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SteelSeries Ikari Laser Mouse

Date: April 1, 2008
Author(s): Nate Marion

SteelSeries feels their competition is doing things wrong, but does that mean they are doing things right? After taking a look at their Ikari laser mouse, we can wholeheartedly say “yes”! The Ikari is catered for gamers, and it shows. Simply put? The Ikari is the best mouse we’ve ever laid our hands on.



Introduction


Many of our readers may be familiar with SteelSeries through the highly praised 5H headset, mousing surfaces, or their keyboards. SteelSeries has been steadily building a rapport with professional gamers across the globe over the past few years by developing products specifically designed to improve gaming performance and usability without a lot of extra bling.

Last September, the guys at SteelSeries dropped a bomb on the gaming mice market. Apparently, seeing companies making products with pulsing lights, variable weight systems and a bazillion DPI resolution (selectable in increments of 400) and telling gamers “This is just what you need to be totally awesome!” finally made someone at SteelSeries’ head asplode. That, or they finally tried to sit through the entire intro to Victory Road. Regardless of the source of SteelSeries’ anger, the announcement of the Ikari laser and optical mice (and their revolutionary features) had a lot of people anxiously waiting.

Today, we’re able to experience the physical manifestation of SteelSeries’ anger for as little as ~$35 (optical) and ~$55 (laser), which means that not only do these mice have the potential to be the most useful gaming mice available, but also some of the least expensive. So today, we’re going to be examining the SteelSeries Ikari laser mouse to see what kind of functionality it really offers, and maybe we’ll find out if engineers work better when they’re mad.

Closer Look

The packaging is understated and clean, and highlights the main features of the Ikari on the front of box. Considering how revolutionary some of the features are, it’s good that there aren’t any distractions or marketing rhetoric competing for consumer’s attention. The back of the box details the more general features, while the sides of the box display the logos of some of the many gaming teams sponsored by SteelSeries.

The specifications are as follows:

The feature list is where things get very interesting. While the Ikari may not be breaking any paradigms in terms of looks, SteelSeries has taken several fundamental functions of mice and drastically improved them for gaming purposes. SteelSeries’ Fragyou! post explains things fairly comprehensively. I’ll give a quick breakdown here and get more detailed later.

Programmable macro buttons with driverless plug-and-play feature
No drivers are required to use the mouse or set the CPI (DPI) sensitivity. Drivers are required to program macros and special button functions, but once the macros are set, the Ikari’s on-board memory stores the macros so that the customized mouse can be used on any PC without drivers.
40,000 samples per second (SPS) for unbeatable tracking
SteelSeries have designed a chipset that can perform image correlation calculations with much fewer inputs than other chipsets, allowing the Ikari to check for motion more frequently
3.200 CPI (changeable in increments of 1)
Instead of toggling between DPI settings, (1200, 1600, 2000, etc) users can set the Ikari’s sensitivity from anywhere between 1 to 3200 DPI in increments of 1. Users can select two sensitivities (high, low) in this way, and toggle between them with a button on the mouse. This feature allows gamers to get the finest sensitivity tuning that has ever been possible on a mouse.
Built in LCD display to help set CPI values on-the-fly
In order to change the sensitivity settings (high, low) without the use of drivers, an LCD is needed to display the settings.
Chassis material and shape based on input from professional gamers
SteelSeries sponsors over 30 professional gaming teams world wide, and had plenty of user feedback for the shape of the mouse. Chances are, you’ll like it. If you don’t like it, there’s probably something wrong with you.
SteelSeries FreeMove
While most mice try to correct your movements in order to help you draw straight lines, the Ikari’s drivers allow users to turn this correction down or off.

It looks like this could be one very interesting piece of hardware. Let’s open it up!

The Mouse

Here, the general shape and button layout can be seen. It’s a pretty standard five-button layout with right and left-click buttons; two thumb buttons, a scroll wheel/button and a single button to change sensitivity. The top finish is a comfortable hard plastic while the sides have a slightly more rubberized feel.

