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The best PC controller in 2021

Included in this guide:

Two controllers, one Astro and one Xbox, next to each other on a silver gradient background with a PC Gamer Recommended badge in the top right.
Grab the best PC controller and game from the comfort of your couch. (Image credit: Future)

The best PC controller is a precious piece of kit for the PC gamer with varied tastes. Simply put, there are a lot of games—from Shovel Knight to Forza Horizon—that are better played with a gamepad than a gaming mouse and gaming keyboard. The best PC controllers also give you more freedom to lean back from the desk and relax into a chilled gaming session.

It's also true that some games end up with a monumentally confusing control system when mapped from console to PC if you end up using a mouse and keyboard. And that's true even for games held to be PC classics. The Witcher 3, for example, actually has a far more straightforward control system when played with the best PC controller.

In the end then, while the mouse and keyboard setup is great for a lot of things, especially shooters, there absolutely should be a place for the best PC controller in your arsenal. That's why we've tested today's top console controllers and PC pads to find out which is worthy of your cash.

Best PC controller

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Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 on a grey background.

(Image credit: Microsoft)
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Two Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 pads on a grey background.

(Image credit: Microsoft)
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Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 on a grey background.

(Image credit: Microsoft)
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Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 on a grey background.

(Image credit: Microsoft)
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Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 from behind with the triggers on show on a grey background

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The best wireless gaming controller

Specifications
Weight: 0.76 lbs (345 g) (+/-15 g)
Connectivity: USB Type-C, Bluetooth, 2.4 GHz
Features: 3-step trigger modes, replaceable thumbsticks, paddle switches
Battery: Internal Rechargable Battery (40 Hours)
Reasons to buy
+ Lots of customization options+ Detachable Charging Dock via USB-C + Bluetooth-enabled (finally)  
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy compared to most controllers-Seriously expensive

If you use the Microsoft Elite Series 2 controller for more than ten minutes, you'll understand why we have it at the number one spot. Everything about the Series 2 screams luxury. The near-endless customization options give you an unparalleled level of control (pun intended) over your gameplay. Being able to tweak all aspects of the controller, like d-pads, shift paddles, and joystick tension, is an absolute godsend.

The most significant changes in the Series 2 over the Series 1 (which we also loved) include a neat little carrying case that doubles as a charging station for the controller's new rechargeable battery with 40 hours of juice. Finally, with project Xcloud and Apple Arcade bringing some great games to mobile devices, you can easily pair the Series 2 controller via Bluetooth. 

Spending $160 for a controller is a tough sell for most people, that's near four times the price of an Xbox One controller, but if you're a serious gamer who values performance and extreme levels of customization, the Series 2 is a no brainer and worth every penny. 

Read the full Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 review.

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PowerA Spectra Infinity Enhanced controller pictured from various angles with lighting enabled.

(Image credit: PowerA)
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PowerA Spectra Infinity Enhanced controller pictured from various angles with lighting enabled.

(Image credit: PowerA)
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PowerA Spectra Infinity Enhanced controller pictured from various angles with lighting enabled.

(Image credit: PowerA)
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PowerA Spectra Infinity Enhanced controller pictured from various angles with lighting enabled.

(Image credit: PowerA)
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PowerA Spectra Infinity Enhanced controller pictured from various angles with lighting enabled.

(Image credit: PowerA)

Best budget PC controller

Specifications
Weight: 0.99 lbs (447 g)
Connectivity: micro USB
Features: LED edge-lighting, 3-way trigger locks
Battery: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Great button feel +Matches Xbox Series X|S controller+Good price +Improved lighting over previous model
Reasons to avoid
-No wireless support-Trigger locks are sub-par

PowerA's Spectra Infinity Enhanced wired controller is a step up over the Spectra Enhanced we used to rate in this guide. The latest version has more similarities to the Xbox Series X|S controller, with notably more bright lights. It's a pretty swanky controller nowadays, considering its budget price.

