The mouse and keyboard will always be our first choice for playing games on PC, but some games are better suited to a controller. As more and more console games make their way to the PC, it makes sense to have a great PC controller on-hand. But what makes for the best PC gaming controller? We've tested the DualShock 4, Xbox 360 controller, every official version of the Xbox One controller, and a few dedicated PC pads to pick our favorite. These are the best controllers for PC, chosen for comfort, control, and how compatible they are with PC gaming.
PlayStation DualShock 4
The best controller for PC
Weight: 7.4oz (210g) | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 1000mAh rechargeable
It isn't intended for use on the PC, but the DualShock 4 is my favorite controller anyway. I've used each of its predecessors, the two current Logitech controllers, the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.R., the Razer Sabertooth, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers, and just about every console controller from the NES to present day. The DualShock 4 isn't superior in every way to every one of these competitors, but it's the superior all-around choice.
It doesn't look as durable as the Xbox One controller, but it's durable. When I squeeze the handles with as much force as I can, I can barely hear the strain. I also pushed each of the buttons, triggers, bumpers, and analog sticks down with as much force as I could, and each sprang back as if untouched.
The biggest caveat, which doubles as a positive, is that the DS4 is not designed with Windows PCs in mind. Whereas it's very easy to get an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller working, and most PC games will use their ABYX button prompts, you have to purchase Sony's expensive USB adapter or use the free unofficial DS4Windows software. The software essentially tricks Windows into treating the DS4 like an Xbox 360 controller, so just about any game which supports an Xbox 360 controller (basically any game with controller support) should work with the default profile. It also allows for a ton of customization (I love messing with the LED settings). If you're willing to do a little bit of setup work, the DS4 is a fantastic wireless PC controller with all the customization you could want.
Microsoft Xbox Elite Wireless Controller
The best luxury controller
Weight: .85 lbs (348g +/- 15g) | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery: 2x AA (included)
The ‘Elite’ nomenclature is typically marketing nonsense, but in this one instance, I think it applies. For those who like their PCs state of the art, clean, and beautiful; for those with Swedish headphones made of volcanic glass; for those who make their PB&J from scratch, the Xbox Elite controller is for you.
It’s a sturdy, configurable, and gorgeous controller for enthusiasts of fancy. The shell and button layout don’t feel distinct from the vanilla Xbox One controllers, though it feels heavier than most pads I’ve used. I like a bit of weight in my controllers and mice, but it might not feel good on tiny wrists after a long play session. The face buttons are large and still mushy, the bumpers and triggers have a responsive click and pull—they just feel identical to using an Xbox One controller.
The addition of some slick software that allows for tweaking of trigger min/max values, stick sensitivities, button assignments, and profile designations makes it even more attractive for PC experimentation. Everything about the Xbox Elite controller feels precise and considered, so even though its familiar design isn’t stepping outside of what’s tried and true, the configurable, sleek design makes it an easy recommendation for those who can afford it.
A great alternative Xbox controller
Weight: .57 lbs (260g) | Connectivity: USB wired | Cord length: 10 ft (3m)
It’s hard to recommend the Razer Wildcat specifically for gaining an advantage in competitive eSports, even though that’s the marketing message behind it. The pad feels very similar to the Xbox One’s controller design in terms of size and shape, and with optional adhesive grips, holding the controller for long periods of time is made a bit more comfortable. The triggers have an easy pull, which can be shortened via two sliders on the back of the controller. Every other button presses with a satisfying and super responsive click, exactly like using a mouse. A caveat: the negligible amount of pressure required for a press means accidental button bumps aren’t out of the question.
D-pad design does away with omnidirectional inputs and sticks to four buttons. That means fighting game inputs might be hit or miss, but at least the cardinal directions are harder to fudge. The addition of two inner bumper buttons and two rear-positioned trigger buttons mean you can spend more time with your thumbs on the sticks, but for smaller hands, they might be a bit awkward to reach.
It’s not an impulse buy, but the Wildcat definitely carries the features and build to warrant a higher price point. The controller has a few of the same customization options and extra buttons as the Xbox Elite controller, but the implementation isn’t as elegant. As a result, the Wildcat settled into feeling more like an expensive, slightly customizable take on Xbox controller design, while the Xbox Elite takes things one step further.
The controller for games that don't support controllers
Weight: .63 lbs (287g) | Connectivity: 2.4GHz wireless | Battery: 500mAh rechargeable or 2x AA
Valve’s first attempt at making the living room a viable PC gaming space doesn’t feel complete yet. Sure, the Steam Controller can control games, but it still feels like an awkward midpoint between gamepad and keyboard-mouse control.
