Optical vs Laser Mouse: Which is the Best Mouse for Gaming? (2022)

Remember the good ol’ days of the mechanical mouse? That’s the mouse that had a metal or rubber ball on the bottom. It was fun to fiddle with when you lounged at your computer desk, the ultimate instrument of procrastination.

But it wasn’t the most accurate or durable peripheral, and so the mechanical mouse era has come and gone. Nowadays, you’ll find on most computer desks one of two mice: the optical mouse or the laser mouse.

If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve probably heard some chatter about which mouse is ideal for gaming. The common belief is that an optical mouse is better for gaming than a laser mouse. Is that really true? And what’s the difference between an optical mouse and a laser mouse, anyway?

Let’s dive into the debate.

Differences between an optical mouse and a laser mouse

“Optical mouse” is a somewhat misleading term. If we refer to the Merriam-Webster definition of optics we find: “1: a science that deals with the genesis and propagation of light, the changes that it undergoes and produces, and other phenomena closely associated with it.” [1]

But actually, mechanical mice, optical mice, and laser mice all work by using light as a reference point. In essence, they’re all optics-based peripherals. But the ways in which they use light are slightly different.

How a mechanical mouse works

A mechanical mouse, for example, works by detecting whether or not light is present or absent. There are two small wheels within a mechanical mouse, one representing vertical movement and the other representing horizontal movement.

Optical vs Laser Mouse: Which is the Best Mouse for Gaming? (1)

When you move the mouse, the rubber ball spins the corresponding wheel. And, yes, the ball spins both wheels if you’re moving the mouse diagonally.

Each wheel has spokes and each wheel also has a beam of light that shoots through the spokes. When a wheel turns, it momentarily blocks the beam of light. The mouse registers when a light beam is blocked, and on which wheel it was blocked. Then it tells your computer which way to move the cursor. [2]

While an optical mouse and a laser mouse use light in different ways, but they also have similarities.

1. Imaging

Here’s a mind-blowing fact: both optical mice and laser mice are basically just video cameras. Each mouse is equipped with a CMOS sensor. A CMOS sensor detects light. It’s the same kind of technology that’s used in digital cameras.

When you move your mouse, the CMOS sensor records the surface that you’re moving the mouse on. By tracking the movement of the surface, it can tell which way you’re moving the mouse.

Most surfaces on which you use your mouse are not perfectly smooth. A mousepad, for example, has an interlaced cloth texture to it. It’s not very noticeable to your human eyes, but examine it through a magnifying glass and you’ll see it more clearly.

Other surfaces on which you use your mouse, like your table or desktop, also have a unique texture. They might even have small scratches or accumulation of dust.

Similarities in what both optical and laser mice do:

(Video) Laser vs Optical Mouse - Which Is Better for Gaming? [Simple Guide]

  • They record a flurry of images, sometimes as many as 1,000 per second.
  • The mouse examines one image at a time, trying to detect surface features like textures or scratches.
  • The mouse compares back-to-back images, analyzing whether or not those features have changed position.

If the surface features have moved to the left, that means that you moved your mouse to the right. The mouse signals to your computer that the cursor should move to the right.

Can your computer mouse actually record and process that many images in a single second? You bet. Welcome to the lightning-fast Age of Electricity.

2. Illumination

Truth is, optical and laser mice can’t actually distinguish surface textures. But they recognize light patterns. When you move your mouse:

  • Your mouse shines a light down on the surface
  • The light reflects off the surface
  • The CMOS sensor captures the reflection

The uneven surface of your mouse pad or desktop means that the reflection will have slight variances as you move it across the surface. Your mouse analyzes each image’s unique light variance and then tracks its movement from image to image.

Do you know what stop-motion animation is? You start with a clay figure. You move the clay figure ever-so-slightly, and you take a picture. You move it again, ever-so-slightly, and you take another picture. You repeat the process dozens of times.

When you play all the images back-to-back at fast speed, it appears as if the clay figure is moving all on its own. Your mouse works in the same way. It tracks the movement of the light pattern image by image and tells your computer to move the cursor a pixel at a time. It processes so many images in a second, that it appears as if your cursor is moving fluidly.

The difference between an optical mouse and a laser mouse

The key difference between an optical mouse and a laser mouse is their illumination source. An optical mouse uses an infrared LED light to illuminate the surface. A laser mouse illuminates the surface with a laser beam.

3. Surface compatibility

The illumination source affects how each mouse functions on different surfaces

Optical mouse

The LED light that an optical mouse uses is not very strong. It can’t penetrate most surfaces. That means that it tends to be more reflective. After all, if the light can’t penetrate the surface, it’ll just bounce back off the surface. That’s a good thing, right? Didn’t you say that a CMOS sensor captures the reflection? It must be good to have lots of reflected light.

