What Is Mouse DPI?

Last Updated on by Nicholas Frost

Remember the days when you only had to work with a mechanical mouse to navigate your PC? The one that has a roller ball under it, which aids its movement on your mouse pad, and has a difficult time doing so without it?

While this mouse from the not so distant past has allowed you access to screen functions at a much faster rate compared to navigating your screen with just your keyboard arrows and tab buttons, it comes with a bonus of picking up dust particles and some hair strands along the way. Yep, it can be pretty nasty. Over time, all that dirt stuck inside affects your mouse’s responsiveness, so you are required to clean it every now and then.

Thankfully, technology is ever-evolving so that most gadgets generally get better with time. And besides, you’d rather keep that roller mechanism on a deodorant, wouldn’t you? The ubiquitous computer mouse has elevated its motion game and because of that, it remains an indispensable tool despite modern touchscreen capabilities. Its importance not only for work but especially in gaming nowadays where you need to rely on a good mouse, cannot be downplayed. In fact, its DPI is one of the main considerations that can be crucial for any serious gamer.

Whether you’re using an optical or laser type, the DPI is what you should be checking out when considering a gaming mouse purchase. Optical mice typically have their infrared LED light and a teeny bit camera via a CMOS sensor, which enables them to capture thousands of images in a second as they move. A laser mouse, on the other hand, works similarly but uses a laser beam instead. In other words, the only difference between the two is their light source and the rest is fair game.

In this article, we will focus on the use of a mouse’s role in the gaming world. First things first, what does DPI mean?

What Is Mouse DPI By Definition?

DPI or Dots Per Inch is related to a mouse’s sensitivity, which is determined by its cursor movement on your computer screen that is dictated by how you move your mouse device. Are you able to jump right next to the spot with just the slightest touch or manipulation of your mouse hardware? The mouse DPI tells you the distance in centimeters your movement entails. In an example, the 800-DPI will cover 800 pixels of screen ground within about an inch of mouse movement. By virtue, the higher the DPI of your mouse is, the smaller the movement you’ll require with your mouse.

These days, the DPI is also referred to as Counts Per Inch or CPI, so they’re basically just one and the same. Meanwhile, you should not assume that having a higher DPI is always ideal. Although this will benefit you if you play first-person shooter games where you want to aim your sniper rifle precisely at minute targets by zooming in on your weapon, it may prove to be too sensitive to handle when playing in normal view. You wouldn’t want your cursor speed going from zero to a thousand all the time. Depending on your purpose, you can change your DPI given your mouse DPI settings to optimize its use.

Typically, gaming mice have DPI buttons that can be adjusted otherwise, you can tinker with the settings when you launch your mouse using the control center of your keyboard. Many pro gamers opt for DPI that is anywhere from 400 to 800. This allows them to finetune their tracked positions given their mouse control. As such, the mouse manages to retain the details even when using a lower DPI setting. This would maintain accuracy of where you’re at in the game. There are mouse software programs like Razer Synapse, which allows you to make DPI adjustments with narrower increments.

You must note that there is no absolute or a standard DPI setting because the most optimal value will depend on your screen resolution, body dimensions, and your own dexterity. It may then take several trial-and-error experimentations to determine which number suits you best.

DPI vs mouse sensitivity

While I did mention earlier that a DPI relates to mouse sensitivity, these two terminologies still remain distinct from one another. Let’s just put it this way, your mouse DPI is more for your hardware mobility while mouse sensitivity refers to the movement that can be adjusted in your software. As this mouse sensitivity is increased, so does the speed of your mouse movement thereby requiring less effort on the mouse itself.

It is possible to have a high mouse DPI that has a low mouse sensitivity. This would then mean that you can be making big movements with your mouse, which would translate to delicate maneuvers in your cursor. In the same manner, you can have a cranked-up sensitivity with your screen movements while having a lower DPI. This makes detecting small movements a challenge, however, which your OS compensates for by coming up with a not-so-smooth action with an abrupt if not, a jerky cursor.

Why mouse acceleration is never a good thing

Mouse acceleration is probably what professional gamers would want to live without. When there is no mouse acceleration, their mouse cursor is able to match the precise distance per inch as they move their gaming mouse. This can only be limited, however, based on the dexterity of one’s hands. In any case, you are then compelled to move your mouse below the speed limit in order for you to achieve pixel accuracy. That is why without this acceleration, your accuracy and speed will not be restricted. Simply put, your cursor will cover an inch of ground when you move your mouse using the same distance. This will vary though if you move the mouse much slower such that an inch of mouse action will only convert to about one-eighth inch distance for your cursor.

