While the mouse and keyboard for first-person shooters and strategy games remain the first choice for most PC gamers, many other game genres are often better optimized for the controller.
Fortunately, most of the current gamepads work without any major configuration on the computer. But which are the best game controllers for PC?
Find out in this blog article…
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Best PC Gamepad
With a better D-Pad, a Share button, and a USB-C port, Microsoft has given this Xbox controller small improvements compared to the start of the series consoles.
As the heir to the 360 pad, which succeeded in establishing a new standard among PC controllers, this Xbox controller is currently the reference. The PC games that supported the Xbox 360 controller also automatically support the newer Xbox pads.
Anyone who depends on the buttons being displayed has the best conditions with the Xbox controller. Most games with controller support show you the Xbox button prompts when the pad is connected.
Another advantage is the flexibility when connecting the controller: You can optionally connect it to the PC using a USB cable, which means you have the lowest input lag. The controller can of course also be used wirelessly, as is usual on the console.
Either you use the wireless adapter for Windows, with which you can connect up to four Xbox controllers to the PC at the same time via Microsoft’s proprietary wireless standard, or you simply use Bluetooth.
It should be noted that the own radio standard is less susceptible to interference and the very first generation of Xbox One controllers (2013-2014) do not support Bluetooth.
The often criticized use of AA batteries can be an asset. In combination with rechargeable batteries, you never have to connect the controller to the cable while playing.
In addition, permanently installed rechargeable batteries have the disadvantage that they lose performance after a few years, which is not a problem with the Xbox pad since you can replace the batteries or rechargeable batteries at any time without doing handicrafts.
Just past the throne
Our second choice for a PC controller is also a pad that was originally developed for a console. Sony’s DualShock 4 is also very popular among PC gamers.
In contrast to the previous PlayStation controllers, the ergonomics of the DS4 have been fine-tuned, so that many players can even see the PS4 pad over the Xbox controllers – especially if they have slightly smaller hands.
The growing popularity was also noticed by the game developers, which is why more and more PC titles support the PlayStation Pad natively and also have the appropriate button prompts.
Compared to the Xbox controller, the direct support is still smaller. Fortunately, Valve also responded, hence, the DS4 can now be recognized in Steam and completely set up in the controller settings.
Consequently, you can use the PS4 pad for all games with controller support and also play non-Steam games with it, if you add them to Steam. You are no longer dependent on hobby drivers such as DS4Windows.
You can either connect the controller to the PC via a micro-USB cable or wirelessly via Bluetooth. The official DualShock 4 USB wireless adapter from Sony is no longer in production since it uses the usual Bluetooth standard.
You may like to check out our article on the best PS4 gamepads.
The DualSense (PS5 controller)
The DualSense controller, which Sony developed primarily for its PlayStation 5, is a hot contender for the new king among PC gamepads. Right from the start, the controller was compatible with all games that also supported the DualShock 4, and thanks to the Steam controller configurator, you can also use the pad for any game without native support.
Almost all features of the new controller are supported with the trackpad, gyroscope, and rumble. Only the support of the adaptive triggers is still inadequate, but here, too, the first steps have now been taken.
Sony can fully convince with the haptics of the new controller – it lies exactly between the predecessor and the Xbox pad, which is so popular with PC gamers so that you can pick up both target groups. Only those who have half problems with the synchronously arranged analog sticks are still not served here.
Under console players, third-party controllers (pads that are not from the console manufacturer) are often jokingly referred to as gamepads for the second player due to their widely varying quality. However, for a long time, PC gamers were dependent on these manufacturers. Logitech was one of the peripheral manufacturers who always stood out from the crowd with their good quality.
The wired F310 and its wireless brother, the F710, have also been on the market for over a decade and are known as an inexpensive, yet durable alternative. You have to deduct the spongy digicross, the somewhat stiff shoulder buttons, and the design, which is a bit reminiscent of a chubby PS2 controller. With a switch on the back, you can choose between DirectInput and XInput.
Nevertheless, we recommend the two Logitech pads for PC gamers who mostly play with a mouse and keyboard and only need a controller for selected titles.
For retro fans
If you don’t like all the nonsense with analog sticks, several shoulder buttons, and vibration motors, you should take a closer look at the controllers from 8BitDo. Especially the two models SN30 and M30, which are each based on the Super Nintendo gamepad and the MegaDrive controller.
8BitDo has proven to be a particularly recommendable manufacturer of classic controllers with modern extensions. If you need a suitable controller for old-school games in retro or emulator form, you can get a Bluetooth controller with good battery power that comes very close to the look and feel of the originals.
In addition to XInput, they also support DirectInput, which means that they can also be used as a controller in many classic PC games. There is also a mode for Mac computers and the Nintendo Switch.
Controller on the PC?
Before the Xbox 360 pad, the controller support on the PC was like the wild west. Even if Microsoft had previously manufactured joysticks and controllers for the PC market, there was no standard in many areas.
On one hand, developers sometimes removed controller support from the PC version, even with multiplatform titles, on the other hand, controllers were often not compatible with every game.
The “PC” as an open system does not have one controller, but offers a number of different gamepads from different manufacturers – or as console players would say “third-party providers”. The quality can fluctuate accordingly here.
If you wanted to use the original controller of your favorite console on your PC, you were faced with the next problem: No USB connection. The proprietary connections of the various manufacturers required adapters.
Here you could look forward to problems such as digital inputs from the analog sticks, non-functioning vibrations or the complete crash of the controller support in the middle of the game.
You already notice: Everything wasn’t better in the past – the controller support on the PC definitely wasn’t!
What is XInput and DirectInput?
XInput and DirectInput are both programming interfaces (API) that belong to Microsoft’s DirectX and allow a program to be controlled via an analog or digital input device on the PC. XInput is the current standard that Microsoft first introduced with the Xbox 360 controller under Windows XP. Most PC games from 2005 onwards use XInput.
The Xbox gamepad and many other XInput controllers are configured to work with old software that only supports DirectInput. In individual cases, however, incompatibilities may arise here. You can configure old DirectInput devices with an additional Xbox 360 controller emulator so that you can also use them in games that only support XInput.