The grips are huge, part of an intentional convex design meant to arch your thumbs over the touchpads comfortably. Problem is, they’re too bulbous and jut out a bit too hard into the heel of each hand. My fingers tense up after a few minutes of play, which leads to a few too many accidental back paddle presses and thumb cramps. It’s not possible to outright recommend the Steam Controller, even though with enough tinkering and patience, it’s a completely viable way to control a ton of PC games from the couch.
So why is it listed here, instead of at the bottom with the rest of the controllers we tested? Because the Steam Controller does ultimately occupy a unique space: it's the only gamepad specifically built to let you play games that don't support controllers out of the box. For games that do support controllers, we prefer the DualShock and Xbox pads. But if you insist on playing PC games away from your mouse and keyboard and want to replicate their functionality as closely as possible, the Steam Controller is the best game in town.
Xbox 360 Controller
A good budget controller
Weight: .58 lbs (265g) | Connectivity: 2.4GHz wireless | Battery: 2x AA
The DualShock 4 is my favorite controller, but the Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers are still excellent choices. I've had an Xbox 360 controller since 2006 which, aside from desperately needing a cleaning, still works great. The slightly-smaller Xbox One controller feels just as well-made, and has an improved d-pad. Both have official drivers (Xbox 360 and Xbox One) and have required no troubleshooting—most PC games which support controllers are made with these controllers in mind.
The best thing about the Xbox 360 controller is that it's dead simple to use. Most PC games have button prompts based on the Xbox controller and immediately autodetect when it's plugged in. With DS4Windows, the DualShock 4 works just as well as the Xbox controllers, but it does require a bit more setup. And even though the DS4 is my overall winner, I'll probably still use an Xbox 360 controller often simply because I prefer the analog stick layout. I also prefer its triggers and bumpers to the Xbox One's.
Logitech F310 Gamepad
Lightweight and ultra-affordable
Weight: .4 lbs (181g) | Connectivity: USB wired | Cord length: 6.5 ft (1.98m)
This controller is my favorite if you're on a tight budget—say, if you want two controllers for the price of one. At half the cost of a DualShock 4, you lose the wireless capability but still get a solidly-constructed gamepad, and it worked as soon as I plugged it in. The thing is light, but feels like a tank, so I have no fear of abusing it.
That said, the d-pad is nowhere near the quality of the DS4's—it feels loose and I had trouble accurately maneuvering in Super Meat Boy. The triggers and bumpers are housed on outcroppings that the knuckles of my middle fingers rub against uncomfortably, and the analog sticks, while pleasantly springy, have a convex shape that isn't great for sweaty hands. I also found that the triggers offer too much resistance. In Grid Autosport, my finger got tired from holding down for the gas, which I didn't experience with the DS4, Xbox 360, or Xbox One controllers.
How we test controllers
Ignore those who seem to think every game is best with a mouse and keyboard. Grid Autosport is not best played with a keyboard. Super Meat Boy is not best played with a keyboard. Ultra Street Fighter IV is ridiculous 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.
Microsoft and Sony’s own console pads, the Xbox One controller and the DualShock 4, set the standards by being the default, first-party options for the two most popular consoles, while third-party controllers tend to mimic them. In this case, the standard is the best: I haven't found a controller better than the DualShock 4 for PC gaming, though the wireless Xbox 360 controller is very close.
It's a slightly surprising conclusion when the Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers are the industry's accepted Windows controllers, and even contradicts a previous article I wrote in which I recommended the Xbox One controller over the DualShock 4. In that article I explain that I prefer the shape and layout of Microsoft's controllers, but after further testing I've decided that when I put aside my personal preference for offset analog sticks, the DS4 stands out. The older Xbox 360 controller is still great, but the DS4 is slightly better in a few areas, and the Xbox One controller can't currently be used wirelessly on PC, which is a major flaw.
Though I've done some testing with first-person shooters, I've largely ignored the genre. While it may be important for console gamers, we're almost always going to use WASD for any kind of shooter. That in mind, the games I primarily used for testing are the ones mentioned above:
Super Meat Boy: A game which requires excellent d-pad control and responsive face buttons.
Ultra Street Fighter IV: I've put a lot of hours into SFIV with both controllers and fight sticks, so I know how it ought to feel. If I can't crush an AI opponent as Cammy, something isn't right.
Grid Autosport: I chose Grid 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 enough to make slight steering adjustments, and comfortably contoured so my thumbs aren't bloody stumps at the end of a few hours.
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