At the core, Windows 7 controls how fast your mouse's cursor will move across the screen: however, some mice have acceleration and speed settings built into their driver, which will also affect their responsiveness. Pictured left is an Evoluent Vertical Mouse, which includes an a hardware controller (a physical toggle button, enhanced on the picture), labeled "
Pointer Speed", which allows you to increase or decrease mouse speed independently from Windows, and without going through the Control Panel. Likewise, many laptops come with their own drivers to control the speed and sensitivity of their trackpad / touchpad and pointing stick (nub). This tutorial explains how to customize all these, plus Windows' core pointer settings.
Quick Steps to change mouse pointer speed in Windows 7:
To adjust your cursor's speed on the software side of things, open the start menu and simply type "
mouse" in the search field. The first result, listed under Control Panel, will be the mouse properties dialog, which controls all aspects of your mouse.
When the Mouse Properties dialog opens ("Button" tab selected by default), notice that there's a "Double-click speed" setting: it's not related to cursor movement, but you may be interested to know that you can adjust how quickly you have to click twice in a row for Windows 7 to register that sequence as a double-click, as opposed to two separate single clicks. Double-click on the folder icon to test your current speed: drag the Speed slider towards "
Slow" or "
Fast" and test your double-click again until you found your favorite interval!
Now select the "Pointer Options" tab: under "
Motion", the Select a pointer speed slider is in the middle by default. Drag it right (faster) or left (slower) to change your cursor speed. To test that new speed, click on the Apply button at the bottom and try moving your mouse around the screen:
The "Enhance pointer precision" checkbox is checked by default: when that setting is enabled, Windows 7 will detect subtle changes in speed as you move your mouse pointer. Without realizing it, we decelerate when the cursor approaches our target (a button we want to click, a piece of text we want to select, etc.) That pointer precision option allows Windows to help make us more accurate pointer users! And it also averages and smooths out an otherwise potentially choppy path the cursor follows as you move it.
The next setting is more about efficiency than speed, but it will generally make you a faster computer user! The "Automatically move pointer to the default button in a dialog box" checkbox is unchecked by default, because it's a bit puzzling if you don't expect it: say you want to save a file, and you click on the Save button / icon, or hit the Ctrl+S keyboard shortcut. When the Save / Save-As dialog opens, your cursor will automatically move above the Save button. You will probably not like this setting, but it's worth giving it a try, especially if your job involves a lot of data-entry and/or repetitive tasks. Here too, check the checkbox and click Apply to test-drive this setting.
Tip: in most cases, you'll be able to use a couple of keyboard shortcuts instead of that functionality. Hitting Enter generally does the same as clicking on the default button (you can recognize it by its more pronounced, blue-ish outline, visible in the screenshot below). Hitting Esc (the "escape" key) does the same as clicking on a Cancel button. In some cases, if you have accessed a dialog using your keyboard, or if you've enabled underlining accelerator keys, an underlined letter next to a field label or button means that you can hold down the Alternate key and hit that letter to virtually "click" inside the text box or on the button in question - here's an example, taken from Notepad:
There are three Pointer Visibility settings at the bottom of this same tab: the first one can be especially useful if you have a high pointer speed or a very large screen resolution. If you check "Display pointer trails", you'll see translucent images of the cursor as you move it - avoid this setting is your computer is slow (particularly with a weak graphics card). The only way to be sure is to test this setting. Notice that you can control the length of the trail with the slider: a Short trail will barely be visible, and one set all the way to Long will make your mouse pointer impossible to miss!
FYI: if you spend much of your time typing text, checking the "Hide pointer while typing" checkbox lets you avoid the irritating problem of having the cursor obscure parts of some letters. No need to move your mouse out of the way, Windows will hide the pointer when you start typing, and show it back on screen about a second after you stop typing!
Instead or in addition to the pointer trail, you can enable the "Show location of pointer when I press the Ctrl key". With that option turned on, holding down on the Control key will make your cursor radiate, making extremely easy to find on screen. This becomes very distracting if you are a heavy keyboard shortcut user (many involve the Ctrl key!)
Note: Windows 7 also lets you make the actual cursor larger, through "cursor themes". If you click on the Pointers tab in the Mouse Properties dialog, you can pick one of the system schemes called "Windows Aero (large)". See on the screenshot how much larger the default cursor is with that theme (cursor preview on the right) than with the default pointer (shown clicking on the dropdown).
On laptops, which come with their "built-in mouse", you will generally find more advanced settings, also in the "Mouse Properties" dialog. Click on the rightmost tab, whose name depends on the laptop you are using: on IBM / Lenovo (ThinkPad) laptops, you'll see an "
UltraNav" tab, sometimes simply called "
Device Settings" on -for example- HP Elitebook and Zbook laptops. How it's called depends in part on where you got your drivers from. "
Synaptics" is a company that writes drivers for many hardware manufacturers, so you may see that name too (logo and icon are shown on the left).
Example: on a ThinkPad, click on the Settings button under TrackPoint in that last tab, and drag the "TrackPoint Stick" slider all the way towards "Light Touch" to make it faster and more sensitive:
On (for example) Hewlett-Packard's EliteBook and Zbook laptops, click on the Device Settings tab, which shows the Synaptics logo, and customize your trackpad buttons and nub options:
If you plugged an external mouse into your desktop, laptop, or tablet, you may see a completely different Mouse Properties dialog. Below, the Evoluent Mouse Manager (drivers) take over most settings while the mouse is plugged in, giving you more advanced functionality (like programmable buttons). Windows 7 automatically detects which USB mouse, if any, is currently used: