Microsoft's IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 is technically a remake of an older product. The original debuted in 2003, but this version comes with a more gaming-oriented push. We've never been that impressed by Microsoft's mice, especially in contrast to Logitech's, which have dominated the field for the past few years. It feels like Microsoft is reintroducing this mouse not because it is a hot new product, but more to bolster the company's own Games for Windows campaign, which will ramp up as the holiday shopping season and the arrival of Windows Vista get closer. Regardless of the motivation, the IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 is a decent $40 mouse. Its design has some of the shortcomings of the original model, but on the whole, if you're not looking to spend $50 or more on one of Logitech's tricked-out, laser gaming mice, the IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 gives you the basics for less.
The IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 is a wired, USB mouse with an optical sensor. It has left and right buttons, a scrollwheel, and two thumb side buttons, all of which are customizable through Microsoft's Intellipoint software. The physical design of the mouse is roughly the same as the earlier version, with a few changes. Microsoft widened the base slightly, giving more support to your wrist, and it added silicon feet to the bottom of the mouse, which helps smooth out movement. Installation is straightforward, and the software is simple enough to use that you should be able to customize your buttons, your cursor speed, and your gaming profiles in no time.
Instead of the laser sensor that seems to be a universal component of Logitech and Razer's higher-end gaming mice, such as Logitech's G5 and Razer's Copperhead, the IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 uses a souped-up optical sensor, set to 9,000 frames per second (fps). In mice, FPS essentially means the number of pictures the sensor takes when you move it. The more pictures, the more accurate reading of your movements. The IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 tracked well in Quake 4 and F.E.A.R.; unless you're very particular about mouse settings, most gamers will be more than happy.
Do not confuse FPS with dots per inch (DPI), which is the rating laser mice use to determine how sensitive the cursor is to your movement. Laser mice usually range between 400 and 2,000 DPI, and many let you set three or more different settings to swap among on the fly. A higher DPI setting will move the cursor a greater distance when you move the mouse. Variable sensitivity could be useful in a shooter when you switch between a sniper rifle and an assault weapon, for instance. The IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 has a standard sensitivity setting of 450 DPI, but a new feature called Precision Booster lets you set a button to switch between 10 and 90 percent of the speed. You can also set this button to press-and-hold or to toggle the Precision Booster on and off when you want to switch your sensitivity. It's a cool feature, but we don't like that you have to lose one of the five buttons in order to enable it. We'd rather a dedicated button for speed-switching like on Logitech's mice, but that would likely add to the cost.
Another gripe we have is with the two thumb buttons. They don't have a great tactile response when you press them, and the rear one feels especially mushy. The feeling doesn't really affect the functionality, but we like to feel a bit of resistance when we push a button to let us know that we have indeed pushed it. This was a problem with the original IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0, and it's too bad that it has persisted to the new "for gaming" design. That said, this is still a solid basic mouse, and all but the more hard-core gamers out there will find that it works well for their needs, in-game or otherwise.