All-Purpose or Specialized Mouse?
When you buy a console, it comes with the perfect controller to play almost any game. When you buy or build a gaming PC, you may not be so lucky. Cheap office mice won't give you peak gameplay performance, and even a pack-in gaming mouse (if you're lucky enough to get one) might not be the right tool for the job.
Although good gaming mice aren't cheap, they're well worth the investment for PC gamers of every stripe. To choose the best one for your play style, you'll first need to think about your gaming preferences, your budget and what you want in terms of extra features.
The most important thing to consider when buying a gaming mouse is what you'll use it for. If the PC is your go-to gaming system for anything and everything, you'll want an all-purpose gaming mouse.
MORE: Best Gaming Mice
On the other hand, if you use your PC for very specific genres (RTS, MOBA, FPS, RPGs, etc.), you may consider picking up a more specialized mouse. Some all-purpose mice work better for some genres than others, while a small number of mice exist for one genre above any other.
There's also a tier of premium mice that are optimized for players who want to tweak every last detail. These could theoretically be useful for novice tournament players, and we'll touch on whether they really need these, but for everything aside from competitive high-level play, a cheaper mouse should suffice.
Types of Mice
Here's a big secret about gaming mice: Despite how a company may advertise a mouse, there's no such thing as a peripheral that works for only one genre. The mouse that feels the most comfortable is the best mouse for the job, period. An MMO mouse can make a great companion for a single-player FPS, and an FPS mouse can be a fantastic choice for MMO players who lean heavily on their keyboards. You should spend some time playing with a few different types of mice, even if they don't seem specifically designed for you.
With that in mind, here are some different kinds of mice:
All-purpose mice are the most common kind of gaming mouse on the market. These workhorse machines come in all shapes and sizes. Since an all-purpose mouse has to be (roughly) equally good at controlling everything from FPS to action/adventure to MMO, there's no one unifying design theory behind them. If you play a wide variety of games and need a mouse versatile enough to handle them all, this is the way to go. Some popular all-purpose mice are the Roccat Kova (60 euros, or $64 at Roccat.com), the Razer Mamba ($90, at Amazon) and the Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum ($80, at Amazon).
FPS miceare what you'll want to pick up for games like Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, Battlefield, Quake, Counter-Strike, or any other series that pits you against enemy gunners in a first-person perspective. While there's a lot of overlap between all-purpose mice and FPS mice, a mouse that's optimized for FPS play will have a distinctive "sniper button" beneath the thumb that slows down DPI in order to line up difficult shots. Whether you play FPS games by yourself, cooperatively or competitively, mice like the Logitech G402 Hyperion Fury ($60, at Amazon) and the Corsair Vengeance M65 ($70, at Amazon) could be just what you need.
For fans of World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic and whatever is the next big massively multiplayer title that definitely won't fail within its first year, an MMO mouseis the way to go. These bulky mice have buttons upon buttons: perfect for firing off complex skill rotations with down-to-the-second precision. Many of them even go a step further and let you assign alternate button maps that you can access with a flick of a finger. The Razer Naga Epic Chroma ($130, at Amazon), Roccat Kone XTD ($90, at Amazon) and Logitech G600 ($80, at Amazon) are all examples of MMO mice.
While some readers will invariably read this story in search of RTS mice, I've never encountered a mouse optimized for real-time strategy games. (Furthermore, go on and name an RTS title other than StarCraft that's made a splash in the last 10 years.) If you're looking for a perfect companion to StarCraft II, your best bet is to buy an all-purpose mouse that's light on extra buttons. MOBAmice, on the other hand, are starting to come into their own for games like League of Legends; just look at the Logitech G302 Daedalus Prime ($50, at Amazon).
Customizable mice are the Ferraris of the gaming-peripheral world. They're flashy and expensive, but totally deliver where it counts. If you've got money to burn and a competitive scene to conquer, consider dishing out for these highly customizable, finely tuned devices. The Razer Ouroboros ($150, at Amazon) and the Mad Catz R.A.T. Pro X ($200, at Amazon) let players customize almost everything about them, from the angle of the palm rest to the feel of the buttons.
