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What’s The Difference Between Optical And Laser Mice?

Friday, September 21st, 2012 by | Filed Under: I've Always Wanted To Know...

I’ve Always Wanted To Know:
What’s the difference between optical and laser mice?


Computer mice used to come in one simple design, a mouse ball that when rolled measured distance and moved your cursor on screen accordingly. Today mice come in a two different types and people are often confused by the difference between optical and laser mice. The first important thing to understand is when someone refers to optical or laser they are talking about how the mouse detects when you move it not how it is connected to your computer. Optical and laser mice can be connected either through USB cables or wireless adapters and just because a mouse is an optical or a laser will not tell you if it’s wired or wireless.

To determine if your mouse has moved and in what direction your mouse uses a very small camera which takes a picture of the surface under the mouses sensors. Since your mouse is covering the surface at the time it’s very dark so it needs some form of light to illuminate it. Optical mice use a LED light source to illuminate the surface while lasers use a laser light to illuminate it.

How can you tell the difference? It’s simple: Turn the mouse over. If you can see light glowing from the sensor area it’s an optical mouse because optical mice use LED’s humans can see the light from. If you can’t see any light glowing it’s a laser mouse because laser mice use infrared lasers human’s can’t see.

 So which is better? What’s the pro’s and con’s of each?


  • Pro: Cheaper to produce, less prone to damage, lower dpi makes movement across big screens easier. Longer lifetime of LED bulb.
  • Con: Less accurate, does not track on very shiny or black surfaces well, low dpi prevents very precise movements.


  • Pro: Very accurate. Ability to track accurately on nearly any surface. Very smooth movement due to laser resolution.
  • Con: More expensive, has problems tracking on clear glass. More prone to damage. Shorter lifetime than LED light sources.

Now is this true for EVERY laser mouse and EVERY optical mouse? No. Some new technologies such as BluTrack from Microsoft improves the accuracy of optical mice greatly and very expensive gaming mice based on latest optical sensors can outperform lower end laser mice in terms of DPI and accuracy on many surfaces. Logitech has also introduced dark field laser mice which can track on glass very well.

Should the regular person be that concerned over laser vs optical? Not really unless you’ve got some specific needs. If you need to perform the absolute finest movements with a mouse a high quality wired laser mice will be ideal where as if you’re looking for an easy to navigate value priced mice an optical mouse from a respected company (shameless plug for WorldStart Store) is a great deal.


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2 Responses to “What’s The Difference Between Optical And Laser Mice?”

  1. K.Vee.Shanker. says:

    Thank you Tim, for your deatailed answer. I especially like your suggestion for ordinary users who buy expensive gadjets, even when ordinary ones are more than enough for their use. I wish that writers always mention whether any sophisticated item is required for ordinary users at all!

  2. Jenn says:

    So, if I see a bright, red glow coming from my mouse, it’s definitely a regular optical mouse? Are there any laser mice that emit visible light?

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