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Review: CSR Elite vs. Frex SimWHEEL

Discussion in 'Sim Racing Hardware' started by Pax7, Dec 28, 2011.

  1. Pax7

    LifeOn2 Development

    Guys, I posted this review over at iRacing, but for those of you who are not members there, here you go:
    Hello All,

    I have had the new Fanatec CSR Elite wheel for about a week now, and used it for 8-10 hours - so I thought I'd write a few words on it, not least to compare it to the Frex SimWHEEL MkI I have had since 2008.

    Although the Frex wheel was roughly 4(!) times more expensive than the CSR Elite, the Elite does very well in many aspects compared with the Frex - a good indication on value-for-money in the higher-end price range for wheels.

    Bear in mind also that the Frex wheel is the (almost) unmodified Mk1, released more than three years ago, so the wheels are not from the same generation really. However, the general working principle of the new MkII (TypeG) Frex wheel is the same as for the MkI - torque transmission via a ball screw (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_screw).

    I will also show some measurements I have done on the Elite, which are complemented by measurements on a G25 I also own. Unfortunately the Frex is out of comission since a few months (broken ball screw), so I could not collect any measurements on it.

    But, without further ado, let's get started!

    1. Build Quality and durability

    The casing of the CSR Elite is very solid and feels stable (it also looks good), aside from the rear cover which is made of plastic. But since that seems not to be a load bearing part, it does not matter much.

    I do however have some metal chips on the inside of the transparent plastic window, which was there from the factory; see this picture, primarily between the two rightmost vertical metal bars:

    Full size picture here

    The steering wheel itself is made of plastic and does not quite correspond in quality to the casing. The holes for the screws holding it together can be felt on the backside of the wheel, but it does not bother me when using the wheel. The buttons etc. on the wheel seems durable enough.

    The wheel is attached to the steering axle with two insex-screws, and the total length from the case to the end of the wheel is rather great. This makes the wheel flex somewhat under load, and I have doubts on whether the two screws will last in the long run holding the wheel firmly on to the steering axle.
    As a matter of fact I have already had problems with this, having to tighten the two screws a few times to hold the wheel firmly in place. The torque I have had to put in to tighten the screws have been quite high to make the wheel fit tight (it still flexes a bit, but at least there is no play), and I doubt the construction will last really.

    When using the wheel and for instance countering a throw (which can be a quite violent motion as we know), you sometimes can hear the wheel creak a bit, which I suspect comes from this joint between the wheel and the steering axle (I have not confirmed this though).

    Compared to this the Frex is considerably more stable. All parts are made of metal and there is very little flexing or anything that seems too weak.

    2. Maintenance

    It is really too early to tell how maintenance intensive the Elite will be, but since there are adjustment screws for the belt tension we maybe can expect that to need some attention going forward, plus exchange of belts(?). Then the question is how well the wheel will fare without maintenance lubrication, as some types of moving parts like lubrication :) But since I have not disassembled the Elite and had a closer look, it is hard to tell exactly.
    The major point on maintenance at this point is the screws, which I mentioned in 1.

    The Frex wheel on the other hand I know a great deal of when it comes to maintenance. It must be the king of maintenance amongst wheels without competition; You (way too) regularly need to lubricate the ball screw mechanism, which is some pain - especially if the wheel is mounted in a tight rig. There also might be the need to adjust the alignment of the wheel (at least on the MkI), which is a much greater pain. If you are unlucky you may also have to need to exchange the ball screw (at least on the MkI), which is quite complex. All in all the Frex MkI is much too maintenance intensive, and I expect the Elite to fare better here. As for the Frex MkII, what I have heard "only" the lubrication part is still there; if somebody can give more info on this situation it would be nice :)

    3. Usability and Ergonomy

    The Elite has a quite intricate adjustment system where you control most settings on the wheel itself. For the PC it would be good to move all that to the PC driver UI, so one need not fiddle with that on the wheel. Initially, before getting used to it, it was a bit cumbersome. Also, it seems every time you power on the wheel you have to set it in PC mode, which is a bit annoying. It would be good to do that once and then leave it.

