PC Accessories

Laser vs Optical Mouse

Mouse
Laser Optical
Illumination Source Laser LED Light
Resolution 3,000 dpi 1,200 dpi
Imaging Peaks and valleys on a surface Top of the surface
Compatible Surfaces Most surfaces (smooth and glossy); hard plastic; thin cloth mouse pads Cloth mouse pads; non-glossy surfaces
Cost $15+ $10+

Laser and optical mice appear similar, but several key differences have users reaching for one over the other. This article explores these differences and explains which mouse works better in which situations.

Similarities Between Laser and Optical Mice

To start, both types of mice are mechanical. They position the cursor based on how they detect light, and both mice use a CMOS sensor to get this information.

CMOS sensors are the same technology used in digital cameras, and they record the surface that the mouse moves on. The mice use this information to track movement in relation to minute markers on the surface, regardless of the surface the mouse is on.

If the mouse notices that the features move to the left, it tells the computer to move the cursor to the right.

These sensors give the mice a similar process, but the way they get information is where performance starts to branch off.

Illumination Source

While the mice recognize the surface they rest on, the information they process is actually light patterns, not images of the surface texture.

In both mice, the light shines down and reflects off the surface, and the CMOS sensor takes note of that reflection. Because no surface is perfectly even, the slight variations in reflection allow the mouse to track movement.

A laser mouse uses a laser beam as its illumination source, while an optical mouse uses an infrared LED. These illumination sources affect how fast the mouse can process information and the types of surfaces it can track on.

Resolution

Resolution is not a major concern for everyday use, but gamers consider resolution when looking to improve their performance.

You usually see this as DPI or dots per image. The recommendation is to look for a lower dpi to stay in the target range of 800 to 1,600 dpi. This limits the pixels your mouse has to process and reduces issues such as acceleration.

Laser mice have an average dpi of 3,000, while optical mice average around 1,200 dpi. This might look like an immediate mark against laser mice, but there are just more variables to consider for enhanced performance.

Imaging

The laser illumination source of a laser mouse is more powerful than the LED of an optical mouse, and it penetrates deeper to reveal more information.

While optical mice capture reflection off the top of the surface, laser mice track the peaks and valleys of the surface. This allows for more precise tracking and more compatible surfaces, but it also facilitates issues such as acceleration.

Compatible Surfaces

The LED of an optical mouse is not very strong, and it will not be able to penetrate most surfaces. This means that glossy surfaces can reflect too much light, washing out the light pattern the mouse tries to track.

Mousepads are ideal for optical mice because they limit reflection and allow the mouse to track accurately.

Laser mice can penetrate glossy surfaces, so there is less risk of reflection washing out the tracking process. You do not need to use a mouse pad with a laser mouse, but they perform better with a hard plastic mouse pad or thin cloth mouse pad.

Acceleration Issues

Acceleration is where laser mice fall short in performance. This issue occurs when the sensor cannot keep up with the speed at which you move the mouse, usually when you rush a movement.

Laser mice with a higher dpi track more images, leaving them with more information to process. When you make a sudden movement, they get overwhelmed trying to process everything and instead jump across the screen.

This issue can happen with optical mice, but it is not as common.

Acceleration is a major issue for gaming because inconsistency interrupts the development of muscle memory. Those that prefer a laser mouse can limit the issue by using a dedicated surface (as previously mentioned) to limit the variances in surface texture.

Which Mouse Is a Better Fit?

Either mouse works fine for most situations, but they have their dedicated uses.

In the right conditions, a laser mouse has a superior performance that makes it great for gaming performance and most general uses. While there is no way to guarantee you will not run into acceleration issues, there are several ways to limit the occurrence.

Optical mice are a more budget-friendly option, and an optical mouse is more reliable on a mouse pad. Unless you rely on the minute details, an optical mouse should be less fickle.

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