SteelSeries Rival Optical Gaming Mouse Review

SteelSeries goes back to the design room for a right handed mouse with plenty of new features. It's time to see if the Rival can stand its ground.

Manufacturer: SteelSeries
12 minutes & 48 seconds read time


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SteelSeries covers this new venture into mice with a look back at all the other products offered in performance mice, and thought to themselves they could do better. To do this, you need a couple of things, well a few actually. First and foremost you need a very comforting design that becomes an extension of the hand, and here a universal design just wasn't going to cut it, and SteelSeries realized this. They have also gone into designing their own switches for the right and left click buttons, that not only feel good to use, but are near dead silent in operation. Another thing you must have is a good sensor, and with this design, SteelSeries finds a top tier optical sensor to use, and it does not come from Avago.

Not so mandatory in mouse designing is fancy things. If the mouse functions well, and feels good in the hand, there is no real need for more, but as consumers we want everything we can get for the investment. SteelSeries also realized this, and with this new design comes rubber side pads we have not seen before, and it has been quite a while since we saw a SteelSeries mouse with 16.8 million color choices for the LEDs in this design, and on top of that there are dual zone controls for full customizability.

They even added a cool little name plate to the back, and while they offer a couple of choices to use, the idea here is to let 3D printer users make their own inserts for it and personalize it to the fullest extent.

To go at the market with the idea that we can do it better, faster, and with all new components to back it up, the new naming applied, Rival, seems quite fitting for a mouse that is set out to take on the world and conquer all other devices. That also sets the bar pretty high for SteelSeries right out of the gate, as they pretty much are saying they have the best performance or gaming mouse currently on the market. While those are some really big boots to fill, I say we take this new Rival optical mouse and see if it is the new master of its domain, or just another average mouse to add to the massive list of potential purchases.

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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Physically, the Rival is attractive to look at. Our sample arrived with a flat black rubberized coating applied to the entire top half of the mouse. As if that weren't enough to ensure a great grip in the heat of a battle, SteelSeries also adds highly texture rubber side pads, so there is no way to lose control of the Rival. The Rival is also shaped wider at the heel, skinny in the middle, wider at the front, and is cut into a shape that is very pleasing and ergonomic. Along with a six button and scroll wheel layout, the Rival also offers a large illuminated logo at the back, and the scroll wheel has the center hub illuminated as well. All of this is packed into a mouse that is 40mm tall, 70mm wide, 13mm long, and weighs in at 128 grams, which is heavy for a SteelSeries offering.

The optical sensor is capable of 50 to 6500 Counts Per Inch (CPI) and polls for activity at a 1000Hz polling rate, making sure not to miss any movements, even the slightest ones. Controlling the settings is an adjustable dial that will also allow direct inputs in 1CPI increments for the finest options of any mouse on the market in sensor level adjustments. As far as the amount of movement it will be capable of tracking, you need to move the mouse faster than sixteen feet per second before you take this sensor out of it comfort zone, and with 50Gs of an acceleration level, you will need to practically throw this at a wall to see those sort of loads, so average game play and usage is not going to be out of the scope of what this new sensor is capable of.

One major factor that will determine if the Rival is a real market killer has to be the pricing. Even if this is the best mouse on planet Earth, if it sells at or over $100 there are not a lot of potential buyers out there willing to pay that sort of pricing. Well, from what I see that is definitely not the case at all. In fact, the pricing of the Rival is well within the average range for a mouse with this sort of a feature set.

As of now, there are only two places you can locate these mice for sale, one of them is buying directly from the U.S. SteelSeries store, and the other listing is found at Both locations are sticking to the MSRP of $59.99 to obtain the Rival. So far SteelSeries is off to a good start; stick with us and see if they do in fact have the total package once we get to testing it.


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Matte black packaging with a bold orange stripe at the top is where SteelSeries places an image of the Rival powered and illuminated. At the top, to the left, is the naming and to the right shows it is PC and MAC ready. The bottom displays that the Rival offers deadly precision, and the logo to the right finishes it out.

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The front panel uses Velcro to stay closed, but once opened, you get a full view of the mouse inside of the box, under a layer of plastic, and you can now also read up on the six features shown and discussed at the left.

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The right side of the packaging offers a column of six boxes. They cover the sensor, its maximum CPI, the longevity of the SteelSeries switches, the polling rate, tracking speed, and force that the Rival offers. There is also a view of the back of the Rival at the bottom of this panel.

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Around back are three key features and design elements that makes the Rival stand out, and they include details on what each of them are or do. After repeating those features a few times, there are snippets of some of the software controls, followed by the Rival being shown in many colors.

