As a child, I was a fan of esoteric input devices. For my Nintendo Entertainment System, I had a pair of Bandai’s Super Controller stick adapters that I used religiously. I later owned a Sega Activator that I didn’t use at all. I was one of the first to own one of Belkin’s Nostromo Speedpads, and a few years later, I used one of the original Saitek Cyborg mice to pop heads in Counter-Strike: Source.
With that kind of history, I couldn’t say no when MadCatz offered to let me try out a couple of models from its new range of RAT gaming mice. Mad Catz’s first rodent on the TR test bench is the RAT 1 that I’m dissecting for y’all today. While the RAT 1 isn’t a new product, this particular version is a big change from the original.
MadCatz is actually in the middle of a top-to-bottom refresh of its RAT line, and that refresh was announced less than a month before the news that the company had sold what was left of Saitek to Logitech. Saitek was the progenitor of the Cyborg Gaming brand and its RAT mice, and MadCatz took over the brand when it purchased Saitek back in 2007.
Perhaps as a result of that sale, the new RAT mice have dropped the “Cyborg” appellation entirely. This appears to be part of a larger push by MadCatz to simplify the RAT branding. The RAT series now comprises four standard models and two “Pro” models, although some of them—like today’s RAT 1—are revised versions of earlier products.
The refreshed RAT 1, like the previous model, is an entry-level gaming mouse with distinctive styling, a bare-bones feature set, and a $30 price tag. It retains the skeletal, almost-wireframe-esque styling of its predecessor, and folks with a 3D printer can use it to print off their own custom palm rests for this particular rodent. The RAT 1 also carries over its predecessor’s four buttons and clicky scroll wheel. The original mouse’s biggest claim to fame was its 50-gram weight, but the new model is just a touch heavier—a hair over 60 grams without the cord.
So what’s new in the refresh? The freshened RAT 1 now sports an edgy black-and-red finish to match its siblings in the new RAT line. It even has an angry red LED sticking out of the top that can be disabled if it’s not to the user’s taste. Mad Catz is also releasing an updated configuration utility freshly dubbed “Flux” alongside the new mice, which lets users configure six of the mouse’s seven inputs. The biggest change from the previous RAT 1 is the new model’s sensor, though.
The first RAT 1 used a PixArt PMW3320 optical sensor capable of tracking at up to 80 inches per second with a 3500-DPI resolution. Those numbers aren’t going to break any records, but the PMW3320 is a reasonably solid entry-level optical gaming mouse sensor. The new RAT 1 instead uses a PAW3204DB sensor. PixArt says this sensor is meant to be used with ultra-low-power wireless mice, and it’s limited to tracking at up to 30 inches per second with a 1600 DPI resolution. This is explicitly not a gaming sensor, and I feel a bit of trepidation about the change.
Still, just like with cameras and monitors, specs aren’t everything. I’ll talk a bit about the sensor’s performance in a moment, but let’s check out the mouse it sits in first.
Yes, it’s a mouse
The first thing anyone will notice about the RAT 1 is its outlandish design. The RAT series has always been notable for weird-looking mice, but the baby RAT takes first place. Its skeletal form comes apart in three pieces: the frame, sensor module, and the palm rest. All three parts are made entirely of plastic, and simply snap together with little difficulty.
All of the electronics for the mouse are packed in the sensor module. In fact, MadCatz says that one could use the mouse with just the sensor module, perhaps for maximum pack-along potential. Having done so myself, I can say that there’s very little reason to even consider doing this. It works, to be sure, but even with my short fingers, gripping the mouse and pressing the buttons is an exercise in digital gymnastics. Also, the smooth surface on the sides of the sensor module made it prone to popping out of my sweaty fingers during intense gaming. (It’s still warm down here in Texas.) Besides, the frame and palm rest don’t account for even a quarter of the mouse’s weight, so I’d just bring the whole thing along if I ever got the urge to game on the move.
Because of its design, all of the RAT 1’s weight is concentrated right at the front. That weight distribution makes the mouse feel downright bizarre when you first begin using it, at least compared to my usual Corsair Vengeance M95. Despite the initial weirdness, it didn’t take me long to adjust to using the RAT 1. That might be because the mouse’s 60-gram weight makes sliding it around on its PTFE feet an effortless operation. It can’t be overstated how light this thing is, and while the thin plastic construction makes me wary of its long-term prospects for survival—heavy-handed palm-grippers need not apply—it’s held up fine to my abuse during our tests.
Weight distribution aside, the RAT 1’s ergonomics are much better than I expected from the pictures. I use a claw grip, and my hand easily slides into place on the mouse. The smooth plastic of the frame makes for a convenient resting point for my thumb and ring finger. The RAT’s sharply-curved palm rest tucks neatly into my hand in a manner more like a game controller than a typical computer mouse. Users with larger hands than mine will doubtless be more comfortable snapping off the palmrest and moving it to the rearmost position, an operation that takes just a few seconds.
