Gaming Mice Terms and Their Meanings

If you’re looking to buy a new gaming mouse, but aren’t well versed in the technology itself, many promising mice terms might sound like alien language to you. To get you up to speed, we present you this handy list. These are most all of the gaming mice terms that relate to mouse performance, as well as their meaning.

While there are many defining factors to mice, we mostly touch on the terms that set specific gaming models apart. Besides physical shape, and minor details like cable length, these are the features that you should keep an eye on. Additionally, we will inform you on what to expect from certain parts of the mouse, as we go.

Sensor technologies (Optical, Laser, physical)

The sensor can be seen as the heart of any gaming mouse. Regardless of their form or price, the built-in sensor defines how the mouse performs. The better the sensor, the more promising the technical specifications. Most of these will be listed later, down below. 

Back in the day, many gaming mice were bound to laser sensors. They proved faster and more reliable than the tracking balls of old, but they too have mostly made way — in this case optical sensors. Optical sensors ‘see’ what passes under them, while they constantly translate their movement to a digital output. 

Stylized render of a gaming mouse sensor, from an 'exploded' viewpoint.

As of 2021, most optical sensors found within gaming mice are incredibly precise. Manufacturers will occasionally list the exact brand and model of their sensor technologies, as some of these modern sensors have been proven to be highly reliable. Others work together with these big names, to create their own line of slightly tweaked gaming sensors. 

These days, brands like PixArt and Avago have garnered adoration from gaming mouse lovers. Some of the most beloved gaming mice use sensors like the PixArt PMW-3366 and PMW-3310, which have proven incredibly smooth and consistent. Most other “gaming sensors” build upon what these models do well.  

DPI — and sometimes, CPI

Sensors come with a set ceiling of precision, defined by their DPI — the amount of dots per inch. The same specification is sometimes defined as CPI (counts per inch), but means the exact same thing. Both terms disclose the maximum amount of individual “pixels” that the sensor would see in exactly one inch of movement on one axis. 

More DPI doesn’t necessarily mean that the mouse is better, it’ll just ‘see’ more when moving. It’s mostly a ceiling for their precision. Gaming on a higher DPI results in incredibly fast in-game flicks with little to no movement with the mouse — which most gamers don’t prefer.

For a long time, 16.000 DPI was the gold standard for higher-end gaming mice. This is already an overkill for the majority of gamers, though. Keep in mind that if you intend to play on the same DPI settings, having your sensor go higher, has little benefit to you. It’s mostly the accuracy in performance that matters when buying a new mouse, not DPI ceiling. 

Acceleration, defined in G’s and/or IPS

When it comes to mouse accuracy in quick movements, you should be focussing on higher maximum acceleration. This is usually expressed in an amount of IPS (inch per second), and/or the amount of G’s (from the literal G-force). These numbers define the acceleration at which the mouse can still read out reliable results. 

These days, most medium-end gaming mice can already withstand acceleration up to 300 IPS. More expensive and more competitive edged mice go up to 400 IPS, some even higher. In most cases, the to be expected maximum G is roughly a tenth of the IPS, but this is not always the case. 

The amount of G is defined by the mouse’s weight as well, whereas IPS can often be used to compare different sensors directly. Sometimes, mouse manufacturers choose to only list the amount of IPS, as G-force has to be measured separately. 

Performing at high acceleration is mostly needed for high-speed competitive gaming. Only those who flick their mouse around like crazy, will benefit form amounts that surpass 300 IPS. Although, it can never hurt to know that your mouse can perform under more acceleration than your arm might.

Lift-off distance (LOD)

The lift-off distance tells you at what height the mouse sensor stops— well, sensing. If you tend to rapidly pick up your mouse a lot, having low lift-off distance might eliminate movements you didn’t mean to make. This too, is mostly beneficial to competitive gamers with exact preferences.

Most gaming mice have set lift-off distance, while others let you tweak the “cut-off” of their sensors. This can prove helpful to those who want to experiment, but it’s not always needed. If a sensor performs well out-of-the-box, there’s no reason to change a winning concept. 

Some more experimental gaming mice come with built-in surface detection. Through these technologies, manufacturers try to make dynamic lift-off distances, depending on your use. It’s often optional, as some gamers already found a certain height that they feel confident with.  

Hardware acceleration

Hardware acceleration is what happens when mice try to “fill in” some of your movement. It comes in handy for subpar sensors (which might read out unreliable results), but is mostly avoided by gamers. That’s not without reason, of course. 

A solid mouse sensor should read out one-to-one movements, without tampering too much with the actual data. That’s exactly what hardware acceleration does: it adds movement data that the mouse might thinks is missing. Gamers especially don’t want a mouse that moves “for them”, as it could unintendedly ruin performance. 

It’s better to have a precise sensor with zero hardware acceleration, than to have a horrible sensor that accelerates its performance. If “hardware acceleration” is mentioned somewhere around gaming mice, it should be after the words “absolutely no”.

Button switch type: mechanical or optical?

Most gaming mice use mechanical switches to register button presses. Some manufacturers list the exact type of switch, and promise a certain amount of durability. The majority of these switches come from Omron, with varying types for different kinds of buttons and prices.

Do note: When gaming mice boast “50 million keypresses” guaranteed, they often mean the two primary buttons on the mouse. The left and right mouse buttons are usually the most precise and durable, while any other buttons rely on different (and often cheaper) switches. These all come with their own durability, as well as feel.

An optical mouse switch by Razer.