The edge lighting gives the Spectra some personality, and the 3-way trigger locks are great for competitive shooters, too. The Spectra would have scored higher, but the lack of any wireless connectivity is a big let down in the days of untethered gaming.

A worthy sacrifice for a cheaper price, though. No doubt about that.

Read the full PowerA Spectra Enhanced (non-Infinity) review.

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Xbox Wireless Controller pictured on a grey background.

(Image credit: Xbox)
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Xbox Wireless Controller pictured on a grey background.

(Image credit: Xbox)

3. Xbox Wireless Controller

The most reliable game pad

Specifications
Weight: 0.62 lbs (281 g)
Connectivity: Xbox Wireless; Bluetooth
Features: Hybrid D-pad, Textured Grip, Share button
Battery: 2x AA
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Comfortable+Officially supported by most games+Share Button
Reasons to avoid
-Not rechargeable

The original Xbox One Wireless Controller was a staple for PC gaming. With the Xbox Series S/X release, we were all curious to see how Xbox improved on an already killer gamepad. 

This controller retains a lot of what we loved about the original. Keeping it very comfortable overall design with texturized rubber grips makes you feel extremely great in your hands. Much like the original, it boasts a vastly superior d-pad that you won't dread using in fighting games and platformers, taking cues from the Xbox One Elite Series controllers. You might have noticed a new button in the center of the controller; a much-requested Share button now lets you capture screenshots and gameplay footage without diving too much into the menus.

We capitalize Wireless for a reason, not because the word is a proper noun per sé, but because the Xbox Wireless controller of late leverages Microsoft's wireless protocol it calls "Xbox Wireless." Though the name could benefit from some creative workshopping, you can take solace in the fact that, after 2016, the Xbox Wireless controller graces us with a much-needed helping of Bluetooth compatibility. And now it's practically standard fare for console transplants deterred by the learning curve mouse and keyboard gaming presents. 

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Sony Dualsense controller pictured front on.

(Image credit: SONY)

4. Sony DualSense Wireless Controller

The most impressive game pad around

Specifications
Weight: 0.46 lbs (210 g)
Connectivity: USB Type-C, Bluetooth
Features: Touchpad, haptic triggers
Battery: Li-Ion (6-12 hours)
Reasons to buy
+Super accurate thumbsticks+Adaptive Triggers+Haptic Rumble
Reasons to avoid
-Feature support limited on PC-Battery life isn't amazing

The PlayStation 5 DualSense has a "you have to touch it to believe it" quality thanks to its new haptic motors and "Adaptive" triggers, which can offer resistance under your finger. Firing a bow can actually feel like firing a bow, for example. The rumble is also easily the best and most nuanced we've ever felt in a controller. It really is as good as people say.

The bad news: the DualSense's most advanced features don't work in PC games yet, since games will need to be programmed to take advantage of them. But Steam already offers full support for the controller, so it's at least a breeze to plug in and use like any other pad. It's a hair less comfortable than the Xbox Series X controller, and not as simple to use in non-Steam games, but if you prefer Sony's analog stick layout or love gyro aiming, this is the one to get.

And maybe someday we'll see PC games take advantage of those new triggers and haptics, too.

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Scuf Instinct Pro controller in front of a System 76 Launch keyboard

(Image credit: Future)
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Scuf Instinct Pro controller and Xbox Series X controller on a stone step

(Image credit: Future)
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Scuf Instinct Pro controller rear of the pad

(Image credit: Future)
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Scuf Instinct Pro controller under the faceplate

(Image credit: Future)

The best alt-pad outside of Microsoft and Sony

Specifications
Weight: 0.62 lbs (280 g)
Connectivity: USB Type-C, Xbox Wireless, Bluetooth
Features: Changeable thumbsticks, removable faceplates, paddle switches
Battery: 2x AA
Reasons to buy
+Great customisation options+Feels reassuringly solid in the hand+Responsive and accurate
Reasons to avoid
-Customisation really costs-AA batteries, not rechargeable-It's just not the Elite...