    Not being dependent on the wheel would also be good for people (like me) who want to use real racing car steering wheels instead of the stock one(s).

    We have already heard reports on that the buttons are not placed too well on the Elite, and I agree on that. A side effect of this is that since you need to move your hands to reach the buttons, you also may need to quickly look at the wheel to find the buttons, at least in the beginning when you are not used to the wheel. The problem is though that in a dark room, some of the buttons are very hard to see with their dark colours.

    Personally I find the diameter of the Elite grip a bit too big, and the plastic material is rather harsh on your hands after some use. The diameter of the wheel is fine, although I would would not have minded one or two centimetres less for an all round wheel. That would also be good for rim force levels, see below for more on that.

    The paddles of the Elite are probably the biggest plus of the wheel rim. Their feel is very good, their placement and size too.

    The Frex has a not very versatile add on to a real race car rim; it works well with some Sparco and Momo single seater wheels. The paddles are also so small you cannot really go over 27-28 cm to use them. The buttons and paddles have very good feel though and are of high quality. I know that each button on the Frex costs around $7 here in Sweden!

    The Frex SW is no nonsense and easy to use; all is done in the PC UI.

    4. Cockpit Mounting

    The Elite has three M6 holes in the bottom for hard mounting to a rig. Although simple from a design perspective, it is not very versatile. As most want some inclination of the wheel, that needs to be solved via the rig rather than via how the wheel is mounted to the rig. For my rig this unfortunately caused quite some extra work, as I had to spend a number of hours to go get material and to build this custom bracket:


    It would be nice if Fanatec could provide something like this as a add on. Both Frex and ECCI 7000 offer this type of mounting, and at least the Frex as standard.

    There was another problem with the hard mounting, which could have been serious. One of the M6 threads was not good, allowing a bolt only to go part of the way into the hole. Luckily it could go far enough down to secure the bolt though. Picture:


    Now see next post to continue (I apparently maxed out the post size :) )
    • Like Like x 4
  2. Pax7

    LifeOn2 Development

    5. Performance

    OK, so the most most important part last - performance! :)

    5.1 FF strength and latency

    The Elite can output considerably higher torque than a G25, multiple times higher.

    Compared to the Frex MkI it is weaker however; I would guess it can output maybe 60% of the torque of the Frex (which is not too bad :) ). Coming from the Frex, the strength of the Fanatec is a bit on the limit of what is adequate. With the Frex I could set iRacing FF output to be below 80% (for linearity) and still have good torque even on a 320mm wheel at maybe 80% force in the Frex control panel. This is not possible with the Elite on the 300mm wheel; I have to use all available force of the Elite and go up to the occasional 100% iR FF output to get sufficient force output.

    But considering the price of the Elite, it is very good. A GT wheel of 350mm will not work however, IMO the force at the rim will be too weak then.

    I also did some measurements on the Elite and the G25, not least to present some Elite figures we have not seem before: actual degrees of rotation and rotational speed.

    This picture shows the actual degrees of rotation of the Elite in the step test (green) and the rotation speed (orange). I got the orange trace by differentiating the green trace.

    Full size picture here

    It rotates 270-280 degrees for the first 300ms pulse, which is not bad. Note that for the second reversed 300ms pulse, the Elite decelerates, changes direction and almost manages to come back to the zero position. This is also reflected in the steep inclination of the orange speed curve, which shows large acceleration.

    One can also see that the speed approaches a maximum value of around 1200 degrees per second. It would be interesting to see what the Frex, ECCI, Bodnar etc. can produce here. (The Bodnar would be frightening in am sure:) )

    Note also the slight irregularity of the speed curve, it goes up and down some. Either the position sensor is not giving accurate information, or the torque delivery to the wheel shaft is slightly irregular. It is probably the latter. In any case it is much better that what the G25 manages, see this plot:

    Full size picture here

    The speed of the G25 is as can be seen much more irregular.
    Furthermore, the G25 reaches 160-170 degrees of rotation compared to 270-280 of the Elite. The G25 reaches the terminal speed of around 650 degrees per second, compared with 1200 of the Elite.

