Computer mouse

Sound BlasterX’s mouse-and-keyboard are a fine complement to its audio equipment

You know the PC gaming-peripheral market is booming when everyone is making a mechanical keyboard and a mouse with a bunch of extra features.

Like Razer, Kingston, and others, Creative Labs wants to capture the attention (and the cash) of people who play a lot of games on PC. To do that, the company already has a handful of excellent speaker systems and external USB sound cards, but now it also has a keyboard-and-mouse set to go along with its other products. The Vanguard K08 keyboard ($140) and Siege M04 mouse ($70) are available now, and they provide a satisfying, reliable experience that looks especially pretty when you pair them with Sound BlasterX audio equipment running the company’s RGB LED lighting system.

What you’ll like

High-quality look and feel

The Vanguard and Siege have a striking appearance. I think Sound BlasterX’s lighting is starting to win me over compared to the other LED RGB options on the market, and a big part of that is the consistency between the products. Setting up the lighting to work in unison between the keyboard, mouse, and speakers (like the 2.1 Kratos system) creates a cohesive visual package that I find highly appealing.

But it’s not just the lighting that makes this set so attractive. The Vanguard keyboard has a nice matte-black finish on a solid piece of rubbery plastic for the plate beneath the keys. The keycaps themselves use a shinier material that more closely matches the Siege mouse’s arching palm rest. On the edges of that device, you’ll again find a matte material — only this time it’s a fully rubber material that leads me into the ease of use.

The textured grips surprised me, as they’re quite useful. The Siege has a more traditional mouse design than some of the more ergonomic models on the market,…

Do You Really Need a Mouse Pad?

Computer mice have been around in one form or another for the better part of 50 years (or longer, based on your definition of invention), and for most of that time they’ve been paired with mouse pads. But modern optical and laser mice can track on just about any surface, unless you’re somehow using your computer on a sand bed. So do those nerdy-looking pads even serve a purpose anymore?

Yes, actually. A mouse pad isn’t technically necessary these days, but there are some obvious and serious benefits of using one, even if you’re not spending a lot of money on a fancy “gamer” model.

When Did Mouse Pads Start to Disappear?

Some computer users used to simply roll their ancient ball-driven mice along a desktop, presumably using their other hand to shove spears at woolly mammoths. But before the advent of optical mice, mouse pads served some very important functions: not only did they offer a smooth and predictable tracking area, they helped keep the tracking ball clean of dirt, skin oils, and other gunk.

An old-fashioned mechanical mouse ball mechanism. Note the horizontal and vertical rollers.

Microsoft and Logitech later introduced consumer-grade optical mice, which ditched the physical roller mechanism for a tiny and low-powered optical sensor and LED combo, around the turn of the century. These offered more consistent tracking on almost any surface (as long as it wasn’t reflective or transparent, like glass) without the possibility of dirt and oil buildup on a conventional ball. A few years later, laser-equipped mice erased even those limitations, and now you can get an inexpensive mouse that will track on more or less any surface.

Microsoft’s Intellimouse Optical, believed to be the first commercial optical mouse, circa 1999.

Consequently, mouse pads began to fall out of fashion. Since optical and laser mice don’t actually contact the surface that they’re tracking (except for the feet of the mouse, which isn’t part of the tracking mechanism), there’s no operational downside to using your desk, or your lap, or the spare…

Magnet for Mac Is the Window Management Tool I’ve Desperately Needed

We’ve seen a few different tools for Windows-esque window management on Mac over the years, but none of those ever fit well with my workflow. Magnet is an app that’s been around for a while, but a few recent updates have finally made it the app I need.

At a glance, Magnet ($4.99, but it’s on sale right now for 99¢) is like any window snapping tool. You can organize windows neatly side-by-side, in fullscreen, quarters, thirds, or any combination of those you want. You can manage windows by dragging them, setting up keyboard shortcuts, or by using the menu bar. This alone is helpful for someone like me, who typically has dozens of windows open of varying sizes all stacked in a disorganized way that makes me spend more time in the app switcher than I’d like. If I do ever bother to manually resize a window, it’s usually just to make it large enough to peak out from another stack of apps.

What sets Magnet apart from other options is the sheer amount of polish. It doesn’t get confused by multiple displays (and in fact supports up to six external displays) and you can customize the keyboard shortcuts to suit your needs. It also supports any combination of window areas. For example, you can cram one window in the top right, another in the bottom right, then expand one window to take up the other half of the screen. Magnet also just added options for left/center/right thirds, which turns out to be the feature I was truly waiting for.

What’s especially nice about Magnet is that it doesn’t force any specific move set on you. Whether you’re a keyboard shortcut type of person, a menu person, or a mouse person, you can make user of Magnet. Let’s take a look at how all of these different options look in action.

Organize Windows…