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The last panel simply provides the naming at the top and a large view of the Rival, more specifically an image of the illuminated scroll wheel.

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Inside of the outer packaging, there is this very bright orange cardboard insert. This angles the mouse to make room for the paperwork and optional heel plate. To contain the Rival, a molded plastic shell keeps it in place and protects it from damage.

SteelSeries Rival Optical Mouse

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Looking at the Rival from the left, there are a few things to cover. The obvious one is the added side panels with aggressive texturing to deliver the best grip possible. The second is the notch in the side buttons that allows easy feel of where they are placed. The last is the tall arch of the design that leads to more of a claw grip position, as you need long hands to fit a relaxed one.

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On the heel of the Rival is a large, what is now white, logo placed right in the center. As the top rubberized section meets the textured plastic below, there is a rubber insert that has the Rival name imprinted into it.

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The right side of the mouse has a similar rubber pad applied for grip, but the shape of this side is much different, and while not offering a place for fingers to rest, the undercut and curves here make the Rival easy to handle.

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The front of the mouse comes to a blunt end at the front. The lower section of plastic is slightly inset allowing a place for the USB cable to come from, right in the middle.

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At the top of the mouse, between the large rubberized right and left click buttons, SteelSeries offers a rubber scroll wheel with a plastic center for illumination. Just behind that is the CPI button that will let you swap between two settings.

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From the bottom, it is much easier to see the right handed offset as the front curves that way for a better fit to the hand. With a large sticker in the middle, just above the eye at the front, there are small jellybean shaped Teflon feet. At the back, the feet are larger, and placed more to the sides.

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Since we all know what a plain black USB cable looks like, the focus is less on the USB 2.0 cable, and more the tag applied to it. Here it states that you will need to go and grab a download of the SteelSeries Engine to get the most out of the Rival.

Accessories and Documentation

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In a zip lock bag found behind the mouse, there is a second rubber insert to use with the Rival. If the "RIVAL" one does not do it for you, maybe the one with "SteelSeries" and the logo will. Thing is, anyone with a 3D printer could make any sort of insert they wanted, and it is a very cool idea.

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As for paperwork, this is it, just this two sided piece of paper. This side covers help and safety. It offers the support, FAQ, and explains where to shop with SteelSeries addresses. The bottom discusses ergonomics a bit, then mentions that breaks are definitely needed while gaming.

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The reverse of that insert offers a quick tutorial. First plug in the Rival, then get online and grab the software. Funny thing, the software. While this and the box show various charts and graphs for the software, the SteelSeries Engine 3.0 shows something completely different.

Inside the Rival

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Inside of the Rival we find that the top half houses a PCB that is connected via thin wires, and at the back is a large cut-away to allow the LED to shine through to the logo. On the right is the main PCB and components that we are about to show in detail.

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Removing and flipping over the PCB from the top half shows that the CPI button just behind the scroll wheel uses a white TTC switch. It has a medium actuation pressure and makes an audible click when pressed.

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As for the pair of side buttons on the left side of the Rival, they are backed with white HC switches. Here there is a heavy actuation force required, and there is also an audible click when it is pressed.

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Under the left click button is a white switch, much like those we just looked at, but here they are designed by SteelSeries. These switches are light on the force needed, are near dead silent, and have a thirty million click lifespan.

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Taking on the task of both controlling the Rival as well as communications is the 48MHz Freescale MC9S08JM16 MCU. It is a selectable 8-bit or 16-bit processor, and should be plenty to keep the Rival functioning well.

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This is also the first time we are seeing this Pixart Imaging PAW33100H optical sensor. You can take it as far as PAW33 before Google stops providing information. We can only go from the packaging, specs, and what the software will show us.

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The scroll wheel click function is backed with another white TTC switch with the same feel as the one for the CPI button. The right click button is also backed with the same SteelSeries switch that we found on the other side of the Rival.

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After a bit of assembly, the Rival is all back in one piece, and we went ahead and added the power. While you do have full color options for the illumination of the scroll wheel individually from the heel of the mouse, it comes set to SteelSeries orange out of the box.

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Spinning the Rival around, the heel of the mouse is also glowing orange now, and the LED lighting is also set to "breathe" mode without any fiddling in the software first.


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With the SteelSeries 3 Engine installed and the Rival plugged in, the device shows up like we see here. To access the controls for the Rival, double-click anywhere inside of the banner displaying its name, and you will be given a new window.