    The G25 is considerably faster to change direction though, as can be seen here (red=G25):

    Full size picture here

    When the steering signal goes from - to + the G25 stops in about 30ms, whereas the Elite needs around 55ms. The speed of the wheel, its weight and torque of the motors affect this, but also the latency.

    As can be seen from the plot, the Elite (with 715 firmware) updates at 100Hz (contrary to what have been claimed), which is considerably lower than the 500Hz of the G25. It would be good if Fanatec could address this at some point, not least just not to have a lower figure than an age old toy wheel :)

    In three runs of the Elite, I recorded an average response latency of 22ms, compared to 10ms of the G25.
    The 100Hz sampling rate gives a worst case latency of 20ms from just missing both input and output transmission clocks and having to wait for the next clock respectively. That figure is 4ms for the G25.
    If one would run a large set of tests for both wheels regarding this one should be able to estimate the average latency of the wheel and SW as such, not considering the sample rate of the wheel.

    Going back to the above plot of the G25 and Elite, have a look at where the first steering pulse is enabled; it takes around 120ms before the Elite reaches higher speed than the G25. Since many forces in-sim are very short, this in addition to the lower latency of the G25 indicates that the G25 reactivity in real life scenarios are at least as good as the Elite. FF quality in feel is another matter though :)

    I have also done some in-car evaluation of FF latency of the Elite compared to the Frex MkI. My subjective impression is that the FF latency in-car is notably lower for the Elite than for the Frex. Crashing into a wall with the Elite gives a clearly lower FF latency than what it did with the Frex. This is very important, probably more important than all figures and plots above ;)
    Note however that the Frex MkII wheel uses Logitech electronics and SW @500Hz, so this should not be an issue on the MkII.

    5.2 FF and steering quality

    Now, the less scientific evaluation of FF and steering quality.

    My very first reaction when using the Elite (with the 707 firmware) was that the FF felt a bit "synthetic" compared to the Frex. The Frex FF delivery had a more natural feel, I would guess partly due to the direct drive and the firm rubber joint Frex uses between the motor and the ball screw. Elite firmware 715 improved the feel though.

    The Elite also has a slightly notchy (dirty) feel when rotation the wheel, plus a little stickyness when starting to rotate the wheel. The Frex has a more smooth, consistent feel, although one can feel the cogging of the MkI motor.
    Overall however, the Elite feels good.

    A first reaction was also that I did not quite like the low resistance when turning the Elite compared to the Frex, but now I have gotten used to it and do not think about it much. But sure the low resistance is a problem for fidelity, but much else is also as we know :)

    Now, to the joy of all Elite owners, it has one MAJOR advantage over the Frex, and that is that the Elite has lower backlash than the Frex!
    Backlash: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backlash_(engineering)

    Frex claimed that the MkI wheel had no backlash, which was not true. In fact, it had way too much backlash, especially considering the solidness and low tolerance of all other parts of the wheel. This was a real deal breaker for me and very distracting every time you used the wheel. The Elite has clearly less of this (but not zero), which is a great relief!

    Here is btw a video of the new Frex MkII wheel, which Frex also claims has zero backlash...

    Hear the ticking noise? (hard to miss) That is most probably the backlash you hear right there, as the ball screw mechanism slams left and right over the free play when changing direction.

    5.3 FF delivery mechanism and rotation mechanical stop

    As we know the Elite is belt driven, which seems to wok well for the most part. However, there is one issue that should be mentioned: When having set a limited degree of rotation, hitting the end points causes the wheel to hop and jerk quite badly. This is not very good, especially in a single seater where you might have only 360 degrees of rotation. There are times when you will hit the end points for sure.

    One last thing that should be mentioned; the mechanical stops of the Elite are mushy in feeling. I much preferred the solid mechanical stops of the Frex. On the other hand, the Frex mechanical stops (which also controlled the degrees of rotation) were so cumbersome to change that you in practise never changed them... I have seen though that the MkII Frex has improved here, but it still requires to "lift the hood" of the wheel, which might be a problem in a rig/cockpit.

