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Our Mouse Control Tests
Sensor Specifications

Updated
What it is: The sensor is one of the components that translate the mouse movement into a cursor movement.

A mouse sensor translates your hand movements into the cursor movements you see on your screen. The sensor specification test provides information to help you choose a mouse that will fit your performance needs and expectations.

Mouse sensor

Test results

When It Matters

Different sensors provide different benefits and levels of performance. Our goal is to help you make an informed choice and ensure the mouse you buy can achieve the level of performance you need. It's also important to know how precisely you can customize different sensor settings, so you can fine-tune your mouse to work best for you.

Our Tests

Our Sensor Specifications section provides information in five main categories:

  • Sensor Technology (Optical LED or Laser)
  • Sensor Model
  • Whether the sensor works on glass surfaces
  • Maximum Lift-Off Distance
  • Maximum Polling Rate

Testing is straightforward and doesn't require lots of equipment; we use a computer, a glass panel, a standard mouse pad, a few CDs or DVDs, and a custom-built USB analyzer device. We also refer to the manufacturer's website, the user guide, and the product's box when needed.

Sensor Technology

What it is: The combination of light and sensors used to process and detect movement on a surface. Laser mice have the ability to work better on glossy surfaces or glass because of their ability to look deeper into the surface. As a trade-off, the sensor can take too much information off the surface, causing inconsistencies in the movement of the cursor, especially at high speed. Optical (LED) mice generally offer a more consistent cursor movement, but can be hard to use on glass or a glossy surface.
When it matters: When gaming, an Optical (LED) sensor usually offers more consistency in the mouse movement. On the other hand, if you're looking for a mouse that works across a wide range of surfaces, laser is usually a better choice.

To identify the sensor’s technology (Optical LED or laser), we look at one of the following: user guide, specs on the box, manufacturer’s website, or any other reliable source.

Sensor Model

What it is: The model number or name of the sensor in the mouse.
When it matters: For most advanced users and gamers it can be important to choose a sensor they know fits their performance needs.

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.

Works On Glass

What it is: The ability to use the mouse on a glass surface.
When it matters: If you use a glass desk or table when using your computer mouse.

We confirm whether or not the tested mouse functions on glass surfaces by testing it on a glass panel. A mouse will only receive a "Yes" result if the cursor behaves the same as when it's not used on glass.

Minimum Lift-Off Distance

What it is: The distance between the mouse and the surface where the sensor can't detect movement anymore. Values are in increments of 1.2 mm due to the fact that we use CD thickness to measure it.
When it matters: When you're used to a low lift-off distance, switching to a high lift-off distance could be bothersome when you're trying to lift the mouse to re-position it without any unwanted cursor movement. When gaming, a low lift-off distance is usually better so you don't have to lift your mouse high to re-position it without any cursor movement.
Good value: 2.4mm or lower
Score distribution

The lift-off distance setting represents the height at which the sensor stops tracking the surface underneath the mouse. A higher value means the sensor may detect surface information while you're repositioning your mouse, resulting in unwanted cursor movements. Many mice, especially gaming models, allow you to adjust the lift-off distance with customization software.

To measure the minimum lift-off distance, we rely on a standard technique established by the online community, which uses 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 3.6 mm or higher is considered bad, while a result of 1.2mm is considered excellent.

Since we measure this value in increments of 1.2 mm, it's also the lowest measurable distance. So, while the results of our test may indicate a mouse has a minimum lift-off distance of 1.2mm, its actual lift-off distance may be lower.

Lift off distance

Maximum Polling Rate

What it is: Polling rate represents the amount of time per second the mouse reports its position to the computer.
When it matters: When playing a fast-paced game, a higher polling rate offers a smoother cursor movement.
Good value: 500 Hz or higher

The polling rate is expressed in Hertz (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 polling rate results in smoother and more consistent cursor movements, and many mice give you the possibility to set your own desired polling rate, with usual values of 90Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, and/or 1000Hz. Some mice may have higher polling rate settings of 2000Hz, 4000Hz, and/or 8000Hz, but these settings are still relatively rare. Note that at this moment, not all games support polling rate settings above 1000Hz. Also, if you have an older or lower spec system, you might not fully take advantage of polling rate settings higher than 1000Hz as they consume a considerable amount of CPU power.

To test the maximum polling rate, we use a custom-built USB analyzer (the same device we use for our click latency test). Using this device, we can measure the shortest interval between USB packets sent to our testing computer. For example, a result of 1ms means the sensor reports its position to the test computer once every millisecond (or 1000 times a second), indicating a polling rate of 1000Hz. A result of 8 ms gives a polling rate of 125Hz, 4ms = 250Hz, 2ms = 500Hz, and so on.

How To Get The Best Results

Understanding your needs and knowing how to customize the settings of your mouse sensor can help you get the best results from your mouse.

Technology

A mouse sensor acts a lot like a camera. The sensor takes pictures of the surface underneath it and turns this information into data to determine its position and how it changes. There are two kinds of mouse sensor technology, laser and optical (LED). However, the way both kinds of sensors work is very similar. Laser sensors are very sensitive and can probe deeper into the surface they're placed on. They can also function on glossy surfaces, like a glass desk. However, as a trade-off, they can take in too much information and cause jitter and inconsistencies, especially when moving the mouse at higher speeds, which is why they're less suitable for gaming on the whole. Optical sensors use an LED instead of a laser, and while they're less sensitive, they can be very accurate and consistent, and they're the ideal choice for gaming mice in recent years.

Maximum Polling Rate

For smoother cursor movements with increased fidelity based on your movements, select the maximum polling rate available when you're setting up your mouse. However, using lower polling rate settings can help conserve battery power if you're using a wireless mouse. Note that due to the technical limitations of Bluetooth technology, your polling rate is fixed at 125Hz or less when using your mouse with a Bluetooth connection.

Using a mouse for everyday browsing or work, most people find polling rates as low as 90Hz or 125Hz feel perfectly suitable. These lower settings are also appropriate for casual gaming in genres where very smooth and precise cursor movements aren't essential.

For fast-paced games that rely on accurate mouse movements, we don't recommend using settings lower than 500Hz, and 1000Hz is the current industry standard. A few mice have higher polling options of 2000Hz, 5000Hz, and 8000Hz. These polling rates produce smoother and more consistent cursor movements. However, the difference between using a 500Hz setting and switching to a 1000Hz setting is much more noticeable than the difference between a 1000hz setting and 8000Hz, which for most people will seem only marginally smoother. Additionally, not all current games support polling rates above 1000Hz. And taking full advantage of polling rate settings over 1000Hz requires considerable processing power.

Minimum Lift-Off Distance

A mouse's lift-off distance is the height at which the sensor stops tracking the surface below it. It can be a helpful setting for gamers who frequently lift their mouse to make movements and don't want to register unintentional movement as they reposition. Many gaming mice allow you to adjust this distance. Some mice also let you set an asymmetrical lift-off distance, so you can customize both the height at which the sensor stops tracking movement and the height at which it resumes tracking when you lower your mouse back down. Most people prefer setting the lowest lift-off distance possible, but this will come down to your personal preference.

Conclusion

A mouse's sensor plays a large role in determining what it's best suited for and how the mouse performs overall. That's why it's important to know what you need from your mouse and understand how different models, technologies, and settings can change your experience using your mouse. However, 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 of our testing, including our click latency test.