What is an Optical Mouse?


An optical mouse uses camera technology and digital processing to compare and track the position of the mouse, rather than a ball and rollers used on older devices. This technology, first introduced by Agilent technologies in 1999, helps give users more precise performance without the maintenance and cleaning needed on older models.

The bottom of an optical mouse features an LED rather than a ball and rollers.
The bottom of an optical mouse features an LED rather than a ball and rollers.

Inside each optical mouse is a small camera that takes more than a thousand snapshot pictures every second. A small light-emitting diode (LED) provides light underneath the mouse, helping to highlight slight differences in the surface underneath it. Those differences are reflected back into the camera, where digital processing is used to compare the pictures and determine the speed and direction of movement. This differs from older-technology mice, in which a round ball rolled against a pad to indicate movement.

A wired optical mouse will typically connect to a notebook with a USB cord.
A wired optical mouse will typically connect to a notebook with a USB cord.

Optical mice have a number of benefits over older technologies. One of the biggest benefits is the elimination of the mouse ball, which frequently required cleaning to scrape accumulated grime off the ball or the rollers inside. As the optical model has no moving parts, almost no maintenance or regular cleaning is required. Another benefit is that digital processing often results in smoother, more accurate performance than prior technologies. These mice typically don't require a mouse pad and can be used on many surfaces, including those that are not entirely flat.

Wireless optical mice can interact with computers through a Bluetooth dongle rather than a cable.
Wireless optical mice can interact with computers through a Bluetooth dongle rather than a cable.

These pointing devices are becoming increasingly common today in both homes and businesses. As technology and competition evolved, prices have dropped to affordable levels, similar to ball-technology mice. There are typically no special PC requirements for optical mice and installation is usually as simply plugging the device in to the computer. A variety of options can be found for both Windows, Macintosh, and Linux platforms and are available with either PS/2 or USB plugs.

An optical mouse does not require a mouse pad, unlike a traditional mouse.
An optical mouse does not require a mouse pad, unlike a traditional mouse.

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Discussion Comments


I love the fact that an optical mouse is wireless. I used to struggle with not having enough room to move around with my old mouse, because I had a pretty big screen that needed a wide scope of movement to traverse.

Also, the cord was always getting tangled on other wires and caught on things. I feel so free when I use my optical mouse!


@Kristee – Isn't it great? I used to have to clean the gunk off of my old mouse at work once a week, because it would start to make a squeaking noise and would become harder to push around. I don't miss that at all!

I was so glad when my boss decided that we all needed to make the switch to an optical mouse. I was surprised by how quickly it would make the cursor move! It is a very sensitive little device.

It seems to be more sensitive and more quick to respond when I use it on my bare desk than when I use it on a mouse pad. Even if my desk is a little dusty, the mouse works very well.


My dad has an optical mouse. I was bewildered by it when I first used it, because I noticed that I didn't feel any of the friction that is present with a rolling ball mouse. It seemed downright magical!


You can even buy a rechargeable optical mouse, which is better to me than a regular one. You just put it in the cradle when it starts to get slow and it will recharge.

If you don't want to buy this kind of mouse, you could always just buy rechargeable batteries for it instead. Either way, it's better than just tossing out the batteries when they die.


I remember in the early days when you bought a mouse you had to install software to go along with it. The last mouse I bought was a Belkin optical mouse, and all I had to do was plug it in and it was ready to go.

When you can buy a decent optical mouse for $15-20 I think this is well worth it considering how much better the optical mouse works compared to the old style.


I have been using an optical mouse since they came down in price, but until I read this article, never knew you didn't need to use a mouse pad with them.

I keep an ergonomic mouse pad on my desk which gives me some wrist support when I use my mouse. I have never even tried using the optical mouse any other way. I guess it is good to know that I don't have to always have the mouse pad in order for the mouse to work well.


@LisaLou-- Yes, I have an optical laptop mouse which I love. It is compact, yet works just as well as any other mouse.

It has been a long time since I have used an old traditional mouse, and a corded one. Once I tried a wireless mouse, I have never gone back.

Just like all the other technology, they keep improving the performance of a computer mouse too. I would be interested in trying a laser mouse to see if that works even better than the optical mouse does.


I have a mini optical mouse that I use with my laptop. This works the same way as any other kind of optical mouse, it is just smaller.

It is also wireless which makes a lot of sense using it with a laptop. It has been a long time since I used a mouse with a ball and rollers. I remember getting kind of frustrated using these because the ball would often get stuck and the mouse pointer wouldn't go anywhere.


That's good. Just from reading this I have a better understanding of what an optical mouse is. Thanks very much.


I want to know about the concept of an optical mouse.


I just don't know a thing yet and was hoping for an instruction manual--since it has all of these new, to me, features. I was thinking something was wrong with this new cordless wonder when I accidentally pushed buttons and got magnifying squares and the scrolling stops and restarts, I'm not quite sure what I am doing with it yet--it's only been with me a day, but I love it--it'll be fine--just wish the instructions would have been easier for us old farts ;) over 30 or is it 40?


how does a click happen in a laser mouse? please how does a mouse select/open a particular folder?


My GE optical mouse is acting very weird. One click on my browser symbol may bring up three browser windows. I set my pointer where I want it, click, and the entire paragraph gets highlighted. Do optical mice wear out? Is it time for me to get a new one? Thanks, Mari


thank you I now know the difference between a ball type mouse and an optical mouse and I'm upgrading tomorrow, Dave


A newer type of optical mouse -- the laser mouse -- is becoming more and more common. Like the optical mouse it doesn't use the old ball and roller mechanism used in traditional mice. But, the laser mouse uses a laser beam rather than a light-emitting diode LED). Laser mice are better than optical mice because they can work on even more surfaces than optical mice. But, they are generally more expensive, and for the average person, the optical mouse works fine.

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