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Gaming Mouse Buying Guide: Tactical Advantage Series Part I

The first weapon a shrewd gamer will acquire for their battlestation is a gaming mouse. The gaming peripherals and accessories market has seen some tremendous growth in recent years, and no where is that more apparent than in the mouse category. Sure, some of them are a horrendous amount of money and have so many LED lights they can be seen from space. But pick them apart, you will find the components to be of superior quality when compared to that of a standard mouse. A more accurate sensor, smoother glide, faster and more satisfying clicks are a few of the features your extra dollars go toward.

In this gaming mouse guide we tell you exactly what you need to know to make an informed mouse purchase.

General Thoughts on Gaming Mice

If you’ve ever been in a game store or browsed the ‘gaming accessories’ aisle of your local Wal-Mart, then chances are you’ve come across some of these crazy-looking mice before. They usually range from $60- over $100, feature gigantic, glowing logos on the front of the box and have menacing names like Deathadder and Storm Spawn. But what even is the point of owning one of these? In this guide, we will explore the real and perceived advantages of this hardware and why it’s more than just a luxury for gamers with deep pockets. By the end of it, you’ll be able to separate fact from fiction and make an informed decision of your own that’ll likely mean the difference between purchasing a mediocre money-grab and something that’s actually worth your time.

Gaming Mouse Guide

It makes sense to evaluate first off if you even need a gaming mouse. Answering this question is a matter of evaluating your habits. Do you frequently game? How many hours do you put in? Are you competitive and would you be interested in performing better in your game of choice? If you’re going to spend a lot of time with it, it makes sense to spend some extra money on getting a quality model.

Partnered with your keyboard as your main input devices, I think the case can be made that your mouse choice should indeed be well articulated. Throughout the course of a gaming session, think of the thousands of clicks you make. Now think of how many of those resulted in a misclick. Even if you can cut those misclicks down by a quarter over time that’s a big leap in your in game performance. For gamers who care about their win ratios in games such as CS:GO and League of Legends it isn’t difficult to recognize the full value of accuracy. Less mistakes equals more wins. Your averages rise and you rise with them.

Let’s go beyond the game for a moment. If you work and do other activities on your computer, clicking and cursor accuracy will save you time in the long run. How many times have you clicked that little X to close your window and quite bafflingly, the window did not close. Quite possibly your computer’s AI has decided you’ve been a naughty boy and is playing tricks on you throughout the day. However, if we prescribe to Occam’s Razor principal we know it is simply our input device failing us. How many such annoying little jabs could you dodge with a quality mouse? How many seconds could you shave off of your work flow? Making use of a mouse with a top tier sensor and high DPI settings I’d say probably quite a lot. I think this one of the compelling arguments for spending that $60 for a gaming grade mouse.

Operation Rodent Strike

In this section we point out what to look for when buying a gaming mouse. At the end of each subsection you’ll find key advantages you can gain over your adversaries aka pro tips. It pays to win.

Operation Rodent Strike

The Eyes of the Rodent: Laser Vs. Optical

Most gaming mice are advertised as laser or optical mice. This is often confused with what type of sensor the mouse employs. Truth be told, all gaming mice use optical sensors. Laser mice do not actually use a laser sensor, it uses an optical sensor and uses the laser for illumination. The illumination underneath the mouse, usually taking the form of a red glow, allows the mouse sensor to track distance traveled.

Optical Gaming Mouse Versus Laser Gaming Mouse

Optical Design (Top) vs. Laser Design (Bottom)

Optical mice and laser mice work using the same mechanism. They illuminate the surface using a laser emitting diode (laser) or a light emitting diode aka LED (optical). By illuminating the surface, their sensors are then able to take thousands of clear pictures per second. These pictures are compared to each other and used to calculate the direction and distance traveled by the mouse. A quality light source — be it optical or laser — is going to work in unison with the sensor and aid in accurate tracking. Some say, more important than the style of the mouse is the quality of mouse parts and design that the manufacture implemented.

You’ve probably seen the dozens of laser vs. optical debates in discussion boards and the like. There’s no need for one of those blue versus red squabbles.

vertical cavity surface emitting laser vs red LED

Laser (VCSEL) vs. Red LED

The key difference is that laser mice track better on specular, hard surfaces like glass, whereas optical mice track better on opaque, soft materials like cloth. This is because laser light has a wavelength that ‘looks into,’ or penetrates, if you please, the structure of the material underneath. That means it is lighting up the peaks and the valleys. With a well designed hard mouse pad, there is nothing for the laser light to penetrate which prevents surface depth from becoming an issue.