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Clicking on the little orange gear inside of the Rival's banner will allow you to change the language of the software and also offers a check-box to have SSE3 start up with login.

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What I found when trying to access the controls was that before I was allowed access, I had a critical firmware update to apply before we can continue. Here there were some small issues with the updater. While at first seemingly bricking the mouse, after a few restarts and various USB ports, the update was successful, and able to be used again.

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If when updating that Firmware, you see this screen and the updating bar does not start to quickly populate with green progression, and your Rival is rapidly flashing blue, this is where I was stuck for a bit. Try another USB port and see if it takes. While advised not to move or unplug the device, it was the only way we made any progress.

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Once past the stressful shenanigans, we were able to access the controls. The widow that opens offers a top view of the Rival with the buttons all denoted. To its left there are boxes that will allow you to swap functionality between them, but nothing along the lines of Macros or optional Windows controls. On the right, you have CPI 1 and 2. These can be set with the silver knob and your mouse, or you can highlight the CPI level and enter an amount between 50 and 9999, in single digit increments. The bottom then offers four selectable polling rates from 250 to 1000Hz.

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SteelSeries also offers the option to look at the Rival from the left side. I assume this is to be certain of programming the correct side buttons, but it is pretty straight forward from the top view. There is also a live preview switch at the bottom that allows you to see and feel changes as they are made, or you can turn it off and not see changes until it is saved and back in use at desktop level.

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There are two boxes that say LOGO next to them. While the vast majority of that box is the current color selected, clicking the black triangle brings up this color window. Here you can search with the mouse in the main color band, and the box to the left allows for variations of the color chosen. There is also full RGB input options, and there are three modes of lighting effects hidden in the dropdown box for effects.

Final Thoughts

The Rival looks stunning, feels really good in the hand, is a bit heavier than most other SteelSeries mice, and offers a level of performance that I have not seen in any other mouse. This to me is a two pronged attack. Incorporating this new Pixart optical sensor adds speeds unheard of in optical mice. Now I cannot be certain if the maximum CPI is 6500, and the software just associates that to 9999 on the dial, but I can tell you, the pointer zipped across my screen with so little effort that I have to think it is surpassing the 6500CPI limits. The second prong of the attack on the market is the fact that the most used buttons on the mouse are so silent when using them. Typically there is a loud click associated with every bullet fired, every page looked at, and every time you open an application. Not here my friends, I would say 90% of your use time is silent, and while strange at first, it is easily something that you appreciate over time.

The other nice thing about the Rival is that no matter what mouse pad I used, the feel of the tracking was the same on all materials. What does change is the drag coefficient, and this is where more expensive mats come into play, but that is for another review. The Rival has a great feel when using it in the short term, or in long gaming sessions. There was no fatigue or odd feeling in the wrist from the camber and shape, but for my hand the Rival is a bit large. I did have issues reaching the page forward button, mostly due to the hump on the top forcing my hand to rest more to the back that it should. The added pads on the side with the multiple little rubber grips give you a very secure grip to fling the mouse around or lift it in the middle of game play.

While set to 9999 CPI in the software, it was much like trying to manage 8200 DPI on a laser mouse. While there may be some that can appreciate that level of operation, I found the range of 3000 to 6000, in what the SSE3 showed, as the sweet spot when editing images at the lower-end, and gaming at the higher setting. It is a really well designed, all around mouse, which will do anything you ask, splash a bit of light at you, and deliver a level of tracking control that nobody else has even thought to try.

All around, the Rival is worthy of its name in what it does, how it looks, and the levels of control offered for each individuals taste, color scheme, or perfect level of control down to 1CPI. There are only two things I found that I could even gripe about. One gripe is the oddly loud forward movement of the scroll wheel, since when moving backwards it is near silent. The second one is the discrepancy between the specifications and the software settings of the CPI level. Other than that, the Rival really does hit the mark on most levels. Keep in mind, if you missed it before. Those with medium to small hands will be forced into a claw grip style for full access to all the buttons at once.

For those with larger hands, this will be a perfect fit with proper access to all the buttons and a nice relaxed grip. With full CPI range beyond any other, new switches with a long lifespan to keep the Rival working silently, full lighting customizability, and the fact that you can swap out the name plates and even have some made from a friendly 3D printer buddy, SteelSeries did in fact make a better mouse, and while some may disagree, I think the Rival is in a whole new tier that the rest of the mice will be held to for a long time to come. The Rival shows they have definitely stepped up their game.

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Chad joined the TweakTown team in 2009 and has since reviewed 100s of new techy items. After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM and coolers.

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