Well, yes and no.

If you’re using an optical mouse on a very glossy surface, like glass, the LED could be reflected too much. If the reflection is too bright, then the light pattern will be entirely washed out. The CMOS sensor won’t be able to recognize any variations in the light pattern. That’s why optical mice don’t work well on highly reflective surfaces. They’re much better suited for a non-glossy surface, like a mousepad.

Laser mouse

A laser is much more powerful than an LED light. The laser can penetrate lots of surfaces, including glossy ones. Since some of the light will penetrate the surface, there won’t be so much light that’s reflected. You don’t have to worry about any of the reflections being too bright for the CMOS sensor.

There are 2 advantages to a laser illumination source. As mentioned, you’re able to use a laser mouse on glossy surfaces. The second advantage is that a laser provides the CMOS sensor with a more detailed reflection.

A laser is strong enough to bounce light off all the little nooks and crannies that are present on top of the surface and in the underlying surface layers. The reflections will have more light variances, which makes it easier for the mouse to track the movement of the surface. Greater detail equals greater accuracy - in theory, anyway.

(Video) Optical vs Laser Gaming Mice as Fast As Possible

But it also causes problems.

4. Acceleration

Optical vs Laser Mouse: Which is the Best Mouse for Gaming? (2)

Many PC gamers harp on acceleration as the main reason why laser mice aren’t good for gaming. What is acceleration?

Ideally, you’d move your mouse across the mousepad, and then the cursor would move a proportional distance across the display. It doesn’t matter how quickly you move the mouse. The cursor only moves relative to how far you glide the mouse.

Acceleration occurs when you move the mouse quickly, and the cursor moves at an errant pace and loses its synchronized position with your gaming mouse.

Why does acceleration happen?

Acceleration occurs because the sensor can’t keep up with the fast speed at which you move the mouse. It overcompensates for unimportant light variances. You could say that the mouse gets “distracted” or “overwhelmed” by all the detail, and that’s why the cursor gets shaky or makes big leaps across the display. [3]

PC gamers despise acceleration because it makes your cursor movement inconsistent. Inconsistent cursor movement makes it difficult for you to develop muscle memory with your mouse. And let’s not downplay the importance of muscle memory in PC gaming.

The more online PC games you play, the more comfortable you get at using your mouse to control your in-game movements. You get a feel for the mouse, so to speak. Your muscles learn how much you need to move the mouse in order to place the crosshair just where you want it, so it becomes instinctive.

You can’t develop muscle memory when your cursor jumps around uncontrollably. That’s the big problem with acceleration.

Laser mouse

Laser mice are more prone to acceleration because of all the detail that a laser mouse picks up. All the tiny variances detected on the surface can make the tracking go haywire, especially when you’re moving the mouse at a fast speed.

Optical mouse

But do optical mice suffer from acceleration? Contrary to popular belief - yes. While optical mice don’t suffer from acceleration as frequently as laser mice do, you’ll still find it happening in some models. We’ll go into more detail about this below.

5. Price

This is an important consideration, especially if you’re a gamer on a budget. In the early days, laser mice were much more expensive than optical mice. The price gap has narrowed, though, and now you can find both mice at relatively similar prices. Most laser mice are still more expensive, but only by a few bucks.

What makes the best mouse for PC gaming?

Optical vs Laser Mouse: Which is the Best Mouse for Gaming? (3)

So is the optical mouse is the obvious winner? Nope!

Undoubtedly, the best PC gaming mouse is the one that doesn’t suffer from acceleration. But both optical mice and laser mice suffer from it. Acceleration isn’t exclusive to laser mice. It’s caused by the type of hardware that your mouse is built with.

(Video) Optical or Laser Mouse for Gaming? - ThioJoeTech

Traditionally, laser mice were more commonly built with those dastardly specs. But some optical mice are built in the very same fashion.

It all comes down to:

  • The hardware that the mouse is built with
  • The surface that you use the mouse on

When you’re shopping for a gaming mouse, make sure that it has fewer dots per image (DPI) and a high polling rate.

  • Low DPI + high polling rate + compatible surface = less chance of acceleration.

1. Low DPI

Let’s discuss DPI first. Remember how the mouse sensor captures images of the surface? An image is composed of pixels, and DPI typically refers to how many pixels you can fit in a single image. High DPI is preferable on your gaming monitor because more pixels amounts to great color variation.

But mouse DPI works differently. You want the mouse sensor to capture images that are composed of fewer pixels. Why fewer pixels? Because it means less work that the mouse has to do.

