If you’re in the market for a new mouse, you might be wondering whether to pick up one of the best wireless gaming mice or stick with a tried and tested wired one.
Wireless technology has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade, and many of the old concerns about latency and battery life often aren’t an issue today.
But there might still be reason to opt for a wired rather than wireless gaming mouse. If you want a cheap gaming mouse, for example, or if you never want to worry about charging your mouse, a wired mouse might be a better bet.
There are so many wired and wireless gaming mice on the market right now that the PC gamer is spoiled for choice. With that in mind, let’s see how we can narrow down our options and decide between a wired or wireless gaming mouse.
What is Input Lag?
Input lag might affect whether you opt for a wired or wireless mouse. Input lag, or ‘system latency’, refers to the amount of time it takes your mouse press or keystroke to translate to the corresponding game action being shown on screen.
For instance, if your character only shoots a second after you left click, you likely have high system latency and are suffering from input lag.
Input lag can be caused by any part of the chain between your input and your display. It could be a problem with your peripheral itself, the transfer of this input data to your CPU, your CPU processing this input and telling your GPU what to render, your GPU rendering the new game frames, or your monitor displaying the new frames.
Wired vs Wireless Mouse Input Lag
Sometimes input lag can be caused by your mouse. To simplify somewhat, wired mice have traditionally suffered less from input lag than wireless mice because, in the past, wired data transfers were much speedier and more reliable than wireless transfers.
The story today isn’t quite as simple, though, because as wireless mice became mainstream and wireless technology improved, the difference in wireless latency between wired and wireless mice became less and less.
It’s important to note that a mouse connection’s speed isn’t necessarily improved by extra connection bandwidth.
As an analogy, consider a large freight ship that moves at 10km/h and a small boat that also moves at 10km/h. While the bigger ship will be able to transport more cargo than the small one over a one-hour period, if only one small box is being transported then both boats should take the same amount of time to deliver this box.
Similarly, a peripheral’s connection bandwidth doesn’t affect its speed when transporting small packets of input data, so don’t assume that using a connection type that has higher bandwidth will result in lower mouse latency.
Also note that there are many other things that can cause input lag—driver conflicts, for example—so mouse lag might not always be caused by a wired or wireless connection.
PS/2 vs USB
While the ‘laser vs optical’ wired mouse debate is now settled in favour of optical mice, there are still debates over which kind of mouse connection is better. There are two main wired mouse connectors: PS/2 (6-pin mini-DIN) and USB. Wireless mice typically just use USB.
USB mice are polled (queried) by the CPU a certain number of times per second, called its polling rate, measured in Hz. The higher the polling rate, the more mouse inputs your CPU should receive per second, decreasing latency.
PS/2 mice, on the other hand, ‘interrupt’ the CPU several times per second (also measured in Hz), meaning they don’t wait for the CPU to poll them, in theory decreasing latency.
Because of this, PS/2 technology might seem to reduce input lag on paper, but in practice the difference is often imperceptible.
PS/2 mice usually interrupt at 100Hz, while USB mice are usually polled at 125Hz. PS/2 mice can sometimes interrupt at 200Hz, but USB gaming mice can often poll at 1,000Hz, meaning a good USB gaming mouse should out-poll any PS/2 mouse, registering more inputs each second.
There are other differences between the connection technologies—PS/2 allows true N-key rollover and will likely always be registered by the BIOS—but when it comes to mouse latency, nothing beats real-world comparisons.
In real-world tests, good USB gaming mice and good PS/2 gaming mice are almost always indistinguishable when it comes to perceptible input latency, even for competitive gaming. Any big differences in the lower end of the wired mouse market most likely down to other factors than the connection itself, such as switches, polling rates, and internal chips.
Wireless Mouse Latency
On paper, we might think that wireless mice shouldn’t ever have lower latency than a wired mouse, because wireless connections aren’t capable of the theoretical maximum transfer speeds of wired connections.
As such, the question we should ask is whether wireless mice can at least match a wired mouse’s latency in practice. In other words, is wireless technology good enough that any increased latency is so small as to be imperceptible?
