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honestly, the best I've ever used is a small (maybe 10" x 14") cork board! It's only about 3/8" thick, so it doesn't get in the way. Not only does the texture on there work extremely well for optical mice, it also offers a super smooth surface - for some reason the cork and slider-pad thingies on the bottom of the mouse work really really well together - zero resistance
I notice a huge difference on certian surfaces and pads. I use the Razer ExactMat and it makes a world of difference in precision. I use a Razer Copperhead, so that is my combo.
"The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms; and as there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws." -Machiavelli
I've never felt restricted by the basic mouse pad I use. I've never tried one of the "performance" pads though. My current pad was one given out at work when we were making lots of money before the telecom crash. It is not only a pad, but a souvenir of a time when everyone was happy. :)
After watching 60,000 people laid off, though, the "extreme hiring" mouse pad is far more sought after. Sadly, I don't have one. ;)
I have to admit that I am curious about these pads which are supposed to be better. Almost so much that I would buy one. But when they talk about how much more durable they are than cloth pads, it confuses me. I have been using the same cloth pad for hours every day for 7 years and it doesn't have even a slight hint of wear.
Incidentally, my desk has a glass top and my optical mouse does not work on it without a pad.