Owning a controller is a must today, even if you are a PC gamer!
Why is that?
Seeing as a lot of games these days are developed for consoles first and only ported to PC afterward; there are many problems arising from this practice. Apart from the optimization and stability issues, there’s also the matter of controls.
While some games do not support mouse & keyboard controls at all, many others are borderline unplayable without a controller.
To help you pick the ideal one to improve your PC gaming experience, we have constructed a list of the best PC controllers for 2021!
Table of ContentsShow
Sony DualShock 4
A New Controller Without The Old Flaws
Weight: 7.4 oz (210g)
Compatibilities: PS4 – Full, PC – Partial (Via Steam or Third Party Software)
- Sturdy and ergonomic build
- Lack of direct Windows integration
- Bluetooth audio only with official Sony BT dongle
About The Controller
The first on our list is the controller of the most popular gaming console today. While the previous generation’s DualShock 3 was a complete no-go for PC due to a lack of official drivers, the new and improved DualShock 4 is a different story. It’s a very good controller for PC.
The most notable thing about DualShock 4 is the fact that it is the most radical revision of Sony’s classic PlayStation controller to date. The design, layout, and functionality had hardly changed since the first iteration of the console, and as such, the DualShock 4 looks like a light-year long leap in comparison.
It sports a solid and sturdy plastic build and comes in several colors. These include regular black, red, blue, gold, and silver colors, in addition to a green camo pattern and three semi-transparent exteriors.
- Ergonomic design – A common objection people had to the DualShock 3 and the older versions was that they were simply too small to hold comfortably. This problem has been solved with DualShock 4, as it is noticeably larger and rests nicely in the user’s hands.
Moreover, DualShock 3 was also infamous for its trigger buttons. They were uncomfortable to hold down since their shape made it very easy for the user’s finger to slip off. Luckily for FPS and TPS enthusiasts, the DualShock 4 comes with redesigned triggers, which can now be used and held down with much greater ease and comfort.
- Touchpad – Perhaps the most recognizable feature of Sony’s new controller is the touchpad. It occupies the middle portion of the controller where the Sony logo used to be, and it can be utilized in multiple ways.
In addition to the most evident application as a cursor or camera control, the touchpad is clickable and can be used as two separate buttons. Moreover, it recognizes a number of swiping gestures that either a game or the software it is running through can interpret as specific commands.
- Gyroscope – The DualShock 4 ditches the previous generation’s iffy Sixaxis motion detection technology in favor of a more advanced gyroscope. It allows greater freedom and more accurate input: you can use it to fine-tune your aim in shooting games or to steer a car in racing games, among other things. On top of that, it makes using a cursor on the desktop easier than ever.
- Headphone jack – The controller comes with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, effectively turning any wired headset into a wireless one. Whether you prefer using headphones for greater immersion or just want to avoid blasting your speakers for any reason, you will definitely appreciate having the headphone jack here.
- Steam Support – The most popular PC gaming platform has recently incorporated full DualShock 4 support. This means that you no longer need to struggle with third-party drivers, as Steam itself will integrate the controller without a hiccup.
To make things even better, Steam also enables you to fully customize all of the controller’s features and tailor it specifically to your preference. What’s more, different configurations can be swapped easily and you can use configurations created by other people.
- No official drivers – While Steam support makes it much easier to use the DualShock 4 on the PC, there are still some inconveniences to deal with. First of all, you must create and switch configurations manually when playing non-steam games. Apart from that, it requires Steam to be running in the background at all times, and it is known to hog more RAM memory than some would be comfortable with.
- No Bluetooth audio without official Sony dongle – While the headphone jack and the built-in speaker are fully functional when the controller is connected via USB, the same can’t be said for when it’s connected via Bluetooth. The only way to make the controller’s sound output capabilities work remotely is by using Sony’s official Bluetooth dongle.
- Hassle-free installation
- Highly ergonomic design
- D-pad still not good for in-game movement
- Charging kit sold separately
About The Controller
Much like the DualShock 4, the Xbox One controller improves greatly upon the previous generation’s Xbox 360’s controller.
When compared to its predecessor, the XONE controller appears cleaner and more minimalistic, all the while being lighter and more ergonomic. Moreover, there are many variations to choose from and there is the option to design your own custom controller, leading to the XONE controller being among the most customizable on this list.
- Native Windows support – Seeing as this is Microsoft’s own controller, there is no hassle when it comes to setting it up. All you need to do is plug it in, and Windows will download the necessary drivers on its own. Just like that, the controller is set up and ready to go.
- Headphone jack – Like the DualShock 4, the Xbox One controller also has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. This way, you can easily turn your wired headset into a wireless one.
- Textured grip – One of the most notable additions to the highly ergonomic Xbox controller design is the newly introduced textured grip. Not only does it make holding the controller more pleasant, but it is also much more stable in your hands.
- Button remapping – Using Microsoft’s official utility, users are free to customize the controller’s button layout as they see fit.
- Removable batteries – Unlike some other controllers which rely on integrated rechargeable batteries, this controller can either be used with regular AA batteries or with removable and rechargeable ones.
