Date: July 30, 2012
Author(s): Jamie Fletcher
When we took a look at Corsair’s M60 “FPS” gaming mouse a couple of months ago, we found that while the hardware was excellent, the software was less so. For the M90, we decided to wait for the relevant software updates, which has since happened. So, after a delay, it’s finally time to take a look at Corsair’s “MMO” M90.
We’re a little late to the party with this review, but there is good reason for it. In our previous reviews of the Vengeance set of peripherals from Corsair, there was one thing that stuck out, preventing us from giving the M60 mouse and K90 keyboard Editor’s Choice awards. The software.
On the hardware side of things, Corsair had done an exemplarily job, we were pretty much enamoured with the kit, but the software left a bitter taste. It wasn’t garishly awful to look at, or complicated to use, but there were features missing and a tendency for the profile saving to ‘brick’ the device. Not cool, not cool at all.
So, rather than berate yet another device with poor software for the third time, we waited. And waited, and waited for some kind update to the whole affair. A couple weeks ago, it came. Version 1.11 firmware and software version 184.108.40.206-26. While not all requested features have been released just yet, the important ones have and the glitch that could lead to bricking, cleared. So, without further ado, our M90 mouse review.
Much like the M60 reviewed previously, the M90 uses some of the base hardware, right-handed mouse with an aluminum frame and scroll wheel, a variable on-the-fly 5700 DPI Avago ADNS-9500 laser sensor, 1000Hz polling rate, large PTFE feet, but with 15 programmable buttons. There are also 6 hardware profiles to switch between (in-mouse memory), and up to 50 profiles in total via software. Also like the M60, it has hardware playback of macros, meaning it can bypass the Windows buffer and send commands directly to the games.
Targeted squarely at MMO players, the M90 comes equipped with 9 buttons on the side, but not in the usual grid array as seen with something like the Razer Naga. These buttons are spaced around the thumb, rather than directly under. I’ll be honest, I was very skeptical about this at first; while clearly meant to be an ergonomic solution, my fear was that the large spacing could cause issues with thumb strain. The impact of this will be explained later in my final thoughts.
With a lot of gaming-grade mice, the switches used for the buttons tend to have lighter weighting, requiring as little force as possible to push and activate to improve reaction times. With the M90, this is not the case at all, and quite a worry for me. Having used a lot of gaming mice over the years, I’ve become accustomed to these light switches, so when the M90 arrived, most of the buttons suddenly felt really heavy.
The main 3; left, right and middle, were all fine, even the button behind the scroll, but all the side buttons were not the usual sharp and soft click I’ve come to expect. With more of a hard thud and a bit of a spongy ‘give’ to them, things were not off to a good start. Now, this is largely a subjective, personal taste issue, and not everyone will like the more traditional sharp click, as it’s quite easy to push the wrong button. I’ll touch on this issue again later in the final thoughts section as I give the M90 a good thrashing in SW:TOR and Rift.
On the underside, things a little plain and simple. No removable weights to tune, just a lot of aluminum and some large PTFE feet for easy gliding. The lack of a PTFE ring around the sensor is also good, as there is no dust trap.
There are 6 lights just in front of the thumb buttons to indicate which hardware profile is currently active. Speaking lights, there is also a large white light emanating from the Corsair logo on the back and the pleasant blue glow from under the scroll.
On the next page, we’ll discuss the software and the recent changes made.
Peripheral software for mice and keyboards are always a make or break feature. If it can be pulled off properly; easy to use, cover the majority of common features and not blow up in your face, it’ll likely be a good product. More often than not, the software tends to be designed by a 5-ear-old, putting all the cool glitz in, snazzy animations, the word ‘extreme’ in a few dozen times, then watch it set fire to your parents living room, taking your priceless PC with it.
OK, OK, things are rarely that bad, but when saving profiles causes the device to turn into an electrically operated paperweight, that warm fuzzy feeling of fondling your latest gadget quickly turns into an overwhelming urge to throw something out of a ninth-floor window. This was the case with the original M60 mouse, before the recent slew of patches from Corsair.
So what’s changed in the software? Well, devices shouldn’t brick themselves anymore for a start, but there are a fair number of improvements too. Mice can now have buttons assigned as key presses. Originally, when a macro recorded a key, it would record it as a ‘down-up’ event with a small delay. This is fine for key presses like numbers for abilities, but if you mapped a key for TeamSpeak or Vent, it would only activate for the 50ms delay that was on the down-up event. Now, buttons can be told to behave like a keyboard event, so the key remains active for as long as the button is pressed.
