Some of you may remember a couple of weeks ago I was explaining the importance of having good quality components in order to interface with your computer – A good monitor for viewing the output of the machine and a good quality mouse and keyboard for inputting data. Without these essential components being up to scratch, even if you have one of the most powerful machines on the market, the experience of using the machine will not be enjoyable.
One aspect that is almost always overlooked by people looking to buy a new computer or to replace a failed product is the mouse; quite often users just buy the cheapest on the market as surely a £2.99 mouse does the same job as one that costs £25? As with most things in life, this is not the case as you do get what you pay for and a poor mouse can be a real handicap whether you’re a graphic designer or enjoy playing games.

One relatively new advance that has radically altered this relatively simple technology has been the advent of the optical mouse - traditionally a mouse uses a ball in the bottom of the peripheral that is forced to rotate whenever the mouse is moved in a given direction. These movements are then mechanically picked up and relayed to the computer so that it can then determine in which direction the mouse is moving and move the pointer on the screen accordingly.
Optical technology doesn’t use a mouse ball, instead the mouse illuminates the surface below with a red light and then an infrared sensor takes snapshots of the surface at regular intervals. A processor then compares these snapshots in order to determine in which direction the mouse is moving. Since no mouse ball is necessary, you don’t have to worry about the mechanical contacts that often become dirty on a conventional mouse that is often the main cause of decreased performance.
An additional benefit of having no moving parts present is that the reliability of the mouse is also dramatically increased and the requirement of the mouse mat is alleviated as it no longer is necessary for the mouse ball to have a completely flat surface to roll along.

One would have thought that if the mouse were sensing the movement of the surface below it by actually ‘looking’ at it via infrared that the surface would have to be clearly defined. New optical mice don’t even have a problem with blank sheets of paper and the only object that presents a real problem is a mirror although why anyone would want to use their mouse on a mirror I don’t know.

As with any mouse, the ergonomics are an important consideration; when you consider how many miles your mouse must do in a year just by moving it around your desktop, you need something that will be comfortable and not present RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) problems. If possible try using the mouse before you buy it – Most stores have display models that you can test out and bear in mind if you’re left handed then you should buy an ambidextrous or a left handed model.

If you have a USB port on your computer then make sure you take advantage of this fact and run the mouse through USB as opposed to through the PS/2 port. This will increase the precision of the mouse as the USB port allows 125 data exchanges compared with only around 50 data exchanged that the PS/2 port supports. Bear in mind that most mice nowadays also come with a scroll button so that you can easily scroll up and down Internet pages and documents as well as navigation buttons that allow you to move back and forth through pages without taking your hands off the mouse.

Finally, the best news is that these mice aren’t overly expensive. A good quality Microsoft Optical mouse with scroll wheel is likely to set you back around £15 or so, getting more expensive as you add additional features such as navigation buttons. It’s certainly worth spending an little extra and buying a good quality optical mouse than a the conventional mechanical one, even if for no other reason than it should last longer owing to the lack of moving parts.

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