Of all the variables that go into configuring your mouse sensitivity for gaming, DPI is both the most controversial and hardest to grasp. This article will go into greater detail on how it works and how to configure it. If you're just looking to get a suggestion on what to set it to, check out our profiler at Head Click.
What is DPI?
DPI is short for dots-per-inch. It indicates how many times per inch your mouse will tell the computer that it has moved one unit along either axis.
How does it work?
A simplified explanation of DPI in action would be: if you had a DPI of 1200, and moved your mouse exactly one inch to the right, your computer would receive 1200 signals of "moved to the right".
How far does a "dot" move the mouse cursor / rotate a camera?
DPI alone does not let us know how far your mouse cursor will move, or how far you would rotate in a first-person game. That is because your mouse does not decide what that one unit of movement actually means on-screen.
For example, different operating systems might move the cursor at a different speed even with the same mouse / DPI. It's not reliable to assume that one unit of mouse movement is equal to one pixel of movement on-screen at any speed. On top of that, almost every operating system has acceleration applied to the mouse cursor, meaning that more mouse movement in a shorter period leads to your cursor moving much faster.
Similarly, any given game can have it's own idea as to how many degrees of camera rotation are caused by one unit of movement, which is usually defined by an in-game sensitivity setting.
Therefore, we can see that DPI is only one factor in moving your cursor or aiming a camera in a game.
How do I find & configure my DPI setting?
Finding out what your DPI setting is, and configuring it (if possible), depends entirely on the model and manufacturer of the mouse.
Variable DPI gaming mice
If you have a gaming mouse that is still in working condition, it almost certainly has variable DPI. You can head to the manufacturer's website and find the software for that particular model. Here's a few helpful links for the major brands:
- Razer has their Synapse software.
- Logitech mice and keyboards can be configured within Logictech Gaming Software
- HyperX mice are tuned with NGenuity
- Corsair has iCUE
If your manufacturer is not in this list, just give them a quick search and it should be prominently featured on their website.
Static DPI mice
Most mice from before the mid-2000s did not have a configurable DPI setting. They were typically 400 or 800 DPI. And even to this day, most non-gaming mice come with a static DPI. To figure out what the DPI is, you may need to try a few things:
- Check the bottom of the mouse, taking care not to shine any optical sensors into your eyes (most mice are not class-2 lasers and therefore not harmful, but it's certainly unpleasant). You may find DPI is etched into the mouse or on a sticker, along with the model # and various FCC warnings.
- If you can figure out the model number, give that a search to see if you can find the DPI on any official product pages, online manufacturer instruction manuals, or current / historical listings on online stores such as Amazon, Rakuten, etc.
- If you can only figure out the brand of the mouse, you can search Google or Bing for images of the mouse. If you spot it, you can sometimes follow those images to product pages on the manufacturer's website, online reviews, online stores, etc. This can be inaccurate, however, as DPI can change identical similar-looking models.
What should I set my DPI to?
This is a major point of contention. At Head Click, we've determined your mouse DPI should be set to whatever feels comfortable for standard desktop usage.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Ultra HD (higher than 1080p) display monitors are becoming increasingly more affordable and common, and using a low DPI with a higher resolution is a laborous exercise.
- Even as cryptocurrency booms make graphics cards that can actually utilize them prohibitively expensive, it's also becoming very common for games to render the UI at full resolution independently, which is always ideal.
- With that in mind, competitive shooters are becoming increasingly complex, integrating inventories and RPG elements, and often involve complex menu interaction under high pressure, which is much more difficult with a lower DPI mouse.
- On top of that, a lot of people like to play RTS/MOBAs which are largely cursor-based.
- Any reasonably modern game is going to use raw input (not the old operating system mouse events) and therefore acceleration is a non-factor, which lower DPI helped manage.
- Most modern gaming mice will operate at their standard DPI anyway, and simply modify their output by the DPI setting. Meaning, if a mouse operates at 3200 DPI and you set it to 1600, it just sends every other dot.
All of that being said, it's also important that your DPI isn't set too high either. If you're going to go to upwards of 2400, check the manufacturer's product page to make sure that the mouse actually supports it natively. Some mice claim to support higher DPIs but do it through guesswork, leading to inaccurate tracking.
From our tests, we've created this simple table mapping common resolutions to DPI settings that you can use as a starting point. This is the same output you'll get when you enter your resolution into our profiler.
- 720p (or lower): 400 DPI
- 1080p: 800 DPI
- 2K: 1200 DPI
- 4K: 1600 DPI
We also recommend that you do not change your operating system's mouse sensitivity, as it adds an unnecessary variable.
Isn't a lower DPI more accurate?
Not in any (decent) game engine from the last 15 years. 400 DPI is what a lot of mice were when competitive FPS games got popular, and many people have retroactively come up with reasons it's superior to higher DPIs, but we haven't been able to find any concrete evidence to support this. The only reason we can think of is that older games used the Windows mouse cursor for aiming, which may have introduced acceleration, and was more manageable at a lower DPI.
As long as the in-game sensitivity goes low enough to give you the actual sensitivity you desire at your desktop DPI, then DPI is not a factor. And sometimes a combination of an extremely low DPI and extremely high in-game sensitivity leads to "skipping" pixels, which means you may not be able to actually aim at something far away because the smallest unit of mouse movement rotates your aim too far.