Mad Catz RAT Pro X review

Garish or gorgeous, the Mad Catz RAT Pro X is the last mouse you'll ever need

The RAT Pro X earns its acronym, Really Awesome Tech.
The RAT Pro X earns its acronym, Really Awesome Tech.
The RAT Pro X earns its acronym, Really Awesome Tech.

Highs

  • Swappable parts
  • Snappy performance
  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy, unique design

Lows

  • Expensive
  • Polarizing design

Mad Catz’ RAT Pro X is nothing if not ambitious. The completely modular design allows for every piece, from the sensor to the scroll wheel, to be swapped at the user’s leisure. We’ve seen mice that take advantage of hot-swappable tech before, but this reaches another level.

And for $200, it better be. Our review unit has a 5,000 dpi (dots per inch) Pixart sensor at its core, plus three interchangeable palm rests, two pairs of skid feet, three right panels, two left panels, and three scroll wheels.

Mad Catz has high hopes for the top end of its offerings, and we have high standards for a mouse with a high cost targeted at aspiring gaming pros. Is the RAT Pro X’s customization a gimmick, or the next big thing?

Sturdy, unique, functional

The Pro X’s look is polarizing. The frame-based, modular design looks more like an F1 car than anything you might see driving down the road. Strip it for parts, and you’re left with a lightweight magnesium alloy frame. It has a natural, shimmery look to it that stands out even against the bright green and black plastics that cover its body like a suit of armor.

There’s a growing divide between gamers who want a look that’s more subdued, and those who forget aesthetics in search of perfect performance. The RAT Pro X takes the latter approach; it’s not the kind of mouse you’d want to use in an office. Then again, with a name like RAT (Really Awesome Technology), what do you expect? Still, anyone who games will wonder what sort of mouse it is.

That being said, the mouse feels sturdy despite its lightweight design, and the set of components each gamer chooses will affect the weight and balance. It’s not ambidextrous, but it will fit most grip styles thanks to its adjustable palm rest and sidepieces. It’s easy to whip back and forth quickly, and stops on a dime, with lots of little ridges to catch a finger on when you need to change directions.

I have to admit; at first I thought the RAT Pro X was garish. Can you blame me? But spending time gaming with it, working with it, and living with it has brought me around on its look. It’s refreshingly different from the other gaming mice, and the exposed frame construction allows for ergonomic customization that’s much more than a gimmick.

The biggest feature is that every piece on the Pro X is swappable. Some click or slide off easily, while others require the assistance of a small screwdriver included with the mouse. Most of the removable pieces are only ergonomically relevant, but a few offer significantly different grip options.

Magnets, how do they work?

Unlike pretty much every other mouse ever, the Pro X comes out of the box with no sensor. It’s packaged separately, and clicks into a slot on the bottom easily. The skid feet attach magnetically over it, bringing the bottom of the sensor flush with the surface. The difference is much more dramatic on a gaming surface like a hard mousepad than it is on rougher surfaces, but it’s still a subtle change.

Moving to the palm rest, there are three different versions, which click snugly into two grooves on the back of the mouse. They can tip forward a bit, 15 degrees I’m told, but only the most severe palm gripper will notice. Apart from the standard rest, one raises the height 4mm, and the other offers 15 degrees of left-right tilt in addition to the forward lean. They all feel roughly similar in usage, and I don’t often find myself pushing the palm rest enough to lean it forward or side-to-side.

There are three different options on the right side. One provides a wide pinky rest, one lies flush with the side of the mouse, and the third provides a hook near the top for your pinky. This last attachment is the most interesting, because it allows for better pick-up on a mouse that lacks a nice surface to lift from.

The left sidepieces are strikingly similar. One places the buttons parallel to the side of the mouse, while the other pushes the front out at a slight angle. Like most of the pieces in the customization kit, gamers will set this to their preference once and forget about it.

The hot-swappable sensor means the mouse is future proofed against further optical improvements, but it’s one of the features I’m least excited about. Even the 5,000 dpi sensor, the lowest rated available for the Pro X, runs perfectly smooth in modern games, and doesn’t feel noticeably worse than the 16,000 dpi sensor in the Razer Diamondback. Only the twitchiest FPS players will find themselves cranking the dpi higher than the sensor can handle. For them, Mad Catz also offers two different 8,200 dpi options.

Mad Catz R.A.T. Pro X
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The RAT Pro X isn’t the only mouse we’ve seen with modular parts. Notably, the Roccat Nyth has a full side of 12 customizable keys and a pair of hand rests for the right side. The Pro X is a different approach to the same idea, but the two mice end up working very differently in practice.

