Once you use a good gaming mouse you’ll never want to go back to a mouse. Based on personal experience playing with and reviewing more than 30 gaming mice, I’ve compiled some tips and recommendations to help you look beyond the shiny “marketing-ese” of bullet points and choose the perfect gaming mouse.
[Questions about a mouse? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @BryanEdge_S. And if you’re considering a gaming keyboard, check out my Gaming Keyboard Buyer’s Guide.]
Common gaming mouse features and what they are
Generally speaking, any mouse labeled as a gaming mouse at a bare minimum offers superior precision, tracking, and control to standard optical mice—the kind usually bundled with a PC. Here’s a breakdown of the most common gaming mouse features, and some recommendations for which ones are the most important.
Check out Best Gaming mice for a list of some of my favorite gaming mice.
Enhanced DPI (Dots Per Inch)
The resolution of a mouse is expressed in DPI (Dots-per-inch), or less commonly CPI (Characters-per-inch). Basically, the higher the DPI, the farther the mouse moves with less movement from your hand. Low DPI settings are good for fine control—like sniping in a first-person shooter, or working at the pixel-level in a photo editing program. Higher DPI settings are good for fast run-and-gun shooting, or working on large monitors at high resolutions so you don’t wear out your wrists or your mouse pad trying to move from side of the screen to the other.
Most standard optical mice operate at a fixed rate of 800DPI. Gaming mice typically offer a range of DPI settings from 100DPI to as high as 8200DPI.
Multiple DPI settings
Many/most gaming mice support multiple (3-5 typically) DPI settings. Less expensive gaming mice may have ‘hard wired’ settings that can’t be changed. such as 800DPI, 1600DPI, and 2400DPI. More expensive gaming mice typically let you customize the DPI setting in 25-100DPI increments, so you could have whatever DPI settings you want—for example, 1000DPI, 1750DPI, and 3600DPI.
Gaming mice usually enable you to change DPI settings on-the-fly with the press of a button, so you can quickly change from ‘snipe mode’ (low DPI) to ‘blow the crap out of everything—what’s friendly fire?’ mode (higher DPI).
Mid-range and high-end gaming mice have extra buttons that can be programmed to replace keystrokes or store entire macros (strings of keystrokes and possibly other functions).
Be aware that virtually every gaming mouse’s ‘features list’ typically counts the left mouse button, the right mouse button, and the scroll-wheel button when they tally their programmable buttons. Because re-programming these buttons would likely be suicidal in virtually any game, subtract 3 from the total number of programmable buttons listed in the ‘features list’ for any gaming mouse to figure out how many functional, extra ‘actual’ programmable buttons it has.
In addition, ambidextrous mice typically have 2 thumb buttons on either side of the mouse, so the two buttons on the opposite side of your thumb will be of limited or no use to you.
Acceleration is expressed in G forces (one G is 9.8 meters per second). Acceleration affects a mouse’s ability to move more quickly based on how quickly you move the mouse. High acceleration can be used with a low-to -medium DPI setting to provide good accuracy when you need it (like sniping in an FPS) and quick, high-speed movement (such as turning rapidly) when the action heats up. Virtually all gaming mice support acceleration rates far faster than any human could task, so bullet points stating ‘30G acceleration’ and the like are pretty much meaningless.
Variable Polling Rate
Polling rate is expressed in Hertz (Hz). It essentially refers to how often a mouse is monitoring for input—the higher the polling rate, the more frequently the mouse is looking for/reporting input, and thus the more responsive the mouse will be. (In addition, higher polling rates will take a larger toll on battery life for wireless mice.)
Typical mice have a polling rate of 125Hz, which means the mouse is reporting input 125 times per second. That’s fast enough for typical desktop computing, but not so good for gaming. Gaming mice usually offer a choice of polling rates: 250Hz, 500Hz, and 1000Hz.
Profiles & onboard memory
Most gaming mice store configurations in profiles, enabling you to quickly switch between various configurations for different games. Profiles are usually stored in the mouse’s Onboard memory. Profiles and onboard memory enable you to use the mouse on any PC, with or without installing the mouse’s drivers.
Some manufacturers are looking beyond drivers and onboard memory, however. Razer, for example, uses Razer Synapse, a driver/firmware package to manage your Razer peripherals and store device configurations in the cloud.
A minority of gaming mice include a small selection of weights that can be inserted into the mouse to customize its weight.
Wired or Wireless
Gaming mice, like standard mice, come in both wired and wireless varieties. For a long time gamers shied away from wireless mice because they just weren’t fast or responsive enough. Even the briefest lag (and older wireless mice were very laggy) spells doom in a fast game, especially FPS games.
This is no longer the case, however. Better wireless technology, faster sensors, and other improvements have created wireless gaming mice that are generally just as fast and reliable as their wired counterparts. In addition, most (or all) of them can be used in either mode: wired while charging the battery, and wirelessly otherwise. Best of all, they can be changed on-the-fly. Just pop out the plug and your mouse won’t even miss a beat. Logitech’s G700s gaming mouse and the Mad Catz Cyborg R.A.T. 9 are both favorites.
LED lighting of some form or another is practically standard now on any mid-range or higher PC peripherals labeled as ‘gaming’—be it mouse, keyboard, headset, or speedpad. Some of the more expensive gaming mice let you specify the color of the backlighting and additional options such as pulsation, color cycles, etc. Lighting is mostly cosmetic but does have some practical applications: finding your mouse in the dark, for example, and tying mouse profiles to specific colors.
