windows default mouse drivers. I jacked up the sampling rate using the cool PS/2 Rate software, and verified it using Mouse Rate Checker. Both of which are freeware…go ahead and download ‘em. :)

So okay…what PS/2 Rate does, is increase the sampling rate from the 40Hz that Windows defaults to, to well…whatever number you want, from 10Hz to 200Hz. Compare this to the USB port’s sampling rate of 125Hz, and you start to see how USB isn’t looking as cool a solution as it should be. But, thanks to Mouse Rate Checker, I was able to verify the speeds on both and do a little side by side comparison.

What I found, is that yes, the Windows default is a lean, 40Hz sampling rate for the PS/2 and Serial mouse ports. USB goes at a steady 125Hz. 40Hz, at least in games, isn’t ideal. Once you’ve seen (or really…felt, the difference) between a 40Hz and 125Hz sample, you’ll never want to go back. A few games have some "smoothing" tricks they do that eliminate the choppiness that comes from lower sampling rates (Half-Life being one example) but for the most part, you’ll want to increase the sampling rate.

Or do you? When I jacked up the sampling rate on my MouseMan Wheel, I was surprised to learn that while it does increase the sampling rate successfully, it doesn’t quite do it as well as I would have hoped. Turning it up to 100Hz returned responses that were all over the map…from 80Hz to 110Hz, with an average around 95Hz. When I turned it up to 200Hz, it averaged everywhere from 150Hz to 190Hz, but only rarely did it actually it the 200Hz mark it claimed to go to. Meanwhile, my USB Wheel Mouse went along at a smooth, clean, 125Hz, with no wavering. How does this apply to games? You will very likely see the occasional glitch when playing mouse-sensitive games (like first person shooters, or Baldur’s Gate) if you modify your sampling rate.

As a mouse, the USB Wheel Mouse is very simple. There’s not much to say about it, because it’s so simple, that it’s really not going to appeal to heavily to the hardcore gamer set. I’d hunt down the more expensive MouseMan Wheel if you’re looking for a true gamer’s mouse (or hold out for their upcoming gamer’s mice line). But probably a more important factor in determining whether or not to invest in a USB mouse, is whether or not you want to commit to using USB.

Aside from the aforementioned IRQ problems, you have to understand that USB mice aren’t controlled by BIOS in the same way that PS/2 mice are. So if something goes wrong with Windows, that USB mouse of yours will lock up, or it may not even function in safe mode. And of course, using it in alternate operating systems can be a major pain. As of right now, USB support does not exist in the BeOS, Linux support exists…somewhat, but it’s still in development. On the plus side here, all Logitech USB devices can be plugged into those newer, USB capable Macs with no troubles at all, so give ‘em a thumbs up there.

Like any bleeding edge technology, troubles exist. There’s the baffling, "Intel 82731AB/EB" problem that nobody seems to be able to figure out. There’s all the conflicting drivers, wildly different kinds of hardware, and all the other headaches that exist. So beware…you have no idea what you’re getting into. But, if you’re willing to put up with this, you’ll find that you’ll get a very stable, constant sampling rate, and smooth gameplay as a result. Just make sure you’ve got a PS/2 mouse handy in case anything goes wrong.

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He's a bad mother (shut yo' mouth!)


Credits: Geek Toys logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. This edition of Geek Toys is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.