We Tested 11 PC Gaming Controllers. These 4 Will Help You Game Like A Pro

We Tested 11 PC Gaming Controllers. These 4 Will Help You Game Like A Pro

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Lots of PC gamers swear by their mouse and keyboard, but some titles are just meant to be played using a controller. Slicing a skeleton in half in Dark Souls or drifting around in Forza Horizon feels much better on a gamepad, especially if you’re coming from the console world. And since gaming PCs work with a wide range of peripherals, you have the freedom to use controllers from Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo as well as a range of great third-party options.

But with so much choice, where do you even start? After testing nearly a dozen gamepads, we’ve picked out four standouts that cover everyone from casual gamers to aspiring esports pros.

Best PC controller overall

The Xbox Wireless Controller’s excellent ergonomics, build quality and near-universal compatibility make it the best controller for any kind of PC gaming.

Best PlayStation-style PC controller

The DualShock 4 is still one of the most comfortable controllers you can buy (particularly if you prefer a PlayStation-style layout), and its motion controls and touchpad can be utilized in some neat ways for PC games.

Best budget PC controller

The PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller feels nearly as good as the core Xbox pad for a fraction of the price, and packs useful programmable buttons that even pricier options lack.

Best premium wireless PC controller

With a sturdy, substantial design, lots of swappable components and a ton of software customization options, the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is the best option for competitive gamers or those willing to pay for maximum comfort and durability.

Key Specs Connection options: Wired (via USB-C), wireless (via Bluetooth) Supported platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, iOS, Android Key features: Fully remappable buttons, dedicated Share button The latest Xbox Wireless Controller improves on a pad that has long been considered the gold standard for PC gaming thanks to its ergonomic feel and near-universal compatibility.

The late 2020 version of Microsoft’s controller is the most comfortable of any we tested, thanks to some subtle but smart refinements to a design that’s been around for nearly a decade. Its thinner and lighter than previous generations while still feeling satisfyingly sturdy, and the lightly textured handles and triggers add some extra grip without feeling abrasive.

The Xbox Wireless Controller’s clicky and responsive face buttons were reliable for input-heavy games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, and the triggers and sticks felt great for aiming and shooting in Halo Infinite. We love that the latest Xbox controller borrows the circular d-pad from the pricier Elite controller, though we found it to be just a bit too small and stiff for our liking when playing fighting games like Mortal Kombat 11.

You can fully remap all of the Xbox Wireless Controller’s buttons using the Xbox Accessories app on Windows — a nice touch for both accessibility and overall personalization. There’s also a dedicated Share button that lets you take screenshots on Xbox consoles, and more recently, Windows 11 PCs.

The Xbox Wireless Controller’s biggest downside is that it’s powered by two AA batteries (which are included) and isn’t rechargeable out of the box. You can remedy this by picking up a $19 Xbox Play and Charge Kit or supplying your own rechargeable AA batteries, but it’s still a disappointment considering Sony’s similarly priced controllers have built-in rechargeable batteries. This isn’t a huge dealbreaker — some may prefer replaceable batteries over a non-removable one that can die over time — but it’s worth keeping in mind before you buy.

The latest Xbox controller is also very versatile for multi-platform gamers. It can connect wirelessly over Bluetooth or via a wired USB-C connection, and is compatible with Windows, Mac, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S as well as iOS and Android. Unless you prefer a PlayStation style layout, the Xbox Wireless Controller is the most comfortable, reliable and universally compatible PC gamepad you can get at this price.

Key Specs Connection options: Wired (via microUSB), wireless (via Bluetooth) Supported platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, PS5 (select titles) Key features: Touchpad, gyroscope controls Another enduring favorite, Sony’s DualShock 4 is nearly neck-and-neck with the Xbox Wireless Controller when it comes to build quality and comfort. And while it’s been succeeded by the PS5’s DualSense controller, it’s still our favorite gamepad for having a PlayStation-style experience on PC.

The latest version of the DualShock 4 is a delight to hold, with slim and cylindrical grips that nestled perfectly into our palms. It’s right on par with the Xbox controller in terms of comfort, but may be better for those who prefer a slim design to a curvy and hefty one. We also find the DualShock to be much easier on our hands than the newer DualSense, which is simply too big.

The DualShock 4 worked well across shooters and sports games, but especially shone when we played fighting games. That’s because it has the best directional pad of any controller we tested, and allowed us to perform complex combos with very few missed inputs. Unlike the Xbox controller and its many copycats, the DualShock 4 uses a symmetrical thumbstick layout — this isn’t better or worse than what Microsoft offers, but if you grew up a PlayStation gamer, you’ll probably find it more natural for shooters and action games.

Despite being a PlayStation product, the DualShock 4 is plug-and-play with most modern PC titles and highly programmable within Steam. You can use its touchpad as a mouse in Steam Big Picture mode, and can even take advantage of the controller’s gyroscope controls to, say, aim your gun in a shooter more precisely and quickly than you can on a joystick. With enough tinkering, you can even use the controller as a mouse for your PC.