Optical light stays on top of the surface. Optical mice are only illuminating and therefore counting the peaks of the surface. They don’t pick up as much on surface depth which means they are less prone to tracking issues due to too much ‘noise’. This is why a smooth cloth surface works so well with optical mice.

Overtime, optical mice have out performed laser mice.

Laser illumination is the newer technology and some people will claim based on this fact alone that laser mice are better. This is simply not true. Both laser and optical mice are great for gaming. But over the years optical mice have proven to have slight edge. It is now mostly safe to say the best gaming mice employ optical illumination. Laser mice have a tendency to pick up too much information in surface depth. This nature can lead to inaccuracies in how they track at rapidly changing speeds or slow changing speeds. Optical mice have less tracking variation at different rates of acceleration. The cream of the crop opticals have less than a 1 percent variation in tracking performance compared to laser mice that can have upwards of 5 percent.

Tactical Advantage #1: Go Optical

The Heart of the Rodent: Gaming Mouse Sensors

It is known the sensor is the most vital component of the gaming mouse. This little red heart pumps electrical commands to the rest of the body and ultimately results in visual feedback on your monitor.

In short, the sensor is tracking the distance traveled underneath the mouse. Mice sensors use one or more LEDs to take what are, in effect, pictures of what is beneath the mouse to track the movement of mouse across surface. A quality sensor is going to accurately track that movement. Motion such as minuscule twitch movements of the wrist and fingers along with long sweeping movements (for those of us who have ten monitors panels) test the mouse sensor’s capability. Though the latter may not happen often in gaming situations, the fact the sensor can precisely track fast and slow, long and short movement is indispensable.

Arguably the most important mouse sensor specification is DPI. DPI is a term that gets thrown around a lot when you enter the realm of gaming mice. Just like the 4K arms race in TVs and monitors, DPI numbers have gone nuclear. Its a big number to use in marketing and gaming companies like to brag about the size of their DPI.

low vs high dpi example

72 DPI vs. 300 DPI

DPI = Dots per inch. Simply put, it equates to how many pixels your cursor will move for every inch you slide the mouse. Higher DPI equates to faster tracking. Really, the question is ‘How high can you go without a drop in performance?’ Most gamers get too high and they start losing control. Sure, you may have reflexes like a Jedi and can handle super high DPIs. But that may not be best for you.

Frankly, you don’t need a 20,000 DPI mouse to make it in to the LCS. You don’t need it to compete. In fact most gaming mice that go up that high will use interpolation to achieve that. Furthermore, the higher the DPI capability of the mouse, the more risk there is for cursor ripple, spurious motion, and resolution error versus speed. This is because DPI gains are often gained by subdividing the pixel array of the sensor into smaller and smaller increments. The sensor in mice can only be designed to be so big (nobody wants a computer mouse the size of a baseball glove).How a Mouse Sensor Works

So now we know, best gaming mouse isn’t always the one with the highest DPI. In fact, how the quality of the manufacturer’s designs and implementation of the sensor with the rest of the mouse is even more important.

Genre is a deciding factor for some gamers when it comes to choosing a mouse. For example, high DPI is of particular consequence for MOBA and RTS gamers. They will want to have something at least 1500 and likely much higher for maximum APM — especially with all the high resolution monitors out there. First person shooters are a different beast. Most competitive CS:GO players will opt for around 400-800 DPI for precise aim. Outside of your chosen genre, there are a number of other things to consider. Your playstyle, for example. Those who play a sniper role will opt for a low DPI for smooth and steady tracking, those who run and gun will likely desire a higher DPI. Physical attributes and your gaming setup impact things, too. Matters such as body measurements, monitor resolution, game title of choice, physical dexterity, mouse pad characteristics carry weight.

The fact remains that your ideal DPI setting will depend on many variables. Owning a gaming mouse backed with reliable software opens you up to a wonderful world of customization. Being able to adjust DPI settings before loading up your game, or even on the fly, is invaluable.

Tactical Advantage #2: Calibration

Keep the Tail: Wired Vs. Wireless

Cordless everything sure looks neat and nice, but there’s a reason why you see all the pro gamers still using wired mice. Having that hardwired connection into your system may offer millisecond differences but hey there’s a difference. Just like with a 144hz monitor and 60hz monitors, differences may be marginal, but if you’re a competitive gamer details count. Humans may be able to take in pieces of that sensory input. I’m not sure it can be simply dismissed with the notion the human eye can’t even tell the difference. The human perception is a tricky thing to pin down.

