Date: April 18, 2011
Author(s): Jamie Fletcher
Finding a good gaming mouse isn’t hard, but finding one that’s wireless is. Even high-end options suffer from a major flaw: poor battery life. GIGABYTE realizes this and made sure no one could say that about its Aivia M8600, which in our tests lasted an entire week in ‘gaming’ mode. Let’s see if that, and its other features, warrant the M8600’s $105 price.
GIGABYTE has been making peripherals for a while, but doesn’t always catch the attention of the gaming market. Late last year, the K8100 keyboard was introduced and signified a change for the company’s peripheral arm as it pushed further the lucrative high-end gaming sector. We managed to get our hands on said keyboard and came away impressed enough to award it an Editor’s Choice.
Released a couple weeks ago is the partner in crime to that keyboard, the M8600 Aivia wireless gaming mouse. Rather than release a standard gaming mouse with the same old sensor, buttons and throw in some wireless connectivity with lackluster battery life, GIGABYTE took it upon itself to create a real wireless gaming mouse that wasn’t just a cookie-cutter-copy of existing peripherals in a new shell.
On the face of it, the feature list is fairly generic. The M8600 is wireless, has 11 buttons, is programmable and has a rather ridiculously high 6400 DPI laser sensor; all the makings of a high-end gaming mouse. So what makes it so special? The fact it has a battery (well… two actually) that’s worthy of the term ‘Wireless’. Boasting a time of 50+ hours for each battery, I was a little sceptical to say the least. Most wireless gaming-grade peripherals sacrifice battery life for performance, so much so that you barely get a day’s use out of them before the inevitable 6-8 hour recharge – and God forbid you forget to charge it overnight and have the mouse die in the middle of a hardcore Bejewelled session.
For now, we’ll leave the battery there and charge on with the review [Ed: yes, shocking use of a pun]. The mouse is presented in a tube, rather than a box, lavished with lots of black, vibrant color and gold lettering.
Compartmental design, one end holds the mouse while the other holds a bag of accessories and is held in place with a mini-CD which stores the GHOST Macro software.
The bag is Nylon (from what I can gather) with a polyester lining for padding, complete with a zipper and handle; presumably for transportation protection when heading off to a LAN.
Opening the bag up and throwing the contents out in a conveniently arranged manner, we can see there’s quite a lot of extras. A spare battery, 2 cables, a dock/wireless receiver and a spare set of Teflon feet. I can’t say I’ve ever been so heavy-handed with a mouse to ever need to replace the gliders of a mouse, but it’s the little (useful) extras that can make a difference.
The docking unit offers three uses; first it acts as the wireless receiver; a dock for charging the mouse directly, and finally for charging the spare battery while you continue to use the mouse. You cannot charge the mouse and spare battery at the same time due to the extra moulded detailing on the cartridge – plus, it would be a bad idea anyway as it could strain the charging capabilities of a single USB 2.0 port.
From the contents picture, you may notice there are 2 cables. One is for the docking station and the second is for the mouse. Both cables are USB but one end is a proprietary moulded micro-USB adapter; this serves as a more secure locking mechanism. In practice, these connections are very stiff and do require a fair amount of force to insert. With the mouse itself, the lock is a little too stiff since it can be extremely difficult to detach the cable once in place, due to requiring the additional step of holding a slide open on the underside while you try to pull the cable out.
The inclusion of the extra dedicated cable for the M8600 does mean that you can use the mouse in a wired mode. Unlike the Logitech G700, this is a regular gauge braided cable, not a heavy movement-restricting kind.
While acting as a direct connection for the mouse, providing charging capabilities, it is also required to make any changes to the button configurations, macros, and profile saving. In wireless mode, changing of these extended functions is disabled (but still usable once saved). Whether this is due to security (preventing interference with the wireless signal, corrupting any save attempts) or is a technical limitation due to using a receiver only, I’m uncertain. In any case, the mouse must be hooked up directly via USB in order to program it.
Moving on to the mouse itself, we’re presented with an ambidextrous design with a long profile and sharp, rigid angles. The 11 buttons are symmetrically distributed; 2 buttons on either side with thumb and little finger access, 2 on top for DPI control, horizontal scrolling and the usual 3 main button combo.