The first thing I noticed when holding the mouse was how well the two thumb buttons were placed. All of the buttons are easy to use except the CPI toggle, which requires a finger to curl inwards, and the tactile response of the buttons feels great.

There are two white LEDs mounted on the left side of the mouse to indicate the current sensitivity (CPI, or counts per inch) setting.

Underneath we can see where the laser and sensor are mounted, as well as the very large feet and the LCD screen. The only function of the LCD is to display the current profile name in use, or to display the current CPI when manually changing the CPI settings (more on that later). Users with nothing better to do can create funny profile names.

I apologize for that.

The Ikari’s gold-plated USB cable is about 6 feet long, is sleeved in a protective black mesh, and has a choke. I’ve never really understood the particular benefits of gold-plating with regard to digital signal transmission, but there’s no doubt that this is a high quality cable. One thing of note is that the cable sleeving adds rigidity and weight to the cable, which may interfere slightly with moving the mouse, since the mouse itself is exceptionally light. Any decent cable management on the part of the user will eliminate this problem, however.

Now that we know what it looks like, lets go frag some muppets.



Installation

I downloaded the latest drivers from SteelSeries’ website and installed them. The driver was a light 5.57mb file, the installation folder is a lighter 3.74mb, and the driver does not run in the background, and thus does not consume any system resources unless the user specifically opens the driver software to make changes. Bravo, SteelSeries!

Here we have the main driver window, which has several tabs across the top to perform various functions. Profiles can always be saved, imported or deleted using the menu at the top of the screen. Any number of profiles can be saved to the user’s hard drive and loaded via the driver software, but the mouse’s onboard memory can only store one profile for use on any computer without drivers.

This is one of the better driver implementations I’ve seen, allowing easy profile switching via the driver as well as a degree of portability. The only thing some users might want is the ability to switch profiles without leaving a game – but there are probably a lot more users who are happy to not have drivers constantly using system resources.

The button settings tab is where button functions are assigned. Note that the 5 main buttons can all be programmed as the user pleases – only the CPI switching button cannot be programmed. SteelSeries’ manual suggests that buttons can be assigned to things like ‘Internet forward/back’, single key-presses, macros, and possibly other functions.

Unfortunately, this drop-down menu appears to be all there is; looks like the only options are assigning other mouse buttons or a macro – I still haven’t been able to assign a single key-press to any button. For instance, I generally like to program the thumb buttons to lean left [Q] and lean right [E] or possibly to another key assigned to transmit voice, but the drop-down menu doesn’t provide an obvious way to simply assign a single keystroke.

I thought to myself that maybe a macro with a single command would work – only the button shouldn’t be released after a pre-determined delay, it should be released when the button is released, so maybe I should only record the Q <dn> and E <dn> actions and omit the <up> actions. What could possibly go wrong? They wouldn’t let the button continue to repeat indefinitely after the key was released, would they? Yes, they would.

Programming a single key with both <dn> and <up> commands as a macro allows me to lean in Call of Duty 4, but not FEAR, and I haven’t been able to transmit voice with this method either. So, it looks like the only useful way to program a single key to a given mouse button is via game setup menus, which is unfortunate considering how basic this functionality is.

Setting up actual macros, on the other hand, is a breeze.

While there isn’t any way to record a macro exactly as it’s entered including timing, up to five buttons (technically ten commands, with <dn> and <up> for each button) can be programmed and timed by recording the keystrokes and then opening the edit menu. The delay that corresponds to an action is applied after the action. Delays can be anywhere from 0ms to 100 seconds.

The sensitivity settings tab is where users can set their upper and lower CPI settings from 1 to 3200 in increments of 1. The ability to set up custom CPIs and toggle between them with a single button-press (instead of cycling through four to six DPI settings) is one of the most useful features I’ve ever seen on a mouse. It’s enough to make one wonder why no one else has done this yet.