    6. Conclusion

    So, where do we land with the CSR Elite? Some Q&A :)

    * It is a good wheel considering the price? -Yes

    * It is a good wheel not considering the price? -Yes

    * How does the Elite compare to the G25? -When it comes to FF quality, the G25 is a joke in comparison... FF reactivity is another matter though (see above)

    * Can the Elite compare overall with high end wheels like the Frex Mk1? -Yes, it is only a little worse in some aspects, and better in some!

    * Not considering the price, which one would you like to have, the Frex MkI or the Elite? -The Elite!

    Phew, now I am finished, only took ...a lot of hours :) Hope you find it useful!
    • Like Like x 9
  3. Alex Ball

    Alex Ball
    Web Nerd

    Great review :)
  4. Danny Asbury

    Danny Asbury

    Wonderful stuff man!
  5. Really nice detailed review! Great insight, thank you :)
  6. Perfect, the review I was waiting for!
  7. Pax7

    LifeOn2 Development

    Thanks All, I am happy that you enjoyed the review and found it useful!

    *** I made a new post in the thread over at iRacing, see below for that ***

    After catching my breath a bit, I will expand on a few topics and try to answer some questions/requests that have come up.

    First, I have been asked to add to the subjective comparison with the G25, which is relevant not least since that is a wheel very many can relate to and probably also use. I will focus on the FF and steering performance and quality.

    G25 vs. CSR Elite

    So, the G25 is an easy to use and reliable FF wheel, not much hassle there. That is also the general experience when using it; it has an "easy-going and predictable" feeling to it. It is not so that you sit there afraid that the wheel will fail or that something will break at any time :)
    That was partly the feeling I had sometimes (not too seldom in fact...) with the Frex MkI and also to a little extent with the CSR Elite due to the what-seems-to-be weakish attachment of the wheel to the steering shaft and the end of travel hopping.

    For the Elite I should also mention that when having run the wheel at high force output for some time, every now and then there is some smell coming from it - probably burnt belt. That is probably expected though, but I assume that at some point you need to tighten the belts up to reduce slip.

    Back to the G25 - although reliable, its performance is lacking in some (most) respects. There are three areas where I think it is not doing very well:

    G25 Weak Spots

    * When negotiating a turn and/or changing forces are output to the wheel, you feel... not much at all through the rim :( There is fantastically little FF detail information that makes it out to the rim of the G25. It is quite inprecise - it feels like stirring a pot of porrage :) All the backlash/slack/play in the gear mechanism effectively stop any details from being fed to the rim of the wheel.
    The Elite is totally superior to the G25 in this respect, with its low backlash/slack/play mechanism, it transmits much more FF details out through the rim.

    * The G25 is as we have seen very fast to react to FF changes, but it can not spin at a very high speed. That is unfortunately not only true when the FF motor(s?) (Oh dear, I don't even know if the G25 has one or two motors - it's been years since I took mine apart :) ) turn the wheel, but also when you try to turn the wheel.
    The resistance when you turn the wheel slowly is low, but when you try to turn the wheel fast, the resistance is high. This high resistance at high rotational wheel speeds effectively kills your ability to make fast corrections to e.g. counter throws.
    The Elite is just superior in this respect too, where it easily allows you to rotate the wheel fast due to its low resistance also at speed.
    I have been driving the iRacing HPD some lately, using both the G25 and the Elite. With the Elite I have been able to save more than one throw which would have been very difficult with the G25 due to the above. Important stuff!

    * Lastly, a simple observation: The G25 gear mechanism is very notchy in feel when turning it, and you can feel the slack - so it is not a surprise it does not perform too well.

    Also, a note on the Elite steering position output mechanism I did not mention: the mechanism reads the steering wheel position optically via a rotary encoder on the steering wheel axis (it looks like). At least when turning the wheel without force in the Windows control panel, it is very exact - there is no hopping of steering wheel position output numbers at all from what I have seen (which is very common in potentiometer based solutions) - and I expect the exactness is not very affected by force output to the shaft, but it would be interesting to know for sure :)


    So, to conclude this comparison of the Elite with the G25, what can you say?

