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PCXMods X-Trac Zoom: There are problems that exist between optical mice and a few mousepads, mostly bad tracking and mouse cursor skipping. PCXMods addresses these issues with their latest X-Trac incarnation.

Date: April 30, 2002
Supplied By:
Written By:

With the invention of the mouse, and its subsequent common use in conjunction with GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces,) the most commonly used device for input has shifted from the keyboard to the mouse. And while the keyboard has not been improved over the last few decades (short of supposedly effective "natural" keyboard configurations,) the mouse has undergone many technological advances. Mice are styled and colored to match computers, loaded with anywhere from one to five (and in some cases even more) buttons, and have migrated from the analog ball to the digital optical sensor. But alas, as with most technology, new advances caused new problems. PCXMods hopes to circumvent these problems with their latest mouse pad offering, the X-Trac Zoom

Before optical mice, there were ball mice, which used the movement of a ball on a surface to monitor the movement of the mouse. Traditionally, the mouse ball would move two small wheels to represent the movement (x and y, or up/down and left/right) of the mouse. As technology advanced, the mouse ball would move wheels that would in turn move "light gates" which were perforated disks, which let light through at designated increments. Two light sensors would detect whether the light was present, and would detect the direction of rotation of the moving.

Then came optical mice. Debuting in 1999, optical mice bounce a LED off of a surface, and use a CMOS sensor to take a "picture" of sorts of the light. A digital signal processor then analyzes the "pictures" and detects patterns which are then translated into movement in the x and y direction. Based on the difference in the "picture," the DSP is also able to detect the distance traveled in a given amount of time. The resolution of the CMOS censor determines the accuracy of the mouse, as its ability to detect a change will be improved.

X-Trac Zoom
X-Trac Pro

The X-Trac Zoom is designed for an optical mouse and advertised as so. It comes packaged with the mouse pad, a piece of cardboard (as to protect the pad,) and an invoice sheet. The pad consists of a rather flimsy plastic top with a rubber base - more on this rubber material later. The cardboard is included with the pad as to insure that the pad is not folded in half, and thereby creased. Due to the plastic used in the pad, if the pad were folded in half, there would be a permanent crease, which would effectively ruin it.

The surface itself is smooth enough to allow for a low coefficient of static and kinetic friction (which is the amount of force required to overcome friction to get an object moving, and to keep an object in motion, respectively.) I have found the design printed on PCXMod's pads to be unique, as I have never seen a pattern quite like it on any other mouse pad, or anywhere for that matter. PCXMod's describes the pattern as a "… 4x hexagonal pattern… within each hex are a series of random dots. The exterior of each hex has a dithered pattern; both are designed to minimize any mouse cursor fade or jitter."

I will be comparing the Zoom to PCXMod's X-Trac Pro, which was reviewed in this roundup.

Specifications

Size - 8.5" X 11"
Surface - Hard Plastic, slightly textured to provide some feedback
Pattern - Hexagonal with random dot configuration to ensure precise control (patent pending)
Backing - Sure Grip II Rubber like material
Durability - Extremely durable if properly taken care of.

The Zoom is much smoother than the Pro, the plastic surface allows for quick movement that is impossible on the cloth surface of the Pro. I have not been able to determine if the reflection of light that the pad exhibits will degrade or enhance performance, although most mice are created with something less reflective in mind, the reflection didn't hinder performance during use.

The Zoom is also thinner than the Pro, mainly due to the fact that the Zoom utilizes a thin rubber pad "Sure Grip II Rubber like material" to cling to its surface, as opposed to the thicker wobbly black rubber that is on the Pro, as well as most other cloth mouse pads. PCXMods claims that this thinner mouse pad can be placed under a keyboard to prevent rocking.

Testing

Testing was performed with three mice - Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer, Dell Wireless Optical Mouse (by Logitech,) and a Kensington PocketMouse.

With both the Intellimouse and Dell mouse, the Zoom performed reasonably well, and seemed more responsive to very miniscule movements than when used with the Pro. The fact that the plastic surface was more slippery helped during gaming, moving the mouse completely across the mouse pad took much less time and effort than when using the Pro.

The only problem I encountered with the Zoom was with a cheap Kensington optical mouse that I have - I purchased it from CompUSA for about $20 USD, and it's small, perfect for travel. I was testing with this mouse and I found the mouse cursor jittering around when I was moving the mouse. It seems that the Zoom's pattern must have (as best as I can describe it) confused the DSP, and thereby caused the mouse to incorrectly report movement. However, this did not occur with the Intellimouse or the dell optical mouse, which leads me to believe that the Kensington DSP is inferior to that of the other two mice, or that its sensor has a lower resolution than that of the other two.

Final Words

All in all, the Zoom seems to have superceded the Xtrac-pro in many ways. The quicker movement of the mouse on the pad will be welcomed by the gamer, and CAD users will welcome the fine precision detection that the pad provides. Further testing on the pad will be required to determine if the pad's pattern will cause other mouse cursors to "jump around" as it did when using the Kensington mouse - but I feel comfortable with the pad seeing as the (arguably) two most popular mouse manufacturer's mice worked perfectly on the pad.

Had the pattern been bound to a stiff surface (like the Garganta or Ratpad) I would feel more comfortable with moving the pad around with me to LAN parties - unfortunately it is not, and I would fear packing the pad into a bag and subsequently ruining it.

Pros: Works well with optical mice, slick surface, thin.

Cons: Bends too easily, and may have issues with cheaper optical mice.

Bottom Line: If it weren't for the fact that folding the pad could ruin the mouse pad, I wouldn't hesitate to take this mouse pad around. In the meantime, it'll stay on the desk where it'll be safe.

If you got any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.

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