Gaming Mice Examined
There's no excuse for keen PC gamers to be without a top-notch gaming mouse. A proper rodent can improve your accuracy, increase comfort levels and make games easier thanks to extra buttons, more features and better sensors.
If you've never considered a new gaming mouse then it can seem daunting, as there are loads of features to take into account – but we've explained them all here to help you make an informed choice. We've also rounded up some of our favourites to point your cursor in the right direction.
There's one component inside every mouse that's more important than any other: the sensor. This is the bit of kit that communicates your movements, so it’s absolutely crucial.
Gaming mice all use optical sensors, which work by taking thousands of pictures of the surface beneath the mouse and using those images to determine the exact position of the mouse as it’s being moved around.
No matter which kind of sensor you pick, pay attention to the dots per inch – also known as DPI. This represents the sensitivity of a mouse because it covers how many dots per inch the sensor can see. The more dots, the more precise the mouse, so it can respond to smaller, twitchier movements and, in theory, offer more precision.
Accuracy and fine movement is important, of course, but DPI measurements need to be taken with a huge grain of salt. A huge DPI figure is often used as a selling point on gaming mice, but running the rodent at those settings can be counter-productive – it’ll be far too sensitive for the vast majority of players, so the cursor will jump across the screen and seem almost impossible to control.
This effect can be toned down by lowering the DPI or the sensitivity settings in software. That said, be aware that a huge DPI figure sometimes just doesn’t mean much, as you’ll be using a lower DPI setting from day to day.
The polling rate is another technical term that makes a big difference to functionality. This represents how often the mouse reports its position to your PC, so the faster the better. A 125Hz polling rate is the most common, and it means the mouse reports its position 125 times per second.
Many mice have customisable polling rates, although the difference between polling rates will be hard to notice for most players – only competitive gamers need apply here.
On the Button:
Every mouse, of course, has two main buttons and a wheel – but gaming mice go several steps further. All gaming mice will provide extra buttons: thumb buttons to buttons around the wheel, sniper switches to temporarily drop the DPI rating for slower, more precise aiming, or tiny buttons that can be customised. Many also have wheels that can work as a button, or even be pushed from side-to-side.
Most of the buttons around the mouse will be customisable in software, and often different profiles can be stored to suit different games. Occasionally, these can even be stored on the mouse if it's got dedicated memory.
Around the Edges:
The many technical considerations are paired with a bevy of physical considerations.
For starters, examine the materials used to build the mouse: some are made with metal skeletons beneath while others used plastic, and some have a rubber coating designed to improve grip – while others have textured surfaces on their buttons. The base materials are different, too, with super-smooth pads used to allow mice to glide across surfaces with minimal friction.
There's a tangent here, because the materials used will contribute to the weight of a mouse, and that's a very subjective element of any new peripheral: some gamers may want to whizz around with a lighter device, while others will prefer a heavier unit. Thankfully, some manufacturers have thought of this, and sell mice with room in the bottom for weights to be added or removed – ideal for customising the weight of a device and altering its centre of gravity.
Lighting is another aspect of mouse design that's really emerged over the past few years. More affordable rodents will often have basic lighting in a single or a handful of colours, and more expensive mice boast more intricate illumination, with customisable RGB lighting that can be programmed in software.
The most modern mice now go beyond this and provide gamers with tactile feedback. The SteelSeries Rival 700 does this by providing vibrating alerts that can be customised in the firm’s software, so different in-game actions provide a different alert experience.
If you’re left-handed, we’re sorry – unless you’re willing to switch to a right-handed grip for gameplay, you’re going to be locked out from a wide variety of mice. The market is packed with ambidextrous models, but there are only a few dedicated left-handed mice.
The most expensive gaming mice are also now offering more customisation than ever. We've already covered the weights that can be added or removed to some units, but some high-end mice go even further.
More mice are now launching with customisation features, which are ideal for serious players who want to fine-tune their peripherals to hit peak performance. The Corsair Gaming M65 Pro has a tool that can calibrate its sensor to the surface you’re using, while the SteelSeries unit we mentioned earlier has modular top covers so you can swap for a design that’s more comfortable for your hands.
Some mice – like that SteelSeries model – even come with optical and laser sensors, which means you can swap the units around to find one you prefer, and even change them for different kinds of game.
Many customisation options are available in software, with macro recording, lighting options and profile saving all available. And now we’re even seeing software move to the mice themselves: the SteelSeries has an OLED display that can display kill counters, accuracy stats, your gamer tag or more.
We’ve already mentioned a couple of our favourite premium high-price rodents, and it’s worth delving a little deeper to discover what makes these units worth the extra cash for keen gamers.
The SteelSeries Rival 700 serves up its modular covers, OLED display and tactical alerts, but it’s also got huge customisation when it comes to its DPI levels – and it has those swappable sensors, too. This mouse has different cable lengths, too, and a seven button layout. It has on-board memory for saving profiles no matter where you’re gaming, too.
The XTRFY M3 Heaton costs £75 – the same as the SteelSeries. It has a rubberised surface, low-friction teflon feet and five adjustable buttons, and XTRFY makes a lot of noise about its Pixart optical sensor and Omron button switches, which it reckons are the best around.
The XTRFY also has three-zone LED lighting, three polling levels and a button for switching between five different DPI levels. Its 104g weight is about a third lighter than the SteelSeries, too, so it’s a good option if you’re after something that’s a little more svelte.
There are loads of good options if you’d rather save a bit of cash, and we’re starting with the Corsair M65 Pro. This £60 unit has a high-accuracy sensor with a calibration utility, customisable weights and a light aluminium structure alongside eight buttons and three-zone RGB lighting.
There aren’t many features missing from this mouse – there are four polling rates and on-board memory, a braided cable and a rubberised wheel wrapped around a sturdy metal core.
XTRFY appears again with its £40 XG-M2. This mid-range mouse is an ambidextrous unit with a top-quality optical sensor and a rubberised, anti-slip surface and teflon base.
The XG-M2 has five buttons, a polling rate switch and on-the-fly sensitivity adjustment. This unit doesn’t have software or a huge number of customisation options, but it concentrates on nailing the mouse experience – and on keeping the price down.
The market is also busy with rodents that don’t cost the earth. The Cougar 200M is a six-button, right-handed mouse with LED lighting and on-the-fly DPI changing – a great range of features despite it costing just £15.
Similarly, there’s the Mars MMZE1 Zeus, which costs £17 and serves up adjustable DPI, six buttons, a gold-plated USB connector and seven different LED colours. It’s an ambidextrous mouse, too, so great for left-handers looking for a cheap gaming mouse.
There’s no doubt about it: whether you’re right- or left-handed, looking for a high-end mouse with loads of customisation or an affordable unit or just want to take your time choosing the best gaming mouse, we’ve got you covered. All that’s left to do is click here, and explore the huge range of mice available.
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