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Saitek X45 Digital Joystick & Throttle

Monday, July 29, 2002 by TheDoc || [0 Comments]

Company: Saitek
Price: List - $79.99 / Online - $75.95
Warranty: One Year
Product Home Page

Review by: Patrick D. Cox

Package Contents:

  • X45 USB Joystick
  • X45 Throttle System w/ Rudder control
  • Manual
  • Driver and Interface CD
  • Warranty Card
  • Warranty Support Stickers


System Requirements:
  • PC Pentium 133MHz or higher
  • 2X or Greater CD-ROM Drive
  • Available USB port
  • Microsoft Windows 98, Me, 2000, XP, XP Pro


Technical Features:

Joystick
  • 4 Fire Button
  • Missile Launcher
  • 2 8-way Hats
  • Pinkie Switch
  • LED Indicator Lights
  • Program State LED Array


Throttle Rudder
  • 2 Fire Buttons
  • 4-way Hat Switch
  • Throttle Control with Detents
  • Rudder Control
  • 2 Rotary Analog Controls
  • 8-way Mouse Knob Controller


Saitek is the third largest manufacturer of PC game peripherals in the world today. Founded in 1979 and jumping into the electronic entertainment world around 1993, Saitek has built up quite a following thanks to their innovative joystick designs and well rounded game controllers. In fact, Saitek was manufacturing one of the few truly 'lefty friendly' joysticks from 1998 on through to today, and many gamers swear by their X series sticks when it comes to air to air combat.

However, in regards to high end aviation simulation controllers, especially those which are combat oriented, the only real name in the field has been CH Products. For many years no one could touch CH when it came to advanced joystick/rudder/HOTAS controllers. Saitek has taken a major step forward, based primarily on their previous experience with the well intentioned but coolly received X36 flight system, by introducing Saitek X45 Digital Joystick and Throttle system. Saitek has taken the lessons learned from its original offering, as well as a healthy dose of consumer feedback, and managed to put together one well rounded and affordable package for the flight simulation enthusiast. The question is, as always, how well does the X45 do in a real 'furball'?

The X45 Digital Joystick and Throttle from Saitek comes in an impressively large package for this kind of controller. Everything is packed in protective padding and plastic, and the two control devices make for a tight fit even in this oversized box. The contents of the reveal a lot of bang for the dollar to be sure.

Inside you will find a comprehensive manual, driver CD, warranty card, and the two HOTAS controllers. The first thing that struck me was the quality of construction, including metal bezels and heavy duty plastic. Plan on having a lot of your desktop real-estate taken up - the throttle and joystick bases are quite large.

In this picture you can clearly see the pinky trigger, which some may find useful and others may hate, as well as the heavy duty motion spring and the connection port for the throttle. The motion of the stick is firm, with a very positive feel and solid re-centering. I especially like the subtly textured surface of the stick: it kept the X45 firmly in my hand no matter how fast and furious the action was.

I have always been very critical of the Hat and button placement found on many joysticks. Saitek has made me a believer, however, as I found every button on the joystick not only within reach of my fingers, but easy to activate. My only minor gripe is the usefulness of the pinky button. While easily accessible to a variety of hand sizes, I found it could be accidentally activated during intense action; in the end I found myself not programming it at all to avoid 'wasted ammo.'

The X45 throttle is well built in a heavy plastic case with metal accents and rubber feet to ensure it stays put. The throttle function slides smoothly, with both idle and afterburner detents at the top and bottom of its range of motion. The throttle handle itself includes an impressive array of programmable buttons.

The base includes a throttle LED indicator array that gives at-a-glance mode setting information in the heat of an air-to-air furball. I found this very handy at times when I wanted to perform certain maneuvers or control functions to throw off a pursuing enemy fighter. On the other hand, the placement and implementation of the Rudder control switches was awkward.

The back of the throttle features a rudder switch in a rocker style, a single action firing style button, and a programmable rotary switch. These rotary switches are invaluable in advanced flight simulations based on jet fighters and modern electronics. They can be used to cycle through various HUD functions, radar and targeting systems, or weapons.

The cable out of the back of the controller is sufficiently long enough to allow for a wide range of cable routing on or around your desk. It's built of quality materials and has a somewhat unique female MIDI-style connector for plugging into the back of the joystick and chaining the two devices together.

The Software

Saitek is now using the SST (Saitek Smart Technology) software with built in support for both Windows 2000 and XP to interface and program the X45 HOTAS setup. The latest version of SST is available online at http://www.saitekusa.com/usa/supp/sd02.htm. If you run XP or Windows 2000 you will want to download the latest version.