    Well, as you have seen above, from a FF and steering performance and quality perspective, the Elite is superior to the G25 in most respects. The only area where the G25 can compare is the reactivity to changes in direction of the wheel.

    The Elite is a so much better performing wheel than the G25 that it is not very useful to even compare them on an equal basis.
    The Elite gives so much more information on the contact patch between the tire and tarmac (or whatever part beside the track you are on ;) ), so much more info on the load on the steering assembly of the car in general, and enables you to steer so much more freely (see above) that I am not at all surprised many guys have reported their lap times improve rather immediately when switching to the Elite.

    There - I will come back with some more info on the comparison with Frex later! :)
    • Like Like x 4
  8. Alex Ball

    Alex Ball
    Web Nerd

  9. Great report Pax7,

    So for me It's come down to the, Frex MK11, ECCI 7000, or the Fanatec Club Sport Wheel
  10. Mark Reynolds

    Mark Reynolds
    Physics & AI Programmer

    Nice reviews and interesting reading.

    Be nice if you could throw a G27 into the mix sometime :)

    Really very impressed at the subtle but good difference between my old G25 and my new G27.
  11. Jan Larsen

    Jan Larsen

    Imo, there's no need to throw a G27 in there, there's just no comparison.

    If you can live without FFB theres only one wheel and thats the Ecci 6000 system. I sold mine years ago and its probably the thing I regret the most in life. What a monumental mistake that was. If anyone has that system for sale in the EU, I'd ready to part with my left nut to take it off your hands.

    Great review btw, finally someone who takes a review into the details that actually matter :)
  12. Hi Pax, I was wondering if you've had the opportunity to test with firmware 721B. Many other CSR-E owners are saying that it improves areas such as that slight notchiness and the FFB deadzone at the center of rotation.
  13. G27 FFB don't feel like a joke to me, it's extremely good IMO, and I don't have it anywhere near maxed, but G25 has an older design and more use presumably, so it might be under a lot more pressure.
  14. Alex Ball

    Alex Ball
    Web Nerd

    I actually found the G27 to be a worse wheel than the G25.
  15. Really, how so.........?
  16. Alex Ball

    Alex Ball
    Web Nerd

    Weaker FFB, weird FFB deadzone, worse 'knocking' over kerbs, no sequential shifter, badly placed buttons on rim.

    Other than that it's great ;)
  17. The deadzone rarely applies in sims, in fact, it's only been F1 2011 that's been a slight problem for me.
    FFB is still good, and much better than a DFGT, and as for the knocking, it seems to be game related, as I don't notice it in Simbin stuff.
    I have no problems with 4 extra buttons and don't care about sequential unless it's a heavy duty simrig mounted....but that's just me.
  18. Danny Asbury

    Danny Asbury

    I'm really looking forward to using a high-end wheel. Can't wait for the CSW. I know jumping from the 360 wheel to the G27 was a big step in the right direction. But I didn't realize how much better it was until I drove with the Xbox wheel and pedals after a year of using the G27...

    Likewise, I'd assume the effect works the same when going back to a G27 after using a Frex, CSW, CSR, Ecci, or another high-end wheel. But if you've never done that before, like me, the G27 doesn't seem like a joke at all. So I know where you're coming from, David. But we just haven't tasted how the other half lives yet :)

    Oh, and Jan, he isn't really comparing the G27 competitively to the CSW, he's just showing you how much better the CSR is compared to the G27 so that Logitech users can have a better sense of what they're missing out on.
  19. Jan Larsen

    Jan Larsen

    I know, I just meant that bringing the G25/7 into this discussion is rather pointless since the price difference is huge. I'm sure Logitech could produce something equally impressive if they decided on the same budget.

    A more realitic comparison would be the Elite vs. the T500. Nearly same price but completely different wheels.
  20. Mark Reynolds

    Mark Reynolds
    Physics & AI Programmer

    I was more interested in the difference technically between the G27 and these big boyz toys, in some areas like latency, response etc the old G25 actually proved to be a big hitter, now we also know that according to other reviews the G27 is a marked improvement again, so in that respect only it would be interesting to see how it stacked up.