Do they matter for gaming?

gaming mouse with a blue glow

November 3/Shutterstock

Gaming mice are advertised with high DPIs and polling rates. But what do these specs actually mean, and are higher values ​​really helpful when buying a gaming mouse?

These specs are generally most important to gamers, which is why you’ll often see the values ​​prominently displayed in advertisements and on packaging for gaming mice. You don’t need high precision or the fastest possible response time when surfing the web or working on a spreadsheet. And you don’t even have to worry too much about it unless you play the kind of games where a competitive edge is important. However, a mouse with good precision can also be important for graphic artists and designers. So let’s see what these specs mean.

RELATED: Choosing the Right Gaming Mouse

Basics of Optical Mice

There was a time when a computer mouse contained a rubber ball that rolled (and picked up dirt) as you moved it over a mouse pad. The movement of the ball was captured by mechanical rollers that translated the movement of the mouse into something your computer could understand. Those days are gone and today we have optical and laser mice.

Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock

Modern optical mice contain a light – usually a red one – and a small camera. As you move the mouse, the light shines on the surface below the mouse and the camera takes hundreds of photos per second. The mouse compares the images and determines the direction in which you move the mouse. The mouse then sends this movement data to your computer as mouse input, and the computer moves the cursor across your screen. Laser mice work the same way, but use infrared light instead of visible light.

DPI explained

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

A higher DPI is not always better. You don’t want your mouse cursor to fly all over the screen if you move your mouse just 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 shooting game. When zooming in with a sniper rifle and trying to aim precisely at small targets, a low DPI can be valuable. A low DPI allows you to move the mouse over great distances on your mouse pad, while slowing down the game much. That means the small movements of your hand don’t translate into big misses. If you play the game normally without a zoomed in sniper rifle, this low DPI may not be sensitive enough – you’ll find yourself repeatedly picking up the mouse to turn around. This is why many high-end gaming mice have buttons that you can swipe to switch between DPI settings while playing a game.


You can also see why more sensitive mice are attractive to designers who need to make minor adjustments to their designs.

DPI differs from the typical mouse sensitivity setting. DPI refers to the hardware capabilities of a mouse while sensitivity is just a software setting. For example, let’s say you have a really cheap mouse with a low DPI and you crank up the sensitivity. If you tried to aim at small targets, you will see the mouse cursor jumping around as you move it. The mouse hardware is less sensitive, so it doesn’t detect the smaller movements. Your operating system simply compensates for this by moving your cursor further when it detects a movement, so the movement isn’t as smooth.

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

High DPI mice are more useful if you have a higher resolution monitor. If you’re playing a game on a laptop screen with a low resolution of 1366×768, 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 allows you to move your mouse cursor smoothly across the screen without having to drag your mouse across your entire desk.

Polling rate explained

A mouse’s polling rate is how often it relays its position to a computer. The polling rate is measured in Hz. If a mouse has a polling rate of 125 Hz, it will report its position to the computer 125 times per second or every 8 milliseconds. A frequency of 500 Hz means that the mouse transmits its position to the computer every 2 milliseconds.

A higher polling rate can reduce the delay that occurs between when you move your mouse and when the motion appears on your screen. On the other hand, a higher polling rate will use more CPU resources because the CPU has to ask the mouse for its position more often.

With a mouse that officially supports a higher polling rate, you can generally select a polling rate in the control panel. Some mice may have hardware switches to adjust their polling rate on the fly as well.

Are higher DPI and polling rates better?

DPI and polling rates are a topic of great debate. Everyone has an opinion, and even some gaming mouse manufacturers have said that DPI is a pretty irrelevant spec to talk about. An extremely high DPI would cause the mouse cursor to fly all over your screen when you touch the mouse. For this reason, a higher DPI is not necessarily a good thing. The ideal DPI depends on the game you’re playing, the resolution of your screen, and how you prefer to use your mouse.

A higher polling rate could be helpful, but the difference between 500 Hz and 1000 Hz will be difficult to notice. A higher polling rate also uses more CPU resources, so setting the polling rate too high will only waste CPU resources with no benefit. This isn’t necessarily a problem with modern hardware, but it doesn’t make sense for manufacturers to release mice with a polling rate above 1000 Hz.

Higher DPI and polling rates can be helpful, but they aren’t everything. Chances are you will find yourself dropping the DPI below the max value after buying an expensive gaming mouse. You certainly don’t need the mouse with the highest DPI and polling rate settings. These specs aren’t a simple measurement of performance like a CPU’s speed — they’re more complicated than that. And there are many other factors that go into choosing a good gaming mouse, including things like size, weight, grip style and button placement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *