[ Retro Scan of the Week ] TrackMan Marble FX

December 8th, 2008 by Benj Edwards

Trackman Marble FX Box - 1997I didn’t find this one in the creek.

And now, I present to you…a box. I know it’s not that old, but I’ve been hanging on to this scan since I finally threw out the packaging for my TrackMan Marble FX a few years ago (I scanned it first). I believe I bought this trackball around 1998. I had another Logitech trackball before it, but I was fed up with cleaning the rollers every few weeks. The neat thing about the TrackMan Marble series is that it used an optical scanning mechanism that tracked the movement of dots printed on the marbled red ball. I used the FX for years until it finally crapped out — some components inside of it irreparably broke, although I still have the parts. There’s more to my TrackMan Marble story, though, albeit with a different model.

Trackball Creek

When I moved to a new house a few years ago, I walked out one day to explore a twisty, shallow creek in the woods behind my house. The stream lies in a flood plain that gathers nearly all the water runoff in the area when it rains, so it regularly overflows its banks.

Some ways up the creek, I found a makeshift junkyard of soiled, broken goods both tossed and washed in from every direction. There, among the discarded bicycle spokes, power drills, soggy basketballs and broken mirrors, I spotted a curious looking ball protruding from the mud. I pulled it out and realized that it was a red trackball for a Logitech TrackMan Marble.

TrackMan Marble in the CreekMonths later, I found the unit itself, and it looked like this. I took it apart to see if I could salvage anything of interest, but, of course, sitting half a decade in a muddy, wet environment isn’t conducive to the proper operation of electronics. Beneath the dirt — caked and wedged between every crack imaginable — I found nothing but a corroded mess.

For a few weeks, the unit served as a strange fence ornament in my back yard until my wife complained about it, then I threw it out. In the end, I walked away with a nifty red trackball, half-bleached orange from years in the sun, that I still have in my collection. It serves as a token from an almost embarrassingly pitiful lesson in technological humility — how something once new, shiny, high-tech, and amazing can be quickly rendered worthless and derelict by an apathetic hand a coat of mud.

[ From back of TrackMan Marble FX Box, circa 1997 ]

Discussion topic of the week: It’s one of the great debates: trackball or mouse? You tell me!

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15 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] TrackMan Marble FX”

  1. SirPaul Says:

    Mouse, hands down. I can never seem to work trackballs quite as well as I could a mouse. Unless, of course, you are talking classic arcade games!

  2. Rockin' Kat Says:

    A while ago I went and got a couple ADB trackballs for my Apple IIgs because I thought they’d work well for some games… including crystal quest. Personally, I like bigger ones, and I’m not real fond of ones that you’re supposed to move with your thumb… but then I only wanted it for games. I prefer the mouse for everything else…


  3. Chris Says:

    I love trackballs! Used to have the old white Microsoft Explorer Trackball, now have the newer grayish silver one, which I am using right now.

    Also had the trackman marble, but it crapped out pretty soon.

  4. Jay Says:

    I had always used mice, but I recently made the transition to a Logitech Marble Mouse trackball at home. (Same as the small one that Benj found in the creek, but it’s the updated version of that, with two extra small buttons on the side used for navigation and scrollwheel emulation.) I’ve found it to work extremely well for me, and with only a little bit of tweaking in Linux I have a fully functional pointy device. Not needing a lot of space on my desk or finding a mouse pad that will actually track properly is nice. I’m pretty sold.

    My biggest issue with trackballs is that all but the basic ones like that are molded, like Benj’s, for the right hand. Not very lefty-friendly. No left-handed trackballs out there (though at least there’s the one lone Logitech lefty mouse, which I use at work).

    Oh, also: don’t ever try Crystal Castles with a mouse. Just don’t.

  5. daveg Says:

    I use the Kensington Expert Mouse, which oddly enough is a trackball:


    I’ve got two (one for work, one for home) and I love it. Works for lefties as well! It looks quite a lot like Rockin’ Kat’s ADB mouse for their IIGS

  6. Benj Edwards Says:

    I have the same exact ADB trackball as Rockin’ Kat which I now use for most of my vintage Mac experiences due to the fact that I usually set up Macs on a table too cramped to dedicate space for a mouse pad. It’s a great trackball. I’ve also thought about getting the Expert Mouse that daveg mentioned, but it’s pretty expensive. Maybe some day. 🙂

  7. Kitsunexus Says:

    Mouse. Trackball hinders my productivity (had to use one at my first job, blech).

    And I remember this trackball.

  8. Warren Albright Says:

    I and my wife both love the ball.
    My wife has never touched the mouse.

  9. Layne Says:

    Mouse all the way. Even when working on a laptop, if I have a flat surface, I’m plugging in a mouse. I don’t like the trackball, trackpad, or touchpoint. I might be convinced that touchscreen has potential, but I’m not fond of smudgy screens, either.

    At work, I have a Logitech Mx550 that just feels right.


  10. JackSoar Says:

    That was a strangely interesting story about your discovery of the muddied trackball.

    When I was a child and was first shown a trackball on a field trip to the local fire station’s control room, I thought it was so cool that it must have come from the future…of course that was before I even had a computer.

    Now, it’s mouse all the way for me. Trackball feels too willy-nilly for me. I use a Logitech wireless optical mouse at the moment, and apart from occasionally having to move it within the range of the sensor, it’s my best mouse experience so far.

  11. SRGilbert Says:

    The Marble FX is the exact one I’m using to this day! I’ve had it since 1998, and would cry if it died. My wife has one too! Makes me think I should track down a back up……

  12. Pinball Says:

    I use a Logitech TrackMan Wheel at work, and have for several years… it’s wonderful, and my right shoulder doesn’t hurt all the time anymore.


  13. Tom Says:

    “The Marble FX is the exact one I’m using to this day!”

    Me too! I can’t immagine life without it!

  14. Cody Says:

    I saw a few people using these when I was younger (I don’t remember where) and always wanted to try one.

  15. Michael Says:

    While I’m a little late to this party, ‘thought I’d leave a note for those who still seek the magical Marble FX. OK … ‘magical’ may be a stretch but one of the miracles of modern technology and possibly a gift from some deity or other. At least. Getting it to work on any Win OS later than ’05 or so can be a challenge. I did manage to locate the (supposedly) correct driver for this circa 1997 classic so we’ll see ….

    Users have written countless Emails to Logitech asking that they resume manufacture of this odd-looking device. As I recall, there was an objection by a French designer from whom Logitech blatantly stole the concept and, since he held the patent, Logitech did some ceasing and desisting. Designs that followed paled in comparison in the areas of comfort and useability.

    It’s interesting to note that the model which ‘inspired’ Logitech was designed on the comfortable, sensuous curve of a woman’s stomach just inside the pelvic bone. The contour perfectly fits the hand as if one was made for the other. I like to think that the French designer of the original was moved by nothing less than passion and l’amour.

    That’s complete BS, of course, but it is comfy in one’s hand.

    I’m not anxious to introduce the additional element of a wireless connection as another variable to troubleshoot should the thing misbehave. Nor will I optically optimize this device, even if I had the knowledge and ability to do so, which I sorely lack. I just need to teach this archaic hardware how to play nice with Win7.

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