The Nyth’s button case and simple design means the extra pieces can tag along, and can be swapped depending on the game or mood. With the RAT Pro X, on the other hand, most users will pick a configuration they like the first time they use it, and will only swap pieces out when new attachments add functionality or improved ergonomics.

Braided is best

Like the majority of gaming mice, the Pro X sports a wired connection. In this case, Mad Catz has thankfully opted for a braided cable, for less snagging and bending. It culminates in a gold-plated connector, and does as it’s supposed to do: it keeps the mouse plugged in and stays out of the way.

Reinventing the wheel

Of course, underneath all the fancy frames and modular parts, it’s still a mouse, and its main functionality is to click. The actual task of clicking is left up to a pair of Omrom switches, the same brand found in the keyboard that won our mechanical gaming keyboard shootout, the Logitech G910. They’re rated for up to 20 million cycles, or presses, and should be the last part of the mouse to fall apart.

The left click has more resistance than the right does, but there’s a good reason for that. Gamers who prefer shooters will find that their aim-down-sight button is snappy and light, while the fire button requires a more purposeful press. Conversely, MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) players can rapidly click about, and won’t fear for accidental ability misfires.

There aren’t many other buttons on the Pro X, and instead Mad Catz has opted for streamlined simplicity with forward and back buttons, an extra thumb button, a dots-per-inch selector, and a scroll wheel with some interesting functionality.

Even the 5,000 DPI sensor runs perfectly smooth in modern games.

The scroll wheel goes beyond ergonomics and adds functionality. A small bolt on the side determines the wheel’s resistance. Loosen it all the way up, and the wheel spins freely and smoothly; tighten it down all the way, and it has a chunky, tight feel. You can fine tune for just the right amount of movement, and the wheel itself has three customization options, two metal and one rubber.

It also moves side-to-side, but on an analog axis, rather than just snapping in one way or the other. It’s not an axis of movement that’s easy to take advantage of, but when it works, it feels great. In particular, it works well for leaning in first-person shooters, or shifting the camera in a real-time strategy game or MOBA. The downside is you usually have to assign it as a hotkey, and it doesn’t always work as intended, instead just acting as an analog switch.

There is an issue with the left side thumb buttons. The modular nature of the mouse means the panel doesn’t always sit against the left side of the mouse, meaning the buttons either feel mushy or don’t work at all. It’s mostly a matter of ensuring the panel is seated correctly before screwing it in, but once I attached it properly, I was hesitant to unscrew it again.

Software

The mouse’s management software is decent, but not flawless. The first screen has a picture of the mouse on the left, with drag and drop icons for easy shortcuts and most every key on the keyboard on the right. Hold an icon over a slot on the mouse, and it highlights the button. There are profiles too, which can turn on or off depending on the current application.

The second screen is a settings page for lift-off height, and calibrating the scroll wheel strafe if it stops working. The latter never happened to me in my testing, but it’s good to know there’s a way to solve an issue if one arises. Unfortunately, the UI is a bit glitchy. There are four menu buttons for only two options, and some odd text overlays and colors where they shouldn’t be. Not a huge deal though, and everything still works as it’s supposed to.

The third page, labeled support, contains useful links to documentation and drivers, as well as easy access to customer service and social media for Mad Catz. All in all, it’s not the most elegant peripheral management software, but most aren’t, and the Mad Catz APP (no really, that’s what it’s called) does get the job done.

Conclusion

Once you finish setting it up, the RAT Pro X plays like any other lightweight gaming mouse. Instead of a crazy high dpi sensor like the Diamondback, or a wealth of button options like the Nyth, the RAT Pro X relies on the fact that once you spend a few minutes setting it up, it will fit you like a glove. That’s a lofty goal, and it’s one that Mad Catz delivers on in a lot of ways.

If it weren’t twice the price of most of its competitors, Mad Catz could sell the RAT Pro X and no other gaming mice, and let everyone customize it to their liking. Support for new attachments, a wealth of sensor options, and access to schematics for 3D printing could turn the gaming mouse world on its head. This execution isn’t perfect, but it has the power to plant the seed of a real change in mouse design, the most substantial since the laser replaced the ball.

What Mad Catz offers for a higher price is an impressively customizable and elegant mouse. It will probably last longer than other mice, thanks to its upgrade and customization options. It’s a conversation starter, with a unique design that brings real functionality, rather than just being different for the sake of being different.

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