However, when you move your mouse at a great speed, it can also cause acceleration. To illustrate, moving your mouse for 1 inch that is done much faster will prompt the cursor to fly across the screen by 10 inches, which is 10 times as much distance as your mouse. In this scenario, your mouse is overwhelmed by its speed such that it tends to overcompensate by accounting even those small light variances, resulting in your cursor making those big leaps on your display. It essentially messes up your mouse’s muscle memory so to speak, which many gamers count on to play their game with consistency. This is vital, after all, your mouse is practically your body’s appendage that should be in sync with the rest of your senses that it turns instinctive, making a big difference in your gaming performance.

Negative acceleration

Negative acceleration is just as bad as acceleration per se. This happens when you’re moving your mouse slowly, which produces an opposite effect on the turn cap speed, causing it to move faster in a game. In the same manner, moving your mouse faster would cause the turn speed to respond slowly. You hit the maximum speed such that it cancels out any input beyond it.

To illustrate this, moving your mouse at say, 6 inches on a given speed, will perform a full turn under normal circumstances. But when you do this maneuver faster with the same distance, the effect would only be about a half-turn or 180 degrees, compromising your accuracy in the process.

You then wonder why there is such a phenomenon in the world of PC gaming. Given your polling rate (which we’ll delve into later), moving the mouse a little too far beyond the normal boundaries, your mouse is unable to keep up such that it sends a lower value to your CPU despite the larger distance. It is said that this occurrence is decreased when your mouse has good sensors. Having a bad tracking surface can also aggravate the situation.

Moreover, games are said to contribute to negative acceleration themselves because they cap their turn distance in a single frame to a certain limit. As such, it is recommended to increase your frame rate to avoid this from happening. Setting your graphics much lower may also help, including switching off the v-sync to uncap your frame rate.

Adjusting the mouse sensitivity

Since mouse sensitivity can be adjusted in your software settings, there are 2 ways of doing so depending on the type of computer you are using. Go to the control panel when you play on Windows and locate the mouse icon. On top of its settings, choose among the pointer options where you can adjust the speed under the motion section. You can even turn off the setting for pointer precision if you prefer to have a slower mouse. Try testing your chosen pointer speed afterward. Once you’re happy with it, apply and save your changes.

Meanwhile, you should look for system preferences on the Apple menu when gaming on a Macbook. Here you will find the trackpad menu, which is applicable for Mac laptops. You can simply slide up and down on the Point and Click tab. For Mac desktops, choose the mouse menu instead. Similar to adjusting your mouse sensitivity on Windows, don’t forget to lock in your changes by saving them accordingly.

High DPI and a high res monitor

A mouse DPI should be directly proportional to your screen resolution. In other words, a high-resolution screen is best complemented by a high mouse DPI. To illustrate, a 600 DPI will require about two inches to move from top to bottom on a screen resolution of 1920 X 1200. If you double your DPI to 1200, you will only need to move your mouse by an inch to produce the same response on your screen.

Simply put, you can move a lot quicker on a high res screen with a high mouse DPI because otherwise, you will need a heck larger pad to do so. If you use this same DPI on a low res screen, you will find it more difficult to access the small areas just like when you deal with high mouse sensitivity that’s combined with a lower DPI.

Polling rate

Another element of mouse operations is its polling rate, which is the frequency of its cursor movements that are reported back to your PC. It is measured in terms of hertz or Hz. Each hertz is equivalent to one reporting in every second. This means that a 250hz polling rate would report the cursor position 250 times per second as well. You must know that you can also translate the hertz in terms of milliseconds. As such, a 125Hz polling rate, for example, will have an 8-millisecond reporting frequency.

You might ask how this affects a mouse’s performance and its relation to DPI. When you use a higher polling rate, there will be less lag between your mouse movement and your cursor action. However, you will need a higher processing capacity to enable a higher polling rate. And just like the mouse DPI, there are gaming mice that allow for a variable polling rate using special software, with some of them being adjustable on demand.

Angle snapping

Just like negative acceleration, angle snapping is one of the gamer’s worst nightmares. But what is it exactly? It is the ability of your mouse to predict when you intend to take a straight line even if your movements are not actually straight. It is basically your mouse auto-correcting you with its own assumptions in a manner of speaking. Your mouse sensor will decide against your mouse movement based on its prediction.

You’d think this should be good, right? It can probably be helpful if you’re doing office work. But in the heat of online gaming, it is a very annoying occurrence, to say the least. Picture this: you are about to get the last frag by zooming in your sniper rifle only to be “corrected” by changing your aim. Unfortunately, most mice have this unpleasant feature.

