At the beginning of the year, I made a change that will seem small to most people, but has substantially improved my workspace. I switched from a normal-sized mouse pad to an “XXL mouse pad,” which spans 90 percent of the width of my desk. It sounds silly, but this massive swath of cloth and rubber has changed the way I look at and use my workspace. Most of those changes have been a matter of perspective and have nothing to do with gaming, so while the XXL mouse pad is still marketed as gaming gear, you might want to give it a try for your everyday workflow.

An XXL mouse pad, also occasionally called an “extended” or “ultra-wide” mouse pad, effectively turns the entire area in front of your computer monitors into a giant mouse pad. Instead of having a mouse pad next to your keyboard, the keyboard sits on the mouse pad. If you have any other gear on your desk — microphone, game controller, a notebook, a soda — everything goes on the mouse pad. Your entire desk becomes a mouseable surface. And, despite the fact that many mice don’t absolutely need a mouse pad to function on most surfaces, you really should be using one. It protects your mouse and makes using it feel more comfortable. 

I had resisted the change for awhile. Companies had been intermittently sending XXL mouse pads along with the gaming mice when I reviewed them to demonstrate that they were keeping up with the trend, which was blowing up in competitive gaming circles. I only relented when Corsair had sent me a fancy one, the MM700 RGB, which has customizable RGB lighting around its edges and two USB passthrough ports. (I love USB passthrough. But that’s a conversation for another time).

What do you mean when you say “XXL” mouse pad?

XXL mouse pad dimensions vary with manufacturer and model, but as a rule of thumb XXL mouse pads are slightly more than twice as wide as they are long. The Corsair MM700 RGB on my desk measures 36.6 x 15.8 inches. Most of the models I’ve seen fall between approximately 31 x 11 inches to 36 x 18 inches. There isn’t a standardized size, though, so I’d recommend measuring your desk and figuring out the right measurements for your setup before buying one.

Those are… Very large. Why would anyone want an XXL mouse pad?

To understand why competitive gamers started using XXL mouse pads, we have to talk about how mice translate your hand movement onto your screen. When you move your mouse, an optical sensor tracks the mouse’s position relative to the surface on which it rests. Gaming mice offer the ability to adjust your cursor tracking by setting the dots-per-inch (or DPI), which sets how far the cursor moves when the sensor detects movement. Gaming mouse manufacturers often brag about a mouse’s sky-high tracking rate, because it suggests a sensor is more powerful and precise.

XXL mouse pad with silver laptop and wired mouse on top
So much room to mouse. Mike Epstein

But professional-level competitive players, who have incredibly fast and precise mouse control, generally prefer to keep their DPI incredibly low, to the point where you need to fully extend your arm to get the mouse from one side of the screen to the other. While impractical for everyday web browsing, this actually increases their capacity for precision. If you can stop your mouse on a dime, then you can stop it on a faraway enemy’s head when it briefly pops up in the distance. To sweep your arm and achieve that level of nuanced pointing and clicking, you need a mouse pad that extends as far as you do. Hence, ultra-wide or XXL mouse pads.

That’s cool, but I don’t want to use my whole arm to move my mouse so how does it help me?

Neither do I! But there are lots of small benefits to having a big mouse pad. Let’s start with the obvious: You no longer need to worry about running off the edge of your mouse pad. Even if you aren’t yearning to wave your mouse around your desk, standard mouse pads can feel a little constraining. Many are just too small to let you move from one end of the screen to the other without raising your DPI above a comfortable level. Even with a larger mouse pad, you may find yourself drifting toward the edge as the day goes along. 

Lots of people get around this by simply not using a mouse pad. This will probably allow your cursor to move just fine, but it doesn’t provide a low-friction surface that allows your mouse to glide. Plus, using a mouse with no pad will scratch up both the desk and your mouse’s pad or “feet.” While a mouse pad doesn’t look as sleek as an immaculate flat surface, it is the better choice.

In fact, the mouse pad doubles as an all-purpose protective surface. It acts as a coaster, prevents scratches, and can protect your wrists from sharp corners if you don’t use a wrist rest with your keyboard. I’ve seen plenty of stylish PC gaming “battlestations” that treat the XXL mouse pad as a statement piece, but I just want to be able to put stuff on my desk without thinking about it.

Two gaming monitors, a microphone, gaming keyboard, and an XXL mouse pad in front of a wall.
This is my desk. It is very messy, as am I. Mike Epstein

But my favorite thing about the XXL mouse pad is organizational, not technical. The XXL mouse pad takes up the entire space in front of your computer, which means it inadvertently creates a very clear, defined “workspace” for your desk. I’ll level with you: I’m a messy person. My desk is always littered with artifacts of past and future reviews: Game controllers and mice and a microphone, not to mention all the cables and manuals that come with them. To lay out my big mouse pad, I had to clear off the desk completely and it was actually clean for a time. Despite my best efforts, the tide of stuff crept back on to the desk but I’ve largely been able to use the mouse pad to clearly delineate between the stuff that I’m working on at the moment, and the stuff that I’ll need later (or need to put away). It’s a simple visual trick of the mind, but it has helped me declutter and keep focus, even in the face of juggling many projects (and their many parts).

So basically this is all in your head?

In a sense, yeah. A mouse pad can be as simple as a square piece of rubber, but it can enhance your computing experience in all kinds of ways if you let it. I was lucky enough to stumble into something that worked for it. I can only hope it will do the same (or something better) for you, too.