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

Dana Hinders
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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.

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Dana Hinders
By Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to her work as a freelance writer. After discovering her passion for freelance writing following the birth of her son, Dana has been a vital part of the EasyTechJunkie team. She also showcases her versatility by creating sales copy and content for e-courses and blogs.
Discussion Comments
By anon188534 — On Jun 21, 2011

Shiny explanation. Laser mouse for me.

By anon188448 — On Jun 20, 2011

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

By anon159081 — On Mar 10, 2011

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

By anon157922 — On Mar 05, 2011

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

By anon151137 — On Feb 09, 2011

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.

By anon130355 — On Nov 28, 2010

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

By anon129726 — On Nov 24, 2010

Excellent explanation. Thank you!

By anon124093 — On Nov 04, 2010

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!

By anon100549 — On Jul 30, 2010

Thanks. That was helpful.

By anon98849 — On Jul 24, 2010

Ultimate explanation. You are great.

By anon92941 — On Jul 01, 2010

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.

By anon84244 — On May 14, 2010

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

By anon82699 — On May 07, 2010

nice explanation. best guide for buyers.

By anon82170 — On May 04, 2010

nice post, explains everything.

By anon81238 — On Apr 30, 2010

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

By anon80983 — On Apr 29, 2010

Very helpful. Thank you very much.

By anon78184 — On Apr 17, 2010

Great and helpful info. thanks.

By anon34814 — On Jun 29, 2009

A concise, clear explanation. Tku.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to...
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