Best PC controllers in 2024: the pads I recommend for PC gamers

The best PC controller is a great way to game. While we still love our mouse and keyboard setups for shooters, there are plenty of games designed primarily with controllers in mind. For any of those, you want a proper PC gaming pad.

The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is currently our choice for the best PC controller. It's got plenty of swappable bits and bobs and feels great in your hands. Similarly, like the other controllers we have meticulously tested and ranked below, it also performs well in driving games. Since most keyboards don't offer pressure-sensitive key switches, an analog stick is your best option for accurate movement. 

Many may disagree, but the truth remains: controllers are sometimes the best tool for the job, even in games considered PC classics. Take Elden Ring, for example—it has a much simpler control system when played with the best PC controller than a mouse and keyboard. You can bet that the best gaming mouse and the best gaming keyboard will prevail in almost every PC exclusive ever made, but adding a great controller to your inventory will cover the areas where they fall short. 

We have extensively tested numerous top console controllers and PC controllers to determine which ones are worth replacing your trusted keyboard and mouse with.

Curated by
Dave James
Curated by
Dave James

Dave cut his industry teeth writing guides for PlayStation and Xbox magazines a million years ago, and is as well versed in the world of gamepads as he is in the obviously more accurate keyboard and mouse realm. He's also got a penchant for arcade football games, and two small children, and so knows a thing or two about the need for reliable pads that can take some punishment.

The quick list

Recent updates

Updated January 2 to ensure our picks are up-to-date and accurate going into the new year. They are, but no doubt they'll face stiff competition through 2024.

The best PC controller

The best PC controller

Specifications

Weight: 0.76lbs (345g) (+/-15g)
Connectivity: USB Type-C, Bluetooth, 2.4GHz
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 portable USB Type-C powered  charging station for the controller's new rechargeable battery, which has around 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.

You now have a market-leading PC controller and something that’ll pair with a phone.

It comes with a bunch of custom bits: 6 thumbsticks, 2 d-pads (cross-shaped and faceted), 4 rear pedals, and one tool for adjustable thumbstick tension.

The Series 1's surprising lack of Bluetooth is something that drew major criticism, but thanks to the Series 2 adopting Bluetooth, you now have a market-leading PC controller and something that’ll pair with a phone to play the Apple Arcade offerings or mess around Xbox streaming. It makes the controller that much more versatile, which is essential given the high price of admission.

The returning hair-trigger locks are still among my favorite things about Elite. For those who haven’t used them, they control how far you need to pull the trigger, so there’s no wasted effort or time in competitive shooters, where milliseconds matter. The four additional back paddles are a neat feature, too and can make for some interesting controller layouts. Never want to take your thumbs off of the thumbsticks? Simply assign the face buttons to the back paddles and you're good to go. In fact, the extreme flexibility of the Series 2 has the additional benefit of making the controller highly accessible, meaning that more people can use it to play PC games.

Some people might find the more hefty controller a bit jarring at first since it's heavier than the standard Xbox One controller by a few ounces. And while it's nice to swap out the standard d-pad, both the cross and faceted alternative d-pads take some getting used to, especially in fighting games like Dragonball FighterZ or Mortal Kombat 11.

Spending $160 for a controller is a tough sell for most people; that's nearly 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 our full Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 review.

The best budget controller

2. Xbox Core Wireless Controller

The best budget wireless controller

Specifications

Weight: 9.9oz (281g)
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 release of the Xbox Series S/X, we were all curious to see how Xbox improved on an already outstanding gamepad.

This controller retains many of the features we loved about the original. It maintains the overall comfortable design and includes texturized rubber grips that provide a great feel in your hands. Similar to its predecessor, it boasts a vastly superior d-pad that you won't hesitate to use in fighting games and platformers, taking inspiration from the Xbox One Elite Series controllers.

The Xbox Wireless controller graces us with a much-needed helping of Bluetooth compatibility

You might have noticed a new button in the controller's center—a much-requested Share button that allows you to capture screenshots and gameplay footage without delving too much into the menus. However, honestly, that's a minor aspect when it comes to PC gaming.

We capitalize "Wireless" for a reason—not because the word is a proper noun per se, but because the Xbox Wireless controller leverages Microsoft's wireless protocol called "Xbox Wireless." Though the name could benefit from some creative refinement, you can find comfort in the fact that, since 2016, the Xbox Wireless controller offers much-needed Bluetooth compatibility as well.

On PC, if you don't have Bluetooth, you'll need to purchase a Microsoft Wireless dongle separately to enable your machine to connect to the fast non-Bluetooth protocol.

However, the standard Xbox Wireless pad is such a well-made and reasonably priced piece of hardware that it's challenging to see how other manufacturers can possibly compete with Microsoft's exceptional controller. It will continue to be on our recommended list for a long time to come.

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The best customizable controller

The best customizable controller

Specifications

Weight: 9.9oz (280g)
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 Microsoft-focused pad controller should you wish to eschew the two big bois of the console world. But when the Elite Series 2 exists in the world, how does anyone else compete in the enthusiast controller space.