The idea is so elemental – allow users to quickly switch between the sensitivities they use, and omit the ones they don’t. SteelSeries has taken this idea to it’s most elegant extreme with very fine sensitivity adjustment and minimal action required to toggle to the desired sensitivity.

SteelSeries suggests that users should use the Ikari’s fine sensitivity adjustment to eliminate software interpolation by the operating system and/or game. Apparently, setting the software such that exactly one pixel is moved per count can reduce latency. I’m not sure if such small latencies would be noticed by anyone, but changing the settings is very easy. this link gives an easy way to get a recommended CPI, and the windows settings can be found in the control panel.

Simply set the sensitivity to the 5th tick on the scale (dead center) and turn off enhanced precision.

The CPI settings can also be adjusted on the mouse itself without the driver software. Simply toggle to the CPI setting you want to change, flip the mouse over to view the LCD screen, hold the CPI switch button for two seconds, adjust the CPI up or down using the scroll wheel and press the CPI switch button again when the desired CPI is reached. It doesn’t take long to cycle through the settings, either. Using quick flicks of the wheel, I was able to scroll from 1 to 3200 CPI in ~7 seconds.

The FreeMove tab is where users can take advantage of another wonderfully simple yet revolutionary feature of the Ikari – FreeMove gives users complete control over corrective adjustments made by the mouse to their movements. SteelSeries’ explanation is better than I could write, so I’ll quote them.

Let’s say you’re trying to make a horizontal movement. Of course your hand isn’t 100% steady, so your line will have slight diversions and wouldn’t be completely straight. Back in the day, the manufacturers of mouse sensors decided to include a feature in the optical sensors of their mice, that would help people draw straight lines. It would “remove” the small diversions, if the diversion was less than a certain angle and instead just draw a perfectly straight line.

Since gamers never have to worry about drawing straight lines, the ability to control how much “correction” (read: “reduced precision”) is very much appreciated.

Finally, the ‘get more’ option on the top left links to SteelSeries’ website where users are supposed to be able to download profiles for various games. The linked page indicates that profiles are available for five games: Counterstrike 1.6, Counterstrike: Source, World of Warcraft, Warcraft 3, and Quake 4. As of this review, the profile list is completely pathetic. There are only two profiles there for Warcraft III (both of which use macros) and a whopping 15 profiles available for Counterstrike 1.6 – NONE of which have anything programmed to buttons 3 or 4. The only difference between these 15 profiles is the CPI settings! Profiles for the other 3 games are nowhere to be seen – there are literally only 17 profiles for two different games available via the ‘get more’ link.

(Also notice that none of the available profiles has any single key-press assigned to a button. Not too surprising since leaning is not possible in Counterstrike 1.6)

What SteelSeries needs to do is link to a forum where real users (not just sponsored gamers) can upload and share profiles that are actually useful. The current implementation is not only laughable, but makes SteelSeries look bad. Users go to their site to find good profiles and are left with the impression that SteelSeries’ sponsored gamers teams don’t play Call of Duty 4, F.E.A.R., Crysis, Counterstrike: Source, Bioshock, etc., etc. enough to have spent 5 minutes to make a profile.

Considering that there are only ~3 buttons most users will want to program, the uselessness of the ‘get more’ link isn’t a big deal, but it has the potential to be much more useful.

Overall, the drivers are useful and easy to navigate, but appear to be missing some basic key programming functionality at this time. The inability to program a single key to a mouse button is one of the most basic of mouse driver functions, and there is no excuse for its absence.

A quick note to those of you interested in the optical version of the Ikari – the software included with the Ikari Optical mouse is NOT the same as the software included with the Ikari Laser mouse; in fact, the Ikari optical mouse software doesn’t have many features at all, and can be summed up in one screen shot:

Ouch.



