Do you really need a mouse pad for gaming? Let’s talk about when, why, and why not. To properly dive into it, I’ll need to brief you on not only mouse pads, but also mouse sensors, because the sensor is integral to how a mouse functions and interacts with a mouse pad. I’ll also be providing some recommendations and answer a few-follow-up questions after addressing the big one:
Do you really need a mouse pad for gaming? Let’s find out.
How Mouse Pads Work
The main function of a mouse pad is to be a uniform, easily-readable surface for any computer mouse. These traits are ideal for a mouse pad to function at its best, and can’t really be offered by most smooth surfaces- at least not for all mice. While a mouse pad has the same comfort and feel benefits for any mouse, the mouse sensor will determine how much the mouse pad is actually needed to improve input consistency.
How Mouse Sensors Work
So, before we dive into the specifics of laser vs optical sensors, let’s talk about how mouse sensors, in general, work.
Let’s start with what actually makes a laser sensor different from an optical sensor..or doesn’t. They’re actually pretty much the same optical sensor technology, except a “laser” mouse has a visible laser in use. Optical mice do not emit any visible light, hence the distinction.
As it turns out, that minor difference in tech implementation results in laser mice and optical mice being considered different enough beasts to be referred to as such. Those differences also manifest in their respective relationships with mouse pads.
How Laser Mice Work With a Mouse Pad
So laser mice work using a combination of an optical sensor and a visible tracking laser. This actually improves surface compatibility across-the-board, since a visible laser actually slightly penetrates surfaces and gives more detailed readings to the mouse. This also makes it easy for laser mice to operate at higher DPIs than optical mice, since higher-resolution tracking data allows for higher DPI ranges.
So, with a mouse pad- laser mice actually work pretty great. But mouse pads definitely aren’t needed for your laser mouse to function- most reasonably smooth and clean surfaces should do the job. That’s the main benefit of the technology over optical mice. In fact…that might be the only benefit.
How Optical Mice Work With a Mouse Pad
While optical mice work on a similar optical sensor technology to laser mice, their illumination source is actually an infrared light, invisible to the human eye, with minimal surface penetration. This makes optical mice less effective across a wider variety of surfaces, especially reflective or transparent surfaces. Additionally, this means less detailed readings than laser mice- at least in theory.
In practice? Optical mice are considered all-out superior to laser mice in terms of actual signal consistency and accuracy. Laser mice are known to have built-in mouse acceleration, but that by itself isn’t the issue- the issue is that laser mice have great variance in that acceleration, making mouse movements fundamentally inconsistent in a way that they simply are not with infrared optical mice.
When it comes to mouse pads, optical mice are definitely more reliant on mouse pads than laser mice are due to a narrower range of compatible surfaces. Especially if you’re going to be using your mouse wirelessly and on-the-go frequently, surface compatibility can be pretty important.
Why Mouse Pads are Somewhat Optional
So, why are mouse pads considered somewhat optional?
Because chances are high your existing desk surface already works with your mouse, whether it’s laser or optical. If the mouse works and the surface is comfortable, the majority of users will already feel that their needs are met and likely not think too much deeper into it.
But the utility of mouse pads, at least for infrared optical mice, makes sense. Even for laser mice, a mouse pad as a guaranteed readable and uniform surface isn’t a bad proposition, either. But how do these things actually benefit your gaming?
The Actual Benefits of Mouse Pads for Gaming
Especially if you are playing games competitively, consistency is extremely important. Since most intensely mouse-driven PC games require a high degree of precision- especially first-person shooters- consistency necessarily goes hand-in-hand with that precision. If you have a bumpy or uneven surface for your mouse, that will interfere with your mouse inputs and muscle memory.
This is also why laser mice are so frowned upon for gaming, especially competitive gaming. The built-in acceleration people refer to in laser mice is actually a ~5% variance in tracking direction at different speeds, according to Logitech mouse engineer François Morier. Compared to the sub-1% variance experienced by infrared optical mice, this is a severe difference, and not a good one.
Conclusion: Do You Really Need a Mouse Pad For Gaming?
If you’re fairly confident in the quality of your sensor and surface, no…but you should still seriously consider it, especially if you’re playing these games competitively. Mouse pads are among the cheapest available PC peripherals on the market, and regardless of if you’re using a laser or optical mouse, a mouse pad will improve the consistency of your inputs.
Any quick mouse pad recommendations?
Well, if you’re using a laser mouse already, I highly recommend a mousepad with a hard surface to improve the reliability of your laser mouse. Something like the Logitech G440 Hard Mouse Pad is well-suited for this.
For optical mice…you can pretty much just use any mouse pad, hard or soft, that appeals to you. Spend $5 or $35 on it- as long as it’s smooth and comfortable, you’re good. I’d recommend the Logitech Studio Soft Mouse Pad as a budget mouse pad for anyone, but especially optical mouse users.
Should I spend extra money on a high-end mousepad?
You don’t really need to, but if the extra features are compelling enough for you to be willing to pay the extra money, sure. For example, the Logitech G Powerplay Mouse Pad retails for over $100…but provides a seamless wireless charging surface for supported Logitech Wireless Mice. That’s expensive, but that is a nice feature, especially if you’re trying to minimize wiring in your setup as much as possible.
Will my mouse be damaged or harmed by not using a mousepad?
No, not at all.
However, if you are using your mouse on a surface like a table, you should be extra mindful of any dirt, dust, or debris buildup on the bottom of your mouse. The last thing anyone wants is for their mouse to start skipping or dropping inputs because a grain of dirt got stuck in front of their sensor.
And that’s it, at least for now!
I hope that this article helped teach you a few thing about mouse pads and how they interact with different mouse sensors. And if you have for some reason read this article before buying your own gaming mouse, I sincerely hope that this article has sufficiently warned you against buying a laser mouse for competitive gaming.
Leave a comment below if you have any lingering questions. Until next time!