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Optical vs Laser Mouse | Features, Comparison and Differences


A Mouse is an important computer peripheral either for gaming or for regular day-to-day usage. While mechanical mouse is almost extinct, most modern computer mouse are optical or laser. Technically, both these are optical mice as one uses LED and the uses a Laser Diode but the names struck as Optical and Laser. In this guide, we will explore more about these mice, compare Optical vs Laser Mouse with their features, pros and cons and also take a look at the differences. Finally, we will try to figure out which mouse is the best one for you.

A Brief Note about Mouse

Pointing Devices such as Mouse, Joystick, Trackball, etc. allow you to point/move a cursor/object on the computer’s screen and make several input operations (click, drag, select etc.). Of all these pointing devices, the Mouse is by far the most popular and most commonly used input device.

Mouse gets its name due to its shape and size and also the connecting wire looks like a tail. A computer mouse controls a cursor on the monitor and you can position it anywhere on the screen just by moving the mouse.

Apart from moving the cursor, you can also use its buttons to click on icons, files, etc. and use its center wheel to scroll up and down or zoom in and out.

There are two basic types of Mice: Mechanical Mouse and Optical Mouse. A Mechanical Mouse has a rubber ball on the bottom that slightly protrudes out. As the ball moves on a surface, internally it moves couple of rollers (or sensors). Based on the data from these rollers, the computer moves the cursor on the screen.

An Optical Mouse on the hand, doesn’t have any moving parts but consists of LEDs and Photodiodes to detect the movement of the mouse. There is a third new type of mouse known as Laser Mouse.

Under the hood, it is identical to an optical mouse except that it uses a Laser Diode instead of an LED as the light source.

Optical Mouse

If you are in the market for a new mouse, chances are you will encounter an Optical Mouse. They are the dominating mouse types presently available for purchase.

It consists of an LED (either visible or infrared) light source and a light sensor. Earlier versions have photodiodes as light sensors but most modern optical mice use a CMOS Sensor, which is similar to camera.

While the LED illuminates the surface, the CMOS Sensor captures images continuously. In order to determine where we moved the mouse or not, an optical processor compares the current image with the previous image.

Laser Mouse

Now-a-days, we are hearing a lot about Laser Mouse and how it has better performance. But what exactly is a Laser Mouse. The straight forward answer is a Laser Mouse is a type of optical mouse that uses a Laser Diode to illuminate the surface. Apart from this, everything else is very similar to a regular optical mouse.

As the beam from the laser diode is much more focused that a simple LED or an infrared LED, you get very accurate and precise illumination of the surface and essentially a better capture by the CMOS Sensor.

Hence, a laser mouse can detect very fine differences in the surface which means you get precise movement of the cursor.

When Laser Mouse was first launched, it was very expensive then a simple optical mouse. But the price difference is gradually closing down. But even today, laser mice are comparatively expensive than optical mice.

Pros and Cons

Let us now see the pros and cons of optical mouse and laser mouse.

Of Optical Mouse

+ Affordable

+ A Perfect mouse for beginners

+ The best price to performance ratio in the current mouse market

+ You often need a non-reflective surface such as a decent mouse pad

+ Less prone to ‘Acceleration’ problem

– Lacks the accuracy and sensitivity of a Laser Mouse

– It is not suitable for glassy surfaces and other surfaces with mirror finish

– Has a less resolution than laser mouse (normally 3,000 dpi)

Of Laser Mouse

+ Very high resolution, usually can go up to 15,000 dpi or even more

+ Scans the surface as well as the tiny ridges and valleys on the surface

+ It has very good accuracy and sensitivity

+ Has high precision and also good pointing speed

+ Can work on all types of surfaces (even glossy and reflective) without mouse pad

– Slightly expensive but price gap is very close

– Due to its high sensitivity, you might face acceleration problem

– Not the best performance at slow speeds

Comparison of Optical vs Laser Mouse

Now that we have seen the basics of both the optical and laser mice and also their pros and cons, let us go through a simple comparison of Optical vs Laser Mouse.

