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Mouse DPI Explained

Dots per inch (DPI) is a measurement of how sensitive a mouse is. The higher a mouse’s DPI, the farther the cursor on your screen will move when you move the mouse. A mouse with a higher DPI setting detects and reacts to smaller movements.

A higher DPI isn’t always better. You don’t want your mouse cursor to fly all the way across the screen when you move your mouse a little bit. On the other hand, a higher DPI setting helps your mouse detect and respond to smaller movements so you can point at things more accurately. For example, let’s say you’re playing a first-person shooter game. When zooming in with a sniper rifle and trying to aim precisely at small targets, a high DPI could be valuable by allowing you to smoothly aim with small mouse movements. When playing the game normally without a zoomed-in sniper rifle, this high DPI may be too sensitive. This is why many high-end gaming mouse have buttons that you can flick to switch between DPI settings on the fly when playing a game.

You can also see why more sensitive mice are attractive to designers that need to make minute adjustments in their designs.

DPI is different from the typical mouse sensitivity setting. DPI refers to a mouse’s hardware capabilities, while sensitivity is just a software setting. For example, let’s say you have a very cheap mouse with low DPI and you crank up the sensitivity. If you tried to aim at small targets, you’ll see the mouse cursor jump around as you move it. The mouse hardware isn’t as sensitive, so it doesn’t detect the smaller movements. Your operating system just compensates by moving your cursor farther when it does detect a movement, so the movement isn’t as smooth.

A high DPI mouse can also be paired with a low sensitivity setting, so the cursor won’t fly across the screen when you move it but the movement will stay smooth.

High DPI mice are more useful if you have a higher-resolution monitor. If you’re playing a game on a low-resolution 1366×768 laptop screen, you don’t necessarily need that high DPI. On the other hand, if you’re playing a game on a 3840×2160 4K monitor, a higher DPI lets you move your mouse cursor across the screen smoothly without having to drag your mouse across your entire desk.

What to Know Before Buying a Mouse for PC or Laptops

Using the mouse that comes with your computer is a lot like using the little white earbuds that come with your iPod – it gets the job done, but you can do a lot better. Since the mouse is generally the most often used computer peripheral, it’s wise to spend some time researching what you need.

Wired or Not?

Whether or not you should get a wireless mouse is really a personal preference. With a wireless mouse, you won’t run the risk of getting tangled in your cord, but you do run the risk of running out of batteries at an inopportune time. Some wireless mice come with charging docks so you don’t have worry about buying those AAA, although you do still need to remember to put the mouse in the dock or station. Other mice may come with an on/off switch to preserve power as with the docking station, this is only useful if you remember to switch it off when you’re done using it.

When it comes to those wireless receivers, some come with nano receivers that sit flush with the USB port. Others come with larger wireless receivers that jut out a few inches from the port. As you can guess, you typically pay a higher price for the nano receiver, but it might be your best buy if you’re a frequent traveler.With a wired mouse, you won’t have to worry about batteries or receivers because it will draw power from your USB (or PS2) port. The downside of that, however, is that you’re quite literally tethered to your computer. You can only move as far away as the cord is long.

Laser or Optical Mouse?

Mice operate by tracking in “dots per inch” (or dpi). An optical mouse can track between 400 and 800 dpi, while a laser mouse can generally track more than 2,000 dpi. Don’t let the higher dpi numbers fool you, however. Your everyday mouser typically won’t require such precise tracking and will get by just fine with an optical mouse. (Some even find the extra preciseness annoying.) Gamers and graphic designers, however, often welcome the additional sensitivity.

Ergonomics

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of any computer peripheral is its ease of use, and when it comes to mice, comfort is king. Ergonomics in mice are important because they can help prevent repetitive stress injuries. However, ergonomics is not a one-size-fits-all feature, and just because a manufacturer claims its device is ergonomic doesn’t make it so.

Unfortunately, the only way to know whether a mouse is comfortable is to use it for an extended period of time, and most mice in the store are boxed up pretty tightly. As with all computer peripherals, research your device before purchasing it. If the mouse won’t be used for extended periods of time, you can let aesthetics weigh more heavily in your decision if you’d like. Graphic designers, PC gamers, and other long-term users, however, should stick with what’s comfortable, not what’s pretty.

Full-Sized or Travel-Sized

This category is exactly what it sounds like. Although there is no universal sizing among manufacturers, many mice come in two different sizes: full or travel. Even if you never plan to remove your mouse from its home, travel mice can often be more comfortable for people with smaller hands. Likewise, a road warrior may want to stick with a full-sized device because ill-fitting mice can cause discomfort.

Programmable Buttons

Everyone knows about the left- and right-click buttons, as well as the scroll wheel in the middle. But many mice also come with additional buttons that are typically located on the side of the device. These can be programmed for specific functions, such as the “Back” button on your Internet browser. If you consistently work in the same programs, these can be extremely useful, and they’re typically easy to set up.