SAITEK X36: The Ultimate PC Flight Controller
by Gary Hartman

Published March 1999 (PC Register)

Man, do these controllers feel great! So great, in fact, that once you hook them up to your PC, don't be surprised if you don't find yourself resting your left hand on the Saitek X35T throttle just because it's so comfortable. Seriously, the Saitek X36 is a wonderful set of hardware that claims to be "The Ultimate PC Flight Controller"...well, could be!

The Saitek X36 comes with not one, but two pieces of equipment: the X36F Control Stick and the X35T throttle. The two units plug into each other, either can be used without the other, and both are fully programmable (future references to the X36 refer to both controllers). The packaging includes an ample 32-page X36 Flight Control System Manual and Programming Guide, a quick-start guide for hardware and software installation, 3.5-inch floppy disk containing the installation program, keyboard cable adapters for connecting the X36 to your PC, and eight removable suction cup feet to hold the controllers to your desktop surface. No software titles (e.g., demonstration flight simulations or games) are included with the X36 (that would have been nice), but the programmable controllers work with most MS-DOS and Windows-based games that accept joystick and keyboard input.

The control stick has two 8-way hat switches, a trigger, three fire buttons, a pinkie switch, and a launch switch. All of these buttons/switches are fully user-programmable, or they can be used in the default mode (CH Flightstick Pro). The number of functions available on both the control stick and throttle can be doubled by programming the pinkie switch as a shift.

The throttle has a throttle, rudder control, fire button, 4-way hat switch, two rotary switches, mouse cursor control, mouse fire button, auxiliary switch, and mode switch. As with the control stick, each of these are also programmable. The mode switch may be programmed to allow three different settings for each button on both the control stick and throttle, and the mouse cursor can also be used as an extra 4-way hat switch.

The setup program will install the X36 Launcher application, a program that must be run each time before starting your game or flight simulation. Programming the X36 for a specific game is done through the Windows 95 environment and is pretty straightforward; however, it really helps if you really KNOW the game you're programming (i.e., familiarity with all of the functions available in the game is a must!). Having the freedom to program your control stick exactly the way you want it is great, and I'd never want to go back the other way again. I have to admit to slight intimidation with the initial setup and programming process, but after working a little with the X36 system I was flying in no time. If you don't want to try your hand at programming, the X36 launcher comes with setups (note: the X36 requires a specific configuration file for each game) for many popular programs, including Microsoft Flight Simulator, ATF, EuroFighter 2000, Su-27 Flanker, and many others. Additionally, more specific setups are downloadable from Saitek's web site or other user sites.

 The Saitek X36 handles great, the overall feel of both controllers is excellent, and they look great, too. Movement is smooth and precise, the buttons are responsive and positioned nicely; and the ergonomic design is extremely well done...these controllers feel just right in your hands. Both are fairly large and heavy enough (using the suction feet) to remain stationary during use. Using these controllers, I was able to perform better in my flight games than I had previously done. My only complaint (and it's slight) is that, for your application to recognize the Saitek X36, you must always remember to 1) start the X36 Launcher program with the specific application setup for your game and 2) press the "launch" switch on the control stick before starting your game. Configuration settings are not retained when you turn off your computer, so you must remember to do this every time you want to play a game using these controllers, otherwise the game will not recognize them and you'll have to back out and reload.

Bottom Line:  There are lots of other flight controllers out there, but you'll be hard pressed to find more options, quality, and value than the Saitek X36.  You get a lot of bang-for-the-buck with this integrated joystick/throttle system, and the unlimited programmability means that it can be tailored to practically any game using a joystick or joystick/keyboard combination.  If you're in the market for a good flight system, check this baby out!

System Tested On:  IBM-compatible PC with a 133Mhz Pentium; Windows 95; 64-bit PCI-bus SVGA video card; 32 Mb of RAM; 8x CD-ROM drive; Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold sound card; mouse

Minimum System:  IBM-compatible PC (486 or above recommended); MS-DOS 5.0 or above with Windows 3.x or Windows 95; 2 MB available hard drive space; standard AT keyboard (not XT) with a 5-pin connector (if your keyboard has a 6-pin connector, you will need PS/2 adapters, not included); dual port game card.

Technical support is available by phone (toll number), e-mail, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.saitekusa.com.

Estimated street price - about $150

Saitek Industries Ltd., 2295 Jefferson Street, Torrance, California 90501; Phone: (410) 568-2390



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Last Revised:  April 11, 2000