What is the Difference Between an Optical Mouse and a Laser Mouse?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Computer mouse technology has evolved past the ball and rollers first used on analog mice, but choosing between an optical mouse and a laser mouse is most often a matter of personal preference and an individual's technology budget. The main difference between the two is how the mouse's position is tracked: either through a tiny camera and LED light or a small laser.

A laser mouse contains a laser that monitors the movements of the mouse, while a standard mouse uses an LED light.
A laser mouse contains a laser that monitors the movements of the mouse, while a standard mouse uses an LED light.

An optical mouse uses digital image processing technology to track the position of the mouse and translate that to position the cursor on the screen. In fact, it includes a tiny camera that is able to take an astonishing 1,500 pictures per second. Optical mice are also easy to maintain and have no moving parts that are prone to failure.

In most cases, an optical mouse is a plug and play device that requires no special software for installation. One of the main advantages of these mice is that they require no mouse pad and will work even if run on a surface that is not entirely flat. Some models may have trouble on black or shiny surfaces, however.

The goal of both laser mice and optical mice is to provide a way to transform the motion of the user's hand into digital signals that the computer can use. The main difference between laser and optical mice is the type of light that is used to track movement on the computer screen. While a standard optical mouse uses an LED light, a laser mouse contains a small laser that is used to monitor the movements of the mouse and represent them on the screen. For this reason, a laser mouse is typically more expensive.

When shopping for a mouse, it's helpful for consumers to consider the dots per inch (DPI) of the model being considered. Generally, an optical mouse can track between 400 and 800 DPI. In comparison, a laser mouse can often track more than 2,000 DPI. This makes the cursor of a laser mouse move much further on the screen.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the EasyTechJunkie team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


Shiny explanation. Laser mouse for me.


very good explanation. as i am just a casual gamer, i would go with an optical mouse.


Question: will a laser mouse (such as Microsoft laser mobile mouse) work while sticking a thin transparent window as a protective cover against liquids on the laser exit hole. Does anybody know? --Michael


But there is a new kind of laser mouse. it is the GLaser mouse. You can use it even on smooth surfaces.


I had a laser mouse that was a big shat. It glued all over its specific mousepad, the serial number sticker was almost hanging out and it was too bloody tiny. I am a gamer and the optical mouse reduced sensitivity does not make a big difference in smaller resolutions.


Very clear and easy explanation to understand between the difference of optical or laser mouse. job well done. Thank you.


Excellent explanation. Thank you!


Thank you. this really helped, I am a graphic designer, and I had really no clue about these mouse types. Now I'll know why I have to choose the laser mouse, if I want a more precise result. Thank you for your article!


Thanks. That was helpful.


Ultimate explanation. You are great.


Thanks for the clear explanation, but can you please explain why you say "many typical computer users find that this feature (the laser) can be distracting when merely sending email or surfing the Web".

I am not computer savvy so I don't understand why this would be so. If you can explain it, it will help me choose the right mouse for me - a non-gamer who wants excellent response from my mouse, so I lean towards a laser one.


Thank you so much Dana. Just what I wanted to know and written so even I a non IT person could understand.


nice explanation. best guide for buyers.


nice post, explains everything.


Exactly the info I wanted, nothing more, nothing less. Perfect.


Very helpful. Thank you very much.


Great and helpful info. thanks.


A concise, clear explanation. Tku.

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