Wired versus wireless is ofttimes the biggest decision for prospective mouse buyers. You’re starting to see a lot of folks beating the wireless mouse drum. I still think in terms of performance, a wired mouse is the best choice. They say wireless is catching up to the stability and performance of wired mice. I’ll admit things have got a lot better. Wireless technology has come a long way. Some of the top tier wireless mice are nearly as responsive as wired mice with high DPI to boot. True enough, its one less thing to get in the way of fast and furious swiping (though if you’re consistently running into inconsistent resistance on your mouse cord due to your set up, you may want to get a mouse bungee).

If you do decide to go wireless it’ll cost you a pretty penny though. Especially to get performance parity of a wired mouse. On top of that, wireless mice open you up to a whole slew of uncertainties. Not placing the receiver a close enough distance to the mouse. Battery life running low but not yet signaling for replacement batteries or recharge. Connectivity issues resulting in lag time between click and response. Even mischievous errant wireless signals from routers, cell phones, and other devices operating on a wireless band can interfere with your wireless mouse’s signal and hence performance. I think these potential minefields can simply be side stepped by getting wired.

One of people’s main reasons for spending extra money on a gaming mouse is because they are more responsive than a standard mouse. If performance and improving reaction time is your main goal, then you don’t want to negate a single ounce sliver of advantage. Just go wired. A wired mouse is also going to provide the user with a tad more reliability. Batteries are not required, and you will never need to worry about the signal being interfered with. Yes, sometimes the cable can get in the way or look messy. But that’s a small price to pay for a few more frags.

For more information checkout our wired vs. wireless discussion.

Tactical Advantage #3: Comms

Moves like Master Splinter: Gaming Mouse Design

The size of your hands and your preferred grip (claw, palm, fingertip) are the two main things you should consider when picking out the shape of your gaming mouse. Obviously, if you’re left handed that factor alone will narrow your options a bit. If you’re using a lot more fingertips and wrist to move the mouse around, a lower and flatter shaped mouse will probably be your best bet for maximum comfort. Conversely, if you are resting the palm of your hand on the mouse and use a bit more arm a more ergonomically shaped mouse will be more fitting for you. Make sure you find a model that first and foremost fits your grip style and hand, as a cramping hand will do you no good during those long gaming sessions. Stay in the game, soldier.

Nonetheless, don’t let comfort be the deciding factor. Control is king! As LevelCap from The Wirecutter states:

“It’s kind of like a nice comfortable Mercedes car seat and then a Mini Cooper racing seat. The Mini Cooper’s not going to be comfortable when you sit in it, but when you’re actually out there racing, it’s going to give you better support. You’re going to perform better. I think that translates really well into the mouse industry…Gamers will sort of get sidetracked with mice that they think are comfortable. They’ll end up using a mouse that will make their gameplay suffer. I think one of the biggest revelations for me, recently—I used to be a huge Logitech fan. I used the G400, G500, and I thought those were the greatest mice ever because they fit my hand really nicely and they were super comfortable.

“I moved on to a Razer [DeathAdder] and immediately my hand didn’t feel quite as complacent. I found that switching between palm grip and claw grip—and it isn’t really a claw grip on the DeathAdder, just a little of a claw grip upgrade from the palm—just seems to make your hand a little bit more alert. I found the larger mice that have a bigger dome to them seem to relax your hand a little bit more. If they take your pinky or your thumb off the mousepad completely, you have a little bit less control over the mouse. The larger ones give you a little more comfort, which you might flock to immediately…you’d go ‘wow, this mouse is so comfortable, I can’t imagine why anyone would use a DeathAdder or one of these smaller mice.’ But I have to say my performance has improved greatly since I upgraded to a DeathAdder.”

You want a gaming mouse that is agile, lightweight, comfortable, with a few buttons. Unless you’re in the MMO game, where buttons and macros can be extremely helpful, it makes sense to keep it simple. A couple mouse buttons and a keyboard is more than sufficient to execute all your commands swiftly. Extra buttons can get in the way. You may have to adjust your natural grip or in the heat of the action hit the wrong button — especially if you have 5 or more buttons to concern yourself with. A mouse wheel and two side buttons are just fine.

Mouse weight is pretty straightforward, the heavier the mouse the more force you will need to apply to move it. This, along with the DPI setting, will have the greatest impact on how fast your cursor tracks.  There are gaming mice out there that offer customizable weight, so if you’re concerned about getting a mouse to light or heavy, this might be the best route for you. Although overall, we caution against using different weights and suggest picking one weight and sticking with it. Sometimes as gamers we have a tendency to blame things such as in this case for example, blaming a missed headshot on using the wrong weight. That is a slippery slope that could possibly leads you to developing a habit of switching the weight around all the time. Then, it becomes a crutch. To consistently improve you just have to get used to something. Having too many variables you can change can keep you from becoming a better gamer.