There are more customisation options on offer with the Instinct Pro than with pretty much any other pad you could name. Scuf is offering a huge variety of different cosmetic and physical customisation options from the initial store page. The faceplate options, and the rings around the thumbsticks, are the most obvious, but you also get to pick your choice of actual thumbsticks in terms of length and topper (convex or concave).

Scuf has at least acknowledged there's little point trying to one-up Microsoft when it comes to the overall design of the Instinct Pro.

There are also options to change the D-pad, button facades, as well as the styling of both the bumpers and the triggers. Interestingly, there is also the option to remove the rumble motors from inside the controller which is something you'll often find the pros end up removing from their tournament controllers, to cut down on the inherent distraction of hand-wobble.

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 rumble packs.

Scuf has at least acknowledged there's little point trying to one-up Microsoft when it comes to the overall design of the Instinct Pro, because it looks physically identical to a standard Xbox Series X/S controller. Obviously aside from the faceplate, rings, and mute button on the front.

The thumbsticks are reassuringly solid and responsive during gaming a session. Hammering the sticks with quick switches of direction in a twitch game haven't had an impact on the pad, and they still feel smooth and accurate when you're in something less fast-paced. The triggers have a pleasing action, too, maybe not quite so deep as the Elite, but still just as accurate.

The rest of the button-feel is robust and reassuringly clicky too, though I would say the hair-trigger mode feels a little too shallow for my tastes. But I can see where some folk might prefer it, so I'm not going to count that as anything more than personal choice, not a negative.

The Scuf Instinct Pro requires AA batteries, like standard Xbox pads, unlike the Elite which houses a lithium ion battery. The ability to swap in a fresh pair of batteries mid-tournament is potentially a selling point, and lithium ion batteries are meant to have a finite shelf life. Though it's not something I've ever experienced with my Elite pad in the past few years of use.

Either way, it's a fantastic controller that feels great in the hand and is as responsive as you could wish for. It's just painfully pricey with all my chosen greebles.

Read our full Scuf Instinct Pro review.

The best mechanical switch controller

4. Razer Wolverine Ultimate

The best mechanical switch controller

Specifications

Weight: 9.6oz (272g)
Connectivity: USB wired
Features: 10ft (3m) cord
Battery: N/A

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 potentially be the best gamepad available today, except for one critical disqualifying factor: it cannot connect to a PC wirelessly. This Xbox-style gamepad offers many of the same luxurious features as the Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller, such as a swappable d-pad and customizable back paddles. Additionally, it is priced similarly, which raises the question: why not simply purchase one of those instead?

It may not be suitable for everyone, but the Wolverine Ultimate possesses a fair share of unique and genuinely enticing features. To begin with, the face buttons—the ones labeled A, B, X, and Y—click like mouse buttons. This seemingly minor detail makes a significant difference. It's akin to using membrane keyboards your entire life and then transitioning to mechanical switches. While adjusting the enclosed 10-foot braided micro USB cable may take some adjustment, the tactile button presses are a worthwhile trade-off.

Naturally, no Razer product would be complete without a generous dose of Chroma, the signature RGB lighting brand of the three-headed green snake company. However, rather than integrating it into the existing Synapse 3 app for Windows, Razer developed a separate app specifically for Xbox One. Therefore, if you plan on using this controller for your PC, remember that you will need a separate app to configure it.

The best symmetrical controller

5. Sony DualSense Wireless Controller

The best symmetrical controller

Specifications

Weight: 9.9oz (280g)
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 haptic motors and "Adaptive" triggers, which can provide resistance under your finger. For example, firing a bow can actually feel like firing a bow. The rumble feedback is also the best and most nuanced we have ever experienced in a controller. It truly lives up to the praise it receives.

The downside is that games need to be programmed to take advantage of them, and only a few do. However, Steam already offers full support for the controller, so it's relatively easy to plug in and use like any other gamepad. It is slightly less comfortable than the Xbox Series X controller and not as straightforward to use in non-Steam games. However, if you prefer Sony's analog stick layout or enjoy gyro aiming, this is the controller to go for.

Steam makes it super-easy to use the controller both via USB and Bluetooth.

The DualSense does not have official PC drivers, but that is not a major issue, as Steam makes it incredibly easy to use the controller via USB and Bluetooth. The DualSense uses the older DirectInput API instead of the more widely supported XInput, meaning many games may not instantly recognize it. By enabling 'PlayStation Configuration Support' in Steam's controller settings, your controller will work with most games.

The relationship between PC and DualSense is complex. Still, it has become slightly simpler now that we can update the controller firmware directly through our PCs instead of having to connect it to a PS5. Simply download the 'Firmware updater for DualSense wireless controller' tool from the official PlayStation site, follow the instructions, plug in your DualSense via a USB cable, and you're ready.

Nevertheless, the PS5 DualSense remains an incredibly well-built controller and is as responsive as one could wish. If you dislike the offset sticks of the standard Xbox layout, this is as about as good as PlayStation gamepads get—there is that ludicrously expensive Edge controller, but that's really not an option on a budget.

Also tested

Controller FAQ

Can you use a console controller on PC?

Is PC gaming better with a controller?

This might seem 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 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.

For example, you could play Elden Ring without a controller, but using a pad on a PC felt far better.

How 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
Managing Editor, Hardware

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.