The gaming mouse ecosystem is thriving. If you have a PC and you want to play games, there is no shortage of companies eager to sell you hardware designed to give gamers an immense amount of customization over the games they play.
The sheer volume of available hardware presents a problem for those in the market: How do you know which mouse is right for you?
During the last few months, Polygon has been testing more than a dozen gaming mice, provided by manufacturers like Corsair, Logitech, Mad Catz, Razer and SteelSeries. We've spent untold hours using these mice in and out of games to answer that question. This guide presents our favorites, categorized and explained to help you answer that question for yourself.
The central question that this guide seeks to answer is also obvious — so obvious, in fact, that it's easy to forget: Why buy a gaming mouse?
Your PC already shipped with a mouse, after all. Or maybe you have a laptop and an old PC mouse sitting around. Do you need to spend more money to buy another one?
The answer is yes, based on a single, overriding condition: You should buy a gaming mouse if you want more control over the games you play. In this context, control manifests itself in a few different ways. Broadly speaking, gaming mice increase the options at your disposal in every game you play, through a combination of hardware and software.
PC gaming is different than what you'd expect if you've been a console gamer. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony bundle controllers with every console. Every game gets developed with that console's controller in mind. There are some advantages at the margins — the DualShock 4 has a touchpad, the Wii U has a tablet-like GamePad — but there's also a default way of mapping games to buttons that's similar across all platforms. No matter what platform you play the latest Call of Duty on, for example, you'll pull the left trigger to aim down the sights and the right trigger to fire.
In PC gaming, there are similarities, too. You'll shoot with the the left mouse button and aim down your sights with the right mouse button. You'll cycle through weapons with the scroll wheel. Those are hardware commonalities that developers can count on and enable as default controls.
Instead of settling for a left and right buttons and a scroll wheel, gaming mice expand those possibilities, often immensely. They do this with a combination of hardware and software. This allows everything from the simple, like engaging your VATS system in Fallout 4 or reloading your weapon, with the press of a dedicated mouse button. On the complex side of the spectrum, you could program a series of actions, stored as a macro, that could repeat every X seconds, tuned to that specific time because it takes a certain power that long to cool down. Or imagine pressing a single button that switches to a certain weapon, puts your character into the prone position, and aims down the site automatically.
The possibilities are nearly limitless. They're also optional. Gaming mice are designed to be programmable through the manufacturer's software, and it's up to you to either use or ignore them.
Before you create the perfect setup, you have to choose a mouse. We think there are two basic categories you'll want to look for when figuring out what mouse you want: size and options.
Mice come in a variety of sizes from dainty little pebbles to boulder-like masses. If you're in the market, this is the first factor you should consider, and we've ordered this guide based on size.
Why is size important? Because beyond the customization options available to you, the physical size and shape of the hardware as it fits in your hand will have a significant impact on your comfort level. If you have big hands, for example, you'll likely find larger mice more comfortable. If you travel frequently or do most of your gaming on a laptop, smaller mice will be more convenient.
There's a third category between big and small that deserves to be mentioned. They're what we'd call standard mice. If you were to picture a vanilla PC mouse in your mind, these gaming mice are about that size. There are plenty of them, and their configurations are numerous.
Options refers to a number of factors, including the number of buttons, software options and software profiles.
As an example, on a standard PC mouse, you have a single slider that determines the speed at which your mouse travels across the screen. On many gaming mice, you have the same kind of slider, but you have several options available at the press of a button. Some settings allow you to move your cursor across the screen with barely a twitch of your hand. Others make your cursor feel like it's been dipped in honey, as it moves gingerly across your display.
Some gaming mice have a built-in button that allows you to mix the best of both worlds. Situated conveniently under your thumb, press the sniper button and the DPI dives, giving your finer grained control when aiming. If you play a lot of first-person shooters, it can become indispensable.
Gaming mice range in price from surprisingly inexpensive to a significant investment. What do you get as you pay more?
Generally speaking, the more you pay, the more options you get. Wireless mice often cost more. Larger mice tend to cost more. You'll get better, more accurate sensors. You'll get more buttons.
But that's not always the case. The SteelSeries Sensei Wireless is among the most expensive mice we tested, and it's price seems entirely related to on-mouse options. It's in the dock, which is a beautiful, well-built but ultimately optional component.
|Buttons||Single button for DPI adjustment|
The Corsair Katar is a minimalist gaming mouse. Wired and ambidextrous, it includes only one extra button, which changes DPI settings, making your cursor travel faster or slower.
