The best controller for PC gaming

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

Great analog trigger feel
Sturdy construction 
Requires unofficial software for PC use

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)

Easily to swap out components
Robust companion software for mapping
Triple the price of a normal gamepad

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.

Razer Wolverine Ultimate

Clicky with a side of Chroma

Weight: .6 lbs (272g) | Connectivity: USB wired | Cord length: 10 ft (3m)

Swappable sticks and D-pad
Loud, satisfying face buttons
No wireless mode

Although we'd prefer to have a choice in the matter, Razer does has a point with its Wolverine Ultimate controller. In a competitive setting, wired is better than wireless. Compatible with both PC and the Xbox One family of consoles, the Razer Wolverine Ultimate is similar in many ways to the Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller, customizable back paddles included. And for the price you may be wondering: 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 in like a mouse. Coming from a standard Xbox controller, this seemingly minuscule detail makes a world of difference. It's like using nothing but membrane keyboards your whole life and abruptly making the 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 to tether it to a console for all your cosmetic personalizations.

Steam Controller

The controller for games that don't support controllers

Weight: .63 lbs (287g) | Connectivity: 2.4GHz wireless | Battery: 500mAh rechargeable or 2x AA

Can be used to control mouse-keyboard games
Highly configurable control mapping
Design isn't very comfortable
Niche utility and big learning curve 

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.

Razer Raiju Ultimate

Primed for PS4, compatible with PC

Weight: .82 lbs (320g) | Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB wired | Cored length: 10ft (3m)

Remappable, interchangeable buttons
RGB lighting looks sick and you know it
Not available outside the UK

Though it's yet to make its way to the states, the Razer Raiju Ultimate is a DualShock 4 alternative that bests the aforementioned Wolverine Ultimate in a number of disparate ways. For starters, using its 10-foot braided micro-USB cable is elective. Unlike the Wolverine Ultimate, the Raiju Ultimate is Bluetooth-capable. On a PS4, that means you have to pair it using an unconventional method buried deep in your console settings. On PC, however, everything is buried always, one of the main reasons we cherish our hardy rigs dearly. 

Another difference between the Raiju Ultimate and its Hugh Jackman-portrayed cousin is its mobile app compatibility. By simply downloading and installing the Razer Raiju app, you can map its buttons according to your liking. You could, for instance, change the function of its M3 and M4 paddles on the rear side of the controller to act as the X or O button depending on your own personal preference. Better yet, a few of the physical inputs themselves are interchangeable. Adhering magnetically to their respective slots on the controller, the thumbsticks and D-pad can be swapped for those of us who prefer asymmetrical gamepads.

RGB lighting and clicky, mouse-like face buttons intact, you're probably wondering to yourself, what's the catch? There has to be a reason PC Gamer put the Wolverine Ultimate ahead of Raiju on this list—what gives, PC Gamer—why must you deceive me? Welp, sadly the Raiju Ultimate isn't available outside of the UK. Versatile as it is, we're optimistic Razer will treat it to the broader release it deserves down the line. As of now, though, you'll have to shell out a small fortune for importation should you reside anywhere outside of Europe.

Xbox 360 Controller

A good budget controller

Weight: .58 lbs (265g) | Connectivity: 2.4GHz wireless | Battery: 2x AA

Officially supported by most games
Poor D-Pad

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)

Very affordable
Easy plug-and-play
Stiff triggers

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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