Put down your pitchforks! There’s a time and a place for using a controller for PC gaming, sometimes you just want to kick back and lean back, some games are just simply better on controller like sports, Rocket League and games with aim-assist.
Don’t get me wrong, the de-facto control scheme for most games on PC is the keyboard and mouse, which is why I’ve mostly focused on reviews on those products, but controllers have a place.
After putting in some time with Modern Warfare, Rocket League, NBA 2K23 and some old-school emulation, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best controller for PC is the Xbox Series X Controller.
1. Xbox Series X Wireless Controller
- Best software compatibility wired and wireless
- Better dpad than the Xbox One Controller
- Now uses USB-C port
- Great colour options
- Still uses AA batteries, could be a negative
- Rechargeable pack extra
It doesn’t change much from our previous #1, the Xbox One controller, same great ergonomics and sticks, triggers and buttons.
The XSX controller is going to have nearly perfect compatibility with all PC games.
The offset sticks are the most comfortable and best for FPS games.
The controller makes improvements to the d-pad and it now uses USB-C, there’s little reason to go for the Xbox One controller now that the Series X controller is out, other than price.
2. Xbox One Controller
- Out of the box support in most games wireless and wired
- Great colour options
- Great sticks and triggers
- Great ergonomics
- Uses AA batteries, good battery life
- Uses AA batteries, could be a negative
- Rechargeable pack extra
The Xbox One Controller is the easy pick, it works out of the box on Windows through bluetooth or wired connection, all modern games support Xinput with appropriate button prompts, and it doesn’t hurt that the controller itself has a great design too.
If you like offset thumbsticks then there’s no real reason to look elsewhere, this is the controller for most people. Its triggers are solid, the thumbsticks are some of the best in the business, there aren’t really any major shortcomings of the Xbox One Controller for PC gaming.
The Xbox One Controller is the second most responsive controller out of this list with an input delay of 7 milliseconds. You can connect the controller via Bluetooth, USB connection or with a wired dongle, all work equally well.
The Xbox One Controller does not come with rechargeable batteries out of the box, and it uses AA batteries. You can buy a rechargeable battery pack if you want the extra added convenience of plug and charge but swapping out AA batteries isn’t a huge negative for me, especially when the controller lasts 40 hours.
3. Sony Playstation 5 DualSense Controller
- Built in battery
- Improved ergonomics and shape over the Dualshock 4
- Improved battery life
- Some games support adaptive triggers
- Gyro functionality
- Requires software to emulate Xinput for some games
- Software support isn’t bulletproof
- A lot of the new tech in the Dualsense is wasted on PC
The Dualsense replaced the DS4 as the choice for gamers looking for symmetrical sticks. The Dualsense feels better in hand for most people, while the new triggers are way better than the mushy triggers of the DS4. The touchpad is now even larger and can easily be used for desktop navigation in a pinch.
The same caveats for the DualShock 4 apply for the Dualsense, software support isn’t as foolproof and complete as the Xbox controllers. Some games will require xinput or other workarounds to recognize a wired or wireless Dualsense controller.
You’re also paying for tech that isn’t getting used much currently, in the updated haptic engine and adaptive triggers. Sony games on PC support adaptive triggers and a handful of games use the Gyro if you want to make use of it.
3. 8BitDo Pro Ultimate
- Hall effect sticks
- 2.4 Ghz version has same layout as Xbox
- Convenient charging dock included
- Good design and ergonomics
- Includes gyro controls
- Back buttons
- Good multiple device compatibility
- No charging brick included
- 2.4 Ghz version doesn’t have hall effect sticks
- No bluetooth on 2.4 Ghz version
Hall effect joysticks are the new hotness and the 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth version is the best one that has them at the moment. The Bluetooth version also has a 2.4 Ghz dongle, with the ability to switch between multiple devices like the Switch, PC, Android and others.
The major downside on the BT version for PC gamers is that it uses the Nintendo layout. Luckily, you can remap all buttons via the software, but you’ll need to do some plastic surgery to move the buttons into the correct places if you want it to look right on your controller.
Other than that, the Ultimate is rock solid, good buttons, good triggers, sticks that’ll never drift and a good battery life.
If you’re okay with finessing with some configuration, the specs on this controller are better than our top picks, especially for the price.
4. PS4 DualShock 4
- Works with some games out of the box wired with appropriate prompts
- Great ergonomics
- Touchpad is handy
- Great symmetrical sticks
- Works wired and wireless
- Lots of great colour options
- Horrendous battery life
- Requires software to emulate Xinput
- Triggers are a little stiff
For those gamers looking for symmetrical sticks, the Dual Shock 4 is a great controller with excellent build quality, ergonomics and design.
The Dual Shock 4 has the fastest response time out of all controllers which is especially important for competitive gamers looking for frame perfection, the Dual Shock 4 over Bluetooth beats out all other controllers wire or otherwise.
The thumbsticks are in the more “old-school” symmetrical arrangement, making the Dual Shock a better controller for d-pad usage. The controller is comfortable for lengthy gaming sessions. The thumbsticks with the raised lip are responsive enough for the most competitive requirements.
Other cool features make the Dual Shock 4 a worthy choice, the touchpad doubles as a mouse in desktop mode and can be handy in a pinch, the controller has an internal rechargeable battery, which is great, except that its battery life is definitively doo-doo at a max of 8 hours out of the box.
Speaking of out of the box, the Dual Shock 4 works well wired without any extra software, most games recognize and support the Dual Shock 4 without any issues. If you want to use your Dual Shock 4 wirelessly, then you’re going to need Steam controller support or DS4Windows the emulate XInput controls.
5. 8BitDo Pro 2
- Great D-Pad
- Soft triggers
- Great software compatibility
- Can connect to multiple devices at once
- Great rechargeable battery
- Back buttons
- Button layout can cause some confusion for Xinput prompts
- A little wider than of a grip than traditional controllers
- Start and select are harder to reach
For gamers looking to put some time into some retro games then 8BitDo’s Pro 2 is a stellar option while still being good for modern games.
The Pro 2 probably has the best d-pad available on the market right now, making it the key option for retro gaming.
The controller supports both DirectInput and Xinput making it compatible with a super wide selection of games. It can connect via USB Type-C or wirelessly on bluetooth. 8BitDo’s software can help the controller set stick and shoulder sensitivity
The wireless battery life on the controller is great with a type-C port to move it over into wired mode. The battery itself is rechargeable viable the controller and is included with the controller unlike the Xbox One controller.
The build quality is very good, there’s not a single weak or creaky spot. The sticks rival our top two picks, the SN30Pro+ almost took the #2 spot here with good responsiveness and a convex design with rim like the DualShock 4.
The Pro 2 can also connect to a Nintendo Switch giving it some versatility in usage.
6. Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
- Great battery life
- Great ergonomics and feel
- USB Type-C connector
- Gyro support
- Bad software support
- Glitched for me through wired connection, random inputs
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is a great controller, it has amazing ergonomics, thumbsticks, buttons, triggers, and battery life, the whole gamut.
Its major shortcoming is that there’s not much software support for the Pro Controller, you’ll have to rely on Steam or BetterJoy to emulate the Pro Controller’s Direct Input as Xinput.
Games that can support Gyro can make use of the Switch Pro’s included gyro which is nice if you like gyro aiming in FPS.
Even when emulated the button mappings for a lot of modern games is confusing due to the layout of the ABXY of the Pro Controller.