Optical vs Laser Mouse: Which is better for Gaming?

Modern mice either have an optical sensor or a laser – but which technology is better for gaming? Strictly speaking, both models use an optical method to implement the user’s movements without delay.

The main differences between an optical mouse and a laser mouse

Although it is not quite logical from a technical point of view, for the sake of simplicity, computer mice with light-emitting diodes are now called optical mice, and mice with laser diodes are called laser mice. If you take a closer look, both types are optical mice.

The former works with an optical sensor by illuminating the surface with an infrared LED, recording it and processing the movement in a microprocessor. A laser mouse works on the same optical principle, but has a laser to detect the mouse’s movements.

How do the Sensors on Optical Gaming Mice work?

Virtually all computer mice today operate on an optical principle. The main difference between the types is that they use different light sources to illuminate the surface. While this illuminates the surface, a light-sensitive sensor reads the images.

At the heart of an optical computer mouse is a low-resolution camera that captures image sequences of the background. In order to be able to recognize the background, red light is usually emitted by an LED.

Incidentally, for the camera, which consists of a lens and a CMOS sensor, the color of the light used to illuminate the surface is unimportant. It merely forwards grayscale images to a DSP (digital signal processor), which processes the image sequences and calculates the speed and direction of movement of the mouse.

The data is then sent to the computer processor. This transfers the movement of the mouse to the screen.

A laser diode is installed as the light source for illuminating the surface in the case of the laser mouse and an LED or infrared LED in the case of the optical mouse. Signal processor and algorithm are adapted to the respective light source.

Optical Mouse Sensor
Optical Mouse Sensor

No matter if optical mouse or laser mouse: First, light is projected onto a surface. The LED or laser diode is typically mounted behind an angled lens that focuses the illumination into a beam. This beam is reflected off the surface through the imaging lens, which magnifies the reflected light, and into the CMOS sensor.

Interestingly, in older LED mice, the LED pointed straight down, causing a red beam to be seen on the surface. In current optical mice, the LED light is projected at an angle and is invisible to our eye.

Optical Mouse vs. Laser Mouse: Accuracy

Let’s state the following first: Lasers are very accurate. In contrast to an LED light, even too accurate. This is because an optical LED sensor cannot penetrate the surface it is placed on. In contrast, a laser sensor is able to do so.

This means that a laser sensor can analyze the data in much more detail. This can cause a laser mouse to overanalyze the surface during slow or very fast movements. This can lead to unwanted jitter, which causes your cursor to move a bit further than intended. Or your cursor takes on a life of its own and suddenly moves on its own – not good for gaming.

Laser mice can penetrate deeper into a surface and are more susceptible to picking up too much information and becoming inaccurate. Many people think this problem is due to the acceleration of the mouse, but in reality it is more of a sensing problem.

A laser mouse has about five times the tracking discrepancy between high and low speeds than an optical mouse.

On which Surfaces do Optical Mice work?

The surface on which the mouse is moved is an important criterion for deciding whether to choose an optical mouse or a laser mouse. This is because optical mice do not work on all surfaces:

  • On metal surfaces, optical mice react inaccurately
  • On glass, optical mice do not work at all
  • On shiny, reflective, transparent surfaces, optical mice do not work at all

An advantage, on the other hand, is that they are less sensitive and less susceptible to interference with dirty surfaces. However, the optical mouse practically always requires the use of a mouse pad if the movements are to be detected and displayed precisely.

On which Surfaces do Laser Mice work?

The laser mouse, on the other hand, works on almost all surfaces even without a mouse pad. A smooth surface made of glass, metal or stone is no obstacle for the laser mouse, because problematic surfaces were exactly the reason why laser mice were developed. The bundled light of the laser is reflected back better than unbundled light and finds sufficient contrast almost everywhere.

It is a great advantage of the laser mouse over the optical mouse with LED diode that it works on very smooth and reflective surfaces.

In addition, a finer scanning of the surface is possible with the laser mouse. However, this advantage fades on dirty surfaces, to which a laser mouse is sensitive.

This means that laser mice are particularly suitable for mobile use. Especially when there is no mouse pad available.

Optical Mouse vs. Laser Mouse: DPI

The sensitivity of a mouse is measured in dots per inch, usually abbreviated as mouse DPI. This value was much more important in the past, when DPI performance between optical and laser mice was much greater. Today, even budget optical gaming mice can have a DPI value of over 1000.