A very sleek and almost stealthy-looking design. Unlike many other mice in the high-end sector, the M8600 does not make use of any rubberized coatings, but is instead comprised of two types of plastic. Smooth on top for the buttons, and heavy textured plastic grips around the side, much like the Logitech G700. The good thing is that it’s not of the sweat-inducing kind, much to my relief.
All of the buttons are sensitive, requiring light pressure to activate. The only resistance comes from the scroll wheel which can be uncomfortably stiff for productivity-related tasks, but it does mean that you are unlikely to over-scroll in-game.
The underside is littered with slide locks, charging contacts, glide pads and buttons. While not terribly easy to see due to the hologram around the sensor, the 6400 DPI sensitivity is powered by our dear – not so friendly – Phillips laser sensor, and as always, this mouse too has the now notorious diagonal shift problem with pick-and-place movements.
Some forethought had been put into these battery cartridges as they are quite easy to replace and take apart; held together via three small screws. Removing the shroud exposes the battery. The batteries included with the M8600 are Li-ion based NP-80’s, 3.7v 1500mAh. Swapping cartridges around is a simple case of sliding a latch on the underside of the mouse and releasing the battery pack. You can change battery cartridges in just a few seconds.
Due to the nature of the batteries, you can’t just pop down to a shop and buy a replacement. Also, lithium batteries tend only last a couple years before they can no longer hold a charge (though due to the longer life, low drain and infrequent charging, you should expect longer life). Replacements can be found online from various e-tailers as the M8600 uses NP-80 Lithium batteries, the kind used by many camcorders; some with a higher capacity. They typically go for ~$10-$15 each, so they are not too expensive.
Any gaming peripheral would be incomplete without a set of lights. Nothing terribly fancy here, but the lights do serve a purpose other than to look cool. Along the central ridge are 4 lights, 3 small indicators and a large multicolor light. These are bright, but not eye-blinding room-filling bright. The 3 arrow lights are either red or green depending on the function. Red indicates the DPI level and green indicates battery level. The larger light is multicolored and changes based the current profile set, as well as acting as the primary red or green indicator for battery and DPI level.
The software, where to begin… let’s start with the installation. The M8600, like many other mice these days, uses the standard HID-compliant driver and only requires software for programming the unit and making use of non-standard extended functionality. The mini-CD with the drivers is actually hidden away as the lid for the part of the box containing the bag of accessories. However, if you lose it, the same software is made available online.
Once inserted, you’ll be asked to install either the Flash or non-Flash version of the software. Either as a fault of the installer, or due to certain imperceptible differences, both versions look and act the same, right down to the animated button actions.
The software would be one of the biggest weaknesses of the mouse, and indeed, the same can be said for its cousin, the K8100 keyboard. This is not just a problem with GIGABYTE, but with many other user interface teams for gaming peripherals. For some reason, they like to throw all kinds of garish color schemes, silly names and confusing graphics at you, not to mention poorly documented features.
While the main interface is different compared to the K8100, the overall style is very much the same – throw in as many textures, icons and flashy colors as possible, strewn all over the interface in a haphazard fashion.
After getting past the ocular onslaught that is the main screen, we’re presented something that would not be out of a place from a late 90’s sci-fi orientated film. It’s a real clash of garish colors, shapes and pictograms.
Along the right-hand side is a long list of available default actions you can perform, and you can simply drag-and-drop them onto the relevant button slot, depicted in the middle (if you can find the one you want). This drag-and-drop process is very simple, but at the same time it comes with a catch. Every action you transfer over results in the mouse locking up for 5-6 seconds while the transfer takes place. This happens with every single change and becomes extremely infuriating after a while.
There are some oddities in the list of the default actions such ‘Calculator’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ axis-locking, and 2x, 4x and 8x speed boosts which increase the sensitivity of the mouse (sadly, there is no reduce sensitivity option, like that found on the R.A.T. 7)
The left-hand side lists all available macros that can be set where available. By default, there are none. To create them, you select the ‘Macro Editing’ button at the top of the main interface.
Initially, things are quite simple. You can either drag and drop up/down key and mouse events into the left panel, along with delays if you wish, or you can simply hit record. Every action takes up 2 bytes of memory, with the mouse capable of storing 32KB in total. With some experimenting, the largest single macro I could make was 442 bytes, or 221 actions, which is approximately 110 key presses. Delays can be recorded, too, but this will again limit the total number of key presses.
