2008 Gaming Mouse Roundup

GameSpot takes a look at the latest crop of high-end gaming mice.

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Introduction

Although consoles may have brought the first-person shooter genre into the living room (and are now working on doing the same thing to real-time strategy games), that doesn't mean the PC is in any danger of running out of excellent fast-paced games to play. And while you may be able to hook up your Xbox 360 controller to your PC and use it to play those games, most PC gamers will want to find a trusty mouse and keyboard combo for the most precise gaming experience.

Luckily, there are plenty of mice on the market that are dedicated to gaming. The past few months have seen a number of strong gaming mice released. With features like macro recording, interchangeable mouse feet, and the ever-important glowing LEDs, these mice all have a boatload of features that will hopefully improve your gaming experience. Unfortunately, most of these mice are also going to be fairly expensive, so GameSpot's editors took the time to get our hands on four of the latest and greatest gaming mice and give each of them a whirl.

We're not going to give these mice a rating; instead, this roundup is intended to give you an overview of the different features and ergonomics of each mouse. Just keep in mind that it's worth tracking down a mouse to try for yourself before plunking down a Benjamin on it; most big-box electronic stores should have these mice in stock and will hopefully have display models out so that you can go hands-on with them yourself.

Terminology and Features

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Every mouse will have certain technologies in common with the others, which makes it relatively easy to compare them based on their specifications. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell what all the terminology on a mouse's specifications sheet means, so feel free to read this section if you're clueless about what dpi is or what an inches-per-second rating means. We'll also describe some of the common features that you may want or need in a gaming mouse.

Dots Per Inch (DPI): This term originated in the world of printers. Some companies use the term "counts per inch" instead, which is probably more accurate, but the two terms are interchangeable when it comes to mice. What it refers to is the fact that modern optical or laser mice use sensors that take an incredibly large number of pictures of the mousing surface underneath the mouse as it's moved; the comparisons between these pictures will let the mouse know in which direction it's moving and how quickly. A higher dpi setting will enable greater precision in your mouse and will also let you move the mouse cursor more quickly without moving the actual mouse a large distance.

If a mouse is rated at 400dpi, for instance, moving it one inch will cause the sensor to register 400 images, which will in turn move the mouse cursor 400 pixels across your screen. Turning that same mouse up to 4,000dpi will increase the number of images and in turn move the mouse 4,000 pixels across the screen.

Although early optical mice featured maximum settings of around 400 or 800 dots per inch, most current gaming mice will feature dpi settings of 3,200 or more. While higher is usually better, you're not going to want to set your default dpi too high; anything above 2,000 or so will make your cursor move very quickly based on small inputs, which makes precision control rather difficult. (Many professional Counter-Strike gamers will use dpi settings of between 400 and 800 to ensure maximum precision with ranged weapons, for instance.)

All of the gaming mice in this roundup feature on-the-fly dpi switching, allowing you to flip a switch on the mouse to alternate between various dpi settings. For FPS games, you usually want to have a high dpi setting for using assault rifles or submachine guns, since they're used at close range and you'll need to track fast-moving targets. If you use sniper rifles, though, your targets are going to be farther away and probably moving less quickly across your screen; a low dpi setting will let you increase your precision and move the mouse less while you line up your shot.

Inches Per Second (IPS): Mice with optical or laser sensors will have a maximum speed at which they can be moved before their sensors lose their ability to track the movement. If you exceed the inches-per-second rating, your mouse cursor will begin to exhibit jerky movement or will simply skip across the screen. A high inches-per-second setting is especially important if you like to play with a low mouse sensitivity, because you'll usually be moving your mouse very rapidly. Higher is better, but none of these mice should exhibit any problems based on their inches per second, except in cases where you're moving the mouse extremely fast. Also keep in mind that your inches-per-second rating will usually depend on what kind of surface you mouse on.

Polling: Polling refers to the interaction between your computer's operating system and the mouse. For the mouse's movements to be converted into movement on your computer screen, the operating system needs to know that the mouse is moving. It does this by polling the mouse to see if any input is incoming. Most mice will send data back to the operating system at 500 hertz, or 500 times per second, but gaming mice will often have their polling rates set even higher, to 1,000 hertz. Higher is better, but you won't always notice a huge difference between a 500 hertz mouse and one that runs at 1,000 hertz.

Onboard Profile Memory: Many gaming mice will have onboard memory. This is important if you tend to use a mouse on multiple computers, such as if you're heading to a LAN party. Onboard memory will let you save your favorite settings, such as dpi and button bindings, on the mouse itself, allowing you to plug the mouse into a new computer and use those settings without having to reinstall the mouse software. If you use your mouse at a single computer, however, this feature won't be very important to you, unless multiple people use the same mouse for gaming.