Speaking of the palm rest, one of the more unique features of the new RAT mice is the ability to 3D print and attach your own custom pieces to your mouse. For the RAT 1, MadCatz provides CAD files for the attachment bracket, three palm rest designs, and three grilles to snap into those designs. The company encourages users to create their own palmrests and 3D print them. I don’t have the required CAD experience nor a 3D printer handy, so I couldn’t try out this feature. In any case, I’m pretty happy with the existing palm rest, at least in its forward position.
Some of the 3D schematics MadCatz provides for the RAT 1
The two primary buttons use TTC switches. Right out of the box, at least, they actuate with little pressure and have a sharp, satisfying response. The mouse wheel uses a Kailh switch underneath, and it too has a very sharp click to it. It feels especially great compared to the extremely mushy wheel switches on many other mice. Rotating the rubber-coated mousewheel is effortless and smooth, but the gentle detents are solid enough that accidental inputs should be rare. In any event, the wide surface at the front of the mouse gives plenty of room to avoid hitting the wheel accidentally.
In fact, the only times I did hit the wheel accidentally were when I was reaching for the two-position toggle switch behind the mousewheel. This switch serves as the fourth and fifth mouse buttons. It works reliably, but I found that I could only easily hit it with my index finger. Of course, shifting my finger around left me unable to shoot (or use mouse button 1, in any case) for an uncomfortably long time. Given that I—like many players—use the fourth mouse button for push-to-talk, I definitely would have preferred a different placement.
The RAT 1 has seven possible inputs: left, right, and center click, up and down on the scroll wheel, plus up and down on the rocker switch. All of those save for the left mouse button (mouse 1) are fully configurable using the Flux software. At least, I think it’s called Flux. MadCatz uses that nomenclature on all of the websites and product materials for the RAT mice, but the word “Flux” is nowhere to be found in the software itself.
“Fully configurable” isn’t just marketing-speak. Any of the RAT 1’s inputs can be programmed with a wealth of functions, ranging from keyboard keys and mouse inputs to commands like “Win 10 – Share Charm” and “Cortana (Voice)”. These functions have to be assigned by dragging their icons over to the diagram of the mouse’s buttons, which is serviceable but a little awkward. I would have liked to have seen an option to set favorite commands, or at least sort the available commands.
From one click, many
Users can also create “custom commands” in Flux—another way of saying “macros.” The obfuscation is understandable, because the term “macro” has become somewhat dirtied in recent years as competitive gaming makes every attempt to ban the use of these kinds of assistive technologies. Even though MadCatz shies away from the term, the macro functionality of Flux is among the best I’ve seen, and I’ve seen most of ’em.
Macros in Flux can have separate commands defined to trigger on keypress, to repeat while the key is held, and to play when the key is released. The software lets you record macros with or without delays, and delays can be hand-configured as well. Macros can include any combination of keyboard keys plus mouse button and wheel inputs. Flux has the ability to define on-press or repeating actions as “open” or “closed,” which determines whether the macro will terminate immediately or run to completion when the key is released.
Flux also supports creating macro profiles. The interface for creating a macro profile is quite simple: just click the menu button in the top left, and then the giant black “Create New” button. Actually selecting and activating a macro profile is rather unintuitive, though. As far as I can tell, there is no way to do it from the Flux software UI. Instead, you have to right-click the icon in Windows’ notification area and select the profile from the pop-up menu there.
The macro function isn’t perfect: it lacks the ability to incorporate mouse movements or joystick inputs. It also lacks the ability to define a toggle macro, or one that plays a set number of times on keypress. MadCatz says the final version of the software will include the ability to load a game’s associated profile on launch, but I couldn’t test that feature in the version of Flux I used. Korean anti-cheat software AhnLab HackShield (think PunkBuster) detects the macros as a cheat, too, so games that use it will disconnect you if you trigger a Flux macro. That isn’t Flux’s fault, though, nor is it exclusive to MadCatz’s software.
Controlling the basics
Along with button assignments, Flux can also configure the mouse’s basic settings. The RAT 1 doesn’t have a lot to configure, but you can disable the super-bright red LED on top, adjust the DPI from 600 to 1600 DPI, and the polling rate from 125 Hz to 1000 Hz. The mouse defaults to 1600 DPI and 1000 Hz out of the box, so there wasn’t much adjustment necessary. I did ascertain (using the excellent MouseTester Reloaded) that the DPI and polling rate adjustments work as advertised.
1600 DPI isn’t an especially high resolution these days, but most TR readers are probably shrugging already. Mouse resolution is one of the biggest targets for spec inflation in PC gaming. A 12,000 DPI mouse sounds real fancy, but most people are better served with lower resolution settings. 1600 DPI is coincidentally not too far from the 2000 DPI I normally use, and I think it’s a fine resolution for almost any kind of game. It’s easy to balk at this relatively low number, but even Kim Rom, CMO of Steelseries, admits that “a higher DPI in a mouse doesn’t offer a lot of value.” Someone who really wants to game at 6000 DPI can probably stand shelling out for a more expensive rodent.