Macros can be recorded from anywhere, even fullscreen apps, but it will not record mouse placement. Mouse recording can be stopped by pressing the pause key if the check-box in the lower left is selected. You can not mass select events to delete or move specific parts; you can only delete all or move and delete individual actions.
Once the macro is setup, you need to simply drag-and-drop any action over to the right panel and it’ll be uploaded to the macro set, again, with a 6 second pause. You may rename and assign an icon to the new macro. Once saved, you can then transfer the macro over to any of the available buttons, which yet again, causes a 6 second pause.
Moving onto the top row buttons in the main interface, you can set sensitivity for each of the 4 levels. These are universal DPI settings and are not specific to a given color profile.
You can enable axis-independent control and also change the USB poll rate to conserve power if need be (250 should be a suitable trade off as over 500 realistically doesn’t provide much benefit to response times). The screenshot above with the DIMR tool shows that the mouse can use the full 1000Hz poll rate.
Scrolling allows to set the horizontal and vertical scroll speeds. Window brings up the OS-based mouse settings dialogue.
In the top-right corner, you can change between the different profiles available on the mouse, or use the fixed on-mouse button (right-side top button). You can change the color of these profiles too, as indicated by the central light.
There is a quick button on the top-left corner that allows you to change from right to left-handed, and this works instantly, swapping all macro buttons around, too.
Choosing a peripheral for a PC can be an extremely daunting task as there is a bewildering choice available at all price points with little-to-no objective testing. It ultimately comes down to "What are you looking for?". Anything over $50 would be considered upper-mainstream to high-end and at $105, the M8600 is definitely a high-end peripheral.
Wireless connectivity on a gaming peripheral does put a rather unusual strain on battery life due to excessive poll rates, high sensitivity, extended memory, macro support, flashy lights, quick response times… it all mounts up. If you look at the choice of wireless gaming mice, you’ll see that they’re all expensive and nearly all have abysmal battery life. 10-16 hours is hardly worthy of the title ‘wireless’, especially considering the 6-8 hour charging times.
So when the M8600 comes along with its 50+ hour battery life, I was a little skeptical. Well, that skepticism was unfounded and the battery life from this mouse really does live up to the 50+ hour statement. After fully charging the battery, I unplugged the cord and went on my merry way. With daily use in both productivity and gaming, it lasted a full week before the lights started to flash at me, indicating a very low battery level. This was with the mouse in full gaming response mode, 3400 DPI and 1000Hz poll rate.
A one week battery life may not seem like much when compared to something like the Marathon mouse by Logitech, sporting a 3 year life, but that makes use of two large AA batteries, aggressive power saving, slow response times, 125Hz poll rate and is limited to a max of 1000 DPI. This does go to show how much of a strain all these gaming-grade extras can put on a mouse.
So, from a wireless gaming-grade mouse, it has the longest battery life out there (that we’re aware of), and in that regard, it’s a damn good mouse. The buttons are very light and responsive, meaning minimal strain on the hand over long gaming sessions. The ambidextrous design will have some running for the hills, but generally, it’s quite a comfortable mouse, despite the sharp corners dotted around the place. The Phillips sensor yet again rears its ugly head, but with higher sensitivity settings, picking and placing is an infrequent action that is unlikely to throw your aim off to a significant extent.
What really lets the mouse down is the software, and this is very unfortunate. Nearly all button configuration changes and macro creation causes a 6 second cursor response delay, each and every time you change something as it’s saved to the mouse. The software is very easy to get lost in, too, due to the small check boxes hidden away and just the sheer over-powering and busy nature of the user interface.
Admittedly, you spend less time configuring the mouse than you do using it, but fine-tuning can become a problem when everything takes 6 seconds to complete. Generally, the software is easy to use, but the frequent delays and over-all style do detract from the experience.
The spare quick-change battery, dedicated charging dock, long battery life and the fact the mouse can be used in a wired fashion are all compelling reasons for purchase. The price is quite steep at $105, but for a wireless gaming mouse, this is fairly standard. If you can get past the software, this is an excellent mouse.
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