Weights: Some mice offer a weight system, where you can load various weights into a tray that slides into the mouse. This lets you customize the way the mouse feels when you move it around on your mousing surface. Some gamers no doubt find this to be a handy way to change the way a mouse feels if it's uncomfortably light out of the box, but in most cases you should be able to adjust your mousing habits to the feel of a mouse whether or not it incorporates a weighting system. This may be an important feature if multiple people will be gaming on the same system and have different mousing preferences, however.

SteelSeries Ikari Laser Mouse

Quick Facts

  • 3,200 maximum dpi
  • 1,000Hz polling
  • 50 inches per second
  • MSRP: $89.99

The Ikari gaming mouse is from a company that's relatively new on the gaming mouse scene. SteelSeries is probably better known for its line of gaming-oriented mousepads than anything else, but over the past couple of years it has been moving into other lines of gaming gear, including headphones, keyboards, and now mice. The latest gaming mouse model from SteelSeries is the Ikari Laser Mouse, a mouse that purportedly saw its design refined based on feedback from dozens of professional gamers.

Features/Ergonomics

The Ikari Laser has a notably spare design. There aren't any fancy glowing LEDs or ostentatious design features here; for instance, you won't be able to switch out different weights to change how the mouse feels when you move it. Luckily, the spartan design works in the Ikari's favor. Instead of focusing on bells and whistles, the design here seems to emphasize what matters most in a mouse: ease of use and responsiveness.

One notable difference between the Ikari and the other mice in this roundup is the size of the pads that come into contact with your mousing surface: There are four large pads--one on each corner of the mouse's underbelly--each made of the manufacturer's SteelSeries Glide mousing surface. SteelSeries has offered this mousing surface as a set of custom feet for other manufacturers' mice, so the company is obviously confident about it, and probably should be, since the mouse seemed to glide almost effortlessly on most of the mousing surfaces we tried it on.

The form factor of the mouse takes a bit of getting used to; it's exclusively for right-handed gamers and has a bit of a staggered design so that the right mouse button extends farther up than the left mouse button does. Ergonomically, though, the mouse feels great, although it seems to have been designed for gamers who prefer to rest their entire hand on the mouse instead of pushing it around with their fingertips. One noticeable drawback is the sloping curve that your pinky rests on (assuming you keep all three fingers atop the mice at all times). The curve makes it comfortable to rest your hands on the mouse, but it makes it somewhat difficult to pick the mouse up if you need to quickly reposition it. Another possibly annoying feature is the thick and somewhat inflexible mouse cord, which may cause some problems for you if you use mouse clips to keep your cord in place.

Software

The Ikari driver suite is somewhat bare-bones, which fits with SteelSeries' desire for the mouse to be almost driverless and portable. On a Windows machine, the control suite isn't accessible through the taskbar's control panel, which is standard for most mice. Instead, you'll need to track down a desktop shortcut that will let you tweak your settings. The control suite lets you perform most normal actions, including remapping buttons, recording macros, and adjusting the dpi sensitivity of the mouse, which can be adjusted in intervals as low as a single dpi mark.

The Ikari Laser features a single dpi switch, which will toggle between high and low settings. Most of the other mice here will let you toggle between three dpi settings, but for most players, two will be more than enough for most game situations. Oddly, though, the driver suite does not let you adjust mouse pointer sensitivity, mouse acceleration, double-click sensitivity, or the sensitivity of the scrollwheel. Most pro FPS gamers will disregard these settings in favor of tweaking the dpi of the mouse directly, but if you like to fool around with them, you'll need to find the default Windows mouse settings in your control panel to do so.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Sleek, simple design
  • Large mousing surface for smooth movement
  • Possible to make very fine adjustments of dpi settings

Cons

  • Bare-bones control panel doesn't offer many options

Razer Lachesis

Quick Facts

  • 4,000 maximum dpi
  • 1,000Hz maximum polling (adjustable)
  • 60-100 inches per second
  • MSRP: $79.99

Razer has made waves in the gaming mouse market since it debuted with the original Boomslang gaming mouse in the late 1990s and solidified its standing with the exceptional Diamondback mouse in 2004. The last few years have seen other new releases, including a team-up with Microsoft to create the Microsoft Habu. (All of Razer's designs are named after venemous snakes, including the Habu and the Lachesis.) Razer's most recent mouse is the Razer Lachesis, which boasts one of the highest dpi settings ever found on a gaming mouse. At 4,000dpi, it offers a great amount of precision and speed, but it's arguably a bit of overkill, unless you have a huge monitor or want to spin your character around in a 360-degree circle with a tiny movement of your mouse. You can, of course, adjust the dpi to whatever you like, but only in relatively large 125dpi intervals.

