What are load cells and potentiometers? We showcase the best beginner and pro sim racing pedals.
When it comes to esports racing hardware, a lot of players set their eyes on all those fancy wheels on the market. But it is actually the pedals which are the key to successful races. In this guide, we tell you what makes a good set of pedals and which ones you should consider buying, depending on your budget and targeted level of realism.
The best brake will make you faster
There are several ways to separate a cheap pedal set from a top-tier one. However, by far the biggest differences can be found in the feel and feedback of the brake pedal, which is the heart of every set.
An accurate accelerator and clutch are also nice to have. But they are nowhere near as important as having a realistic brake which enables you to drive consistently and use your muscle memory to the best advantage. So, in this article we will be putting more emphasis on the technology and handling of that exact part.
Potentiometers – A beginner’s choice?
Sim racing pedals can be separated into three main technologies which almost all sets on the market use. First off, we look at the cheapest option: potentiometers. Pedals using this technology include a mechanical sensor which measures the way the brake has been pushed in. The game then interprets the way the pedal travelled into braking force.
This is where we already find the biggest flaw of potentiometer pedals: a real car brake does not measure the way the pedal has travelled, but the force being applied. Also, when you think of a real-life hydraulic car brake, you remember that the further you push in the pedal, the more resistance there will be. However, most potentiometer pedals use springs or dampers as a means of resistance in the brake, which creates a steady way of travel for the pedal in most models.
Both these aspects contribute to the fact that potentiometer pedals do not feel very natural, which has a direct effect on your lap times. It is much harder to use your muscle memory to find the perfect brake pressure over and over again in the turns. Due to the mechanical nature of the hardware, it is also quite vulnerable to variations in sensitivity or taking damage under continuous heavy braking.
However, all these factors do not mean it is impossible to drive using potentiometers. These pedals are mostly part of beginner sets like the Logitech G29 and G923 and can make a good start into the world of esports racing. Prices for the packages, which also include a racing wheel, range between $200 and $400. For a detailed look at the sets, check out our Hardware Reviews linked below.
If you look for pedals only, the Fanatec CSL Elite pedals for around $100 are a solid choice, mainly because they can also be upgraded to load cell pedals.
Upgrading to Hall Effect
Hall Effect pedals are similar to potentiometers as they also measure the path of travel. But instead of a completely mechanical measurement, they use a magnet built into the pedal. The brake sensor notices the distance to the magnet and converts it into an electric signal which the game emulates as braking force.
Although these kinds of pedals also do not exactly replicate real life brakes, they have some big advantages over potentiometers. First, the use of a magnet makes the measurement of travel significantly more accurate and reliable. This helps drivers to find the perfect braking point for each corner and to replicate it each time they return. In other words, muscle memory can be used way better. Also, due to the pedals relying on fewer mechanical parts, they are less vulnerable to failures or inaccuracies.
These days, Hall Effect sensors are mostly being used for clutch and accelerator pedals in upper class hardware sets. You rarely see a manufacturer using this technology for their brakes anymore. If you want a Hall Effect sensor on your brake, you need to buy the sensor separately and implement it into your pedal of choice.
Load Cells – the pinnacle of esports racing
Load Cell pedals work vastly differently compared to the technologies presented so far. The strength of the braking signal sent to the game is based on the pressure you apply to the pedal instead of the way it travelled. In terms of gameplay, this is different as night and day. We already spoke about how the potentiometers feel unnatural because they measure the linear travel of the brake pedal.
Because load cells measure the actual pressure being applied to the pedal, they create a far more realistic feeling compared to the linear potentiometers. Load cells are also the most precise technology on the market, allowing you to give very detailed inputs and thus creating greater immersion. In unison with a proper setup, they can make all the difference. For more information on other hardware components, have a look at this video:
Another big plus for the load cells is the level of customization. Whether through provided software or tweaking the pedal itself, load cells allow you to tune the hardware depending on your personal preferences.
But the superior technology also has its price. Thrustmaster offers an entry level set for $200 with their recently released T-LCM. A popular choice further up the price scale is the Fanatec ClubSport V3 which costs around $360.
As always in sim racing, sky is the limit when it comes to prices. The pinnacle surely is the SIMTAG Hydraulic Tilton 600 pedals, currently available for around $3,000.
For sim racing pedals, there is no clear recommendation you can make. Potentiometers have their weaknesses, but you can still be competitive once you get used to them. A big plus is that they are very cheap and thus perfect for beginners.
But if you want to compete at the highest levels of esports racing, load cell pedals are almost inevitable. Their significantly higher accuracy and level of realism will help you to improve your lap times by far.
However, you should not make your choice solely based on the technology. A load cell built into a poor set of pedals will actually make them feel very unnatural. When choosing your next set of pedals, keep factors like sustainability, quality of materials as well as the design and shape in mind.
Now you know everything about pedals in esports racing. Make your choice, hit the gas pedal and leave your opponents behind!
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