Pros: Force Feedback, Comfortable Wheel and Pedals, Nice Looking, Functions Very Well
I got my SideWinder Force Feedback Wheel in the summertime quite a few years ago. I payed only $40 for it on amazon.com with a rebate (about $100 without rebate), and I have to say that I'm impressed. When I first tried out the wheel, I was very excited. I tested it out with Midtown Madness 2 (a game where you basically just drive around cities) and it worked great.
The wheel measures about 10 inches in diameter. There are two red hand grips on either side, with indentations that perfectly match your thumbs positions when holding onto the wheel. It is very comfortable to use and the size is just right for playing a game at your desk. There are six multi-purpose buttons on the front, three on either side. The ones on the left are labeled X, Y, and Z. The ones on the right are labeled A, B, and C. In addition, there are two paddles (just a type of button) on the back of the wheel, where your middle and ring fingers would be, that work very nicely as shifters. In the center, there is a Microsoft logo and a 'Force' button, which turns the Force Feedback on and off. The wheel mounts to the desk with a screw-in/screw-out tightener, and a lever that keeps it very tight once it is mounted. Overall, the design of the wheel is very nice. It feels comfortable, looks cool, and works well on just about any desk.
Each of the eight buttons on the wheel can be programmed to just about any key on the keyboard, or even a sequence of keys. This is done by creating different schemes for different games the wheel will be used for. You can adjust steering sensitivity, dead zone, and select or unselect the combined pedals mode. You can also adjust the Force Feedback settings. It lets you change the force intensity, from small vibrations to large jerks of the wheel, and return-to-center tension, which allows you to make the wheel be very free and easy to move or tight and more difficult to move since it is trying to return to the center position. In order to access these settings, you have to install the SideWinder drivers and software that allow you to access the wheel's properties from the Game Controllers window. The software is made for Windows 98, but it seems to work well on any operating system from Windows 98 to Windows XP. I have had no problems using the steering wheel on XP.
When playing a game, the wheel works very nicely. The settings you adjust in the properties of the wheel do what they are supposed to, and so the way the wheel works is very customizable. Let's not forget the pedals, though. They work beautifully, also, and respond well to a change in their position. The wheel functions very nicely when playing games, and it is suitable for just about any game where you have to do some type of driving.
The Force Feedback is a very nice touch as well. As long as the game supports Force Feedback, you can feel all sorts of different jerks and movements of the wheel based on what's happening in the game. If you hit a pothole, the wheel will suddenly jerk as it would in real life. If you've got wobbly wheels on your vehicle, the steering wheel shakes back and forth. There are a wide variety of different "forces" you can feel, and they all add to making the game seem more realistic. The return-to-center function is nice, also, and can be shut off if you don't like it. And any time during the game, you can shut off the Force Feedback by pressing the illuminated 'Force' button in the center of the wheel.
I have absolutely no complaints about this steering wheel and pedals set. It has always worked great for me and I still use it today.