Gaming mice come in as many shapes and sizes as standard mice, but they are usually made from more comfortable material. Most gaming mice made within the last couple years provide a silky, smooth, soft rubberized grip that makes them cool to the touch but easy to grip. Others use textured plastic, and some use glossy, sleek-looking plastic. Most use a combination of 2 or even 3 of these. Most feature braided fabric USB cables instead of nylon-sheathed cables for durability.
The primary characteristic of virtually all gaming mice is improved precision and control. The more you’re willing to spend, the more customization options and additional features you can get.
Here are a few things I’ve learned and some practical recommendations for buyers.
High DPI is not that important
Consider this: SteelSeries (a popular manufacturer of PC gaming mice) used to offer free, downloadable profiles created by professional gamers for the Ikari Laser gaming mouse (an old favorite of mine, by the way).
The interesting thing? Almost all of the profiles (with a couple exceptions) used DPI settings in the 800-1600 range, with an average around 900-1200DPI. In addition, most of the gamers used three or fewer programmable buttons.
The bottom line is that, generally, anything beyond 2400-3200DPI becomes a bit too fast for gaming. 3200DPI is almost the practical limit. Higher DPI settings in the 4000+ range can be fine for general PC use (on large, high resolution displays), but don’t translate to a better gaming experience.
Acceleration (g) is problematic, but high polling rate is good
It’s impossible to move a mouse with acceleration greater than 200 meters per second (20G), yet many gaming mice like to boast that they feature acceleration up to 50G or more. Higher numbers mean better, right? No. Acceleration numbers are largely meaningless.
However (at least subjectively speaking) I can feel a difference between 125Hz and 1000Hz polling rate. 125Hz feels sluggish and less responsive, so I’ve always made a habit of setting the polling rate for my gaming mice to 1000Hz. The only time you may want to reduce polling rate is to help save battery life on a wireless mouse.
DPI and Profile switching rocks
On-the-fly DPI switching is great to have for both gaming and even general day-to-day computing. Ideally, DPI and Profile switching should be accessible by a top-mounted mouse button (or buttons). Some gaming mice put the switch on the bottom of the mouse—avoid them.
I’ve found that having at least 3 different settings available (low, medium, high) is very handy. I typically like to use 3-5 DPI settings with a low of 400DPI (sniping) and a high around 3200DPI, with 2-3 settings spaced evenly in between. Sometimes I’ll keep a single 5000+ DPI setting for non-gaming use.
Programmable buttons are your arsenal
Programmable buttons are definitely nice to have, for both gaming and day-to-day desktop use, but more doesn’t always mean better. Turning again to the SteelSeries profile example above, profiles created by professional gamers only used a couple customized programmable buttons, if any.
MMO-oriented mice, however, usually have a vast arsenal of buttons. In my experience, the “grid” style buttons (such as those on the Razer Naga) work best for linear progressions. Designs that place buttons all over the mouse (such as the Cyborg MMO7) lend themselves toward more general utility (frequently used attacks, accessing inventory, etc.).
Just remember than a dozen extra buttons doesn’t make them all useful (or reachable). Ergonomics and hand size play a big role in determining just how many of the extra buttons will be easily usable.
Adjustable weights: not that important
Truthfully, I’ve never really had a strong opinion one way or the other on mouse weight. I appreciate a large, heavy mouse that feels solid under my hand as much as a lighter mouse that glides lithely over my mouse mat. Some gamers have distinct preferences. My contention is that you will quickly and easily adapt to the weight of any mouse, and fine-tuning the DPI and other aspects can help compensate as well.
Comfort is king
All the awesome features in the world won’t help you if your mousing hand cramps into an arthritic claw after an hour of game time. Comfort is important and dependent upon your preferred ‘grip’ style, so it’s entirely subjective.
A big part of comfort is tied to the materials used in the construction of the mouse. Some feel good in your hands, some don’t. Put simply, here is my list of preferred materials (favorite to least favorite) commonly used in the construction of gaming mice: Rubber, Textured Plastic (matte finish), Glossy Plastic.
Rubber is cool, very grip friendly, and it stays cool even with long gaming sessions. I really like textured rubber side grips and smooth rubber along the backside of the mouse. I like textured plastic as well.
I despise glossy plastic. Its only redeeming feature is that it looks good.
The best shape and style depend on your preferred grip. One of my favorite shapes for gaming mice is the shape used by the Mionix NAOS 7000.
Left-handers have fewer options, but there are still a number of good ambidextrous designs such as the SteelSeries Sensei [RAW] or SteelSeries RIVAL mice, the Razer Taipan, and even one just for lefties: the Razer DeathAdder Left-Handed Edition.
Don’t forget the soft stuff
Virtually all gaming mice (and keyboards) come with software for programming, customizing, and configuring the device. In my experience, Razer, Roccat, SteelSeries, and Logitech make some of the most intuitive, flexible, and easy to use driver software—Mad Catz and Mionix are probably close seconds.
Trailing the ‘heavyweights’ are brands like Corsair, Tt eSports (Thermaltake), Coolermaster, and Raptor-Gaming—smaller gaming divisions of much larger companies that don’t focus as much on PC accessories and peripherals. This isn’t to say their software and hardware isn’t good, but in my experience it lags a bit behind the aforementioned ‘heavyweights’ in the industry.