On gaming mice with speed holes and red sports cars

, by
Dominik Schmalzried and Patrick Schmalzried

Ever since Tt eSPORTS first released a gaming mouse with speed holes all the way back in 2014 (who do you think pioneered speed holes in gaming mice?), followed by Mad Catz in 2015, many other copy catz have followed suit. Why though?

What are speed holes?

First let us take a look at the official definition of speed holes as per Urban Dictionary:

«Holes you put in the hood of your car with a pickaxe to (supposedly) make it go faster. These holes may also be installed via sniper fire.»

Invented by a witty car salesman in an episode of «The Simpsons» speed holes have arrived in the world of gaming mice and it does not look like they will be leaving anytime soon.

For the Zaunkoenig M1K we did not use a single speed hole in the upper shell. We are no strangers to speed holes though, as a quick look into the Zaunkoenig prototype vault reveals:

This picture shows several 3D printed gaming mouse prototypes that lead to the Zaunkoenig M1K.

For years we have been printing prototypes with speed holes. We had them all: honeycomb-shaped speed holes, triangle-shaped speed holes and circle-shaped speed holes. Sadly most of our speed hole prototypes broke after a month or so of gaming. We were trying to save weight a little too aggressively.

Our speed hole prototypes still helped us learning a very important lesson: low weight in a mouse feels really, really good. This is when we turned to carbon fiber. With carbon fiber we were able to make lighter shells than was possible with even our most aggressive speed hole designs. And to this day we have not had a single carbon fiber prototype break.

By using our speed hole prototypes we also learnd that speed holes are about more than just weight. The following are the advantages and disadvantages we found when using speed hole prototypes.

Advantages and disadvantages of speed holes

When it comes to speed holes, the following three advantages get quoted pretty often:

Some argue that speed holes enhance the grip of a gaming mouse. You partially press your fingers into the speed holes and thus your control over your gaming mouse is increased. While technically true, we found that no speed hole pattern enhanced grip as much as dedicated grip tape did. Grip tapes have the added benefit that you can choose them in accordance to your needs: when you tend to have sweaty fingers for example, you can choose a grip tape optimized for sweat absorption.

Then there is the ventilation argument. Used all the way back in 2014 this argument goes like this: speed holes increase airflow around the contact points with your mouse and thus help preventing your hand from overheating. The more contact points you have with your mouse, the more important this is. With fingertip grip however there already is excellent air flow between your hand and your mouse, as just your fingertips are in contact with your mouse.

Finally of course speed holes, when done right, have the advantage of making your mouse lighter. Why? The ability of an object to resist deformation under load (flexural strength) is not only determined by the strength of the material used, but also by its thickness. A mouse with double the wall thickness will be four times as stiff. Double the wall thickness obviously results in double the weight, but by using speed holes you can keep the advantages of high wall thickness while at the same time reducing the overall weight. So far though we have not seen a single speed hole mouse that had a thought-out speed hole design. Instead these mice look like the designer copypasted a simple geometric pattern all over the mouse and called it a night. These designs still save weight, but they are lazy.

Now let us take a look at the disadvantages of speed holes.

Speed holes of a certain size can be distracting when gripping a mouse. Sometimes your fingers will be next to a speed hole, sometimes in it. Small speed holes are less of a problem but also have less weight saving potential. With a grip tape you do not have to guess how it will feel when you grip the mouse. By only putting speed holes where the gamer will never grip this problem can be solved; at the cost of lost weight saving potential.

The major disadvantage of speed holes is of course the dirt problem. It is true that a mouse is not likely to suffer from overheating induced by to much dust, as can be the case for a gaming PC. However this dust can get into your switch, and more specifically onto the contacts of your switch. The gold plated contacts of the Japanese Omron D2F-01F switches we use in the Zaunkoenig M1K do protect against oxidation, but not against dirt accumulation. Some of this dirt will be removed by the clever design of the D2F-01F: by employing a rolling action, the contacts have the ability to clean themselves. However this mechanism alone will not protect the switch indefinitely.

And that is just the switch: the imaging quality of the sensor will not profit from dust as well. And the rest of the printed circuit board (PCB) is vulnerable to liquids. You can protect the PCB from liquids by coating it. However PCB coatings are not as permanent as they sound: exposing it to sweat on a regular basis will probably get through that coating sooner or later.

Hence we really do not like speed holes in the top shell of gaming mice. Speed holes in the bottom shell of the mouse are less of a problem.

For Zaunkoenig M1K it looks like this: currently the carbon fiber top shell weighs around eight grams. By increasing the wall thickness and using a much more open design maybe we could save two grams. But the trade-offs are not worth it in our eyes. And we do like saving weight …

We are not counting the look of speed holes as an advantage or disadvantage by the way. Some people like the look of speed holes, some do not.

Gaming mice made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) with speed holes also probably are as susceptible for radio frequency interferences (RFI) as ABS mice without speed holes. ABS is not conductive and thus cannot provide shielding from RFI in the first place. With carbon fiber this changes by the way: carbon fiber is electrically conductive, and thus the carbon fiber top shell for the M1K actually provides protection from RFI. Adding speed holes to the carbon fiber top shell of the M1K would weaken this protection. Keep in mind though that RFI-related problems for gamers are not exactly wide-spread.

Red ones go faster

So to summarize: speed holes in all current gaming mice are poorly executed and do not save a lot of weight, while having quite a few disadvantages. Why are speed holes becoming more and more common then? Our guess is because they make the mouse look light. Just like red sports cars look faster than green sports cars. Speed holes thus are more of a marketing gimmick, than an actual weight saving innovation. They suggest light weight, but fail to deliver in a substantial way.