Features/Ergonomics

The Lachesis is the only mouse in this roundup that is ambidextrous, which means that both left-handed and right-handed gamers will be able to use it. One of the benefits of this approach is that the mouse is exceptionally wide at the top, where your fingers rest, making it a very comfortable mouse for everyday use on your desktop, especially if you like to rest your entire palm on your mouse; fingertip mousers might find it a bit less comfortable. Another bonus is the addition of two extra side buttons on the right side of the mouse. While right-handed mousers will likely stick to pressing the two left-side buttons, it's not impossible to bind lesser-used functions to the right-side buttons and press them with your pinky.

Unfortunately, the ambidextrous design does introduce one problem with the side buttons on the Lachesis. The side buttons require a bit of pressure to register a click; they're not as sensitive as the side buttons on the Logitech G9 or the SteelSeries Ikari. That's fine in the case of the rear side button, but the forward side button on the Lachesis is fit into a curve on the side of the mouse and is very difficult to quickly press unless you either press the mouse down with your fingers, which often results in errant button presses, or hold the mouse in place with your pinky. A more sensitive button would have eliminated this problem, but as it is, it's pretty difficult to use the front side button in high-intensity FPS games.

Software

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The software for the Lachesis uses the standard Razer control panel, which is somewhat awkwardly laid out and a bit more difficult to use than the control panels for the other mice in this roundup. One of the main sticking points in the software is its inability to shift the dpi in increments of less than 125, which may put off gamers who require very fine adjustments in control. Another instance of possible overkill is that the Lachesis has five different dpi settings that you can switch between. If you're playing an FPS, it's unlikely that you'll need more than two different dpi settings, or perhaps three, so you probably won't find much use for five different dpi settings. It doesn't appear possible to eliminate any of these dpi settings, so even if you need only two, you still have to use all five, which may lead to some confusion if you accidentally click past your desired setting. There also isn't an on-mouse dpi display (the dpi switches don't glow like those on some of the other mice), so if you're in-game and accidentally click the dpi shifting button or click past the setting you want, you'll have to blindly click it back and forth and gauge your response in-game until you get back to where you were previously.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Ambidextrous design lets left-handed gamers get in on the action
  • Wide body makes the mouse comfortable to use for long periods of time
  • Highest dpi setting available if you like your mouse to be extra sensitive

Cons

  • Too many on-the-fly dpi settings, and lack of on-mouse dpi display has the potential to cause confusion
  • Side mouse buttons can be difficult to quickly press

Logitech G9

Quick Facts

  • 3,200 maximum dpi
  • 1,000Hz polling
  • 45-65 inches per second
  • MSRP: $99

Logitech is an old hand at manufacturing mice, and its G5 model has been a favorite of many gamers since its release. The company's most recent gaming mouse, the G9, is a bells-and-whistles product with a number of features that the other mice in this roundup lack. Whether or not these features matter to you is another question, however.

Features/Ergonomics

The first thing you'll notice about the G9 is that it's tiny--by far the smallest mouse in this group. It measures around three-quarters of the front-to-back length of the other three mice here, so it's definitely easier to use if you choose to push your mouse with your fingertips as opposed to resting your palm on it. You can rest your palm on it if you like, but that will usually push your fingers too far forward so that it becomes difficult to maneuver the scrollwheel without readjusting your grip.

Speaking of grip, one of the most noticeable contrivances of the G9 is that you can pop off and exchange the grips that attach to the mouse. The default package comes with two separate grips: the Wide Load, which has a slightly more curvy left side to rest your thumb on, and the more svelte Precision, which removes the thumbrest and changes the grip surface to a more high-friction one to eliminate slippage when your palms get sweaty. (Logitech's Web site states that additional grips will be made available for separate purchase at a later date.) Both grips work well enough, but it's hard to avoid the impression that this feature is a bit of a gimmick.

Apart from the grips, the G9 offers a weight system that will let you input four separate weights into the mouse, each of which weighs either 4 grams or 7 grams. The mouse does feel quite a bit different at the extremes of zero added weight and the maximum of 28 grams of added weight. In addition, the scrollwheel doubles as a tilt wheel for side-to-side scrolling, there's a set of LEDs that will designate which profile and dpi setting you're on, and there's also a Microgear switch on the bottom of the mouse that will eliminate all resistance from the scrollwheel, allowing you to quickly scroll through long documents if you wish.

Software

While some of the features of the G9 are a bit superfluous, the control panel for the mouse is top-notch and offers a large array of options for detail-oriented gamers. You can change the colors of the LED on the mouse, record macros, change the polling rate of the mouse, and plenty more. Among the interesting features is the ability to set a smaller or higher number of discrete dpi levels for on-the-fly switching. Whereas the Ikari Laser has only two dpi settings to switch between, and the Lachesis requires you to use five, the G9 lets you use anywhere from one to five different dpi settings, ensuring that you have only the dpi settings you need and no more than that. Each dpi setting can also have its x-axis and y-axis settings adjusted independently of each other.

