A laptop user with a blue computer mouse.
  Burak Karademir / Getty Images 

What to Know Before Buying a Computer Mouse

Lots of choices, lots of decisions to make

Using the mouse that comes with your computer gets the job done, but you could do a lot better. Since the mouse is generally the most often used computer peripheral, it's wise to spend some time researching what you need.

This article and its companion guide provides you with a ton of information to help you out before you buy. In it we've compiled a list of articles to help you understand, use, and purchase your computer mouse.

To use this guide, open the links in the navigation pane. You'll see it's separated into four different sections: Mouse Basics, Tips for Using Your Mouse, Using Mice on Macs, and Our Recommendations: Best Mice. Inside each section are several articles filled with tips and hints for you.

Wired or Not?

Whether or not you should get a wireless mouse is a personal preference. With a wireless mouse, you won't run the risk of getting tangled in your cord, but you do run the risk of running out of batteries at an inopportune time. Some wireless mice come with charging docks so you don't have to worry about buying those AAAs, although you do still need to remember to put the mouse in the dock or station. Other mice might have an on/off switch to preserve power; as with the docking station, this is only useful if you remember to switch it off when you're done using it.

When it comes to those wireless receivers, some come with nano receivers that sit flush with the USB port. Others come with larger wireless receivers that jut out a few inches from the port. As you can guess, you typically pay a higher price for the nano receiver, but it might be your best buy if you're a frequent traveler.

Hand on blue mouse on mousepad
​Burak Karademir / Getty Images 

With a wired mouse, you won't have to worry about batteries or receivers because it will draw power from your USB (or PS2) port. The downside of that, however, is that you're quite literally tethered to your computer. You can only move as far away as the cord is long.

If you go wireless, you're going to be replacing batteries from time to time. To extend the battery life of your mouse, look for one that comes with an on/off switch and use it.

Receivers

As with battery life, this is a concern for wireless mice. Does it use a full-sized receiver that juts out of the laptop, or does it use a nano receiver that lets you pack away the laptop without needing to be removed? Does it come with a receiver placeholder? Like USB flash drives, ballpoint pens, and spare keys, mice receivers are easily misplaced, so having a magnetic placeholder or a designated slot is immensely helpful.

Likewise, check to make sure the mouse comes with the appropriate receiver. This usually isn't a problem for mice that use 2.4GHz wireless technology, but many mice use Bluetooth and often don't come with a Bluetooth receiver. Check to see if your computer has integrated Bluetooth before you purchase a Bluetooth mouse.

Laser or Optical?

Mice operate by tracking in "dots per inch" (or dpi). An optical mouse can track between 400 and 800 dpi, while a laser mouse can generally track more than 2,000 dpi. So do you need an optical mouse or a laser mouse?

Don't let the higher dpi numbers fool you. Your everyday mouser typically won't require such precise tracking and will get by just fine with an optical mouse. (Some even find the extra preciseness annoying.) Gamers and graphic designers, however, often welcome the additional sensitivity.

Ergonomics

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of any computer peripheral is its ease of use, and when it comes to mice, comfort is king. Ergonomics in mice are important because they can help prevent repetitive stress injuries. However, ergonomics is not a one-size-fits-all feature, and just because a manufacturer claims its device is ergonomic doesn't make it so. 

Unfortunately, the only way to know whether a mouse is comfortable is to use it for an extended period, which is difficult to do without buying one. As with all computer peripherals, research your device before purchasing it.

If the mouse won't be used for extended periods, you can let aesthetics weigh more heavily in your decision if you'd like. Graphic designers, PC gamers, and other long-term users, however, should stick with what's comfortable, not what's pretty.

Full-Sized or Travel-Sized

This category is exactly what it sounds like. Although there is no universal sizing among manufacturers, many mice come in two different sizes: full or travel. Even if you never plan to remove your mouse from its home, travel mice can often be more comfortable for people with smaller hands. Likewise, a road warrior may want to stick with a full-sized device because ill-fitting mice can cause discomfort.

Programmable Buttons

Everyone knows about the left- and right-click buttons, as well as the scroll wheel in the middle. But some mice also come with additional buttons that are typically located on the side of the device. These can be programmed for specific functions, such as the "Back" button on your Internet browser. If you consistently work in the same programs, these can be extremely useful, and they're typically easy to set up.

Gaming Response

Fans of online PC games require mice that can respond quickly and precisely. Attributes to consider include the mechanism of input, such as a laser, which might not work on reflective surfaces, or a rubber ball, the resolution of the tracker and the speed by which motion input feeds to the computer.