Introduction, Design Features
Mad Catz has long struck us as one of the more thoughtful developers and manufacturers in the computer peripherals industry. While it’s true that most of its mice give the impression that they’re all about flash and style, the company also pursues a goal of physical customization, tailoring its older-model R.A.T. and newer-model RAT lines to each user’s hand and needs. This is hardly typical in a business that favors a one-size-fits-all approach.
The RAT 6 (selling online for about $80 when we wrote this) is a good example. At first glance, it’s the “Look at me!” attitude that draws attention.
With stark black-and-red colors, neon red wires deliberately visible (though not shown in the above photo), holes down to the surface under the mouse, and decorations like the topside measurement marks that have zero functionality, it’s clearly designed for a race of alien mechas who vanished before it could ship. But it’s worth taking a closer look at the RAT 6, both to assess its physical features, and to see just how cleverly Mad Catz has pursued its goal of physical customization.
All issues of style to one side, the RAT 6 has down the basics you’d expect from any gaming mouse—and a few that exceed them. Between the pair of talon-like buttons for the index and middle fingers sits the mouse wheel, with a good, even, clicky tread that doesn’t feel too stiff. Behind that is a DPI switch: Push it in to raise the DPI, and pull it toward you to lower it. (This is how it should be done. Not as a DPI button—like the Logitech G403 Prodigy Wireless has—that either raises or lowers DPI but doesn’t offer both.)
To the left of the left talon is the “Profile” button, on a raised triangular slat that you can just make out on our image above, partly lit in red. We feel it’s as weirdly placed as it was when we reviewed the Mad Catz R.A.T. TE a couple of years ago, but it works well if clicked with the tip of the index finger rather than the side. Of course, that means taking your finger off the left mouse button to do so. It’s permanently set to cycle through your profiles, which we’ll discuss in detail in the Performance section later on in this review.
On the left side of the mouse is a pair of horizontally elongated, well-edged buttons that are reasonably differentiated, and a round button meant for precision aiming…
The thumb rest isn’t the only ergonomic feature of the RAT 6, either. As noted above, the mouse line takes the concept of physical re-configuration seriously. For instance, there’s a small vertical extension lever on the bottom right side of the mouse that’s all but invisible. You can barely make it out here below, southeast of the faux measuring marks…
Press it, and the entire palm area below the logo slides out…
This changes the mouse’s length from 4.5 inches (including the knob sticking out the bottom, which we’ll get into in a bit) to roughly 5.2 inches. The adjustment moves the mouse away from one suitable for a small hand to one that’s medium-size, with a couple of stopping points in between.
The RAT 6 is one of the heavier models in the RAT line: 4.4 ounces, as opposed to Mad Catz’s RAT 4, which weighs in at 3.2 ounces. You can change the weight of this rodent, however. If you turn the knob at the bottom of the mouse counterclockwise, it eventually pops off, along with a spring…
We thought at that point we’d broken it. When we realized we hadn’t, we decided to try again. It seems that behind the spring are three very thick metal washers, and removing them will reduce the weight by up to, roughly, 0.7 ounce. This lets you adjust the weight to suit your preferences for various games, allowing for a balance between stability and surface movement that you prefer.
Then, there’s the barrel. Here’s a close-up of it.
We puzzled over what this was for some time. The Product Manual only calls it a “Thumb Barrel,” without further discussion. So does the Quick Start Guide. Being something that turns by degrees, the Thumb Barrel implies a quantity that can be increased or decreased. Or at least, that’s what we thought, but we were wrong. The Thumb Barrel allows for just a pair of actions you select between, moving it clockwise or counter-clockwise with the side of your thumb. That makes some sense, since the side of the thumb is relatively insensitive and has a difficult time distinguishing between sides of a toggle.
Mad Catz suggests using the Thumb Barrel to toggle your primary and secondary weapon. Depending upon your situation, we could also see it being configured to swap between health and mana potions, or jump and roll, or casting an offensive or defensive spell. Tying the two actions together makes sense, since they’re effectively paired off a single button. Clever.
Then there are the arches built to resemble the way a hand cups when at rest. The RAT 6 rises horizontally to crest under the index finger’s joint closest to the palm, which makes good ergonomic sense. Curiously, the vertical arch rises highest under the palm rather than the knuckles, but that may be unintended fallout from the way the vertical extension lever stretches this mouse like Turkish taffy. It’s far from the most ergonomic choice we’ve seen, but it could be worse, as evidenced by the hordes of extremely cheap, flat-as-Kansas ambidextrous mobile mice we’ve seen.