In addition, you can set up multiple profiles for your mouse and associate them with different executables. For instance, you can make a custom mouse profile for real-time strategy games and have it automatically start up when you launch Command & Conquer 3, and then you can have the mouse automatically switch to an FPS profile when you launch Call of Duty 4.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent software suite with lots of options
  • Multiple profiles let you automatically switch profiles depending on which game you launch

Cons

  • "Everything but the kitchen sink" design leads to some superfluous features, such as gimmicky replaceable grips
  • Very small body, regardless of grip, which might not be comfortable for everybody

Microsoft SideWinder

Quick Facts

  • 2,000 maximum dpi
  • 500Hz polling
  • 45 inches per second
  • MSRP: $79.99

Microsoft's history with gaming peripherals is a long but not entirely successful one. Microsoft released numerous gamepads, joysticks, and other devices for PC gaming, under its Sidewinder brand, in the late 1990s and the early years of the 21st century but ceased production on them in 2003, reportedly due to poor sales. Now, however, Microsoft has decided to relaunch its Sidewinder brand and has started with the eponymous Sidewinder gaming mouse.

Features/Ergonomics

The Sidewinder has an interesting design that was reportedly inspired by the character of Master Chief in the Halo games. Its body is pretty friendly in ergonomic terms, with a nice length and a fairly high hump for you to rest your palm on. Unlike most mice, gaming or otherwise, the side buttons here are stacked on top of each other, which will likely result in easier access to them in gaming sessions without the need to shift your grip or your thumb backward and forward to reach both of them. They are placed fairly far forward on the mouse, though, which can make it difficult to hover your thumb over the side buttons while also putting your middle finger in a position where it's easy to use the scrollwheel. Speaking of the scrollwheel, luckily the Sidewinder doesn't have a tilt wheel, which made the Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer almost unusable for gaming applications; the scrollwheel here is nicely textured to prevent slippage and is nice and wide to boot.

Like the Logitech G9, the Sidewinder comes with a weighting system that can be used to adjust the feel of the mouse. Anywhere from five to 30 grams of weight can be added to the mouse to customize the movement; these weights are stored in a small, heavy box that comes with the mouse, which you can slip your mouse cord through to anchor it if you don't already use mouse clips of some sort.

One of the oddest features of the Sidewinder is the interchangeable feet that come in the same box as the weights. There are three sets of mouse feet that can be popped off the mouse and switched around according to your preference: a set of Teflon feet, a plain plastic set, and a set that's a mixture of Teflon and non-Teflon materials. The three feet sets will offer marginally different feels based on which one you have applied, but which one you're most comfortable with will probably depend on your mouse surface. We generally prefer to use a hard, plastic, high-friction mousing surface, and we noticed that all of the various mouse feet produced an unpleasant grinding sensation when the mouse was moved around on it. The various mouse feet worked better on lower-friction surfaces, however.

Another somewhat annoying aspect of the mouse is that it has a surfeit of LEDs on it. There's an LCD screen that glows red when you're switching dpi settings or recording macros, the dpi buttons have a permanent red glow to them, and there are also two red LEDs that glow on the bottom of the mouse. None of these appear to be capable of being toggled on and off in software.

Software

The Sidewinder uses a customized version of the Microsoft Intellipoint software, and unfortunately it's somewhat bare-bones compared to the Logitech or Razer control panels. You can set button bindings and associate different bindings with specific programs, but you can't change your dpi settings in this fashion. You can use the macro recording button to add macros to your mouse in software, if you don't like to use the built-in macro record button. The software will also let you bind the mostly pointless quick-turn feature, however, which will let your character in an FPS make a 180-degree turn with the push of a button. That's obviously a huge step forward for people who can't be bothered to flick their mouse to the left or the right, but most gamers will probably prefer to keep their mice buttons free for more useful bindings.

Unfortunately, the technical features of the Sidewinder don't match up with the rest of the mice here: The mouse maxes out at 2,000dpi, compared with ratings of 4,000 for the Lachesis, and the polling rate is also half that of the competing mice. Many normal gamers will probably find the Sidewinder to be fine for normal gaming sessions, but if you require a high degree of precision in games (or if you have a very large monitor and use high dpi settings in Windows), you may not find the Sidewinder to be quite what you're looking for. Another sticking point is that the dpi settings are not completely customizable, in that there are large gaps between the individual settings. There are six settings available, including 200, 400, 800, 1,000, 1,600, and 2,000 dpi, which leaves some large gaps that you may find annoying if you like to have finer control over your dpi settings.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Large body is fairly comfortable if you like to rest your palm on your mouse
  • Side buttons are designed to be easy to click but difficult to click accidentally

Cons

  • Low polling and dpi compared to other high-end mice, and large gaps in dpi customization
  • Removable feet may not work as well on some surfaces as regular mouse feet do
  • Bright LED lights cannot be disabled

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