Anyhow, you can verify if your mouse has angle snapping quite easily. All you have to do is to go to MS Paint, or its Mac counterpart depending on your computer device. Pick out the pencil tool and use it to draw a horizontal line. If your mouse has zero angle snapping, your drawing output should show a less than a straight line. A mouse that has this auto-correction would adjust your line drawing such that it will produce a perfectly straight line.

Mouse surface

Your mouse DPI can be affected by the surface on which you move your mouse. These flat surfaces include mouse pads, mats, among others. The mouse may work on a particular surface, but does not necessarily track as smoothly as it should.

One of the features you should check is the surface reflectivity or its glossiness, as it can impact your tracking ability, especially when using an optical type. A laser mouse can help, but it has trouble tracking on matte surfaces. Another thing to consider is the consistency of your surface texture. It should not be smooth on just one part, but rough on the other because it will only make it hard for you to move precisely.

The speed of your mouse surface may be a matter of preference. It is only natural for you to want a surface that allows very little resistance when moving your mouse and at the same time, you can draw a halt immediately whenever necessary. It can be said that this will depend on your mouse weight, which you would want to have a faster speed if it is heavier.

A large surface area will be better for your mouse which should at least measure 10 inches in length and width. If it’s small in size, you may lose precious seconds when repositioning your mouse as you’re forced beyond its tight space. Others may solve this issue using a higher mouse sensitivity, but it may compromise the accuracy of your gaming mouse. Given that you are space-challenged, you can consider getting a smaller keyboard to help your case.

Your posture and desk positioning matter, too, you know. You should make sure your arm is not angled in an outward manner by centering your mouse properly. This will make your forearm parallel to the floor, which will create less strain on your wrist and arm.

Keeping your wires in check

While there are wireless mice for sure, most gamers stick to the wired kind. However, an entangled wire can diminish your accuracy and limit your movements. As such, you must leave enough wire slack so there will be less resistance when you need to do certain movements. You can use a mouse bungee, which helps secure your mouse cable, providing full movement while preventing it from being entangled. It’s not exactly a perfect solution though, because there will still be that varying tension on your mouse when used.

Wireless mice, on the other hand, are out of the equation because they are typically subjected to interference. You can find a good wireless mouse that can work with online gaming, but it can cost a pretty penny. And besides, they come with extra weight as they are battery-powered.

Using your gaming mouse on FPS

It’s just different when you play 2D games versus first-person shooter games. The precision of your cursor is limited by the screen resolution in 2-dimensional perspective games. In an FPS game, you have a 3D view that is not restricted by your monitor resolution, only by your game’s turn cap speed that calls for more precise movements. In this regard, you may want to go for a high mouse DPI.

Alternatively, you can do a raw input which is a feature with a 1:1 ratio movement between your mouse and your hand. With this option, there is neither a lag nor acceleration that will take place so it becomes generally more advantageous for FPS games. Because it’s “raw”, you are getting input for your mouse straight from how you manipulate the mouse itself and not from the OS that can be affected by the cursor position which limits the turn speed, therefore, becoming inconsistent.

Elements that make for the best gaming mouse

While the best will vary based on purpose or type of game played, it can be said that this one leaves no room for acceleration. It must be noted that this undesirable effect does not only occur in laser mice because it is usually caused by the hardware used on your mouse (optical or laser) construction. In any case, here’s what you should look for in a mouse for PC gaming.

Low mouse DPI

Generally, a low DPI is preferred for gaming. Although a higher DPI would seem ideal on PC games because it is able to capture more pixels in one image, which leads to better color variety, this can overwork the mouse as well. The sensors typically get two signal types, namely, noise floor base frequency and spikes, which are brought about by a trackable surface. The fewer pixels that come with a low DPI allow the mouse to easily distinguish these two, enabling it to work much faster.

High polling rate

You would want a polling rate between 500 and 1000 hertz which will enable your mouse to report more often to prompt your cursor to adjust accurately.

Good surface

When you have an optical mouse, it is best to complement it with a cloth mouse pad. On the other hand, you should use a harder but thinner mousepad for laser mice, as this will help prevent mouse acceleration.

Final word

While the gaming mouse will not guarantee your success as a gamer, having the ideal features will help you get there somehow. You must remember though that your gaming rig should match your gaming mouse to perform better. After all, what good is your gaming mouse if it cannot be supported with a faster processor and a solid bunch of PC hardware accessories. Don’t forget that size, grip, button placement and weight of your mouse are also of importance.

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