Just about a month ago I asked the question Can Driving Games help you Improve Your Track Skills? A few of you wrote in and said you thought that most definitely they do. One person suggested that it was a great way to learn a track (similar to walking a track prior to a race) and a few of you thought it might be good to help with eye hand coordination.
The question and post mentioned above was inspired by a few reviews I had read of a Porsche 911 Turbo Wheel for PlayStation 3 and PC games. This wheel, created by the German company Fanatec (a subsidiary of Endor AG), realistically emulates a Porsche 911 Turbo wheel. After reading the reviews, I made it a point to reach out to Fanatec and Endor to ask a few questions while constructing my post. Much to my surprise Fanatec not only responded immediately, but they sent a unit along for me to test and review. So, while we all know that 993C4S.com is not about gaming and electronics, the fact that Fanatec’s wheel is an officially licensed product from Porsche allows it to fit in quite nicely.
Two Stage Review of the Fanatec Porsche 911 Turbo Wheel
Upon receiving the wheel from Fanatec I made arrangements with a friend (thanks Mike) to set-up the wheel on his dedicated gaming system. Mike is a whiz with computers and the system he has set up to enjoy his favorite hobby (PC gaming/racing) has to be seen to be believed (more on this later). After conferring with Mike we both decided it would be best to do a “two-stage” review. The first stage (this one) consists of the set-up of the wheel, first impressions, pros and cons and initial recommendations. The second stage will be a longer-term review after both Mike and I have had a chance to use the wheel for a few weeks and really get a good feel for how it performs.
First Stage Review
Mike had just recently finished building a new gaming system dedicated specifically to PC Racing games. For all of the techies out there, here are some of the specifics on his new set-up:
- AMD Athalon X2 3.2 Ghz Dual Core
- 4gig DDR2 Dual Channel Memory
- Nvidia G-Force 8600 GTS Graphics Card
- Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS w/ 7.1 surround sound
- Logitech Momo Steering wheel (which has now been replaced with the Fanatec Porsche Wheel)
- 24” Dell Wide Screen LCD monitor
- Windows Vista Home Ultra
- Need for Speed ProStreet
Packaging: The wheel came extremely well packaged in a very attractive inner box. My only thought on packaging was why call so much attention to the outer box with all the Porsche branding. I come from an industry that doesn’t want to draw attention to what’s in the box (helps to reduce shrinkage/theft). As a result, our outer packaging is blank and we keep all our branding on the inner boxes. Blank outer boxes may reduce the amount of packages that get “lost” en-route for delivery (if it hasn’t happened yet, it will). Not a negative at all, just a suggestion. You can click on anyone of the thumbnails below for a full-size image.
Installation and Instructions: The Fanatec Porsche 911 Turbo Wheel comes with a quick start guide in multiple languages. While it did allow us to get the wheel installed, we did find the need to refer, on a few occasions, to the support site that can be accessed at Fanatec’s web-site. For the most part we found the installation to be straight forward and easy to manage. Total time for set-up was about 30 minutes. I’m sure we could have cut this time easily in half, but we were taking notes and photos so that definitely extended our time.
Once installation was complete, and upon power up, the wheel self calibrates and self centers. The overall quality of this wheel is superb. It looks and feels exactly like a Porsche Turbo Steering Wheel. Thick cushioning on the wheel provides for excellent grip. The programmable/user defined buttons are all within easy reach and feel substantial upon actuating their movement.
The thing that immediately set this wheel apart from the competition was the force-feedback. It is outstanding! Not only does the wheel provide feedback in turns and bumps, you get a realist feeling for the road during acceleration and braking (something that is lacking on most other wheels). The only real complaints we have for right now have to do with the mounting. The wheel itself could use a stronger mounting mechanism and more importantly, the shifter is just way too unstable. Fanatec says they have fixed this with an optional wheel clamping system, but I think it should be included as standard.
Pros/What we liked.
- Everything is well packaged and easily found.
- Quick start instructions were/are enough to get the job done without the need for much else.
- Included USB stick (in the shape of a Porsche key) has most drivers available for easy installation. Anything not included can be found on the Fanatec web-site.
- Wheel self calibrates and self centers upon power-up.
- With only a power cord to spoil the view, the wireless set-up looks great.
- You can choose between powered by batteries or wired power for the pedals. Again anything that reduces the amount of clutter and wires around the PC is a big bonus.
- Three shifter choices. You can choose between paddle shifter, six speed manual shifter or an up/down ratchet shifter. We chose the six speed manual for a more life like driving experience.
- Shifter(s) can be mounted on left or right side.
- Quality of the wheel and pedal mechanism are excellent. The look and feel is superb to anything we’ve used including the Logitech Momo wheel it is currently replacing.
- The wheel vibrates under acceleration giving a very life like simulation as part of the force-feedback.
- The overall force-feedback of the wheel is second to none. The factory recommended settings seem to be spot on and really give you a good feel for the road.
- The clutch, brake and gas pedal are of life like size and have strong resistance for a good realistic feel.
Cons and Suggested Improvements:
- Spend a bit more time on the English translation. For the most part it was/is okay, but there are a few areas that don’t quite make sense and could use some editing. Not enough to stop us from getting the job done, but it was definitely noticeable.
- There was no Windows Vista driver on our USB stick. Again, it was no problem finding it on the Fanatec support site, but it should be included on the USB stick.
- The help function in our system set-up screen did not yet appear to be operational. I’m sure this will be live for the production version.
- The clamping system for the wheel did not fit the table we were using and we needed to make a modification for it to work. Even if it had fit, the clamping system is not strong enough to hold the wheel firmly in place. Fanatec has said that the production version will offer a “new clamping system as an “optional upgrade.” In my mind this should be included as part of the standard system as without a good mount, the whole driving experience is affected negatively.
- The shifter attachment is very unstable when using the six speed shifter. There is no way to clamp the shifter directly to the table resulting in a very unstable shifter under normal driving conditions. Same fix as above.
- We couldn’t find it, so if there is the ability to do so, let us know. But we felt you should have the ability to choose between either the paddle shifters on the wheel or the attached stick shifter.
- We had installed the pedals on a carpet. The pedal mount comes with very strong Velcro on the back (under the pedal). However, the clutch is so strong we felt it could use an additional length of Velcro along the front of the base. In fact, we went out to the local hardware store and bought a small piece and this made all the difference in the world. Fanatec will be adding some weight to the base plate to help with this, but the additional Velcro strip would be a nice touch at very little expense.
The plan now is to use the wheel for a few weeks and really get the feel for it. While the wheel does need some minor improvements (most of which we're told have already been addressed) overall it seems like a great product and should be good for some vastly improved driving/gaming experiences. I'll plan on posting the second stage of this review in two to three weeks time. If anyone has any questions, just let me know.