Choosing the best gaming mouse isn’t easy these days! There are loads of mice to choose from, made by various manufacturers and sporting loads of different features. The problem is that a mouse that’s great for one person isn’t necessarily that good for another. So which should you choose?
Take A Deep Breath
The first thing to do is work out what you want the mouse for. Do you prefer FPS, RPG or RTS games? If the answer is first-person shooters (FPS) then you’ve got the hardest choice to make as you’ll need to work out what sort of player you are (see the section below about DPI). If you prefer strategy, RPG or MMO games then the choice is slightly easier, as you should be looking for a mouse with a large number of programmable buttons and a DPI that suits your playing style.
For example, the Roccat Kone and Logitech G500 are good mice if you want lots of programmable buttons. Both have ten buttons and most are programmable with macros. Even better for RPG players is the new Razer Naga mouse that features seventeen programmable buttons, although the number pad layout on the side takes a little getting used to.
Laser versus Optical
The heart of a mouse is its sensor, of which there are three basic types – laser, optical and infrared.
The laser sensor is probably the most common, and a big advantage is that it is capable of working on almost any surface. However, laser mice tend to have a higher lift-off distance than optical mice, which causes problems when the mouse reaches the edge of your mousemat. As you lift the mouse to reposition it the laser sensor carries on reading the surface until it’s anything up to a centimetre in the air, which is translated into in-game movements. By repositioning your mouse you can send your game view almost anywhere, which is obviously a Bad Thing in the middle of a gunfight. This is why many professional gamers choose an optical mouse over laser and always play on a quality mousemat to ensure the optical sensor accurately reads the surface.
The latest development is the introduction of the 3G infrared sensor, which reduces the lift-off distance problems of a laser sensor but is also very good at working on different surfaces.
DPI Rules … Or Does It?
Every gaming mouse will declare the sensitivity of its sensor somewhere on the packaging or in the marketing material. This will be a value rated in DPI, or Dots Per Inch, and is a simplistic way of measuring the sensitivity of a mouse sensor (there’s an argument that its a meaningless term and should be classed as CPI, or Counts Per Inch, but most people understand DPI).
The higher the DPI of the sensor the less physical distance you need to move the mouse to get the same level of cursor movement on screen. So, if you have a high DPI mouse you can be more economical with your hand movements but you need to have a steady hand and be very precise to make accurate cursor movements.
Armed with that knowledge you need to decide of you the sort of person who likes to make fast sweeping hand movements over a large area, or slower more precise movements over a small area. If you prefer fast hand movements then you need a mouse with a low DPI to maintain some level of accuracy (perhaps 1,200 DPI or less), whereas a player with small hand movements can use a mouse with higher DPI and remain accurate (say 2,000 DPI or more).
It’s for this reason that you need to be wary of the marketing hype (and prices) surrounding high DPI mice. Most of the premium mice are capable of around 5,000 DPI and Razer have started pushing their mice to 6,400DPI.
If you start making fast movements at that level of DPI you’re going to be spinning on the spot in a FPS. Make sure your mouse has adjustable DPI and then drop it to around 2,000 (or even lower for some pro-gamers) and you’ll be more likely to find a sweet spot.
Some mice even allow the DPI settings to be adjusted on-the-fly so you can use a medium DPI to strafe enemies, switch to a low DPI for a carefully aimed headshot and then switch back up to high DPI for some frantic close quarters action.
Wired Or Wireless
This is often a heated point of discussion. Wireless mice are great for reducing the tangle of wires on your desk, but their reliance on radio waves to transmit the signal to the receiver does add an element of delay (or lag) to the cursor response. Admittedly modern wireless mice are almost lag free, and the Logitech G7 is probably the best example of how good wireless mice can be. However, if you really want the absolute fastest response then you should stick to a corded mouse.
Wireless mice are also compromised by their reliance on batteries. Some come with recharging cradles but others could leave you scrabbling for a spare set of batteries at an inconvenient moment. Batteries also add weight, so if you like a really light mouse then you might not be happy with the added weight of a wireless mouse.