Testing, Final Thoughts


I’ve been using the Ikari for a few weeks now, and have played a wide variety of games (F.E.A.R., Counter-Strike: Source, Quake 4, Crysis, BioShock, Portal, Oblivion, etc.) and I can easily say that the Ikari is the best mouse I have ever used. The body is extremely comfortable with a very pleasant finish, and I found that my hand did not tend to sweat during long sessions.

The thumb buttons are almost perfectly placed, and while I’d prefer that the buttons had less travel, they are easy to activate without error. The right and left-click buttons are perfect with regard to travel distance and tactile response.

On most surfaces the accuracy is perfect as far as I can tell; I was unable to detect any skipped pixels or errors, and the ability to remove the built-in correction provides a (slightly) noticeable increase in accuracy when making minute adjustments. I also liked that the lift-off distance is very small – I’m talking close to 2mm or less, matching the Ikari’s specifications.

When it comes to mousing surfaces, the Ikari seemed a little more finicky than other mice. I tested the Ikari on a Ratpadz GS, an Icemat, a no-name fabric mouse pad, and my desk, which is clear-coated wood. The results were mostly superb, however tracking on the desk was terrible, and the Icemat didn’t seem to work well with the Ikari’s feet, making it harder to move. The Ikari was flawless with the Ratpadz GS and the el-cheapo fabric mat. Anyone with a $2 mouse pad or a decent textured gaming surface need not worry.

All of the driver functions worked as advertised, but the simple task of assigning a single keystroke to a mouse button needs to be added – I can’t harp on this enough.

If SteelSeries were to ask me how the Ikari could be better, this is what I’d tell them.

#1 Add more programming options. The manual has pictures of programmable functions like ‘Internet forward’, which aren’t available in the drop-down menus. Macro programming is simple, but I can’t program single keys like ‘Q’ or ‘E’.

#2 Add a bit more height to some buttons. The front thumb button feels like it almost needs to be pressed all the way into the outer shell in order to activate – I’d appreciate thumb buttons that stuck out a tiny bit more. Also, if the DPI switch button protruded a couple more millimeters, long-fingered folks like myself could press it with the middle knuckle in our middle finger, keeping the middle finger flat instead of having to curl it.

#3 Lights do not necessarily equal tacky. Sure, glowing/pulsing logos can be obnoxious, but the opposite end of the spectrum can look bad as well. In my opinion, a bit of compromise could’ve made the Ikari more attractive and more functional – for instance, if the mouse wheel were backlit by two different colors (one for high sensitivity, one for low), it would be easier to tell which setting the mouse was on (whereas the white LEDs are very close together) and users might find the mouse more aesthetically pleasing, especially if they were able to choose which color meant what.

#4 Higher resolutions require more CPI. Honestly, I doubt anyone can detect the latency introduced by software interpolation of mouse sensitivity – I’ve been playing games with sensitivities greater than one for as long as I can remember. However, if SteelSeries is convinced that performance can increase notably by eliminating software interpolation, more CPI will be needed. For a high-sensitivity gamer like myself, 3200 CPI is not enough when playing Counter-Strike at 2304 x 1440 resolution.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, this is an incredible mouse with the most useful feature set of any mouse I’ve ever used.

It’s hard to rate mice because so much depends on subjective user comfort and aesthetic preference. However, SteelSeries has firmly placed their money where their mouth is, equipping the Ikari with useful, revolutionary features instead of reiterating last years marketing gimmicks. Further, as of the time of this writing, the Ikari Laser can be found for a mere $50, making the Ikari not only the best gaming mouse available (in this reviewer’s opinion), but extremely affordable as well. Thus, I’m awarding the Ikari a 9/10.

If the software had offered more programming options, the Ikari would’ve also received an Editor’s Choice award. While I can’t speak for everyone’s personal preferences, the features and hardware are what really matter, and what really make the Ikari Laser mouse stand above the competition. It’s as close to perfect as you’re going to find.

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