Your mouse sensor picks up two kinds of signals. The first signal is a base frequency called the “noise floor.” The other signals are high-frequency spikes. Your mouse is looking for these spikes because those spikes are caused by trackable surface features.

When you have fewer pixels, it’s easier for the mouse sensor to determine what’s a spike and what’s part of the noise floor. [3]

What’s easier to put together: a 100-piece puzzle or a 1,000-piece puzzle? Usually, it’s the 100-piece puzzle. There are fewer pieces, so it’s easier for you to see what the big picture is and how all the parts fit together.

Likewise, your mouse works faster and more efficiently when it has fewer pixels to sort through.

DPI target range

A good gaming DPI ranges from about 800 to 1600 DPI. A low DPI means that your cursor movement will be a little slower. To circumvent this, adjust your mouse sensitivity settings and make your mouse more sensitive to movement. Play around with the settings until you find the right balance.

2. High polling rate

Polling rate is the number of times that your mouse reports its position to your computer. Having a high polling rate is the key to preventing acceleration from happening. The more often your mouse reports its position, the more accurately your computer can adjust the cursor to match. [4]

Target polling rate

A good polling rate for gaming is between 500 and 1,000 Hz. That means that your mouse is reporting its position 500 to 1,000 times per second.

3. Compatible surface

Lastly, take into account the surface that you’ll be using your mouse on. If you’re buying an optical mouse, get a cloth mousepad.

If you’re buying a laser mouse, get either a hard, plastic mouse pad, or a very thin cloth mousepad (about 1.5 mm thick). If the gaming mousepad is thin, the laser won’t permeate so many layers and cause acceleration.

To sum up the difference between an optical mouse and a laser mouse

Optical vs Laser Mouse: Which is the Best Mouse for Gaming? (4)

Remember that the main difference between an optical and laser mouse is in their illumination source: optical mice use LED lights while laser mice use lasers. It’s not the illumination source that makes a mouse better or worse for gaming. It’s the hardware.

(Video) OPTICAL VS LASER | Which Gaming Mouse is best for PC Gaming?

The best gaming mice have:

  • Low DPI
  • High polling rates

Additionally, make sure that you use an optical mouse on a cloth mousepad, and use a laser mouse on a plastic mousepad or a mousepad that’s very thin (around 1.5 mm thick).

A gaming mouse is your tool of destruction. You’ll use it to make headshots or command armies, so you want it to be as accurate as possible. Either an optical mouse or a laser mouse will suffice, so long as they’re built with the right machinery to keep your gaming guns blazing.

One last thing to remember

Remember that a fast and accurate mouse isn’t very helpful if the rest of your gaming rig isn’t up-to-speed. Upgrade your PC hardware to ensure the best performance while you’re gaming.

[1] Merriam-Webster; Optics

[2] ExplainThatStuff; Computer Mouse

[4] Prosettings.net; What is Polling Rate?

About the Author

Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.

(Video) optical mice vs laser mice its 2020 of course we have laser mice

FAQs

Optical vs Laser Mouse: Which is the Best Mouse for Gaming? ›

Razer prefers laser technology because it offers higher sensitivity for lightning-quick movement in games. On the right surfaces, laser mice can be amazingly precise, so this also makes sense! Overall, we don't think that optical or laser technology is, by itself, enough to recommend any particular mouse for gaming.

Whats better for gaming optical or laser mouse? ›

The CMOS sensor won't be able to recognize any variations in the light pattern. That's why optical mice don't work well on highly reflective surfaces. They're much better suited for a non-glossy surface, like a mousepad. A laser is much more powerful than an LED light.

Is laser mouse good for gaming? ›

These days, high-end specs are available across both sub-categories - making them equally viable for gaming. That said, assuming your desktop setup doesn't invite too much excess data, we'd still recommend going for a laser mouse over an optical one.

What's better optical or laser? ›

Optical mice have a resolution of around 3,000 dpi, while laser mice have a resolution between 6,000 and 15,000+ dpi. Since laser mice have a higher dpi, these devices track more dots per inch and are more sensitive. This may have been an issue in the past, but the average user probably can't tell the difference.

Which mouse sensor is good for gaming? ›

Flawless Mouse Sensor List – Best Sensors Only
BrandSensorNotable Mice
SteelseriesTrueMove 3SteelSeries Rival 310
PixartPMW 3366Logitech G Pro Gaming Mouse
PixartPMW 3391Corsair Ironclaw Wireless
PixartPMW 3360Glorious Model O- Finalmouse Ultralight 2
31 more rows
Jan 14, 2022

Why is optical mouse better? ›

Laser-based mice offer high sensitivity, but they tend to cause jittering. On the flip side, optical mice use LED technology with lower sensitivity, allowing for more accurate movement.