Another reason why DPI ratings are less important these days is the technological advances in CMOS sensors. They have now advanced to the point where even mice with only triple-digit DPI can achieve high precision.

In the past, CMOS sensors were less accurate than they are today which often meant that the mouse could track motion better at higher DPI values. Now, however, many CMOS sensors on high-end mice are so accurate that they can work accurately at any DPI setting. Laser mice used to always have a higher DPI than optical mice. Although this is generally still true today, optical mice with very high DPI values are now also available.

Because in practice, limits quickly arise, which is why very high DPI values should not be overrated for laser mice. All DPI values above 5000 often make little sense.

Optical Mouse vs. Laser Mouse: Polling Rate

Polling rates are essentially the reaction times of a mouse, measured in Hertz (Hz). If a mouse has a polling rate of 500 Hz, this means that it sends its position to your PC 500 times per second.

Many mice have a polling rate of 125 Hz, while gaming mice – both optical and laser – often have a polling rate of 1000 Hz. There’s no difference here between the two types of mice.

Regardless of whether you choose a laser or optical mouse: More expensive models should always offer you the option to set your preferred DPI and polling rate.

Optical Mouse vs. Laser Mouse: Lift-Off Distance

Laser mice used to have the advantage that their lift-off distance was smaller. This means that the sensor stops tracking earlier when you lift the mouse. This causes your cursor to move less when you move your mouse and realign it on the mouse pad.

Today, there is no difference in LOD between optical and laser mice: Good optical mice now have lift-off distances between 1-2mm and can perfectly keep up with laser mice. Most of the time, you can even adjust the LOD yourself.

Optical Mouse vs. Laser Mouse: Price Differences

While laser mice were usually more expensive in the past, this divide has all but disappeared as well. Years ago, optical mice were the budget gaming solution, whereas laser mice were the luxury option.

High-priced mice are usually better made, have better sensors and come with more features. However, a higher price does not necessarily mean better performance.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Optical and Laser Mice

Here we want to summarize everything we have just worked out for you. This way, you can see the main differences between optical and laser mice at a glance.

Mouse Type Advantages Disadvatages
Optical Mouse
  • better accuracy
  • better price-quality ratio
  • must be used on a non-reflective surface
Laser Mouse
  • works on many surfaces
  • achieves higher DPI values
  • Over-analyzing on very slow or very fast movements
Advantages and Disadvantages of Optical and Laser Mice

Conclusion: Optical vs Laser Mouse for Gaming

For normal computer activities, it doesn’t matter whether you use an optical mouse or a laser mouse. You won’t notice any difference. The situation is somewhat different when gaming.

The differences in accuracy between a comparable optical mouse and a laser mouse are so small that the average gamer will hardly notice them. Both types now deliver very good results. Nevertheless, optical mice have a slight lead, and they are often even cheaper than their opponents.

For pro gamers and serious gamers, it’s all about the highest accuracy and often milliseconds. Therefore, we recommend an optical mouse.

FAQs for Optical vs Laser Mouse

How long do Batteries in wireless Laser and Optical Mice last?

The battery life in wireless mice does not depend on the tracking technology, but on the power supply and the technical specifications of the mouse.

In general, the battery of a high-quality laser mouse lasts longer than that of an inexpensive optical mouse. It’s exactly the same the other way around.

If you have a wireless gaming mouse with RGB lighting, high DPI, and high polling rate, the battery will undoubtedly need to be charged every few days.

It doesn’t matter at all for the battery life whether you have a laser mouse or an optical mouse.

Is the Laser of a Laser Mouse harmful to the Eyes?

No, it is not. All laser mice sold by retailers have weak, not very focused lasers with close focus. This is just enough to scan the surface.

All devices that use a laser are divided into classes that indicate the harmlessness or the degree of possible danger. Laser mice sold by retailers must comply with class 1. Class 1 states:

Class 1: A class 1 laser is safe under all conditions of normal use. This means the maximum permissible exposure (MPE) cannot be exceeded. This class includes high-power lasers within an enclosure that prevents exposure to the radiation and that cannot be opened without shutting down the laser.

Even if you look into the laser of the mouse for a longer time, this would be completely harmless with class 1.