If there is one aspect of your computer setup that you really take for granted, it is the mouse mat. If you're anything like me, you will have accumulated about a hundred of these little cloth or plastic-manufactured "disposables", each with a shelf value of about 2 quid. Personally, ever since I moved over to the Intellimouse Explorer I've just used a wooden desktop and it has been fine. I wasn't particularly concerned about the pad beneath my rodent.
There has been a lot of talk about these sturdy new rock-hard mousing surfaces that supposedly increase the accuracy of your aim in first person shooters and such though. I must admit that I wasn't all that impressed at first, but I have since been converted somewhat...
For this comparison, I decided to focus upon the two main brands - Ratpadz and Everglide - both of which can be obtained in the UK for approximately £20 each. Both are very hard and provide a slightly elevated surface, with rubber feet beneath them which prevent the pad from sliding all over your desk.
Everglide Giganta - www.everglide.com
After a lot of cajoling from my fellow Quakers, I decided shelling out for an Everglide Giganta wouldn't be such a bad idea. Featuring a flat but textured bright blue finish, and an unusually large surface area, the Giganta (shown left) is definitely a precision mousing surface.
When I moved on to it after using a wooden desk for so long, the movement around Windows felt a whole lot smoother. The small smooth pads beneath the optical mouse that made up the only points of contact with the desk were becoming so worn down that there was friction during movement - something of an enemy to any Quaker.
As soon as I moved on to the Giganta I felt the friction ease off completely. The surface is non-abrasive and doesn't scratch or smear at all. Should you drown it in Coke or something, just as with the Ratpad, it is completely washable. The Ratpad - www.ratpadz.com
As a special offer at Power Computing, any orders amounting to over £50 will get a free Ratpad (shown right) for the customer. Otherwise, you can always hand over a paltry £17 to secure one. PowerComputing are now the official UK supplier for Ratpadz, and they have plenty in stock.
Unlike the Giganta, the Ratpad isn't as precisely crafted. There is a clear edge around the sides, where the Giganta is smoothed off. Also unlike the Giganta, the surface tends to attract dirt and grime a lot more than the stolid, blue coloured deck. What the Ratpad loses out on with general aesthetic, however, it makes up for with precision and shape.
As you can see from the relative shapes of the two pads, the Ratpad angles out at the lower edges, whereas the Giganta curves inward. The extra wings (if you like) of the Ratpad are in precisely the correct position though - when you move your mouse down to the bottom corners of the desktop or have a really swift curve-shot to make in mid-air, your mouse does not slide off the edge, as it does with the Giganta. Although, if it does slide off on the Giganta, you can easily roll back on to it, whereas with the Ratpad, the edge prevents easy recovery, as the pads on the underside of the mouse get caught on the side.
Aside from the aforementioned flaws in design, the Ratpad is as solid as the Giganta. It also seems to have been manufactured to a higher quality! I had the Giganta wedged on to my desk under a wooden joint to avoid tripping up like a lever and flipping me on to the floor. The glue attaching the rubber foot furthest away from me to the Giganta wore down after only a week of use, so that the rubber foot actually slid off and needed re-gluing. The Ratpad sat in the same position for nearly a month without needing any sort of reattachment.
In order to find out which pad is the best, I decided to do some tests in "Quake 3 : Arena" - I would play on a couple of maps using the railgun only for ten minutes each, three times over, and average out the scores I reached against the uber-bot Xaero, on Hardcore skill setting. Here are the scores - each is an average.
Using the Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer optical mouse
Using the Microsoft IntelliMouse ball-based mouse
What does this show? Firstly, this was a high skill setting, the point being it took a lot of effort to get your own rails off prior to being railed yourself. Particularly on Q3DM17, a lot of effort is required in order to score at all - and these two pads helped immensely. The benefit of using one of them over an average wooden desk (or even a normal mouse pad) is immense. The precision surface of each means that your railing accuracy will definitely increase.
The question of which one you use sadly must come down to personal preference. I use the Ratpad on my primary computer, and the Giganta for my secondary rig. This is mainly due to the glue issue, and if you are a particularly energetic Quaker who tends to slam the mouse around a lot and put a lot of pressure on the pad itself, then you may might want to go with the Ratpad, or else you could lose some of the underside support.
Again, energetic Quakers may find it interesting to note that while the Ratpad has a central rubber foot underneath the middle, the Giganta does not. That means that you can actually find the Everglide pad dipping in the centre when put under enough pressure.
The question of whether you need one of these pads is the easiest to answer. Yes, if you have any interest in succeeding at first person shooters, you must have a precision mousing surface. The question of which to buy is harder to answer though. Both are about the same price, and both offer about the same benefit.