Scuf doesn't mess around with its controllers, offering some of the best premium pads outside of Sony and Microsoft. And the Instinct Pro is the absolute best controller should you wish to eschew the two big bois of the console world.

There are more customisation options on offer with the Instinct Pro than with pretty much any other pad you could name. Though that will definitely impact the price—with my own choices I managed to bump the cost up to just shy of $250. But did create a gloriously pink pad without the distraction of rumblepacks.

The tough thing is that both Sony and Microsoft's controllers are just so good, and if you want something premium the Elite Series 2 absolutely ticks that box. The fact the Instinct Pro makes that look like good value makes it a real tough sell. It is, though, a fantastic controller that feels great in the hand and is as responsive as you could wish for. It's just painfully pricey.

Read our full Scuf Instinct Pro review.

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Razer Wolverine Ultimate controller pictured front-on.

(Image credit: Razer)
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Razer Wolverine Ultimate triggers pictured from the rear.

(Image credit: Razer)

6. Razer Wolverine Ultimate

Clicky with a side of Chroma

Specifications
Weight: 0.6 lbs (272 g)
Connectivity: USB wired
Cord length: 10 ft (3m)
Reasons to buy
+Swappable sticks and D-pad+Loud, satisfying face buttons
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for a wired controller-Needs a separate app to configure

Razer's Wolverine Ultimate could very well be the best gamepad available today, save for one critical disqualifying factor: it can't connect to a PC wirelessly. The Xbox-style gamepad offers many of the same luxury features as the Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller, like a swappable d-pad and customizable back paddles. It's also nearly the same price, which begs the question: why not just buy one of those instead? 

Well, it's not for everyone, but the Wolverine Ultimate does have its fair share of unique, downright enticing features. For starters, the face buttons—the ones labeled A, B, X, and Y—click like mouse buttons. This seemingly minuscule detail makes a world of difference. It's like using nothing but membrane keyboards your whole life and then making a move to mechanical switches. So while the enclosed 10-foot braided micro USB cable takes some getting used to, tactile button presses are a worthy trade-off.

Of course, no Razer product would be complete without a healthy dose of Chroma, the three-headed green snake company's signature brand of RGB lighting. However, rather than integrating it into the existing Synapse 3 app for Windows, Razer decided to develop an app specifically for Xbox One. So if you do plan on using this controller for your PC, bear in mind you'll need a separate app to configure it.

Best controller for PC FAQ

Can you use a console controller on PC?

Is PC gaming better with a controller?

This might seem like an utterly offensive question to ask in the annals of PC Gamer, but it remains true that certain PC games are far better played with a controller than with the classic keyboard and mouse combo.

Sports games are the most obvious, as anyone who has tried to play FIFA using the strange keyboard/mouse control scheme can attest to. But there are other titles, specifically those which were primarily designed for consoles whose control schemes are so unwieldy away from a pad that playing them any other way is a pain.

You could play Witcher 2 without a controller, for example, but it actually felt far better using a pad on PC.

How do we test controllers?

Ignore those who seem to think every game is best with a mouse and keyboard. Assassins Creed Valhalla is not best played with a keyboard. Street Fighter 5 is not best played with a keyboard. True, we play most games with a mouse and keyboard, but for PC gamers with ranging tastes, a good controller is a must. 

Though I've done some testing with first-person shooters, I've largely ignored the genre. While it may be necessary for console gamers, we're almost always going to use WASD for any kind of shooter. With that in mind, the games I used mainly for testing are the ones mentioned below:

Katana Zero: A game that requires excellent d-pad control and responsive face buttons.

Street Fighter V: I've put a lot of hours into Street Fighter V with both controllers and fight sticks, so I know how it ought to feel. If I can't crush an AI opponent as Ken, something isn't right.

Forza Motorsport: I chose Forza primarily to test the analog sticks, which according to my preferences, need three qualities: springy enough to quickly snap back to center, sensitive and resistant sufficient to make slight steering adjustments, and comfortably contoured. Hence, my thumbs aren't bloody stumps at the end of a few hours.

Dave James

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.