Choosing Between Optical and Laser Computer Mouse

February 28, 2024

There are a few computer accessories that are absolutely vital to both gamers and many other device users, and one that sits at or near the top of any such list is the mouse. Modern computer users want their mouse to have a pinpoint-perfect balance of accuracy, ergonomics and sensitivity, and generally speaking, there are two types of mice popular for today’s users within these goal areas: Optical mice and laser mice.

At Xidax, we’re proud to offer a wide range of gaming computers, gaming laptops, workstation setups and numerous other custom PC services. In addition to our primary computer builds and related needs, we’re also happy to assist all our clients, from gamers to many others, in the identification and selection of the ideal mouse for their day-to-day needs. From a broad standpoint, should you be considering an optical mouse or a laser mouse for your computer setup? Here’s a primer on both, the advances that have led us to this point in mouse technology, and which you should choose whether you’re a gamer or any other computer user.

Prior Mouse Options

Firstly, before we even get into the optical and laser mouse options you have available today, a quick word on how we got to this point. For many years, you see, neither of these options were available – rather, the mechanical mouse, which used a rubber rolling ball that sat inside the mouse, was the industry standard for decades. This format utilized the detection of light to drive movement, with two small wheels that move horizontally and vertically. When the mouse is moved, the rubber ball spins one of the wheels, or both in some cases, resulting movement of the mouse.

This type, while effective in its time, had major limitations compared to today’s options. The rubber ball itself was not particularly durable, plus required regular cleaning to remove grime, dust and other debris so the mouse would be able to perform properly. In addition, uneven surfaces or related concerns could easily limit or even eliminate the mechanical mouse’s effectiveness. For this reason, the upgrade to laser and optical mice has been huge for computer users everywhere.

Optical Vs Laser Mouse

In reality, both optical and laser mice draw their basic operations from a simple concept: They serve as their own miniature cameras, taking regular pictures of the surface underneath them to help inform the movements of the cursor on your screen. Known technically as CMOS sensors, these are able to translate the pictures taken into data that tracks the location of the mouse, keeping note of its movements thousands of times per second. For the

Now, how these pictures are taken is where we start to see the differences between optical and laser mice options. Optical mice, for their part, utilize infrared or red LED lights that shoot out onto the surface below the mouse. The LED light will usually sit behind an angled lens, creating a beam of light that’s meant to bounce off whatever your surface is. From here, the light will go back through the magnifying lens and into the CMOS sensor, which converts it into a current and, eventually, the precise location of the mouse.

For the laser mouse, the big difference here is the illumination source. Rather than using an LED light, this mouse, as its name suggests, uses a laser beam that illuminates the surface and creates the signal noting mouse location.

Our next several sections will go over some themes for choosing between them for your needs.

Surfaces and Compatibility

One of the big factors to keep in mind when deciding on your mouse type is the surface you’re working with. This is another area, interestingly enough, that has changed over time as mouse and mousepad technology has improved.

A decade or two ago, for instance, LED lights for optical mice couldn’t permeate a given surface. This meant these mice were ideal for hard or glossy pads, but didn’t do as well on softer pads or surfaces. On the flip side, laser lights were considered the only viable option for high-quality mouse users on these softer surfaces, as they did a better job penetrating the surface and could even be used with glass.

Today, though, things have changed. Optical sensors and LED lights have improved exponentially, and they now work optimally on virtually any surface. In addition, some users note that laser sensors are actually likely to pick up too much information in some cases, making them inaccurate or risking problems when used at high speeds.

Gaming Themes

Once again, these developments over time have been the driving force in mouse popularity among gamers. Around 10 or more years ago, this was mostly a preference choice for gamers, one that largely spoke to the mousepad surface they used – laser mice were popular because they were acceptable on a larger range of surfaces, and performance between the two was similar.

Today, the laser mouse has fallen behind for gamers. Because the optical sensor has developed so much over these ten years, laser mice no longer hold the edge in viable surfaces – and optical mice are also considered more accurate and detailed for top-notch computer users.

Making Your Choice

As we’ve essentially outlined above, the optical mouse is the more common and effective choice today for most users, including gamers – but not necessarily for all. There are still many who will do well with a laser mouse, particularly those who prefer not to use a mousepad, such as those who work on the go and regularly change their work location. However, if your computer mostly stays in one place and you use a mousepad, there are relatively few situations where a laser mouse makes sense compared to an optical mouse.

For more on choosing between these mouse types, or to learn about any of our gaming computer or other custom computer building services, speak to the staff at Xidax today.

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