For many gamers, a mouse quickly becomes one of the most valued and critical tools in a gaming setup, since most key actions stem from a click or a small motion of the mouse. There's a wide variety of mice on the market, and quality has been rising, even for cheaper models. While things like build quality, comfort, and buttons are undoubtedly important, one aspect you definitely don’t want to overlook when choosing a mouse is its sensor.
Sensors play a big part in translating your real-life movements into cursor movements. They can have a noticeable impact on your gaming experience, especially in terms of speed, accuracy, consistency, and responsiveness. Every sensor model is slightly different, and most gamers will have their own preferences. That’s why our sensor specifications aim to give you more info to help you choose a model that will fit your performance needs and expectations.
Having a well-chosen sensor can make a big difference for gamers, and even influence the outcome of a game. We don’t actually score our sensor section, as different models and technologies have different pros and cons, so the best choice depends on your needs and preferences.
Our goal is to help you make an informed choice and make sure the mouse you end up buying can achieve the level of performance you need. It’s also important to know how precisely you can customize different components of the sensor, so you can fine-tune it exactly as you want.
Our Sensor Specifications section consists of five main categories:
Testing is straightforward and doesn’t require lots of equipment. We use a computer, a glass panel, a standard and a modified mouse pad, a few CDs or DVDs, and the tested mouse. We also refer to the manufacturer's website, the user guide, and the product's box when needed.
To identify the sensor’s technology (optical or laser), we look at one of the following: user guide, specs on the box, manufacturer’s website, or any other reliable source. We evaluate whether or not the mouse works on glossy surfaces by placing it on a glass panel and observing the behavior of the cursor on the screen. If the mouse works like usual, we know it has a laser sensor.
To identify the sensor model, we search for reliable information online or look at the user guide or product’s box. We usually try to find multiple sources to validate the model if we can't find it on the manufacturer's website.
We also note the sensor's position. Some users may find it annoying to have a sensor that’s not well-centered, as it could affect the way the cursor moves when rotating the mouse around its central axis, for example.
The CPI represents the number of pixels your mouse travels on the screen when moved one inch on a surface.
While DPI is a more recognizable term that's often used in marketing, it generally refers to "digital dots per inch" and is more commonly associated with display resolutions. CPI stands for "counts per inch" and generally refers to the sensitivity of a mouse. Therefore, we use the term CPI, though you may see it listed elsewhere as DPI, they generally refer to the same thing.
We split our CPI tests into three sections: the CPI range, the CPI adjustment steps, and the CPI variation.
The minimum CPI value is stated using the manufacturer's statement or the mouse's software.
While this test isn't scored directly in the Sensor section, we assign it a score to be included in the FPS Gaming and MMO usage boxes. For this, we consider that the lower the value, the better it is, so a minimum CPI of one would receive a 10 for scoring.
The maximum CPI value is stated using the manufacturer's statement or the mouse's software.
While this test isn't scored directly in the Sensor section, we assign it a score to be included in the MMO usage box. For this, we consider that the higher the value, the better, so a maximum CPI of 20,000 or higher would receive a 10 for scoring.
The CPI adjustment steps are stated using the manufacturer's statement or the mouse's software. If we set the value at 0, it means the CPI isn't adjustable.
While this test isn't scored directly in the Sensor section, we assign it a score to be included in the FPS Gaming and MMO usage boxes. For this, we consider that the lower the value, the better it is, so if the CPI is adjustable by increments of one, it scores a 10.
CPI variation represents the difference between the stated/chosen CPI and the real CPI we obtain while moving the mouse at different speeds.
Our testing process follows the steps below and uses data obtained from this website.
The CPI variation is obtained by calculating the difference between the two average results (low speed and high speed).
This means that if your mouse overshoots (goes over the set CPI) by 5% when moving it slowly and 5% when moving it quickly, the final result would be 0% because the set CPI is consistent at any speed. However, if it overshoots by 5% when moving slowly but undershoots (goes under the set CPI) by 5% when moving quickly, then the final result would be 10%, as that's the difference between -5% and 5%.
As you can see, a result of 0% doesn't mean the real CPI is the same as the set CPI, but rather that regardless of the speed you're moving your mouse, it's going to react the same way.
Lift-off distance represents the height at which the sensor stops seeing the surface underneath the mouse. A higher value means the sensor could potentially detect movements while you're repositioning your mouse, resulting in unwanted cursor movements.
To measure the minimum lift-off distance, we use the same equipment as the online community: CDs or DVDs, which have a thickness of 1.2 mm. We stack them one by one under the mouse and check if the cursor’s still moving while the sensor passes over the hole in the middle.
Accordingly, results are given in increments of 1.2 mm. The lower the distance, the better, so a result of 1.2 mm or less is considered excellent, and a result of 3.6 mm or higher is considered bad.
Keep in mind that since we measure this value in increments of 1.2 mm, if a mouse is tagged as having a 1.2 mm lift-off distance, the real distance may actually be lower.
The polling rate is defined in Hz and represents how often the sensor reports its position to your computer. For example, 1000Hz means the sensor tells your computer where it is 1000 times every second.
A higher value results in smoother cursor movement, which is very important while gaming. That said, many mice give you the possibility to set your own desired polling rate, with usual values of 90Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, or 1000Hz. Some manufacturers are starting to come up with even higher polling rates, reaching up to 8000Hz in some cases, but this is still very uncommon.
Generally, most people will want to use the highest possible polling rate. However, for wireless mice, a lower polling rate may result in longer battery life. That said, since most people will likely always want the best possible performance, we only list the maximum polling rate.
Our testing process follows the steps below and uses data obtained from this website.
Once you bought a mouse, there isn’t much you can do to improve its sensor. However, understanding what you need before buying it and knowing how to customize it to your liking can make a big difference.
Choosing between a laser mouse or an optical one can be fairly straightforward. Laser sensors are more sensitive and have the ability to look deeper into the surface they’re placed on. So if you want to use your mouse on a glossy surface, like a glass desk, you should probably choose a laser one. However, as a trade-off, they can take in too much information and cause inconsistencies in the cursor’s movement. On the other hand, optical mice usually allow for more accurate movement, but they don’t work on glossy surfaces as they’re less sensitive.
Nowadays, many brands advertise wider and wider CPI ranges, but keep in mind that those extensive numbers don’t necessarily mean that the mouse’s sensor is better. We usually consider that a good minimum value is around 400 CPI, and a good maximum is at least 2000 CPI.
You also need to make sure that you can modify the set CPI as precisely as you want, as some models let you adjust it by steps of one, and others can only be set by steps of 250 or even 400. Usually, being able to adjust the CPI by increments of 50 or 100 should be good for most people, while steps of 200 or more may start to feel limiting for some users.
Lastly, CPI variation is an important value to consider to know if the chosen CPI is going to be consistent whether you’re moving your mouse slowly or quickly.
To have smoother cursor movements and increase its fidelity based on your actions, you should choose the maximum polling rate available when you're setting up your mouse.
If you can adjust the lift-off distance, you should choose the lowest one to prevent your sensor from tracking movement while repositioning your mouse.
Having a mouse with the right sensor for you can be very beneficial while gaming. That’s why it’s important to know what you need and to understand how different models, technologies, or specs may impact your gaming experience. That said, sensors are just one piece of the puzzle, and while they're important, you may also want to take some time to check out other critical aspects like the design or click latency.