You can actually split them apart and the cable between them is a reasonable length. I would definitely recommend one before buying anything else more expensive if you’re only thinking of dipping your feet into the waters. I had one for ages before I upgraded to the TCWS with throttle and pedals. Don’t use the pedals for ED though.
The main thing I would say about ED if you’re on the fence about getting into it, is that at its core, it is a sim. And as such, it comes with all the usual sim aspects, such as having to spend a good long while configuring a decent control scheme for yourself, as in lots of buttons to map and learn, a bit of a steep learning curve, gameplay that feels like it was just slapped on around the sim’s core mechanics afterwards rather than from the get go. Just as with any other sim, you will almost certainly need to do a bit of internet browsing to find out the odd bit of info at some point. Even once you’ve become pretty adept at it, there’ll always be some new info you want to find out about. Depending on your viewpoint, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve been playing since beta back in 2015, and it still feels like there’s a whole load of stuff I still need to master and find out about. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. It probably has a lot more in common with games like ETS2 and IL2 than it does with games like Freelancer or Everspace.
I think at the end of the day, you’re either really into the idea of flying around in a 1-1 scale representation of the galaxy in a sandbox environment, or you’re not. Because if you boil it down, that’s really the meat and bones of ED, that backdrop and setting. Sure the ships and the combat are second to none, they’ve really nailed that. But if the thought of flying about in that 1-1 scale galaxy and landing on a planet in close orbit around a gas giant and then looking up and seeing it there in front of you on the horizon, if that doesn’t get the juices flowing, then I’d say don’t bother, because that’s the magic sauce that glues ED together.
I probably don’t need to add that it’s bloody amazing in VR too.