Parameter Optical Mouse Laser Mouse
Illumination Method LEDs (Visible or Infrared) Laser Diode
Tracking Method CMOS Sensor CMOS Sensor
Sense Depth Scans only the surface as LED light is not that penetrative Can scan tiny ridges and valleys on the surface as laser is highly focused and penetrative
Surface Type Non-glossy and non-reflective (might need mouse pad) Suitable for all surface types without mouse pad
Resolution Up to 3,000 DPI Usually in the range of 6,000 to 15,000 DPI. Higher is also possible.
Acceleration Problem Less Prone More chance of acceleration problem
Performance as Low Speeds Very smooth operation at low speeds Feels jittery at low speeds
Cost Affordable Slightly expensive but the price gap is becoming narrow
Developer Originally, Mouse Systems Corporation and Xerox but commercially Microsoft Originally Sun Microsystems but commercially Logitech

Difference between Optical and Laser Mouse

From the above Optical vs Laser Mouse comparison, it is clear that even though both are essentially based on optical technology, there are a lot of differences in terms of resolution, speed, surface compatibility etc. We will now see some important differences between Optical and Laser Mouse by considering some important characteristics.

Resolution

Both optical and laser mice use CMOS sensors to capture the images of the surface. We measure the resolution of this image as Dots per inch or DPI. A DPI values in the range of 400 to 800 is ideal for regular usage.

But some high-end optical mice can have a high DPI of 3,000 to 4,000. At the same time, a decent laser mouse can have a minimum of 6,000 DPI while some fancy and expensive ones offering 15,000 DPI or even more.

The problem with high DPI numbers is that it takes a lot more processing to get the information from the image. So, many modern mice come with adjustable DPI setting. A gamer usually prefers low DPI as it involves less processing and essentially less input lag.

Sensitivity

Optical Mouse use LEDs to light up the surface while a laser mouse uses a laser diode. The data from a laser lit surface is far more detailed than a LED lit surface and the laser mouse can see even the small peaks and valleys of the surface. While this contributes to high sensitivity, this can be a problem, especially at low speeds.

The reason is a laser mouse can become too accurate and pick up unnecessary information. This further leads to acceleration problem in laser mice.

On the other hand, as LED illuminates the surface, a regular optical mouse can have a decent sensitivity and the chance of acceleration is very less.

Speed and Response Time

Higher DPI of laser mice means that they generally good tracking speed when we compare to optical mouse. A laser mouse can take only couple of centimeters to move the cursor from one side to the other. But it might take more than double that distance in case of an optical mouse.

Design

Both laser and optical mice have very good design and aesthetics. Some expensive mice come with extra buttons, adjustable weights, RGB lighting and other features.

Tracking Method

Optical Mouse uses an LED to illuminate the surface while a laser diode uses a laser diode. Both these mice use CMOS Sensors to capture the image of the surface.

To check whether we moved the mouse or not, an optical image processor compares the images from the CMOS Sensor and finds the differences. Based on this data, the computer understands the direction of the movement and also the amount of distance.

Since laser is much more focused and penetrating, a laser mouse can even detect slight differences in the surface including tiny peaks and valleys. An optical mouse on the other hand scans only the top of the surface.

Surface Compatibility

An optical mouse works best on a non-glossy, non-reflective surface. It is better to use a mouse pad with an optical mouse. But a laser mouse can work on all kinds of surfaces without any mouse pads.

Price

Finally, the important factors: the cost of the mouse. When laser mice were first introduced, they are priced astronomically higher than regular optical mice. But gradually, they became affordable and now-a-days, the cost of both optical and laser mice are comparable.

You can decent optical or laser mouse in the price range of $20 to $40. There are even more expensive options but this is a good starting point.

Which is the Best: Optical Mouse or Laser Mouse?

Now comes the important question: which mouse is the best; optical or laser? It is difficult to give a straight forward answer as to which is the best. Both these mice are very good and are even affordable. There are some differences but both are good for regular usage as well as gaming and other productive tasks.

Laser Mouse is compatible with a variety of surfaces but can have accuracy issues at low speeds. You might need a mouse pad with an optical mouse depending on the surface but they are very reliable.

Apart from the mouse itself, you also have to consider the surface you are using it on. If fast gaming is your requirement, then you need low DPI and high polling rate.

Conclusion

Optical and Laser are the two popular mice you can buy today. Even though both are technically based on optical technology, the names struck in the industry. In this guide, we saw the basics of optical mouse and laser mouse and we also compared optical vs laser mouse with respect to some important parameters. Then, we listed out few differences and also saw which one is the best.



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