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Evaluating Mice: DPI And Polling Rate

Four Keyboards And Four Mice For LAN Party Gamers, Rounded-Up
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Dots Per Inch (DPI)

The single most common and direct measurement for comparing the sensitivity of a mouse is dots per inch (DPI). This term essentially refers to the speed that a user can manipulate the on-screen cursor. For example, if you pair a 2,000 DPI mouse to a screen with a resolution of 2,000 horizontal pixels, you would only need to move the sensor one inch to completely cross the width of the display.

However, sensitivity levels are typically configurable, which you've likely seen from fiddling around in a driver's corresponding control app or a game's settings. In both cases, the computer either interpolates or extrapolates cursor movement based on the information being fed to it by the mouse. This is a kind of software scaling, and it doesn’t really increase the ability of a mouse to process and transmit more information about its movement faster. 

Modern mice employ tiny cameras that take hundreds of pictures per second while shining a bright light (typically red) on the surface. By analyzing these pictures, a controller in the mouse can figure out where it’s going relative to its former position. It then breaks that information down and sends it to the computer. The DPI setting given by the manufacturer is the maximum pixel/inch ratio that the mouse can reliably operate at. 

However, as many have pointed out in the past, using a super-sensitive mouse won’t necessarily help your game.

So, mouse DPI is also tied to the size of your monitor, in a sense. Crossing 2,000 pixels with a 2,000 DPI mouse only requires one inch of movement, but crossing 4,000 pixels requires you to move that same mouse two inches. The main reason DPI settings still matter has a lot more to do with the fact that monitor resolutions, especially those on gaming rigs with multiple screens, continue to grow. 

Moreover, most gaming mice have one or two dedicated buttons for on-the-fly DPI adjustments, allowing you to tailor sensitivity as needed. In first-person shooters, for example, it’s not always helpful to have sensitivity cranked up to 11. When it comes to sniping through a zoomed-in scope, a slight twitch can really throw you off-target. Lower DPI is often better for those situations.

Instead of dealing with constant adjustment, many folks prefer one low- to mid-speed setting during game time. It's not uncommon for them to move their mouse quickly, pick it up, and put it back down again to get a full rotation. This where polling rate, another critical mouse stat, comes into play.

Polling Rate

Polling rate is simply the interval at which a mouse reports its position to the computer. A 125 Hz rate means information is being communicated to the host 125 times every second. Accurate reporting depends on the number of data points a mouse can produce and send to the computer. Players who prefer lower sensitivity settings may want to set their polling rate as high as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of their movements being misinterpreted. Conversely, if you prefer higher sensitivity settings, you may want to reduce polling rates to avoid random, natural twitches from interfering with on-screen accuracy.

Creating objective tests, and understanding which would actually translate into a substantive difference in terms of game performance, is a bit challenging. All of these mice use the current generation of image sensors, giving them all roughly the same DPI, they all connect with USB 2.0, and they generally include similar features. Keeping all of that in mind, we thought it would be best to instead check for failures. But what could we do, within reason, that would cause a mouse to under-perform?

To start, we used an array of utilities able to track mouse output to the computer, including polling rate data and positions on the X and Y axes. With this data, we should have been able to determine each mouse's ability to report its position without error. That was the plan, at least. In reality, we weren't able to trigger a failure on any of these models. 

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Top Comments
  • 29 Hide
    Hadoe , February 15, 2013 3:27 AM
    "high-quality console graphics"

    Heh, good one Toms... good one.
Other Comments
  • 29 Hide
    Hadoe , February 15, 2013 3:27 AM
    "high-quality console graphics"

    Heh, good one Toms... good one.
  • 0 Hide
    atavax , February 15, 2013 3:31 AM
    i wonder at what dpi's they tested acceleration. It was my understanding that a lot of mice have acceleration issues at different dpi's. I have seen multiple sources that say the G9 has negative acceleration at low sensitivities.
  • 1 Hide
    samwelaye , February 15, 2013 3:35 AM
    I've had my g9x for quite a while now, love this mouse!
  • 1 Hide
    Trewyy , February 15, 2013 3:37 AM
    G9x now down to $55 on Newegg :)  I should mention that it was a good review, as always!

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16826104261
  • 3 Hide
    ShadyHamster , February 15, 2013 4:59 AM
    Quote:
    Five programmable buttons near the thumb rest, a mechanical button below the scroll wheel, and a battery indicator set the G500 apart from standard mice.