While the sensor’s resolution isn’t a major point of concern, I was disappointed to find that the RAT 1 can’t change its DPI on the fly like some of its more expensive competitors, including my Corsair M95. I don’t hold that limitation against the RAT 1, though. Dropping down from the $100-ish price bracket into the sub-$50 range means you’re going to sacrifice some features, and one of those happens to be on-the-fly DPI adjustment. While using the RAT 1, I did miss the “sniper” functionality of my M95, but mostly for doing image editing work on the desktop. Once again, I’d expect nothing less for the territory.
So with all of that out of the way, how does the mouse actually work? Read on, my friends.
Putting the RAT on the mat
Before I even looked up the specs, read any of the materials, or installed the software, I just hooked up the RAT 1 and started playing. I already knew the mouse’s price tag, but I didn’t want any further prejudices to affect my thoughts on the mouse. My initial impressions of the RAT 1 were quite positive. In Phantasy Star Online 2, League of Legends, and Doom (both its 1993 and 2016 versions), the mouse performed adequately, if not admirably. It felt a little awkward under the hand, but I figured that was because of the enormous gulf in size, weight, and price between the RAT 1 and my usual Corsair Vengeance M95.
It wasn’t until I started playing some good old Unreal Tournament 2004 that I noticed something amiss. Now, I’m no professional gamer, but I’m pretty handy with a shock rifle, and I’ve played a tremendous amount of Unreal Tournament. I still play UT2K on a semi-regular basis with old friends, and I also load it up for a match or two to kill time when another game is updating or on maintenance. As I was nearing the end of my first round of game testing, I decided to play some UT2K explicitly to tease out any possible issues with the mouse.
Almost immediately I noticed something off. Playing in Instagib mode against a handful of Inhuman bots, I was getting trashed, and that’s not the way things normally go for me. I was missing shots by microns that I felt like I should have landed, and I had to back down to Masterful difficulty before I was winning again. Exiting the game, I thought to myself: “surely MadCatz didn’t ship a gaming mouse in 2016 with prediction enabled.”
Drawing in Paint.net with the RAT 1
The company did just that, though. Testing in Paint.net makes it painfully clear. I have a steady hand, to be certain, but straight horizontal and vertical lines like that don’t come from mice naturally, nor with that consistency. Those lines were all drawn in one go, to be clear. To make sure I checked for every factor, I tried multiple USB ports (both 2.0 and 3.0), moused around on multiple surfaces, and even tried futzing about with the mouse’s DPI and report rate settings in its included utility. Despite my best efforts, that prediction behavior persisted.
Drawing with my Corsair M95
Let me be clear: if MadCatz hadn’t branded this mouse as a serious gaming mouse, I wouldn’t consider this meddling a huge flaw. As I’ve noted, the mouse performed admirably with more casual games. Exhaustive testing both with software tools and with the “obstacle test” revealed no built-in acceleration. Not once did I have a tracking fault or any other major malfunction with the RAT 1, and the angle-snapping effect is pretty subtle in normal use. Taking this mouse’s entry-level price point into account, I would normally think this feature is pretty forgivable. In a mouse sold explicitly as a gaming mouse, though, it’s absurd. Mad Catz’s utility doesn’t offer any way to toggle the feature on and off, which leads me to believe it may be baked into the sensor.
There are some bright points regarding the sensor’s performance. PixArt rates the sensor for tracking at speeds up to 30 inches per second (0.76 m/s), but as you can see above, I’ve measured it successfully tracking at speeds well past that figure (the peak of the graph lies around one meter per second). Its report rate is a remarkably steady 1000 Hz during rapid motion. Perhaps my favorite thing about this mouse is its extremely short lift-off distance. Resting the corner of the mouse on two stacked CD-ROMs is enough to make it completely fail to track, giving it a lift-off distance of less than 2.4 mm. Not unusual for an optical mouse, but still not bad.
In many ways, MadCatz’s refreshed RAT 1 has the DNA to be a hardcore gaming mouse. It’s nearly weightless, and I found it easy to get my frag on with this rodent. MadCatz baked robust programming features into the RAT 1’s solid included software, and I think the relatively low 1600-DPI maximum resolution is more than enough for most people. I didn’t have any problems with the mouse’s relatively low tracking speed, either.
Having said all that, it’s unfortunate that the sensor MadCatz chose for this mouse’s eye is decidedly not a gaming-oriented unit. The angle-snapping behavior I observed is a testament to that fact, and MadCatz’s software doesn’t offer a way to turn off that behavior. A one-to-one relationship between input and output is table stakes for a gaming mouse these days, and even considering the RAT 1’s $30 price tag, mice with interference-free sensors and better usability—like EVGA’s Torq X5—only cost a few dollars more. Once one has gamed (or done any other work) with a mouse that doesn’t meddle with user input, it’s hard to play with one that does.
Users who can forgive the RAT 1’s sensor shenanigans will be rewarded with a distinctively-styled mouse with plenty of tuning options, but we’d happily trade some of those virtues for a mouse that obeys its owner’s commands without fail. The silver lining for MadCatz is that this is the first in a whole family of mice, and the RAT 1’s biggest compromises might come from its wallet-friendly nature. Perhaps the finer RATs will hit the mark, but we can’t say for sure until we put the RAT 1’s bigger brothers to the test.