For the mouse aficionado, there’s probably a preference for certain switches. Some power users might grow fond of a certain clicky feel, while gamers look for the fastest input. If you’re just getting into the game, stick with something that lasts you at least 20 million keypresses. 

Certain brands also experiment with optical mouse switches. Not unlike optical keyboards, these improve durability and cut down latency. In most cases, these newer switches are made in collaboration with the likes of Omron. 

Response time — usually 1 millisecond (1 ms)

When it comes to latency, gaming mice strive for the lowest amount of lag. When a gaming mouse boasts “1 ms response times”, it means that your movements will only take a singular millisecond to be registered. This is often the lowest most medium and high-end gaming mice get — modern wireless mice included.

The actual response time from physical movement to displayed results is actually defined by many more factors, but a mouse can only promote its own part. If you want to further eliminate input lag, you’ll have to look into optimizing your entire gaming set-up. When looking for a gaming mouse, just look for that sweet “1 ms” promise. 

Polling rate, defined in Hertz — usually 1000 hertz

How many times a mouse “updates” its location per second, is what we call the polling rate. The term is usually expressed in hertz (Hz). Most gaming mice top out at 1000 hertz, which can optionally be defined as 1 megahertz. Additionally, a speedy polling rate might be called something else, like Razer’s HyperPolling that promises 8000 hertz rates.

The polling rate is necessarily bound to the integrated sensor, but more the control unit and the cable — or a wireless protocol. A lower polling rate probably wouldn’t hurt casual gamers, but higher amounts of hertz basically mean quicker and more true-to-life results. It doesn’t hurt to go higher, but only the most competitive of gamers might actually notice the difference.

Over USB (2.0 and up), the golden standard has been 1000 Hz for ages. The same goes for modern wireless protocols from gaming brands, with the exception of Bluetooth. Being the low-energy technology that it is, the polling rate over most Bluetooth connections tops out at 125 Hz.

Wireless technologies (HyperSpeed, LightSpeed, et cetera)

Speaking of Bluetooth and other wireless capabilities, these too can come with some terms. Most wireless gaming mice come with their own USB dongle, that often sports a proprietary term of connectivity. Razer has its HyperSpeed, Logitech uses LightSpeed, and so on.

Stylized image of a wireless Logitech G gaming mouse.

These terms might come with big promises, but the majority is built in roughly the same way. Most of these technologies run over 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz wireless connections (the same as Wi-Fi) and strive towards the same latency and polling rates as those of cabled connections. Those being 1 millisecond input lag, and 1000 Hz polling respectively. 

Weight (and the lack thereof)

This term speaks for itself, but it’s definitely worth noting if weight is a defining factor for your next gaming mouse. These days, gaming mice are getting lighter than ever, which opens up some new possibilities to gamers. A hefty mouse nets you amazing comfort and precision when moving slow, where lightweight mice excel in speedy, competitive gaming. This has turned some gaming brands to strive towards the lightest mouse.  

If you like your mouse to be somewhat lighter, it might be worth looking into perforated gaming mice, often referred to as “honeycomb” design. It’s been kind of a trend, as of late, but these take the cake when it comes to feather light performance. As their bodies are riddled with holes, they quickly shave down a few grams. 

Also take in mind that cabled mice are usually lighter than wireless mice. As they don’t require additional antennae or batteries, tethered mice are still the lightest. Wireless models are catching up, though, while also adding the benefit of their restriction-free movement. Without a cable slowing you down or towing you back, there is something to be said for the “freedom” that wireless gaming mice offer. 

Palm, Claw, and Fingertip Grip

The palm, claw and fingertip terms are mostly used to define the shape and hold of any gaming mouse. As some gamers have grown fond of a certain type of grip, these might be listed along gaming mice to show their compatibility with your hand.

Reference image of three common mouse grip suegrip styles: claw, fingertip and palm.

It’s often still possible to slap a certain grip on a mouse that wasn’t specifically meant for it. That being said, some mice are specifically molded to be held in one of these grips. If you have a strong preference on one of these, you should be on the look-out for mice that accommodate your preferred grip. 

Additionally, there are of course other terms that relate to the shape of a mouse. Ambidextrous mice are symmetrical to the point both right and left handed use is possible. The words “ergonomically shaped” might be thrown into marketing material, which makes some promise on prolonged comfort. Especially the “ergonomic” term proves hard to be fact-checked, as it’s heavily reliant on personal preferences. 

RGB (Chroma, iCUE, Aura, et cetera)

RGB is hardly considered a factor that defines performance, but it’s one of those gaming mice terms that often is thrown into the mix. Terms for certain types of lighting mostly relate to the RGB software that’s used to control them. Razer has their Chroma RGB ecosystem, Corsair runs iCUE, and Logitech opts for their own Lightsync. There are many more of these RGB suites, but they all operate roughly the same.

Most of the modern RGB lights found in gaming mice shine in 16.7 million distinct colors, and are compatible with a proprietary driver of some kind. If you want your gaming mouse to synchronize its lighting with other peripherals, make sure to keep the RGB suites between them compatible. 

Also note that specific color waves (usually associated with light bars and underglow) can’t always be stored in the mouse itself. For some of these effects to shine, the RGB software often needs to actively run in the background.

Anything else?

That concludes our list of all relevant gaming mice terms, as well as their meaning. We hope it’s brought you up to speed on what kind of specifications and promises you can expect. 

Is there any other term that leaves you puzzled? Or do you feel like adding some of your own wisdom to our article? Don’t be shy, and let yourself be heard. We would love to keep talking gaming mice, in the comments section down below.

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