    That should be DPI indicator not battery.

    And whats up with pitting 1 mechanical keyboard up against 3 membrane keyboards? Before even reading the article i knew that the mechanical keyboard would be the clear winner, who would care about the loudness of the keys at a lan party, 99.9% of people would have headphones.
  • 0 Hide
    Swordkd , February 15, 2013 6:23 AM
    Before I bought my Razer mouse(Imperator 2012), I read reviews on newegg and decided to discount the issue that they seemed to be having. After a few months of use, the mice would start to double-click from a single "click". Sure enough, less than 6 months of light to moderate use, my mouse now suffers from this malady once out of every 20 clicks or so. Enough to annoy me.

    I will not recommend that brand mouse to anyone ever again.
  • 0 Hide
    Soda-88 , February 15, 2013 6:32 AM
    No 6Gv2?
  • 0 Hide
    kitsunestarwind , February 15, 2013 7:29 AM
    Logitech G9X is a fantastic mouse, been using mine since they first came out, never a complaint and has led to me having very sharp and accurate aim in games like BF3. Buy one it is worth it!
  • -2 Hide
    alidan , February 15, 2013 8:46 AM
    das keyboard professional
    razor naga

    that's my setup...

    that said, sound and weight to press are not lower or higher is better... they are prefferences, i personally love the sound that a cherry blue makes and wish it was a bit louder because i make more sound on each key by bottoming them out apposed to activating the switch.

    and weight, i hear it more often than not that for gaming heavier presses are better because its less likely to accidently activate.

    now, impersonally just because of prior things i have had, i can never recommend razor... but at the same time i use a razor because i want that 12 key pad, and Logitech mouse is even smaller than the already small naga, and i cant get use to its bad form factor... its really the only razor anything i recommend just because there is no other competition that i can tell people to go with outside the small logitech and only if they have small hands.

    also, i dont know if it was mentioned, but the razor keyboard from what i remember has such a strict policy, that if you remove a key cap, you void the warranty. there are story's of the s and j key switched, but because of razors warranty, they have to send it in and get it replaced that way, and its a razor product, you know it will fail... the keyboard doesn't have a mounting plate, so its more likely to fail than other mechanical keyboards because of the solder point stress before the keys naturally give out.
  • -1 Hide
    blubbey , February 15, 2013 9:03 AM
    'The G500 was reported to be too long,'

    I know of course this is personal preference and everyone's different, but either their hands are small or mine are of reasonable size because I can almost cover the entire mouse (fingertips and base of my hand can just about hit the mouse mat at the same time). Unfortunately I don't have much else to compare it to, only random mice however it is larger than any I can remember, so I might just have larger than 'normal' hands.

    Something else you might want to consider that others have found is that the scroll wheel is very 'light' to use. I'm indifferent about it seeing as I'm used to light scroll wheels but a few people have raised that point in reviews that I saw before buying it (~$45 on sale). I've also found that the weights are prety much useless, it's already quite a weighty mouse so an extra few grams really didn't matter for me.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 15, 2013 9:20 AM
    hello,
    i kind of got suckered into this whole gaming keyboard and mouse set up, how it happened to me was for years i had been using a cheap keboard and mouse with my computers, anyway i thought well why dont i treat myself to a new high end keyboard and mouse as this is somthing i have always over looked when upgrading my computer, so off i go to my local PCworld, the first mouse i bought wat the R.A.T 3, looked very different and was on sale at 24.99 uk, was happy with that for the money, bit later i could not help but think about the R.A.T 7 MMO so next day off i go to buy one, got back home and was just stunned by the build quality, looks, feel and infact everything up until i tryed to use it, i had a bad habbit of pressing the right mouse button when i rested my finger on it, also no matter what setup i used i could not find one i was happy with, so took it back and swaped for the razer tai pan :/  ok i know totaly different style of mouse and i will admit i felt a right mug and ripped off after opening the box and thinking did i really pay 74.99 uk pounds for that ? lol :/  anyway yup you guessed it i took that back to lol, by this point i was almost on first name terms with the staff at pcworld lol, finaly let me exchange the taipan for the Kone XTD which im probs 90 percent happy with button layout of this mouse and will keep it, it get worse with me because when i bought my keyboard the first one was the razer Arctosa Black edtion :/  that got plugged in laffed at how poor build quality put back in box drove right back to pcworld gave them an ear full at how shocked i was with this kids toy and is this a joke really? as it was just junk in a nice box. they me let change that keyboard for the roccat isku keyboard, (i decided on roccat again as the mouse i was happy with was good build quality), razer products for me just seem ajoke for the price why do they think they are worth so much money? although are any of them really worth the price they demand? ..
    have i noticed any difference to my gaming after spending a whole lot of cash NO lol
    if ya not that good at games anyway dont think for 1 second these devices will make you play better,although once you learn the 10 million functions your new devices can do there are handy features that i cant live with out now.
  • 2 Hide
    Yargnit , February 15, 2013 10:13 AM
    Can't believe none of the R.A.T mice were chosen?