After downloading the latest version, I proceeded to follow the manual instructions for installation of the X45. As with a lot of high end USB based devices, the drivers need to be present on the system first before your operating system can properly load the device for use when it is plugged in. I proceeded to the installation, stepping through the screens with no problems or surprises.

Once prompted, I plugged in the USB connector to my hub and followed through with the driver installation. As usual with non-certified drivers, XP trips a few warning screens as the device drivers are loading, letting you know that these drivers have not been reviewed by Microsoft and may not work correctly. Per the instructions on the Saitek website, I clicked on through and had the X45 system installed in about three minutes.

This is where it got interesting: On the web page I noticed that certain functionality, such as mapping Hat functions and axes was not yet enabled. These features - something I consider absolutely vital to getting the most out of the stick - will not be able until sometime this summer.

The calibration utility is comprehensive and very simple to use. Once installed, every function and button currently supported worked perfectly. I can't wait to get the rotary controls and mini-mouse working when Saitek releases new software this summer.

The joystick programming interface is straightforward. You can click and drag the joystick about the window to view which button is currently selected. The right hand of the programming screen lets you program a wide variety of functions as well.

The throttle programming screen is essentially the same as that for the joystick. A simple click and drag model for orientation and programming windows on the right for every currently enabled function. You can even program in a series of keystrokes and combinations, ala a macro, for more complicated control functions or regularly performed series. The pull down menu at the top allows you to tab through the various shift states in order to program them also.

This is a more comprehensive, if less visual way, to program the controller and its various shift states. While confusing at first, thanks to the lack of visual cues, I found it to be simple enough to understand once I worked my way through creating a simple profile with a couple of shift states. The inclusion of additional axes and hat functionality in the future will make this controller tough to beat by products two or three times its cost.

The software places a handy icon in the system tray that allows you to quickly access the profile manager, calibration tools, and main programming tool. Similar options are included in the menu.

Programming the X45 system is a snap using the new software system from Saitek. Everything is visual, and although it lacks the polish found in competitors' programming software, it is very functional and straightforward. The online documentation and help files will guide you through any question or hitch, and Saitek has a large amount of profiles for more popular simulations available online for you to download.

The nicest feature is the three shift states available to each half of this HOTAS setup. The Throttle uses a three position shift button with accompanying LED lights in the bezel, while the Joystick uses the pinkie-trigger to accomplish the same. Each shift state is independent of the others on the opposite device, giving you a wide range of flexibility in programming the controller for even the most complicated simulation.

No Pedals?

Of course, by pedals I mean Rudder Pedals. Many joysticks today implement some form of twist rudder, which works well for most flight and mech simulations. The X45 approaches rudder control from a unique angle however, introducing a large rocker switch on the backside of the throttle as the rudder input.

At first I though this was a neat idea. However, the placement of the rudder switch is awkward in my opinion. I have medium sized hands, but I found I could not comfortably - and more importantly automatically - activate the rudder function using this unique design. Those with small hands may find it impossible to use at all.

This is a real shame as other wise the throttle is well designed and ergonomically comfortable through long gaming sessions. Novice pilots may not even notice this function or use the Rudder, depending on the flight oriented game they are playing. Experienced pilots on the other hand do use and rely heavily on finite rudder control, and here the X45 does not do a good job. I am of the strong opinion that Saitek should have included a twist rudder feature that could be locked out, as they really lend a neat feel in Mech games and can accommodate a wider range of hand sizes and gameplay styles.

Gameplay

I tried out the Saitek X45 with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000, Jane's Attack Squadron, Mech Warrior 3, and Free Space 2. Once I had a profile built, and more importantly memorized, the X45 proved its worth. While the awkward rudder switch placement sometimes caused me to go out of control while reaching over and around for the button, overall the X45 made my enjoyment of flight sims much better. If anything, it can be overkill for a WWII flight simulation unless you are the type of player to take advantage of padlock views and multiple stick setups for various situations like bombing and strafing.

Conclusion

Overall: 4 out of 5 - Saitek has certainly come up with a well designed offering in the X45. The software and programmability functions are very flexible and easy to set up, while the motion and strength of design of the X45 is much better than previous Saitek joysticks I have had experience with. Saitek will be delivering additional software programming functionality this summer for XP users which will greatly improve the overall functionality of the stick, but as it sits now it is an impressive package.

The only major flaw I can find is with the placement of the rudder switch on the throttle, which requires small to medium sized hands to move unnaturally at times. Given the price range of this product in comparison to competing high-end Stick and Throttle systems, as well as the ease of setup and programming, I like the X45 very much and would recommend it to anyone who plays modern air combat or space simulations. Just be warned that you might find the rudder a bit difficult to use if you have small-ish hands.

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