Finally, take another glance at the image above. You’ll see that the RAT 5’s roughly 70-inch cord emerges from under its left talon. It’s wrapped with a moderately thick braid, but it remains very soft and flexible. A Velcro tie is built around the cord (for easier travel or just bundling together lengths of cord you don’t need), which is a thoughtful touch we’ve seen so far on only a few mice.
That covers all the physical elements of the RAT 6. Next, let’s take a look at the capabilities of Flux (the mouse software) and some other features of the mouse.
There’s no upgradable firmware for the RAT 6, and no drivers to download save the standard ones that install with your computer’s flavor of Windows. However, you will want to download the configuration software. Called Flux, it’s been a mainstay of Mad Catz’s mouse lines for several years. This is what you’ll see once it’s installed and launched, under the Programming tab…
Despite the stark combination of white, red, gray, and black, Flux’s emphasis on symbols makes button assignments easy to reconfigure. You just drag-and-drop a shortcut, key, or custom macro onto a button, and it’s assigned.
You can also make any shortcut, key, or macro into a “favorite” by right-clicking it. This places it under the Favorites tab for easy location. You make assignments to different game-specific profiles, which are created, selected, edited, and deleted by clicking the three-bar menu button, on the top left.
Up to three profiles can be stored using the RAT 6’s own onboard storage, while others are kept on your hard drive.
Note that although you can assign a reconfigured mouse to a game profile, that profile isn’t actually attached to the game’s executable. As a result, it doesn’t run when the game is launched, as would be the case in profiles created by the Corsair Utility Engine (CUE) and Logitech Gaming Software (LGS). You have to run Flux and select a game-specific profile to load, then exit the utility and run that game from your desktop. If you run a lot of different games, this could easily become a major annoyance.
Flux’s great advantage is its ease of use. It is simplicity itself to assign lighting (we’ll get to that in a minute), reassign buttons, and create simple macros. No manual is required, though Mad Catz supplies a good one for download. What the software lacks is any depth. You can edit the macros, for example, but you can’t insert executables to launch—much less design macros that launch other macros, string macros together, or perform two macros based on whether a button is being pushed or released, as you can with Corsair’s mouse software.
Bear in mind that although Mad Catz advertises 11 programmable buttons, six of them you probably won’t want to mess with: the mouse wheel (up, down, and push settings), the DPI switch (up and down settings), and the right mouse button. (For some reason, the left mouse button and the triangular slat button—which is set to cycle through your profiles—aren’t up for grabs when it comes to reassignment.) Still, that leaves you a bunch of macro buttons to reconfigure: the sniper-mode button, the triangular slat button, two left-side buttons, and two buttons that represent the Thumb Barrel’s clockwise and counter-clockwise motions. Unless you’re looking for a lot more—in which case, we’d suggest a good MMO-oriented mouse, such as the Roccat Nyth—then the RAT 6’s five buttons should suffice when coupled to a good gaming keyboard with strong macro capabilities.
Let’s move next to the second tab, Settings…
As you can see, this is a catch-all for any features not related to key reassignment or lighting. DPI Response allows you to store up to four DPI settings, ranging from 50dpi to 8,200dpi. If you turn off Link Axis, you can then enter separate values for the vertical and horizontal axes: a big help both with wide-screen monitors, and in games where activity tends to take place more on the horizontal plane than the vertical. DPI Switch just lets you assign the three DPI controls (Cycle, Up, and Down) to different buttons, which you can do from the Programming tab we’ve already looked at. DPI Multiplier is basically an accelerator that starts in the off position, while Precision Aim lets you set the values for what most manufacturers call Sniper Mode. Poll Rate is for legacy computers—if you don’t have one, you’ll want to keep the setting as high as possible. And Angle Snap is offered as a simple on/off switch, unlike mice like the Mionix Avior 7000, which supplies a linear slider with values from 0 to 15.
The final features screen is entitled Kameleon…
It lets you select from the by-now-expected 16.8 million colors of onboard lighting, and apply your choices to three zones: the RAT 6’s logo, the DPI switch, and the thumb rest. (There’s a fourth lighting zone, on the outside of the triangular slat we’ve mentioned before. But that only displays as one to four red bars, denoting which of your four DPI settings you’re currently using.) You have five effects to select from, apart from no effect at all: Rainbow, Breathing, Heartbeat, Colour Cycle, and Colour Chase. (The spelling is inconsistent. Sometimes Flux uses American English conventions, and at other times, British English.) You can also select the speed of an effect.
This all seems like a big deal about very little to us, since your hand is covering the mouse (and most of the lighting) whenever you’re playing. And, at other times, you’re not going to be staring for long periods at the mouse’s shifting colors (unless maybe you’ve just eaten that cheese you’ve kept in the refrigerator since cows were first invented, well more than a century ago).