Optical versus laser mouse. What’s the difference between optical and laser mouse?

Optical versus laser mouse. What’s the difference between optical and laser mouse?
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For a long time there have been this optical versus laser mouse discussions going on. In every discussion topic, questions like “laser mouse better than optical mouse?” or vice versa pop up. In this post i will be trying to present you the main necessary information about optical and laser mice, the difference between optical and laser mouse, their pros and cons and etc.. This article’s subject is about tracking styles of mice, so lets start with the basics. What’s a gaming mouse? Even more general, what is a computer mouse?

A mouse is the device that we use to transfer our physical motion to our computer interface. The simplest and fastest motion in front of our computer in our situation is the arm, wrist and hand movement. So, how does our computer understands our movement and our intentions to move the cursor in a specific direction? This is the part where mouse sensors hop into the scene.

Our mouse sensor is the device to track the movement of our mouse. There are various types of mice with different sensor types, but used majority is consisting of three main types:

– Laser sensor mouse
– Optical sensor mouse
– Ball sensor mouse (Mechanical)

They all serve to same purpose but with different technical solutions. Ball mouse is left behind at the moment and they can be seen in computer geek museums as antique pieces. That’s why we’re not gonna pay too much attention to it.

As being an engineer myself, i would have liked to provide you deep, intense information about the technical side of things, but then it will turn to a lesson of physics which will include so much overwhelming information that won’t be practical for most consumers. So here (and not only here, in most of my content) i’m aiming to provide you practical and most understandable information which you can use while searching your mouse.

Optical vs laser mouse

This optical vs laser mice battle was going on for a time now. I’m hoping to provide you enough information that there won’t be any question marks left on your mind. Now, some people during their learning process prefer the reading method while some others prefer visual engagement like videos and etc. That’s why i’m gonna share this short video that will give a  little summary of what’s going to be told in this content:

 

Technology behind it

Actually, the main principle behind the work of both mice are almost the same. There is a light emitter in both mice. Optical mice have a red LED emitter while laser mice have a laser emitter.

In optical mouse light iluminates  the surface and bounces from the surface and gets received by the IC (integrated circuit – chip). IC is consisted of Image Acquisition System, Digital Signal Procesor (DSP) and two wire serial ports. To explain it all in the simplest way, think it like a low resolution camera which takes 1500 to 6000 images per second. These images are analyzed, then position of the mouse is calculated. Bounced off light gets received by a CMOS sensor. This kind of sensor is also found on cameras of smart phones and etc.. Think it as our camera. After it gets images of the surface, it sends the image to DSP to analyze. DSP looks for patterns in images and determines in what direction the mouse moves as patterns change their coordinates. You may understand better when you look at the image below.

surface-image-tracking

This image shows an example of analyzed patterns of the surface. By looking at letters “c” and “E” you can understand that pattern has moved in down and right direction, which means the mouse has moved to right and left. These directions are opposite. Bear in mind that sensor takes about 1500 images per second and DSP works with millions of instructions in a second. That is why our mouse responses so rapidly to our movements. I think it’s interesting to know the engineering behind even those little things that we use everyday.

The minuses of optical mouse are that the majority of them work on opaque surfaces. On too smooth surfaces like glass and non-opaque surfaces optical mice will not work effectively or won’t work at all. And they offer less DPI than laser mice. But now there is new infrared technology that allows optical mice to work on every surface and there are developed optical gaming grade mice that offer high DPI.optical-vs-laser-mice

Technology of laser mice came after the optical mouse technology. Laser mouse works on a principle that is known as laser doppler velocimetry. The emitted laser bounces of the surface and returns to receiver in a different frequency. This changed frequency is then processed into a velocity signal that is integrated into a position change.

Laser mice offer higher DPI than optical mice and work on almost any surface. But their minus is they have a greater lift off distance and they usually come with mouse acceleration.

Lift-off distance thing

Lift-off distance is the distance between your surface and mouse when it stops perceiving movements when you lift off your mouse. But why does it matter? It matters in gaming. Optical mice are known for a little lift off distance while laser mice are still needed to lift off more than optical mice to cut the connection from the surface.

Lift off matters because when you’re gaming sometimes you need to pick your mouse up and get it to the middle of your pad or surface again when you reach the end of your movement space. While doing this, it is important that the cursor doesn’t move while the mouse is on the air not contacted with the surface. If this happens we can miss targets or get undesired outcomes at tight situations. And optical mice in lift off have an advantage against laser mice.

Acceleration issues

One of the main features which draws a shiny red line between optical mouse and laser mouse is the thing that we call “acceleration”. I think most of you people know what is acceleration, it’s a quantity which that defines the change  of velocity of a moving object in a specific space of time. A simple example: if an object’s velocity is increasing 2 meters per second by every passing second, it’s acceleration will be 2 m/s^2 (2m/s/s). But that was just an example for you to understand the logic of acceleration.

When situation is about mice, it goes like this. When you’re using a mouse with acceleration, your mouse will displace more pixels on your screen, although you’re not moving your mouse that far, if you move your mouse with accelerated and fast movements.

So what does it mean? It means that this can lead to problems during gaming when precision matters. During gaming you’re thinking a dozen of things at background of your head and calculating the acceleration of your mouse is maybe the last of them. Especially when you’re playing a FPS game, there’s a great chance that you will miss your targets or won’t be able to achieve your desired great precision during gameplay just because your mouse is accelerating and moving the cursor farther than your target point.

