A beginner's guide to DPI, the stat that measures how fast your computer mouse can move

A beginner's guide to DPI, the stat that measures how fast your computer mouse can move
DPI is a measurement that tells you how sensitive your mouse cursor is.Elizabeth Fernandez/Getty Images
  • DPI stands for "Dots Per Inch," and it determines how quickly your mouse cursor moves across the screen when you move your mouse.
  • The higher your mouse's DPI, the faster the cursor moves, meaning you'll have to move your hand less to bring your cursor across the screen.
  • Different mice have different DPI counts, with gaming mice that possess counts from 6,000 to 20,000 DPI.

You've probably had the experience of using a new computer, and realizing that the mouse cursor on-screen moves slower or faster than you're used to. It's just a mouse, a standard piece of technology - how could different mice move so differently?

Whenever you move your mouse, a signal is sent to your computer and converted into on-screen cursor movement. This signal is different depending on your mouse's "Dots Per Inch" - or DPI. And if you want a good mouse, DPI is one of the most important things to pay attention to.

What DPI is, and how it works

DPI is a stat that measures how sensitive your mouse is. The higher your mouse's DPI count, the more sensitive it is.
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As noted, DPI stands for "dots per inch." This means that, for example, if your mouse is set at 800 DPI, it'll move a cursor 800 pixels across the screen for every inch you move the mouse. If you increase the DPI, your cursor will move more quickly for every real-life inch.
A beginner's guide to DPI, the stat that measures how fast your computer mouse can move
Most computer mice operate around 1,000 DPI, which is enough for most tasks.Shutterstock

Every mouse has a DPI count, although some mice let you change the DPI by pressing a button or using an app. Most regular computer mice - the kind you can buy for $10 to $20 - range from about 800 to 1,600 DPI. In general, the more expensive a mouse is, the higher DPI it'll have.

How DPI can affect your performance

Most standard computer users will be fine operating at or below 800 DPI. High DPI mice are typically used by gamers, graphic designers, and other people that have large screens they need to move across quickly.
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If you're doing something that requires fine precision - drawing with a mouse, using a sniper rifle in a shooting game - you'll want lower DPI, so the cursor doesn't move too much.

But if you're playing a game where you need to move the cursor across the entire screen quickly, however, you'll want a faster setting. Most high-end gaming mice have at least 5,000 DPI, although you'll probably be fine with just 1,500 or so. In either case, if cursor speed and reaction time are paramount, it's better to be overpowered than underpowered. How high a DPI count you need also depends on how big your screen is, and how high its resolution is. A higher resolution screen has more pixels, which will require a higher DPI.
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A beginner's guide to DPI, the stat that measures how fast your computer mouse can move
If you have a high-resolution screen, you'll need to drag a low DPI mouse a long distance to move across the screen.Matei Alexandru Marcu/EyeEm/Getty Images

Many newer computer mice allow you to adjust your DPI on the fly by pressing buttons on the controller, or using a special app. And even if you can't adjust your mouse's DPI, both Mac and Windows computers have settings to artificially increase your mouse's sensitivity.

However, artificially increasing the sensitivity doesn't always work. When you do this, you're telling the computer to multiply the DPI signal, which can make your mouse cursor shaky and inaccurate.

If you're using high-resolution screens and need a high DPI mouse, you're much better off investing in a good high-end mouse that can reach at least 10,000 DPI.
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