Aesthetics are also important. May seem silly to a lot of people but hear me out. If you buy a mouse you truly love, the way it works the way it looks and how it feels, you’re going to use that mouse. You’re going to enjoy it and how it looks on your desk with your setup. You may use that mouse up until its very last click. as Apple has argued in the past, looks are not separate from utility.

Simplicity is usually better when it comes to buttons. Sometimes too many extra buttons will get in the way of your grip, or even cause you to accidently press buttons. Most mice have 2 buttons and a scroll wheel. But we are talking gaming mice here, and some of these mice even have 10 or more. Many players will benefit greatly from having a few extra buttons to program most used commands or to better execute combos. This flexibility can present a huge opportunity to up your game. For MMO gamers, where you may have dozens of spells and items and the like, a mouse such as Razer’s Naga with 12 extra buttons can sometimes be particularly useful. But then again, you can macro all those buttons to your keyboard instead. The bottom line is that usually your right hand already has plenty of tasks to do and you leave your left hand to actuate the rest of your commands with your keyboard.

Tactical Advantage #4: Stay Agile

Gaming Mouse Commonly Used Terms

Here are some common terms you’ll run into when browsing gaming mice.

  • DPI: Also known as CPI or Counts per Inch. This has NOTHING to do with accuracy, just speed. The higher the DPI setting, the faster the cursor moves across the screen, and the harder it is to be accurate. While DPI is an important mouse stat, no doubt, some companies will inflate this number as a sexy marketing bulleting point when other specs are just as important. Just realize a high DPI shouldn’t be a deal maker and a low DPI shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
  • Lift-off Distance: Lift off distance is the distance the mouse needs to be lifted up before its sensor stops reading the mousing surface. Some mice manufactures include drivers to customize the lift off distance. This used to be a lot bigger factor when mouse DPI max settings were much lower. Gamers (such as competitive Counter-Strike FPS players) would purchase huge mouse pads and would lift their mouse off the pad and move it, then place it again to cover more cursor ground faster. This isn’t a very big deal nowadays with max DPIs of 8000+, but if you’re planning on gaming with a low DPI setting you may want to consider this.
  • Polling Rate: Polling rate is the rate at which the processor is repeatedly querying the device. Increasing this can reduce input delay, but many monitors are not fast enough to register a significant difference.
  • Click Distance: How far the mouse needs to be pressed to register a click. If you are familiar with mechanical keyboard switches, the click distance is an easy to grasp concept. When mice click switches go bad, it could lead the mouse to register single clicks as double clicks or even not register some clicks at all.

High Ground Perspective: 6 Things to Look for in Your Next Gaming Mouse

The market and hype surrounding gaming mice is far from perfect. There are a lot of misconceptions that are promoted for the sake of advertisement and genuine desires to achieve a competitive advantage, but this doesn’t mean that gaming mice are unimportant. A good mouse can be the difference between good performance and a great one, and that’s precisely the reason that many of your favorite pros and streamers are using them. If you want to take your gaming to the next level, whether it be for the sake of performing better competitively or simply creating a setup that just feels better, then you should consider investing in your own gaming mouse. In the end, it’ll only make you even more of a beast.

Long story short, here’s what we recommend looking for in your next gaming mouse.

  1. Lighter rather than heavier
  2. Lower click pressure rather than higher
  3. Fewer buttons rather than more
  4. One weight rather than customizable weight
  5. Ergonomic for your personal grip style and hand rather than uncomfortable and bulky
  6. Wired rather than wireless

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a gaming mouse?

For starters, these mice are made to facilitate better performance. They come with high-end senors that are more accurate than normal sensors and respond more smoothly to fast ‘twitch’ hand movements. Gaming mice also last longer, rated for millions of clicks instead of thousands.

Do I even need a gaming mouse?

If you’re putting in more than one or two hours a day then it might be time to consider getting yourself a gaming mouse. It feels significantly better to use in-game, can withstand more wear-and-tear and is made to generate significant performance increases. Your pricey one-time fee becomes more viable when you consider the fact that you run the risk of trashing multiple office mice with any kind of serious gaming usage.

What is mouse DPI?