Optical mouse are good in this aspect because optical sensors don’t cause this kind of problem. And this is why many hardcore gamers are good to go with optical mouse. But of course this doesn’t mean that optical is the best and laser mouse sucks. Each one has its pros and cons and people should consider which one is more suitable for their goals.

At the end of our laser mouse vs optical mouse competition we can arrive to this conclusion:

Optical Mouse

Pros:

– No acceleration. Great for precision in dynamic gaming.
– Latest infrared optical mouse technology is able to work smoothly on almost any surface with great tracking.
– Really short lift off distance. Great plus when stability matters.

Cons:

– Lower DPI when compared to laser mice.
– Classic optical sensors will not work on every surface.

Laser Mouse

Pros:

– Has higher DPI models when compared to optical mice.
– Works well on almost every surface.

Cons:

– Usually comes with mouse acceleration.
– Lift off distance is higher than optical mouse.

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16 Responses to Optical versus laser mouse. What’s the difference between optical and laser mouse?

  1. dorina62 says:

    So laser mouce is more accurate than the optical mouse , providing greater sensitivity and precision. This mouse can be used where pinpoint accuracy is needed. I wonder if such a sophisticated item is useful for ordinary users?because I’d like to have one.Great informations,I wouldn’t know the difference before reading the article.

    • Hey Dorina) Thank you for your interest in my site) And i appreciate your comment. Aand, no. It’s vice versa. Optical mice tend to be better when it comes to precision and quick pin point targeting. Because it doesn’t have the problem that we call mouse acceleration. And acceleration is something that can be switched off in most cases (in-game and operating system).Precision is about your tracking parameters. And also it will be wrong to say that optical mice are always better than laser mice. Some laser mice will have different capabilities than optical and some optical may have different capabilities than laser.

      It all comes down to customer and their needs while choosing a mouse. I suggest you to read all my posts in the How To Choose menu item. I think you will find many answers for your questions there. And i’m trying to improve my content to be more helpfull so i would like to ask you, are there any advice would you lie to give to me? About content or there may be some parts that are not good enough for you? Maybe the look of the site? Your feedback wil lbe highly appreciated.

  2. stefan says:

    Hi there! thanks for such an informative post. I have used a mouse for many many years until I bough my first laptop 3 years ago. Since then I got used to the pad but I always though the mouse was better. I finally decided to go back to my mouse because it is much quicker than scrolling with the finger… it is much more efficient I would say.

    Between the optical and laser I think I would prefer the optical because I prefer precision. Are they more expensive though? Is it worth the price?

    Many thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hey Stefan thanks for your interest. Well some optical can be more expensive than lasers and some lasers may be more expensive than opticals. There are just so many. It’s better to check two types which both fulfill your needs and then make a price comparison. There are also laser mice that acceleration which can be turned off or adjusted so this feature is a variant to eliminate mouse acceleration. Optical mice are better in some ways, their lift off distance is way lower than laser mices.

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  4. Tempest says:

    I’ve never actually took the time to consider and think about the science behind a mouse, but this is extremely intriguing. The way you phrased everything made me really grow a massive interest towards mice. It’s such a simplistic thing, but, honestly, I was 100% into the technicalities behind it all. Thank you. 🙂

    • admin says:

      Hey Temprest)

      Yeah, science behind every usual technological device we use is actually so interesting. So simple, but so interesting.

      I thank you for your kind words) I’m so glad that you liked the content. Keep in touch.

    • Hey Tempest)

      Actually the technology behind all the devices we use in our daily life is very interesting. Science is so simple and so interesting. Thank you for your kind words) I’m really glad that you liked the content. Keep in touch!!

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  6. Daniel says:

    I actually didn’t know the difference between an optical and laser mouse – or even that either of them existed haha! But I feel like an expert now! Great information and amazing knowledge shown. I was compelled to read on because the way you write shows that you care about what you’re writing about. It’s brilliant.

    • admin says:

      Thank you Daniel) I actually know what user experience is about, so i’m trying my best to provide people with quality content. I’m trying not to leave any stone unturned, and it feels great to know that people are happy with what they read.

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  8. Jim says:

    which last longer?

    • Well, it actually can vary. It also depends on your usage and treatment. The most problems which people end up buying a new mouse are usually mechanical problems associated with switches. If the sensor is our main concern, you can’t predict the life span. Optical mouse is a simpler technology so I assume that it may last longer without any malfunction, but that’s just my opinion…

  9. Excellent post.

    The differences were described in detail, and the comments added to the discussion.
    Thank you for adding the acceleration issues part, because it is one of the most crucial factors when discussing about these two sensors.

    The pros and cons at the end of your post make a good TLDR for those with little time to spend, and in a jiffy they get an idea which sensor is better for them.

    Personally, I only use Optical mice, because of one sorry experience with a Laser mouse.

    I have written a similar post on differences sharing my knowledge, and have linked to it here, hope it helps anyone who needs to have a detailed difference after going through this post.

    Cheers

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your interest Prathamesh!!

      I’m actually very honored by knowing that I’ve been a referance to your posts. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re gaining attention of the people and making some difference))

      Yeah, I’m also an “Optics Guy” who prefers optical.

      Thank you for your interest and I’m so glad for your mention!!

      Cheers

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