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I've been mad about planes since I was about 7 and although I don't have a lot of free time available, I love to take any chance possible to play Flight Simulator X Deluxe on my laptop. I used to have a Saitek Cyborg Joystick, but when a button broke, I had an excuse to upgrade.
When I saw this on ebay I was simply amazed. Most other separate joystick and throttle configurations cost around £150. Yet here was one for only £60. Also Saitek is a very trusted joystick brand and I expected build quality and compatibility to be good.
The first comment I have to make is that build quality is indeed excellent. It feels very solid but the black bits on the joystick and throttle are rubberised making them softer to touch. The movement of the joystick is very very smooth as is the motion of the throttle. The controller has an abundance of hat switches and buttons to the extent that I really dont have to use the keyboard for anything at all.
The great thing is it even has a built in mouse controller on the throttle so your hands never need to let go. It also has great software which allows one button to make multiple button presses simultaneously or in a timed sequence. Another great feature is a mode switch. I currently have three modes set up. One for planes, one for helis and one for multiplayer; this way i dont need to reconfigure any commands.
The X52 Flight Control System is a joystick and throttle set-up, designed primarily for computer flight simulations, by Saitek a popular and highly rated manufacturer of gaming peripherals and PC accessories.
The X52 was released in 2004 and was Saiteks flagship computer joystick up until the release of the X52 Pro in 2006. The unit retails for around £80-85, but if you shop around on the internet a special offer can usually be found on it somewhere, especially now that it is beginning to be phased out by the new and improved version which retails for the much higher price of around £120-140.
Straight from opening the box it will be evident to you that this is a top-end product, as it is very neatly packaged and comes with a host of documentation, cables, software and accessories for mounting or clamping the product onto a desk.
The joystick comes in two sections, on one you will find the large throttle lever and the multi-function LCD display, and on the other is the joystick section along with some front mounted toggle switches. I will discuss the individual switches and buttons later.
The joystick, despite its size and complexity, is powered entirely through the attached USB cable, which is an achievement in itself considering the amount of buttons and lights featured on the device. This makes for very easy connectivity to your computer, and is well documented in the instruction booklet should you need any help.
The USB cable is attached to the throttle section of the system, which then uses a detachable S-Video cable to communicate with and give power to the joystick section of the system.
The two sections of the system can be mounted to your desk in numerous ways. The bases are in fact heavy enough to sit in the desk fairly sturdy without the need for any of the accessories, however it is advised that you use the suction clamps to attach it securely to the desk to avoid any damage during particularly intense gaming moments. These clamps are very easy to fit, simply place in the slot on the underside of the unit and rotate about 90 degrees until it is secured in place. The clamps do their job of holding the units in place, however I find that whenever I want to pick the system up off the desk either to clean it or simply relocate it, I end up with either most of the clamps falling off and rolling away somewhere (leaving me with quite a job finding them all) or even worse, refusing to pull off of the desk to which I usually need to get a butter knife to remove them (I bite my nails a bit too much so theyre useless  )
Installation of the drivers from the CD is very simple, with on-screen instructions all of the way, and a section in the manual for extra help if it should be needed. Most of the installation is automatic, and any bits where your interaction is required are well documented so that there shouldnt be any problems.
Also included on the CD is Saiteks SST programming software, for configuring all of the buttons and functions of the joystick for use in the different games that you intend to use the joystick with. I found the software very hard to use and had to spend well over two hours getting the joystick to work even half decently within Flight Simulator 2004, as the program works by basically assigning the buttons on the joystick to keyboard functions though the process gets very complicated for things such as hat-switches and slider buttons. I eventually gave up with Saiteks software and resorted to using the button assignment functions within the game itself. This means that there are fewer button assignments available, as the mode switch function cannot be used, but I still found there was an adequate number of available buttons to assign all of my most commonly used functions to a convenient button. I am sure if one spent time learning to properly use the SST software, then it would eventually get very easy to use, the problem is that I just arent that patient and upon receiving my new flight control system didnt expect to be spending that whole day getting the button assignments completed.
If you use any of the more popular simulations such as Microsoft Flight Simulator or IL2: Sturmovik, then you can download ready made SST profiles from the Saitek website, though I find that many important functions were missing from these and so decided in the end not to use them.
The software can also be used to control the brightness of the many LEDs and the LCD panel. The lights can be toned down if necessary or even switched off, which is useful if you are watching a movie and all you can see out of the corner of your eye is this joystick looking a lot like a christmas tree. There are 11 lighted buttons in total, plus two green power indicators and the back-lighting for the LCD panel, so that really is a lot of light!
The actual joystick has a 3-way axis, with the usual roll and pitch controls, plus a twist function for rudder control. All of these axis work very well and are highly responsive, and generally feel good to use. One of the things that I noticed with this joystick compared to my previous ST90 budget stick was the lack of need to keep calibrating the joystick axis to keep them centred, as it does it perfectly itself 99% of the time. The precision centring mechanism featured on the joystick helps to keep the stick physically centred as soon as you release it as well, again improving the accuracy, as would be expected with such a high-end stick.
There are four buttons located on the joystick itself (including one covered with a flick-up Safe cap), plus two 8-way hat switches that can be assigned to functions such as view control, which I find particularly useful when exploring virtual cockpits in Flight Simulator. Located on the rear of the joystick is a two-stage trigger button and a pinkie switch, which can be used with the SST software to double up on the amount of button commands, or simply used as an extra trigger button.
All of the buttons and toggle switches are well placed so that they are always near one of your fingers and therefore very quick and easy to access.
Also located on the front of the joystick section are three illuminated toggle switches, which can move up and down and therefore provide six different function, particularly useful for turning aircraft lights on or off, or raising and lowering the flaps.
The throttle of the X52 is very large, allowing you to place your whole hand on it and therefore allowing you to move your fingers across to the reach the buttons on the right hand side. The throttle has markings on it ranging from 0 100, including interval marks, so that you can accurately adjust your throttle setting. Located on the throttle are a further three buttons, plus another hat switch, two rotating sliders and a linear slider. These are very useful for adjusting zoom settings or for changing engine settings on some of the more advanced simulations. A little further down there is also a mouse control panel, with a thumb stick for moving the cursor and a click button which acts as the left mouse button. This allows the unit to be classed as fully HOTAS (hands-on-throttle-and-stick), as you very rarely need to take your hands off of the unit to perform any actions.
Next to the actual throttle is the multi-function LCD display, which displays the current set-up of the system, plus three different time zones which can be set using the supplied software. There is also a stopwatch function which can be used using the three buttons located below the display. It is actually quite useful to be able to look down and see the time, as most simulations run in full screen mode so the taskbar time cannot be seen. I must confess however that I very rarely use the stopwatch function and find this to be just a bit of a gimmick, as I do not see very many uses for it in a flight simulator, with the exception of very advanced navigation procedures in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and even then a more advanced stopwatch is usually supplied on the aircraft panel.
Comfort and style is clearly something that Saitek but a lot of time and effort into with the X52. At first I thought the unit looked quite big and clumsy, but I later realised that this makes it a lot more comfortable to use. The joystick has a moveable hand-rest that makes gripping the stick easier, and it can be adjusted for different hand sizes. The use of a very gripable rubber type material on certain areas of the unit reduces the chance of slipping and makes it much easier to keep hold of the stick or throttle. The throttle section has a force adjuster on the side which will make the throttle looser if you find you are having difficulty pushing the stick forward or pulling it back.
The stainless steel look (including some real metal parts) makes the product very stylish and will fit in with most peoples desk environments, and those cool blue LEDs just help to add to the style, as well as being actually very useful whilst playing in the dark.
My overall conclusion: its big, it's complicated, its expensive, but if youre a serious simulation enthusiast youll be very happy with this product.