The DualShock 4’s drawbacks are pretty minimal on PC. There are a handful of legacy games that might not play nice with it, and since Xbox inputs are the standard for PC gaming, some titles may still show you Xbox button prompts even with a PlayStation controller plugged in. The controller is on the expensive side for its age, and may eventually become hard to find with the PS4 being phased out.

It’s worth noting that the DualShock 4 charges via the old microUSB standard, which means it won’t work with the USB-C cables you probably have handy should you lose the included charger. But on the flipside, it has an actual rechargeable battery — something that the stock Xbox pad lacks.

Whether you prefer the symmetrical sticks of a PlayStation controller or just want to play Sony’s PC games such as God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn the way they were intended, the DualShock 4 remains one of the very best PC controllers you can buy right now.

Key Specs Connection options: Wired (via USB-C) Supported platforms: PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One Key features: Programmable rear buttons, volume/mute dial, dedicated Share button The PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller is a fantastic value, serving as a solid imitation of the core Xbox controller — and even one upping it in some ways — for a fraction of its price.

We found PowerA’s pad to be nearly as comfortable as Microsoft’s controller, thanks to similarly ergonomic curved grips and a pleasant soft-touch coating on the front. Its textured grips aren’t very pronounced, but we really like its lighter weight compared to the stock Xbox controller.

The Enhanced Wired Controller worked reliably for most games, but like a lot of controllers we tested, the directional pad could be just a little bit bigger. But PowerA’s budget controller has one big advantage over many controllers that cost twice as much, thanks to two “Advanced Gaming Buttons” on the rear that are fully programmable.

These buttons are typically found on more expensive “pro” controllers, and were incredibly handy for allowing us to jump and slide in Halo Infinite without taking our thumbs off of the sticks — something that can mean the difference between life and death in a heated firefight. They even felt a bit more intuitive than some of the rear buttons on more expensive models, such as the Victrix Gambit.

Programming these buttons was very easy too — you just hold the program button down, hit any of the controller buttons, and then tap the Advanced Gaming Button you want to assign that action to. PowerA’s controller also has a handy volume dial for your headset that doubles as a mute switch, which is yet another feature you won’t find on the stock Xbox controller.

So what are you giving up at this low price? As its name suggests, this PowerA pad is wired-only. Its face buttons, bumpers and triggers also feel cheaper and less snappy than that of the Xbox Wireless Controller. But if you’re on a budget and don’t mind staying tethered to your PC, the PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller is the best pad at this price — especially since it often drops below $30.

From $139 at GameStop, Microsoft and Best Buy Key Specs Connection options: Wired (via USB-C), wireless (via Bluetooth) Supported platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, iOS, Android Key features: Swappable components, fully remappable buttons, charging case can store up to three profiles If you’re a serious gamer willing to spend more than $100 on a controller, make it the Xbox Elite Series 2. Microsoft’s premium pad boasts better build quality and personalization than any other high-end gamepad we tested, and in terms of comfort and feel, nothing else comes close.

The Elite Series 2 feels like a distinctly luxurious piece of gaming hardware the second you pick it up. It has the same great ergonomics as the standard Xbox pad, but wraps it in a comfortable soft-touch coating with pronounced textured grips across the front and back. It’s also notably heftier than the regular Xbox controller — this may be a turn off to some, but we like its sturdy, solid feel, and had no issues using the gamepad for hours at a time.

Microsoft’s high-end controller includes lots of personalization options, starting with its many interchangeable parts. You get a total of six thumbsticks with various heights and textures, as well your choice between a traditional four-way directional pad and a more curved option that’s ideal for fighting games. The controller also includes four programmable and removable rear paddles, and even includes a tool for adjusting the tension of the thumbsticks. All of these parts attach to the controller magnetically and are incredibly easy to pop on and off, and more importantly, they all feel great in-game.

The rear paddles sit flush with the back of the controller where our middle and index fingers naturally rest, which made jumping and sliding in Halo Infinite feel comfortable and intuitive. The curved directional pad was very handy for fighting games. The metal thumbsticks glide smoothly against their respective rings, and feel less subject to friction and wear-and-tear than the plastic ones on the standard Xbox pad. The controller also features hair trigger locks that give you three settings for adjusting the depth of each trigger, and it was much easier to fire quickly in shooting games with the locks activated.

The Elite Series 2’s robust physical customization is complemented by some equally great software that lets you truly make the controller your own. Using the Xbox Accessories app, you can fully remap every button, program the rear paddles to mimic any standard button, finely adjust the stick and trigger sensitivity and adjust the intensity of the controller’s vibration across four zones. Once you’ve found a setup you like, you can create and save an unlimited number of profiles in the app, and store up t

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