DPIDots Per Inch AKA CPI (Counts Per Inch). This is a common metric that refers to the number of counts the mouse’s sensor registers over an inch of mousing surface. The higher the number, the further your cursor will move in relation to every inch the mouse is moved.

What is mouse acceleration?

Mouse acceleration is a change in how quickly your mouse tracks. This setting is meant to be predictive and moves faster when your cursor is away from the target point and slower as it gets closer. Some people are comfortable with it, but the common consensus is that this causes movement inconsistency and blatant inaccuracy, making it a thing to avoid for most gamers.

What is mouse lift-off distance?

Lift-off distance is the distance between the surface and the bottom of the mouse before it stops tracking. If your mouse veers off your pad and you move it back to the center, you typically don’t want your cursor to track, which is why high lift-off distance is a bad thing.

What is mouse polling rate?

Polling rate is the number of times that the mouse reports its position to the computer. If you increase polling rate from 500hz to 1000hz, you are effectively doubling the number of times per second that data is collected from the mouse which thereby increase the accuracy of your mousing. The byproduct however, is that the amount of processing power required to poll the mouse would increase as well. That’s one of the reasons you see some of the more advanced rodents out there being armed with their own powerful processors.

What is click distance?

Click distance how far the two main mouse buttons need to be pressed down to actuate a click. As you may have guessed, typically lower click distances are favored by gamers (makes click spamming easier and faster). These are millisecond differences we are talking here, but it could be the difference between you losing your head or the other guy.

What is the best gaming mouse in the world?

The Razer DeathAdder is the most popular, best selling gaming mouse to date. Truthfully there is no correct answer to this question. Mice are made in a variety of different shapes and sizes for different grip styles, game types and personal preferences. The key to finding the best gaming mouse is finding the one that suits your needs the most.

Do you need a mouse mat for a laser mouse?

Not necessarily. Laser sensors are more capable of being used on a wide variety of surfaces than optic sensors. If you are buying a mouse mat for your laser mouse, it’s worth considering that laser mice function better on harder surfaces than softer ones.

What is the best wireless gaming mouse?

While the G900 Chaos Spectrum has received glowing praise and is definitely worth checking out in this regard, the same answer from the “best gaming mouse in the world” question still applies.

What is an Omron switch?

This is a fancy term for a type of mouse switch, which is a component in the mouse responsible for registering clicks. Better mouse switches can withstand more clicks.

Is a laser or optical mouse better?

The difference isn’t as pronounced as it was early on, but the consensus still remains that optical mice are more accurate and better for gaming. Read more about this discussion here.

Is a wired or wireless mouse better?

You’ll get more performance for your dollar when you buy a wired gaming mouse. If you’ve got the dough, wireless technology has improved dramatically to the point where the best wireless mice are just as fast as wired ones.

How does an optical mouse work?

Optical mice use an LED light instead of a laser to scan and take thousands of pictures of a surface per second, which is sent back to the sensor and used to determine the distance the cursor should move in response to your hand.

Exactly like the optical gaming mouse above, except with a laser. The problem is that lasers reveal the nature of surfaces rather than just the surfaces, and are too accurate, causing them to generate a lot of useless information and process things less effectively.

What is a weighted gaming mouse?

Some mice have adjustable weights that make them lighter or heavier. This is mostly a matter of preference.

What is mouse sensitivity?

Your mouse sensitivity is how far your cursor moves in response to your hand, which is determined by your mouse settings. Gaming mice are much more diverse when it comes to tweaking these.

What is mouse prediction?

Mouse prediction is a built in algorithm implemented in some sensors that attempts to assist your mouse movement in drawing straight lines. Thankfully, most modern day gaming mice have this feature disabled by default. You want your mouse cursor to go where you want it to go, not where the mouse thinks you want it to go. Also referred to as mouse acceleration.

Additional Resources

  1. An Overview of Mouse Technology. A massively detailed 18,000 word tech guide on everything gaming mice.
  2. Overclock.net. If you really want to get into the intricacies of mouse tech, we suggest heading over to the hardware enthusiast forums at Overclock.net. No mouse, not even the highly reputable Razer DeathAdder, escapes criticism at Overclock. Personal preferences and past experiences certainly influence the discussion there, too. But no one knows more about gaming mice than the enthusiasts who pick apart every tiny detail and scrutinize the newest models as soon as they are released. Not a bad place to go for in-depth research.
  3. The Making of a Gaming Mouse: Inside Logitech’s Labs. This YouTube video is about the friendly fellows at Tested adventure to the Logitech lab in Switzerland. There they learned how gaming mouse sensors work and the testing procedures engineers use to gauge performance.

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