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Review: Saitek R440 Racing Wheel (HW)

Posted in Hardware,Reviews by Shawn Wallace on 10 2003f November 2003

If you’d like to experience some all-out racing, you needn’t visit your local raceway and pay $500 or $1000 for a four-hour ‘Real Life’ race experience. All you need is a racing game and the Saitek R440 Racing Wheel by Saitek. It’s as good as it gets.    “Final lap. You’re buzzing around Talladega speedway, a single stock car in front of you. As you pass the start/finish line for the next to last time you begin to work your magic to make your move. You ease the wheel back and forth, very slight movements, to try and catch that draft off of your opponent. You ease up behind him, hoping to throw some dirty air his way and get him loose so you can slingshot around him. You give his rear bumper a love tap which you feel up through the steering wheel. He has to be intimidated at this point.

After rounding the second corner you begin to make your move. With pinpoint precision you bust out from behind the leader and edge your front right quarter panel within a couple inches of his rear left quarter panel. He can’t block you now. Your raging engine pounds out 750 horses as you slowly make your way even with, then past, the so-called leader of this race. After roaring through turns three and four, riding the apron line, you scream through Talladega’s tri-oval and take the checkered flag.

If you’d like to experience this, you needn’t visit your local raceway and pay $500 or $1000 for a four-hour ‘Real Life’ race experience. All you need is a racing game and the Saitek R440 Racing Wheel by Saitek. It’s as good as it gets.

The R440 comes well-packaged with the wheel, a desk mount unit, pedals and all the trimmings (read: wiring). The wheel comes with an installation CD but a visit to Saitek’s website reveals a patch that must be downloaded for the wheel to work in Windows XP. Everything installed properly and it was a no brainer.

After a scant 5 minutes of fiddling I had the R440 set up just the way I like it, lots of resistance and force feedback ON! (Actually, force feedback settings are controlled within the game itself).

Since I was well on my way to becoming a pro at using the Saitek R440 within 2 hours I’ll just get down and dirty with the review.

As mentioned above, my test application for the R440 was Nascar Racing 2002 by Papyrus, a solid racing title. Upon firing up Nascar 2002 I was prompted with a device calibration screen. After calibrating the wheel within Nascar I was literally ready to go. I chose a track, tweaked some settings and I was racing.

For testing purposes I didn’t qualify and instead just jumped into a race starting at the back. I figured this would give me plenty of chances to put the R440 through its paces and give it a true work out. During the initial yellow lap I took the car and weaved back and forth, trying to get it to spin. Although the R440 can’t keep my car from spinning out, it can give me a good feel of how the controls will react. The wheel felt very solid and gave an authentic feel.

As we neared the start finish line I ceased my drunken weaving and prepared to race. The green flag flew and I was off. One of the first things you’ll notice when driving in a heated moment is not so much the wheel but the excellent anti-slide pedals. Their ingenious design hinges the pedal on a raised bar running the width of the pedal base instead of hinging the pedals on the base itself. This also gives an authentic feel to the pedals and drastically eases calf and shin tension from trying to accelerate and decelerate and keep the wheel base from sliding. A hearty +10 for Saitek!

The next great feature you’ll notice is the solid feeling of the wheel as you enter a corner. Since the R440 is a force feedback wheel its powered, hence allowing the user to adjust the resistance felt during a race. I normally race with resistance at 100% but for giggles I put it to 0. When entering a corner I turned the wheel to match the curve and let go. This truly proved the excellent craftsmanship of the wheel. I varied only nominally from the curve, showing the input from the wheel to the computer and the application to be even and friendly. Another +10 for Saitek.

I really enjoy the mounting bracket that comes with the R440. It’s not attached to the main wheel housing in any way, allowing some freedom of adjustment before ‘clamping down’ to whatever surface you decide to attach your wheel to for racing. After a couple uses you’ll have your wheel on and ready to go in no time flat (I keep my wheel hidden under my desktop surface on a shelf and I can be ready to roll within 30 seconds easily). The wheel itself sits tilted up at a shallow angle, allowing for desktop racing as well as laptop racing. I wasn’t really thrilled about the laptop racing but I may be a bit biased as I like to feel as if I’m in the car, hence the wheel attached sturdily to a desktop or other surface.

The R440 has four programmable buttons on the wheel, easily within thumb reach. Two shifter paddles for F1-type games are also present. You will need a single available power connection as the force feedback motor within the wheel can not get what it needs via USB. Trust me, unplug that old scanner or joystick you haven’t used in awhile, it will be worth your time.

Within the setup application you have options to test the force feedback. The R440 really flexes its muscle here. You can do force feedback samples for such actions as a blown tire, a nitrous boost or an explosion. Although it does take a stretch of the imagination to pair an explosion with what you’re feeling through the wheel, it’s very apparent the distinct differences Saitek’s Immersion technology can produce.

FINAL SCORE: 90/100 : REVIEWER: SHAWN WALLACE 

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