Unfortunately for Mac users, Corsair doesn't develop software for OS X. Plug the mouse in, and it works just fine. You can navigate and scroll and change the DPI. But you won't be able to make the fine adjustments that you will on Windows.
|Buttons||DPI up and down, sniper button, two additional buttons on the left side of the mouse|
|Extras||Corsair's mice will work with OS X, but Corsair's software won't. Programmable RGB lighting.|
Corsair's full size, corded gaming mouse has a wide stance, which makes it ideal for larger hands.
The M65 has an interesting feel in the hand because it's cut off at the back end, beneath where your lower palm would otherwise rest. Unlike most other mice, which are explicitly designed to touch all of your hand, the M65 lets the base of your palm float over the back of the mouse and anchor itself on the counter or mouse pad you're using.
Its design is a pleasant hybrid, too. The top surface is smooth, which makes sliding between the mouse button and the scroll wheel — wide and tactile, like the overall mouse — easy. The M65's sides are coarse and grippy, a strange but solid feeling contrast between surfaces.
There's a sniper button on the left side of the M65, as well as the rather standard back and forward buttons above that. Those two buttons are small — surprisingly small, in fact, given the amount of real estate Corsair has to worth with — but they're easy to click without much pressure and easy to find without looking, given that they live precisely above the sniper button.
Corsair includes three removable weights with the M65, so you can make it as light or as heavy as you like.
|Buttons||Single button for DPI adjustment, two additional buttons on the left side of the mouse|
|Extras||Programmable RGB lighting|
This might be the simplest gaming mouse Logitech makes, and its simplicity is the key to its utility. There's nothing to confuse anyone on the G303.
It boasts a more angular shape than many mice, which tend to prefer bulbous curves. Those angles have a benefit that becomes clear when you wrap your hand around it: You know exactly where you're supposed to be at all times. Those angles have a way of telling you where you need to be. The crease of your thumb first perfectly around the angle that begins to point toward the G303's tapered end, and your fingers rest on the largely flat surface of a mouse spring loaded for your clicks. There's no travel distance between applying pressure and clicking.
It includes five programmable DPI adjustments from molasses to ludicrous speed, which you can cycle through at the press of a button beneath the scroll wheel. Its simplicity in in evidence here, too, though that might be a hinderance. You can't glance to see what DPI setting you're on. There aren't any LED indicators.
The G303's simplicity extends to its connectivity, too. It's wired only, which may be a drawback to some. Logitech designed a long and sturdy, threaded cable with a built-in velcro strip to coil whatever length of the cable you don't use.
|Buttons||DPI up and down, sniper button, two additional buttons on the left side of the mouse, scroll wheel toggle between smooth and ratcheted scrolling|
|Extras||A recent hardware update added RGB colors with the G502 Proteus Spectrum, and it also supports customizable profiles with Logitech's software|
If you're looking for something like the G303 but with more options, the G502 Proteus Core is for you.
The G502 is a wired mouse with a thick, threaded cord. With 11 programmable buttons and controls, this is Logitech's most tunable mouse, with dedicated buttons to raise and lower DPI, switch among three profiles saved on the mouse or in software and switch the scroll wheel between ratcheted and free movement. It includes the standard back and forward buttons on the left side, as well as a sniper button that instantly lowers your DPI when pressed for more precise aiming.
The G502 also ships with several 3.6 gram weights, which you can place inside the bottom of the mouse to change the weight and feel of the mouse in your hand. It's an advanced feature that you won't know anything about until you try it.
One of the mouse's most interesting features doesn't have to do with gaming. Out of the box, one of the three pre-programmed profiles includes G-Shift technology, which takes the sniper button and applies some desktop foresight. Hold the button down in a web browser, for example, and push the scroll wheel left or right, and you'll navigate between tabs.
|Buttons||Scroll wheel with horizontal scrolling, single DPI toggle, sniper button, two additional buttons on the left side of the mouse|
|Extras||Ships with alternate parts for almost every conceivable part of the mouse for customization|
Madcatz RAT Pro X is the mouse you want if you want nearly unlimited control of your hardware. It's a mouse you can assemble, disassemble and reassemble to create the precise combination of features that you like. It's so customizable, in fact, that you can even swap out the laser sensor module. There's only one sensor included in the box, but if you want to buy and try others, the RAT Pro X will be just fine with that.
Beyond the basics, it includes a scroll wheel that can navigate horizontally and a sniper button.
Its design reflects is customization. It looks bold, like it's the product of a chop shop. Upon first (and second and third) glance, its sharp angles and negative space make it look uncomfortable. Put it in your hand, and you'll find that's not a problem. It's designed to be loud, but it fits quietly in your hands.
