Peripheral Vision - Tweaking Your Inputs
Posted: October 1, 2000
Written by: Keith "Farrel" McClellan
This is one of those topics that we really haven't fully covered in any of our tweak guides - tweaking your peripheral devices. Peripheral devices, such as mice, keyboards, joysticks, and the like, are all important in one very significant way - they allow you to interface directly with the PC. And yes, this even includes the microphone. Either way, if you've just gotten a new peripheral and you want to get it working at peak efficiency from the start, or you've got some older input hardware that needs perking up, this is the place to look.
Believe it or not, these little devices have drivers of their own anymore. Particularly with mice, joysticks, and game pads (but not necessarily excluding specialty keyboards, sketch pads, etc…), drivers can mean the difference between "okay" and great performance - and occasionally whether or not they will function properly at all. Most of this kind of hardware also has special accompanying utilities to enable the extra features of the product (mouse wheel, extra buttons, etc.) that are very important. Grabbing these drivers and utilities is necessary for optimal performance. The best place to get the most up to date drivers for your peripheral devices are the manufacturers websites, but if you are having trouble finding the drivers you may want to check out windrivers.com.
Since the mouse is probably the most used peripheral device available for the computer, it is fitting that we spend at least a menial amount of time on it in the beginning of the article, don't you think? A few things need to be focused on when you are discussing optimal mousing performance - the first being cleaning. If you don't happen to be among the privileged elite with their optical mice, you (just like me) have to clean your mouse from time to time. Now, I'm not going to go into that here - Dan has written a wonderful article on the subject (which you can read here), and I've also written about the subject in my system-cleaning how to guide - but it is important that you do it to keep your mouse working at peak efficiency.
Another thing you need to take into account is your mousing surface - the better the surface, the more responsive your mouse will be. Now, companies like Everglide and Ratzpadz make excellent mousing surfaces, but if you are cheap (like me), and want something similar for less money, go buy a cutting board and some little rubber feet for it (to stop it from sliding all over…). These aren't quite as comfortable as the expensive surfaces with their beveled edges, but as far as the mouse goes, it doesn't care. Try to get one with as fine a grain texture as possible, as the mouse will catch on it the easiest. Another option is the affordable 3M Precise Mousing Surface which can be bought at most stores.
Of course, there are also the Windows internal mousing settings that need to be tweaked out for maximum performance. Within the mouse preferences applet in the control panel, you can select how fast your pointer moves across the screen, select right or left-handed mouse mode, and tweak your double-clicking speed at the same time. If you have an extended applet, such as the one that comes with the Microsoft Intellimouse, you can also set a menagerie of other settings that will effect your mousing experience.
Keyboarding Like the Greats
No, I'm not talking about a MIDI-capable synthesizer (even though I do have one of those, and it is a peripheral device…); I'm talking about your typing keyboard. You know, the one that I'm using to type these words into the computer. Believe it or not, there is actually a BIOS tweak for your keyboard - and the tweak effectively overclocks it (only AT and PS2 keyboards though, USB ones are totally independent…). The KBC Input Clock setting is the speed at which the Super I/O chip (that's the motherboard's built in keyboard/mouse controller) processes data from the keyboard. Normally, this is set to a default rating of 8 MHz (on some computers it could also be 4 MHz or 12 MHz), but it can be cranked up as high as 16 MHz - and seeing that it doesn't do any harm (I've never heard of ANYONE having problems with this tweak), I would recommend setting up as high as possible.
The other BIOS keyboard settings (Typematic repeat delay, etc) are all handled within Windows, so unless you spend a lot of time in DOS I'd ignore them. Setting them in Windows is easier anyway. You simply go to the Keyboard applet in the control panel, and from in there you can set the character repeat delay (how long it takes to start repeating letters once you start holding down the key) and how fast the characters are spit out after it starts (commonly know as the repeat rate). There's even a little slide bar in there that controls how fast the cursor blinks.
Freakin' Tweakin' Sound
You might be wondering what in high holy hell I'm talking about here. Speakers, as everyone knows, are OUTPUT devices, not INPUT devices. And you're right, but I'm not talking about speakers. No sirie, I'm not - I'm talking about microphones. Yes, those dangly little things that come with your computer that make you sound like your cat. But that is the very thing that I'm going to change - and lucky for us, it isn't even that hard.