    Razer Black Widow Ultimate and Cyborg R.A.T 7 here. I've gone through multiple hundred dollar keyboard/mice before finally settling on these. between the click click click feel of the mechanical keyboard (seriously if you've never had one, try it, it's amazing) to the fit of the mouse with both the thumb and pinky rests fully extended, they rock.

    Never skimp on your keyboard & mouse, you interact with them constantly, make sure you get ones you'll really like.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 15, 2013 10:49 AM
    in razers defence though i do own the razer nostromo gaming keypad, i've owned it for around 3 months and the last month i have started using this over my keyboard, infact i now use this device all the time for gaming, i much prefer the nostromo for gaming now than a keyboard. although it probs has its limits compared to the roccat isku keyboard, the build quality of the nostromo is ok but if they could just lower the price to say around 29.99 not 49.99 uk pounds i would recommend this device to people who love fps not sure how good it would be for mmo ? but all my device's to be honest are limited by the user (me) not the devices themselfs. so its not all crap razer puts out. didnt belkin build that device first though?
  • 1 Hide
    dirtyferret , February 15, 2013 11:07 AM
    my G9X works great and i would get it again but there is no such thing as a perfect mouse. if you like the mouse you have and it does the job for you then what more can you ask for
  • -1 Hide
    ubercake , February 15, 2013 11:13 AM
    I owned the Logitech Illuminated keyboard a couple of years ago and returned it after I found it wouldn't register a shift+W+space key combination. No running and jumping in an FPS is unacceptable. Unless they changed something, steer clear of this for gaming.
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , February 15, 2013 11:20 AM
    None of those are really "Pro equipment".
    Steelseries 6, Filco, corsair K90.... Those are really good keyboards. Blackwidow breaks a lot, has a very irritating sound, and is overpriced.

    Mices... unfortunatelly, best mices are out of production at this point, so you might as well get those.
  • 1 Hide
    ubercake , February 15, 2013 11:21 AM
    The G500 mouse has been great for me, but the downside is a sensitive right mouse button that gets more sensitive with use. I do like the DPI switches. Their location makes it convenient to change DPI on the fly while keeping them out of the way avoiding unintentional clicks. The G500 is a great mouse, but could be better if the force required to trigger a right-click were increased a bit.
  • 3 Hide
    InvalidError , February 15, 2013 11:55 AM
    "So, in order to overwhelm the Orochi, you’d need to drag it across a 10-inch mouse pad, pick it up, move it back to the starting position, and drag it across nine more times, all in the span of a second."

    Those devices operate on a sub-millisecond scale so your time base is completely off.

    You need to drag it across 1" in 0.01 second, which is definitely humanly and physically doable on a 10" mousepad. 100 inches/second may sound fast but it is only ~6MPH, jogging speed. Of course, very few people actually move their mice anywhere near that fast under normal circumstances.
  • 2 Hide
    mikenygmail , February 15, 2013 12:01 PM
    BigMack70Am I the only one who can't stand wired anything? I just flat out refuse to use either a wired mouse or wired keyboard. Went wireless 10 years ago and would never even think of making a wired purchase again.


    I like my wired keyboard and mouse. I can't stand wireless, for the most part...
    but when certain circumstances necessitate it, my $8 logitech wireless mini mouse is great!
  • 1 Hide
    genghiskron , February 15, 2013 12:21 PM
    the g9x COD edition is $40 on amazon. sure, its has a hideous logo on it, but its an unbeatable value at that price.

    the cooler master quickfire rapid is superior in quality to the similarly sized/featured blackwidow and offers red, brown, and black in addition to blue cherry mx switches.
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