As stated above, what works for one player won't necessarily work for every single fan of a genre. Even so, use these tips as a starting point, and you'll be well on your way to choosing the right mouse.
Gaming mice generally fall into three cost categories: Anything less than $50, between $50 and $100, and more than $100. Just as you shouldn’t expect a top-of-the-line experience for $20, you shouldn’t expect a clunker for $80. Mouse prices vary depending on retailer, sales and whether or not there’s a new model about to come out, so you could very easily wind up with a great mouse for a lower price. Still, here are some guidelines.
Less Than $50
In this range, you’re dealing with budget gaming mice. This includes mice from third-tier companies, usually with limited DPI and software options. Sometimes, you get something unexpectedly good, such as the Turtle Beach Grip 300 ($40, at Amazon). Otherwise, you’ll encounter thoroughly decent mice from Chinese companies like Cougar, Cooler Master and Emtec. There’s nothing wrong with these mice, per se, but they’re neither as pretty nor as functional as fancier mice, and may not last as long.
Between $50 and $100
This tends to be the sweet spot for gaming mice and where all the major brands come to play: Razer, Logitech, SteelSeries, Roccat and Corsair. Mice between $50 and $100 often have ergonomic designs, excellent sensors, robust software and proficiency across multiple genres. Unless you are strapped for cash or dying for hardcore customization options, this is what you should be looking to spend.
More than $100
If you want to drop more than $100, you’ll probably do so on a customizable mouse. Mice with customization options, like the Roccat Nyth ($130, at Roccat.com) or the Razer Ouroboros, let users swap out elements like palm rests, scroll wheels and even thumb buttons. If you’re entering the tournament scene or simply can’t find another mouse that feels comfortable, it might be worth digging deep into your wallet.
Bells and Whistles
Play style, price and grip are probably the most important features when it comes to selecting a gaming mouse, but there are tons of other features worth considering, from the purely aesthetic to the potentially game changing.
Illumination is a mouse feature that’s come to the forefront in a relatively short amount of time. Full RGB lighting options are now the order of the day on most mice, for everything from the Razer Mamba to the Logitech G303 Daedalus Apex ($70, at Amazon, and pictured above) to the Roccat Kova. Color options won’t improve your game, but they will help you keep various game profiles straight, and sync up with your gaming area.
Weights can have a huge impact on how you play your favorite titles. Most mice weigh what they weigh, and if they’re too light or too heavy, you’ll just have to adjust. Not so with mice like the Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum. A removable, adjustable weights canister allows you to fine-tune both the placement and amount of extra material, which is ideal if you prefer a light or heavy touch.
Laser Sensors vs. Optical Sensors
The “laser vs. optical” sensor debate won’t end anytime soon, and neither will “how much DPI is too much?” Tournament players may want to investigate this further, but I can say confidently that for everyday players, both laser and optical sensors work fine, especially if the mouse allows surface tuning (calibrating the peripheral to work perfectly on mouse pads, office desks, sheets of paper, etc.). If you have a multimonitor setup, you might want to look into a mouse with incredibly high DPI — 8,000 or more. Otherwise, any mouse that offers DPI between 200 and 2,600 or so should provide way more options than the average player needs.
Finally, connectivity is something to consider if you already own other peripherals from the same company. Logitech, Razer, SteelSeries and Roccat all offer unified software platforms, meaning that you may get a better gaming experience if you sync up your mouse, keyboard, headset, mobile app and whatever else you happen to have from a given company. Synced devices can usually share color combinations, and running three peripherals from the same software suite is a breeze compared to having three separate programs bogging down your system.
Buying a gaming mouse, even under the best circumstances, is going to be a bit of a process. There is no “best mouse” for any category, partly because there aren’t any hard-and-fast “categories” at all. However, if you can narrow down your search by genre, price, grip and extra features, you can easily go from having hundreds of choices to having only a handful.
Ultimately, the best gaming mouse is the one that feels the best in your hand. If you can find one that’s comfortable to hold for hours at a time, you’re already more than halfway there.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.