Now, I have Windows Me, so some of this is going to be slightly different for you Win9x folk (you don't have a tab dedicated especially to voice capture) but for the most part this is all the same. Go into the Multimedia applet (Sounds and Multimedia applet in WinMe) and click on the audio tab. There is a section in there called sound recording - click on the advanced. Advanced microphone settings will pop up. You will want to set hardware acceleration to full, and sample rate conversion quality to best. This will give you the best audio quality without much of a performance hit. Users with WinMe will also want to follow the same steps under the voice tab, and then will probably want to run the 'Voice Test' program to make sure everything works and sounds great.
However, this is not all you can do to improve the performance of your microphone - there are also a few settings in the volume control. If you go into the volume control and click on the microphone's advanced button (assuming you have advanced options enabled in the options menu), you will probably have a setting called Mic Gain (+20dB). Enabling it will make your microphone a bit louder - which can help with some microphones.
Tweaking Your Joystick
We won't even go into the puns that are associated with this most astute of computer peripherals… because if we did, well, who could stop!?! Joysticks, and their lowly cousins, the gamepads, are one of the more interesting ways to play games on the computer. Most good joysticks and gamepads come with their own special control applets, but there are a few settings that are common that I will cover here. The first setting is sensitivity (oh God, the puns…). It controls how responsive the joystick or analog control (if you have one on your gamepad) is to your movements. If you have a particularly steady hand, you might be able to work with a higher than normal sensitivity setting (making it easier to make fast movements within a game), but if you are like me and don't quite have the artists rock steady hand, you might want to set this lower so you have more control over what is happening.
Another common feature of controller programs is programmable keys - this allows you to specify which keys do what within a particular game - a very handy tool if you are a customization buff and want to make sure you are getting the most out of your controller. Also, if your controller has force feedback capabilities or some other kind of special feature, you can most likely use the program to enable and tweak that to some extent. Don't go overboard though, because you are still going to want some flexibility within games (which will most likely also have their own settings for your controller) so that you aren't always going back out to the controller's program for each game you play.
Digital Cameras / Digital Video Cameras
Okay, I know, this doesn't seem to have many gaming applications as of yet, but I'm going to cover it for two reasons - first, gamers aren't the only people that read my guides (although they are definitely the vast majority); and second, I see this becoming one of the big peripherals in the next few years as people get more and more high bandwidth connections. Now, depending on the kind of camera you have, you may or may not be able to do all of the following things:
- Take still pictures and save them to the camera's memory
- Take full motion video and save it to the camera
- Take still pictures and save them to the computer directly
- Take full motion video and save it directly to the computer
- Connect using a serial port
- Connect using USB or some other high-bandwidth connection
More Camera Crap...
Depending on your camera, you may be able to do any number of these things. If you can only take still pictures with your camera, you probably have a normal, digital camera. If you've got a nice digital camera, it will be able to double as a digital 'webcam' that will be able to pump FMV (full motion video) over the Internet. If you've got a digital video camera, it's either a plain webcam, or possibly a very nice (and expensive) camera that uses special tape and can do everything mentioned earlier. Either way, there are a few things that you should be aware of:
- If you can, use USB or some other high bandwidth connection. Serial just doesn't cut it, even for plain digital cameras - its just way too slow. If you can - upgrade.
- Download the newest client software/drivers for the camera you have - I know, I mentioned this in general a bit earlier but it is extremely important for these kinds of devices.
- Internally, to each camera, there are settings which you can either change using the on-board system setup programs or computer programs that are included along with the camera - using these to find the settings that give you the best image quality is a must. The problem is that it's different for every camera - so I can't give you any tips on that.
The fastest and most reliable way to improve the visual quality of these cameras, other than changing the output quality, is to clean the lens of the camera. I know, this seems elementary, but you'd be surprised how many people forget to clean the camera lens and as such have blurrier than necessary output by their cameras.
Other Input Devices
Input devices, by and large, are extremely diverse and some have very specialized uses. They range from touchpads - such as those used in laptops - to specialized modelers for 3D animation systems. I can't even begin to touch on them all - but I assure you, any peripheral that you have in your arsenal can be tweaked and tuned in some way, shape, or form. You just have to look.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you tweak out your system inputs and helped you get the best possible performance. Peripheral devices are tricky in that, because they are used differently by each individual, they need to be especially tweaked and tuned for each person. If you are looking for more information about tweaking out specific peripherals, we do have a Mouse Tweak Guide for your enjoyment.
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