The answer to this question is yes. Wireless technology is so good these days that even competitive pro gamers often use them over their wired counterparts. The difference in latency between a top tier wired and wireless mouse is so small as to be imperceptible, even for pro gamers.
In online benchmarks like the video shown above, there is little correlation between whether a mouse is wired or wireless and whether it has low or high latency. Of course, poorly implemented wireless technology can cause input lag, but any decent gaming mouse should have a good wireless implementation that rivals a wired connection. In fact, one of the very best gaming mice for low latency is the Logitech G Pro X Superlight, a wireless mouse.
So, good wireless mice often outperform wired mice when it comes to latency, and even when they don’t the difference is often imperceptible. Mouse input lag is far more likely to be caused by other things than its connection type, such as the type of switches used and the mouse’s debounce time.
Test Mouse Latency with a Mouse Click Latency Test
To test your mouse click latency, you can use something like NVIDIA’s Latency Display Analysis Tool (LDAT), or hook up a LED to your mouse switch and point a high-speed camera at it to measure the frames between a mouse press and the on-screen game action. Alternatively, if you have a GSync monitor that supports it, you can use its built-in NVIDIA Reflex Latency Analyzer.
However, while the results of these tests are useful for benchmark comparisons between different mice—to decide between which of two gaming mice to purchase, for example—they’re not usually necessary for the average PC gamer at home. Comparing online benchmarks should suffice.
If you need a latency test to tell the difference between two latencies, then the difference is probably imperceptible and won’t impact your gaming experience.
Wireless Mouse Pros and Cons
Wireless mice can have just as little latency as wired ones, but there are other considerations when deciding between a wired vs wireless mouse.
Wireless Mouse Pros
- Less cable clutter on and around your desk
- Lower chance of your mouse snagging on something
- Easier to transport
- Better range of movement
- Most decent wireless mice have good battery life
- Cableless charging is possible, for example with the Logitech G PowerPlay charging pad.
Wireless Mouse Cons
- Usually more expensive
- Needs to be charged
- Could risk wireless interference from other devices
- Maximum battery life might decrease over time
- Often heavier than wired mice because of internal wireless hardware
Wired Mouse Pros and Cons
Despite wireless technology being very good these days, there might still be reasons to opt for a wired mouse.
Wired Mouse Pros
- No need to charge
- Definite stability with a wired connection
- No need to keep track of wireless dongles
- Mouse bungees can reduce mouse snags
Wired Mouse Cons
- More cable clutter on and around your desk
- Higher chance of your mouse snagging on something
- More difficult to transport
- Chance of cable degrading or fraying
- Lower range of movement
Summary: Should you use a Wired or Wireless Gaming Mouse?
One of the most important considerations when deciding on a gaming mouse is its latency and how much input lag it might cause.
Good wireless mice these days are practically indistinguishable from wired ones when it comes to latency. In fact, many of the best gaming mice for low latency are wireless. As such, other factors than latency should influence your decision more when deciding between a wired vs wireless gaming mouse.
If you’re happy paying a premium for the everyday convenience of lacking a cable—no chance of a cable snagging, and freer hand movements while gaming—and you don’t mind having to charge it every now and then, then you should get a wireless gaming mouse.
You can even charge some mice wirelessly on wireless charging pads, eliminating a cable entirely. And with Logitech’s G PowerPlay charging mouse pad, you won’t even need to remove your mouse from its mousepad to charge it.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to pay a premium for this everyday convenience, then you should get a wired gaming mouse.
Perhaps you don’t like the idea of having to charge your mouse up every now and then, or (even though many wireless connections are now almost flawless) you’d prefer a connection that will definitely be stable at all times. You could even buy a mouse bungee to somewhat emulate that wireless mouse feeling. If these things are of concern to you, stick with a wired mouse.
Above all, though, don’t let the prospect of lower latency make you opt only for wired mice, because wireless mice are now good enough to rival, and often beat, wired mice when it comes to latency.