We had a chance to talk to Cooler Master's Carter Salley, Product Manager of Gaming Peripheral Lines, about what we need to look for when choosing a mouse pad – as well as what CM is offering these days (you can see our coverage of CM's case mods over here). Before getting into detail, here are the criteria Salley suggested PC builders and gamers should examine:
- Mouse sensor – variations of optical and laser sensors.
- Surface material – influences sensor performance.
- Tightness of weave – how tightly the fibers in the material are connected .
- Other factors discussed in our conversation (below).
The Sensor's Interaction with Surface Material
There are two primary types of mouse sensors: Optical and laser. To briefly summarize (as we did in this recent Logitech post), the main difference involves the light source used and the angle of the sensor. Optical sensors scan perpendicular to the surface, which is illuminated by an LED from within the mouse. Laser sensors scan from an angle and interpret the surface by reading specular light from the laser (reflected at an angle).
Salley cited the best optical sensor to be the Avago 3090 and mentioned the Avago 9800 as the best laser sensor. There are a couple other sensor suppliers out there, like Parallax (a fitting name) and Phillips, but we noticed most gaming mice companies seem to work with Avago.
Mousing Surface Material
There aren't really any distinct classifications between mouse pad surfaces; companies mostly label them as soft, hybrid or synthetic, and hard. Soft surfaces usually have a cloth-like feel, and hard surfaces are partially composed of plastic. Some hard surfaces will use an almost-abrasive finish to increase overall grip.
There are also hybrid surfaces that use rubber, silicone, or similar spongy materials and infuse them into something more cloth-based. Salley stated that synthetic surfaces work really well with some of the newer laser sensors, like Avago's 9500 and the Avago 9800. He noted such a surface may actually reduce the tracking acceleration that has previously created an overly-sensitive relationship between laser sensors and harder surfaces.
Mousing Surface Weave
The rule of thumb here is that a tighter weave will result in higher precision with an optical sensor. Salley told us that having a tight weave is very important on a cloth surface and is more prioritized in competitive gaming; competitive RTS players fling their mice all over the place, so light needs to be picked up quickly and precisely. And when you’re using a mouse and pressing down on the pad, that causes the sensor to have to adjust to the changing topology of the pad in order to detect light. In short, a tighter weave will ensure a more taut reaction to changes in pressure and topology. Cooler Master’s CM Storm Power-RX, a cloth-based surface, has been designed with a tight weave that Salley said would pair well with competitive FPS gaming.
We didn’t get into synthetic materials, but some surfaces have different materials and degrees of elasticity that impact sensor performance. Some mouse pads, like the CM Storm Control-RX, have a wetsuit-like surface and can be stretched more easily than cloth surfaces – plus they’ll “break in” to a more flexible state after a few weeks of use.
Interestingly enough, mouse pad color can also slightly impact a sensor’s performance. Yes, gaming mouse pads are predominantly black, but there are different shades. What’s most important to remember here is that the particular sensor – not simply its light source – will work better with lighter or darker surfaces. For example, Salley cited the Avago 3090 working better with the darkest of surfaces, whereas he found the Avago 3050 – also an optical sensor – to work well with lighter variants on black, like a light matte gray/black. It should be noted that very few gamers will pick up on these differences.
You’ll also want to consider the purpose. If you’re gaming on a laptop, find a mouse pad that easily rolls up, but if you’ve got a giant desk, look for a pad that has a silicone underside so it never moves – even when you’re splitting 'rines in StarCraft 2.
Hopefully, you’ve gotten a better sense of how mouse pads vary not only in size and price, but also in a couple of performance-differentiating features. We want to thank Carter Salley and Cooler Master for spending their time to not only educate us, but also to take an interest in the gaming community in a comprehensive way – going beyond the LEDs and buttons on the mouse and keyboard.
What else would you guys like to know about mouse pads? Anybody have questions about Cooler Master’s other gaming peripherals? Let us know!
- Nick "stuBEEF" Pinkerton.