The latest generation of wireless mice, such as the Razer Mamba and Logitech G700, use a detachable USB cable to give the best of both worlds. You get the freedom of a wireless mouse but the convenience of recharging via cable and no batteries to mess about with.
Left Handed Or Right Handed
If you’re a left-handed gamer then your choices are unfortunately limited as it would appear that the manufacturers don’t see enough of a profit margin to cater for left-handed gamers. The vast majority of ergonomically designed gaming mice are for right-handed gamers only, but there are plenty of choices if you’re happy to use a mouse with an ambidextrous design.
You will probably find a few left-handed mice on offer, but these generally fall short of the requirements for a good gaming mouse (few buttons, low DPI). However, there is one left-handed gaming mouse I can recommend and that is the Razer Deathadder. Available in both left and right-handed versions, the Deathadder boasts five programmable buttons and up to 1800dpi. I’ve used a Deathadder for years and its one of the best mice I’ve ever had, so if you’re a leftie it is definitely worth a try.
Claw Grip versus Palm Grip
There are generally two methods of holding a mouse. The first is the claw grip where the mouse is held by the tips of the fingers and is (almost) lifted across the surface of the mousemat, and this favours small and light mice. The second is the palm grip, where the palm of the hand rests on the top of the mouse and pushes it along the mousemat, and is more suited to large mice.
Some mice will satisfy both sorts of grip, but some are more appropriate to one or the other. For example, Razer have produced a number of mice that are small and well suited to the claw-grip such as the Copperhead and Krait. Logitech, on the other hand, tend to design larger mice that are more comfortable for palm-grip users, such as the G500 and G700.
Taking A Hammering
One thing that makes a good gaming mouse is the ability to take a pounding. The frantic action of a FPS can lead to some considerable forces being applied to the mouse and its buttons, and this will eventually lead to some sort of failure. Gaming mice are built to withstand more punishment than bog standard mice, but even then some of the more ‘enthusiastic’ players can destroy a mouse within a few months.
Some mice have a better reputation for solidity than others. The Logitech MX518 is a case in point, which is still popular even though its been on the market for some time as it has gained a reputation for being able to take a lot of punishment. Another mouse with a solid reputation is the Microsoft Intellimouse which, despite being aimed at people who work rather than play, is actually quite good for gaming and can take quite a bit of abuse.
Light ‘Em Up
The fashion for fancy lighting on mice seems to be spreading. More mice are including some form of LED illumination and the styles of lighting are growing increasingly sophisticated. The Roccat Kone is one of the best examples, where five LEDs can be configured to glow different colours and rotate and pulse in various patterns. Other manufacturers offer one colour but allow you to choose from a variety of hues.
Of course, this has absolutely no impact on how well you’ll be able to play. It just makes your mouse look good and gives it that ‘must have’ factor.
You might think that by buying the most expensive mouse you’re guaranteed to get the best, but unless that mouse is suited to your gaming style you may have wasted your money. Many top-end models retail for close to $100 and that’s a lot of money to ask for a gaming peripheral.
Decide which mouse you want first and then see if it falls in your budget. Even if it looks like it might be out of your budget get looking online and you might find it’s more of a bargain than you thought. There are always places like Amazon and Ebay that will offer the mice for less than RRP. For example, the Razer Deathadder retails at $59 in the Razer store but a quick look on Ebay reveals you can buy it new for under $50.
The final thing to consider is that choosing a gaming mouse can be a very personal decision. We all have different aesthetic tastes, and that will influence your decision. You might love the flashy lighting on a Razer mouse, or you might prefer the more functional appearance of a Logitech. Either way, your taste will have some bearing on the decision you make, and may lead other gamers to choose completely different mice.
So the answer to the question is – there is no single mouse that could be called the “best gaming mouse”. Some are obviously better than others, but what’s best for you might not be what’s best for me. You need to work out what you want from your mouse and come up with a shortlist of candidates. Try not to get sucked into the whole Razer vs Logitech vs Steelseries brand loyalty thing, just pick a mouse because its features are what you want – not because someone tells you that “brand X roxor” or “brand Y sux0r”.