While a mouse and keyboard are the preferred input method for many PC gamers, it never hurts to have a dedicated controller lying around ̵
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What to look for with a wireless controller
Here are a few things to consider when comparing wireless controllers.
- Layout: There are numerous controller layouts available, and they can change everything from the order of the buttons to the location of the joysticks. You probably already have your preferences when it comes to layout, but so do we mention any significant changes that certain controllers have from the rest of the package.
- Battery: When talking about a wireless device, battery life is a major concern. Some controllers rely on removable batteries, while others use rechargeable batteries. Regardless of your preference, they should last at least a few gaming sessions before needing to be swapped or charged.
- DirectInput vs XInput: These are the two primary APIs used in Windows to recognize controllers. XInput is the more modern API, which is much more widely supported in PC games and what most controllers are designed for PC use. However, when it comes to controllers designed for consoles, such as the DualSense, which we’ll discuss later, they are still recognized as DirectInput. For DirectInput controllers to work properly in all games, you need a program to switch input from DirectInput to XInput. The easiest way to do this is through Steam as the controller’s configuration settings can take care of all of this for you with just a few clicks. get more specialized functions, such as working gyro sensorsThis is the method we recommend to most players, as you’ll likely buy most of your games through Steam anyway, and you can use this method in non-Steam games as well.
- Extra features: While things like input reassignment, extra buttons, and interchangeable joysticks aren’t necessary functions for a controller, any controller that does get it will definitely receive some bonus points This usually requires installing software for the controller, which we will be sure to mention and link to.
- Connectivity: When it comes time to connect your new controller to your PC, there are two main methods: Bluetooth or a wireless adapter. Both work fine depending on what the controller supports, but adapters generally offer more stability and shorter response times.
Simple: Xbox Wireless Controller
Xbox controllers have always been the “standard” PC controller, and the latest model aims to carry on that legacy. While the Xbox Wireless Controller lacks a unique design, extravagant features, or a cool name, it makes up for it by handling the basics of a controller extremely well. It’s comfortable, the inputs feel nice to play with, and it’s even available in a few slick colors. In addition, Xbox controllers are extremely easy to connect to Windows machines and you can reassign inputs via the Xbox Accessories app.
The Xbox controller runs on two AA batteries that last about 30 hours, but you can get around this with Microsoft’s official rechargeable battery pack or third-party offerings like PowerA’s charging stand. The wireless controller connects via Bluetooth, but you can pick it up with an extra adapter if you want a more stable connection. It’s also worth noting that Xbox One controllers, which are very similar to the Xbox Wireless Controller, can be found for cheaper prices if you shop around, especially if you don’t mind buying used.
Xbox wireless controller
The standard PC controller for a reason — simple connection and great design elevate this model above the most.
Something different: DualSense wireless controller
PlayStation controllers are renowned for their comfort and quality, and the DualSense aims to further improve with a new sleek design and more features than ever before. However, things like improved rumble or adaptive triggers don’t translate well to the PC, limiting the extra features to just gyro controls. But if you want something different from the Xbox controller that still has top-notch touch, the DualSense is a great choice, even if you have to put in some extra work to set it up.
The DualSense controller connects via Bluetooth, but after that you’ll need to run it through the Steam controller configuration software as the DualSense uses DirectInput. Definitely more fussy than the Xbox controller, but the DualSense’s excellent design makes it all worth it. You can also assume that the rechargeable battery will last 5-12 hours when fully charged. Like the Xbox One controllers, PlayStation 4 controllers (DualShock 4) can be found for lower prices than the DualSense if you don’t care about the updated design.
Best Budget Option: Logitech Gamepad F710
Logitech’s F710 is a classic controller that has stood the test of time – and is even cheaper than anything else on this list. While it’s a fairly basic controller, it still has a great design (modeled after the PlayStation controllers) and works great with your Windows machine. Just plug in the USB dongle, pop in a few AAs and you’re ready to play – no hassle. You can even install the “Profiler” software to customize inputs.
Unfortunately, no estimated battery life has been given for the F710, but customers and reviewers report it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. While your mileage will vary depending on the batteries you insert and how often you play, the battery life seems acceptable at the very least.
Premium Upgrade: Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2
The Elite controller is a step up from the standard Xbox controller in every way and has plenty of premium features at a price to match. This controller is deeply customizable, both at the software and hardware level; you can replace the joysticks and D-pad with alternatives of different designs and sizes, adjust trigger dead zones and reassign inputs via the software, and use the paddles on the back of the controller for additional actions. Throw in an improved design with grippy handles and a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 40 hours, and you’ve got your hands on a great controller.
And just like with the standard Xbox Wireless Controller, you should have no trouble connecting the Elite to a Windows machine via Bluetooth or an adapter (sold separately).
For classic games: 8Bitdo Sn30 + Pro
8Bitdo is one of the best third-party controller manufacturers, and while it mainly focuses on the Nintendo Switch, the excellent Sn30 + Pro works on PC too. The controller looks like a classic SNES controller with handles and joysticks, and it’s fantastic for playing sidescrollers and other old-fashioned games. 8Bitdo’s “Ultimate” software lets you customize inputs (great because it uses Nintendo’s button layout by default), change trigger sensitivity, and even configure turbo buttons – repeating the same input at high speeds.
The Sn30 + Pro connects via Bluetooth and lasts about 18 hours on a full charge. It’s also available in a few colors that mimic the style of the SNES, Super Famicom, and a standard black (pictured above).
Nintendo’s offering: Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
The Switch Pro Controller has been praised since launch for its supremely comfortable design and great gyro sensors, and it’s possible to bring that experience to the PC. The controller uses a fairly standard Xbox-esque layout, with the exception of some minor changes such as the order of the face buttons (such as the swap locations for the “A” and “B” buttons). This controller also feels heavier than most and lasts 40 hours on a full charge. It connects via standard Bluetooth, but it relies on DirectInput rather than Xinput, so it’s highly recommended that you run it through Steam’s controller configurator – especially since it makes the gyro control work.
For fans of fighting games: 8Bitdo Arcade Stick
Traditional fighting games are always best played in an arcade, so 8Bitdo has brought a piece of that house with its Arcade Stick. This anomalous controller perfectly mimics the design of arcade cabinets and also has many buttons to map all the inputs. You can also open 8Bitdo’s “Ultimate” software to create macros and reassign inputs, but changing the inputs doesn’t just change this at the software level. Each button has an LED label to tell you what it is doing, and that will change accordingly when you reassign the input. While the Arcade Stick is primarily designed for fighting games, it also works great with classic arcade games or even modern titles that take on similar genres.
The Arcade Stick connects via Bluetooth or the included wireless adapter and lasts 30-40 hours when fully charged. And for those interested in modding, you’ll be happy to learn that 8Bitdo designed this controller to be compatible with all 30mm / 24mm arcade buttons and most arcade sticks.