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Gaming Mice: What is DPI, and why is it important?

When considering a new mouse and comparing specifications, one of the most common specifications that you’ll encounter is the DPI, or dots per linear inch, a common way to measure mouse sensitivity. It’s not always immediately clear how DPI can impact gaming mouse performance, and your experience using it.

What is DPI?

DPI stands for dots per inch, referring to how a computer mouse measures physical distance. The more technically accurate phrase is actually CPI, or counts per inch, as dots are not actually used as part of the process. However, DPI is the abbreviation you’re more likely to encounter when comparing options, so we’ll be using that going forward.

DPI specifically refers to the measurement of the speed at which a mouse cursor moves on-screen, in relation to the distance a user is moving the mouse. For example, if you were to move your mouse an inch to the right with a low DPI, and then move your mouse an inch to the right with a higher DPI, the cursor on-screen would move further in the second example, despite the distance covered by the mouse’s sensor being the same.

To be clear, DPI is a measurement of that physical relationship only, and is not representative of the mouse’s precision, or the accuracy of the sensor.

The higher the DPI, the faster the cursor moves and the more sensitive it feels. Pretty simple, right? There's a little more to it.

Riotoro Aurox Black Prism Gaming Mouse
Riotoro Aurox Black Prism Gaming Mouse has a high precision 10,000-DPI optical sensor

DPI and Sensitivity

DPI and sensitivity are often correlated in our minds. For many users, increasing a mouse’s DPI appears to make the mouse more sensitive. However, these are different measurements. DPI is a product of the physical parameters of the mouse’s hardware. Sensitivity is usually dictated by software—usually an operating system like Windows.

You can have low DPI and high sensitivity, and vice versa. For most purposes, cranking up the sensitivity on a low-DPI mouse isn’t an ideal solution. When the software sensitivity is asked to compensate for a low-DPI hardware, users may encounter herky-jerky performance when zoomed in on a target, or making detailed edits in a design program.

Why High DPI?

When researching computer mice you’ll sometimes find a higher DPI (often 10,000 and above) marketed as a desirable attribute. Though a higher DPI can potentially result in slightly lower accuracy, to the average user it will have a negligible impact. Having the option of using a higher DPI is usually worth it.

For example, a higher DPI might come in handy if you’re working on a high-resolution display. Moving your mouse from one side to the other with a low DPI will take longer. If you’re making this movement many times a day, a higher DPI could save you time and effort, improve ergonomics, and meaningfully impact your workflow.

However, if you’re doing something that requires higher accuracy—such as drawing in a design program with a mouse—a lower DPI might be a better fit as it allows for finer and more precise movement.

DPI and Gaming

DPI also has a substantial impact on PC gaming performance, which is why the DPI specification is often featured front-and-center on gaming mice product pages.

When playing a first person shooter with high DPI settings, your targeting reticle will move across the screen faster, and requires smaller movements from your hand. This can be great for whipping around quickly, or dragging your sights from one side of your display to the other in less time. This can be hugely beneficial, especially in games where speed is important, or if you’re gaming on a higher resolution display.

A high DPI is not always ideal in gaming, though.

In some situations, a lower DPI might be preferable. In an RTS where meticulous unit selection is an important part of a strategy, or in a first person shooter when using a zoomed-in weapon. Having to move the mouse further results in better accuracy because you have more space in which to find the right place to click.

With that said, how does someone choose between a high DPI or lower DPI mouse? Fortunately, you usually don’t have to choose.

Best of Both Worlds

Most modern mice, and especially gaming mice, allow you to change your DPI with the click of a button. Many have a physical button on the body of the mouse specifically for cycling through DPI profiles. Each setting has visual indicators so you can tell at a glance what your DPI settings are.

There are distinct advantages to being able to switch DPI on the fly. For example, consider the popular Corsair M65 RGB ELITE gaming mouse, which has a fairly high maximum DPI of 18,000. With the press of a button you can cycle through DPI profiles until you find the right settings for you— from 18,000, down to 100 DPI, which is probably too low for most people. By cycling between the highest and lowest settings you can find the perfect DPI for however you are using your mouse in that moment.

You can cycle through DPI settings in-game, which can be useful in first person shooters when switching weapons. Having a mouse with a higher DPI maximum limit is beneficial because it allows you to access a broader spectrum of settings.

Is there an ideal DPI number? Not really. It depends on your preference, and what you’re using your mouse to do. The entire purpose of an adjustable DPI is to allow for the user to find the settings that work for them. There’s no one setting that works for everyone, which is why it’s great to have options.

More to Learn

Now that you have a sense of what DPI is, you can select a gaming mouse that has the features you’re looking for.

There are other features to consider as well, such as your grip style, mouse weight, the switches in the mouse, as well as the mousepad you’re using to play, but learning about DPI is a great place to start.

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