Does optical mouse need mousepad? ›

Optical mice can struggle with highly-reflective and glass surfaces due to their low level of penetration. However, a laser mouse doesn't have this issue and can work on any surface, including glass. Bottom line: Optical mice need a mouse pad if your desk or table is reflective or glass, but laser mice do not.

Does laser mouse work on glass? ›

The earliest optical mice detected movement on pre-printed mousepad surfaces. Modern optical mice work on most opaque diffusely reflective surfaces like paper, but most of them do not work properly on specularly reflective surfaces like polished stone or transparent surfaces like glass.

Can the laser from a mouse damage your eye? ›

Laser mouse emissions are not dangerous and therefore not harmful to your eyes. The class of laser used in mice is the class 1 laser, which is considered to be the safest laser of all other lasers.

Are gaming mouses more accurate? ›

Verdict: False. Not only are some DPI options (6000+) ridiculous for the sizes and resolutions of today's monitors, but many mice actually use sensors not originally designed for those high DPI counts, which negatively affects performance.

What is the best mouse tracking? ›

The latest in optical tracking technology is laser. Laser mice utilize a laser instead of an LED to provide top-level tracking performance, especially in First Person Shooter (FPS) games. Most hi-end mice currently use the laser tracking method.

What is the fastest gaming mouse? ›

Competitive fast-paced games require a gaming mouse that can keep up, and for that, you'd want to take a look at the Razer Viper 8K. This is among the fastest and most responsive gaming mice out there, thanks to its 8,000Hz polling rate and <0.125ms click latency.

Which mouse do pro gamers use? ›

A: There are quite a few mice that are prominent in the FPS eSport business. Among the most popular are the Zowie FK series, the Logitech G502, SteelSeries Sensei, and the Razer Deathadder. All of which are used by many pro gamers each.

What is the #1 gaming mouse? ›

The Razer Naga Trinity has been on our best gaming mouse list as the top recommendation for MMO/ MOBA games for years now, but there's a new kid in town—the Razer Naga Pro. The Naga Pro drops the cable for Razer HyperSpeed Wireless and Bluetooth connectivity.

What is the difference between optical mouse and wireless mouse? ›

The main difference between the two types of technology is in the name. An optical-based mouse utilizes an LED light source and a laser mouse uses... a laser. Both illumination sources enable a CMOS sensor to quickly take photos of the surface and detect movement.

What is DPI in mouse? ›

DPI is the standard used to measure the mouse sensitivity, expressed as the number of DPIs (dots per linear inch) that a device can detect. By changing the DPI, you can instantly adjust pointer speed for precision tasks, such as in-game targeting or photo editing.

What's the difference between optical mouse and laser? ›

Optical mouse works better on mouse pads and non glossy surface. Laser mouse has no such preferred surfaces. 04. It is less prone towards acceleration.

What is a LED mouse? ›

A mouse that uses light to detect movement. Introduced in the late 1990s, optical mice superseded mechanical mice because their sealed bottom surfaces do not absorb dust and dirt. They work by emitting light from an LED or laser, and a CMOS sensor detects the light reflections as the mouse is moved.

Are gaming mouse pads worth it? ›

The short answer is no. Most people, especially gamers, benefit more from having a larger pad than a smaller one. Having a bigger pad gives you more freedom to move your mouse around. For example, you won't have to worry about the cursor running off the edge.

Is mechanical or optical mouse better? ›

Optical switches are usually better for gaming, while mechanical are better for general usage. We found Razer optical switches actuate 30 ms faster than normal mechanical switches, which makes them superior for gaming.

What does an optical mouse See? ›

Optical mice use image sensors to image naturally occurring texture in materials such as wood, cloth, mouse pads and Formica. These surfaces, when lit at a grazing angle by a light emitting diode, cast distinct shadows that resemble a hilly terrain lit at sunset.

Are gaming mouses more accurate? ›

Verdict: False. Not only are some DPI options (6000+) ridiculous for the sizes and resolutions of today's monitors, but many mice actually use sensors not originally designed for those high DPI counts, which negatively affects performance.

Videos

1. The Great Sensor Debate -3- Laser VS Optical
(Rocket Jump Ninja)
2. laser vs optical mouse
(Centile51)
3. OPTICAL VS LASER MOUSE EXPLAINED | BEST FOR GAMING ? [HINDI/URDU]
(TECHBOX)
4. The Difference between optical mouse and laser mouse
(simon wairimu)
5. Gaming Mice - Linus Explains Optical Sensors
(CORSAIR)
6. Why is EVERYONE Buying This Gaming Mouse? - Logitech G502 HERO
(Linus Tech Tips)

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