Another improvement or ‘fix’ is that macro playback no longer interrupts keyboard events. If you were running with the W key, then hit a macro for ‘9’ on the mouse, you would stop running forward – highly infuriating and could potentially kill you (for realz!). This no longer happens.
There are a bunch of small changes too relating to stability, macro overwrite and such, the full details are in the PDF provided with the software update. However, as of yet, the software can not record basic mouse functions, such as left or right mouse buttons, for the purpose of an auto-clicker or modified mouse clicks with CTRL or ALT.
Now, much of the software is very similar to what was discussed in our M60 and K90 reviews, so I will not repeat it here. However, there are a few changes, specifically regarding profile management and saving profiles to memory. With the K90 and M60, it was just a simple case of pressing the ‘Save to M60/K90’ button to upload profile settings to the device, but for some reason, the M90 decides to hide the option.
Clicking on ‘Manage Profiles’ shows a lack of a save option; now instead, you have to click on the LED indicator to the right of the profile to open the manager, then select save. I was stuck for a few minutes trying to figure out where the option was, and only landed on it by accident – not the most intuitive process. Maybe setting a default profile indicator with each new profile and keeping the save option in the main bar would have been better, to maintain continuity.
Apart from that, the software remains the same, but with the new option to set a keystroke instead of record a macro. Select a basic function, click the bar to select keystroke from the drop-down menu, then click the ‘+’ icon to enter the new key. The button will now behave like that key.
Using most mice only takes a day or two to become used to them, but with something like the Corsair M90, it took me at least two weeks, probably more. Even now it’s still a bit of a handful to use. The reason for this comes down to the button arrangement on the thumb. Learning to use new macros always takes time, but the main issue I had was trying to correlate which button did what, or which number I had associated with it, so switching characters in an MMO would throw off my mental map of the keys.
It’s not always easy to feel which button you are pushing. There are three above the natural thumb placement, but it’s not always obvious as to which button is being pushed. The other problem comes with how hard the buttons need to be pushed in order to activate, which quickly puts strain on the thumb. One button just behind the thumb also has a wide arrow like shape, but can only be activated from the centre, pushing off-centre results in just a spongy feeling and no click, meaning a failed button press.
There is a bit of an ergonomic dilemma. With no buttons in the thumb-rest position, you can’t push any by accident. This also means if you rest your thumb on any of the adjacent buttons in anticipation (think interrupt or taunt in an MMO), then your thumb is immediately in an unnatural position, resulting in excess strain. Training myself to put my thumb back after each activation was a lost cause, as I’m always anticipating the next event. The result is a fair bit of strain on my thumb.
Now, this is all subjective, and any number of people are likely to disagree with me, but I found that there was no natural position for my thumb to be, whilst keeping easy access to critical event buttons. The default back and forward browser buttons were too high and too far forward of my thumb, so I had to switch my grip position to use them. Accessing any more than 5 buttons pretty much requires a grip change, and this grows tiresome after a while.
The design is decent and it’s easy to understand why it was used. It’s nice to have access to those extra buttons, but it becomes tiring to use them after a while. The buttons don’t respond well to off-center pushing, they have a bit of a wobble to them and are hard to push after long periods of time. I think I’ve just become weak and insipid from all this gaming.
It’s great to see that the software has come along and improved (finally), and as a result, we will be updating our previous reviews to reflect the changes in the software (not done, as of publishing). But this is the first time I’ve felt that Corsair’s hardware doesn’t quite live up to what I was after. Reading around at other’s opinions correlate well with my own; but again, it has to be said, this is subjective. Peripherals are always a hard thing to get right for people; some love the light activation buttons for quick reflexes, others hate it due to miss-clicking. So always try before you buy, if you can.
Apart from the stiff buttons and odd placement, the rest of the hardware is great. Solid construction all round and excellent tracking from the laser (though some may notice acceleration issues at really low DPI as mentioned in the M60 Review). The updates to the software now make it much more useful, as long as you remember to save macros for hardware playback.
In closure, I can’t give the Corsair M90 an Editor’s Choice due to the stiff and squishy nature of the buttons and odd thumb layout. For me, it was too difficult to use in the long run, so I’ll be switching back to the M60 now that the software has been fixed. But if you find yourself in a position to try the M90 out, do; you may find you like it.
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