How it fits in your hands is up to you, too. Some mice have low profiles. Others are high and bulbous. The RAT Pro X has whatever profile you want it to have, with parts that snap and slide and lock into place in customizable positions.
While the RAT Pro X's customizability is its main feature, it's unlikely that you'll do much customization. It's designed to give you options, but like a Chipotle burrito, once you find the most pleasing configuration — say, a smooth scroll wheel instead of the gear-like standard, ceramic instead of lower friction PTFE skids and finger rests that jut out on both sides of the mouse — you'll probably stick with those from there on out.
You'll pay for the customization, too. The RAT Pro X is the most customizable mouse we tried. It's also the most expensive.
|Buttons||Scroll wheel with horizontal scrolling, two DPI buttons|
|Extras||Programmable RGB lighting, 16,000 DPI|
Razer's prototypical gaming mouse includes the features you'd expect, including the two buttons on the left. The Mamba Tournament Edition, which we tested, is the wired version of the Mamba family.
The Mamba Tournament Edition includes two buttons aligned vertically beneath the scroll wheel, used to switch back and forth between DP settings. Though it doesn't include a sniper button, this configuration allows you to change your DPI setting relative to where you are at any given moment. Press the bottom button, and you can get the accuracy you're looking for immediately, rather than cycling through several settings.
Razer also sells a wireless version of the mouse, the Razer Mamba, whose highest end feature is Adjustable Click Force Technology, which allows you to tune the feedback of your clicks to your liking, using Razer's software. That'll bump the price up to $149.99, though. Both versions sport 16,000 DPI accuracy, which is a setting so high that your mouse might leave Roadrunner-like trail as it blazes across your display.
|Buttons||Two buttons each on the left and right side of the mouse, ambidextrous design|
|Battery||2 AA to 60 hours of continuous gaming or 7 months of normal use, according to Razer|
The Razor Orochi is an almost tiny gaming mouse, but don't judge it by its size alone. With seven programmable buttons, it includes the kinds of customization options often found on larger mice.
It runs wired or wireless (with 2 AA batteries) and can connect to a Mac or Windows PC with Razer's Synapse software.
Razer's design is impressive. The Orochi slopes downward toward the front bulging up in the back where it's likely to meet your palm. You won't feel the mouse on the back of your palm, but that's where the design shines. It knows that it's sacrificing space, and it angles its butt up to account for what's missing. That's smart design.
The Orochi's sides are fitted with rubber, a welcome addition to such a small mouse because the tactical feel reminds you that you're holding something of substance. And its ambidextrous design and dual buttons on each side means that it will work in whatever hand you need it to.
|Buttons||Single DPI toggle, two additional buttons on the left side of the mouse|
|Extras||Programmable RGB lighting|
The SteelSeries Rival 100 is the archetypical wired gaming mouse. It's the size and shape you'd expect a mouse to be, and with SteelSeries' Engine 3 software, it's customizable for gaming and non-gaming applications.
Its most pleasant feature is its rubberized top, which gives friction to the area of the mouse where you'll spend the most time touching. Its sides are textured with bumps, which allow for more grip when moving the mouse.
The Rival 100 has all of the standard buttons — a DPI select, and two buttons on the left side — but doesn't include a sniper button.
|Buttons||Single DPI toggle, two additional buttons on the left and right side of the mouse|
|Connectivity||USB, connects through included dock|
|Battery||Rechargeable with 16 hours of use, according to SteelSeries. Software changes can add an additional four hours or more.|
|Extras||Programmable RGB lighting, dock/charging station|
You can see shades of the Rival 100 in SteelSeries' premium mouse, which takes the core ideas introduced at the other end of the spectrum and adds premium features to them.
It's ambidextrous, like its little sibling, and it has a button dedicated to switching DPI. It also sports two buttons on either side of the mouse, doubling your options — or allowing you to ignore one side for ambidextrous use. Those side buttons take a bit of getting used to if you want to use them all, though. They're easy to trigger accidentally, so you'll need to be careful not to brush up against them.
The Sensei Wireless mouse's most elegant feature is the dock included with it. It is beautiful and ruggedly made, and it must account for a significant chunk of the mouse's price. The dock acts as an inductive charging station for the Sensei as well as the receiver that the mouse uses to communicate with your PC. As the name indicates, the Sensei is wireless, but you can also use it while it's charging by unplugging the USB cable from the dock and plugging it into the mouse.