- D-pad – Although the Xbox One controller’s D-pad is a great improvement over that of the 360 controller, it is still far from perfect. It is not well suited for side-scrolling or fighting games where using the D-pad for movement is preferable due to how loud and rigid the transitions between different directions are.
- Making it rechargeable costs extra – As mentioned above, the Xbox One controller uses removable batteries, and if you don’t want to buy a new set of AA batteries each week, you’ll have to spend about 20 more dollars on rechargeable batteries and charging kit.
Microsoft Xbox One Elite Controller
A Hardcore Competitive Gamer’s Choice
Weight: Approximately 12.2 oz (348g), varies slightly depending on the detachable parts
Compatibilities: PC, XONE
- Premium build quality
- Customizable thumbsticks and D-pad
- Additional 4 buttons in the form of back paddles
- Hair trigger locks
- High price tag
- Not as durable as it should be
About The Controller
The Xbox One Elite controller is an improved and more expensive version of the regular Xbox One controller. It has all the features that its lower-priced sibling does, but sports an array of additional ones on top of that.
At first glance, it can be recognized from the regular Xbox One controller by its color scheme, or rather, the lack of one. Namely, it is colored black and with several shades of grey. Upon closer inspection, it is notable that it also incorporates several metal parts which were originally made of plastic.
- Swappable thumbsticks and D-pad caps – The Xbox One Elite controller comes with several options for customizing the thumbsticks and the D-pad to your own liking. This way, you can get the look and feel that suits you the most.
- Back paddles – With the four paddles on the back of the controller, the user is given access to up to 4 additional buttons/button combinations that they can customize freely using Microsoft’s official app. This allows players to input a complex set of controls without having to let go of the thumbsticks, which is quite convenient for fast-paced and competitive multiplayer games.
- Hair trigger locks – The Xbox One Elite controller incorporates unique hair trigger locks that can easily be switched on or off on the fly. This is a feature that shooter fans are sure to appreciate, as it can render precise shots both easier and more pleasant to make.
- Expensive – As you may have guessed, the “Elite” Xbox One controller is quite a bit pricier than its regular counterpart. As a matter of fact, it is more than twice the price of a regular Xbox One controller, with prices going as far up as $150. That said, only the most hardcore of gamers with the highest performance requirements would be willing to pay that amount for a controller.
- Lack of durability – Despite the quality build, some parts of the controller just don’t seem to take the long-term wear and tear all that well. Specifically, the sticks and bumpers seem most susceptible to getting damaged due to extensive use.
Xbox 360 Controller
A Classic Affordable Choice for PC Gaming
Weight: 9.35 oz (265g) – Wireless, 10.6 oz (300g) – Wired
Compatibilities: PC, X360
- Native Windows support
- Comes in both wired and wireless versions
- Poor D-pad
- Rechargeable batteries and charger sold separately
About The Controller
During the previous generation of consoles, the Xbox 360 controller had almost become synonymous with “PC controller.” Why? Simply because it was the only real option. DualShock 3 was only partially supported on PC with third-party drivers, and PC gamepads weren’t as good as they are today.
Even though it may look cheap and outdated when compared to the other, more modern controllers on this list, the 360 controller is a tried-and-true solution that will suit most gamers’ needs.
- Plug and play Windows support – Much like the Xbox One controller, the 360 controller simply needs to be plugged into your PC and Windows will do the rest.
- Wired and wireless variants – If you’re looking for a budget controller and don’t really need it to have Bluetooth connectivity, you’ll be glad to know that the Xbox 360 controller is available in a cheaper wired variant as well.
- Affordability – While it is not exactly a feature per se, it is worth noting that you can get an Xbox 360 controller for half the price of the Xbox One controller since it is an older model.
- Low-quality D-pad – Everyone who has ever used an Xbox 360 controller can unanimously agree that the D-pad is not that good. It is very prone to get worn out due to use and interpreting commands inaccurately. While it will suffice for games where a D-pad is used mainly for secondary actions, it is ill-recommended to use it for movement.
- You have to pay extra to make it rechargeable – Just like the Xbox One Controller, the 360 one uses two AA batteries, and as such, it also requires rechargeable batteries and charger to be bought separately.
Valve Steam Controller
A New Take on a Controller
Weight: Exact measurement unavailable, approximately as heavy as an Xbox One Controller
Compatibility: PC (Via Steam)
- Completely customizable
- Trackpads greatly contribute to versatility
- Excellent haptic feedback
- Gyroscope and accelerometer make for superb motion control
- Is not as easy or precise to use in a lot of games that require precise mouse movements
- Unusual design will require some getting used to
About The Controller
It is impossible to talk about PC gaming today without mentioning Steam. And when Valve released their own Steam controller in November 2015, it didn’t quite leave the impact that people hoped it would.
It is a controller designed specifically to be used with PC and in such a way so as to be usable in games that do not natively support controllers. Its revolutionary design is evident at the very first glance: a single thumbstick and four face buttons, with dual trackpads to serve as both the second thumbstick and the D-pad.
In terms of design, there is an undeniable breath of elegance surrounding the futuristic-looking exterior. Otherwise, it is as ergonomic as a DualShock 4 and an Xbox One controller, albeit it looks more like the latter.
- Complete customizability – Seeing as it was designed for PC gaming and to be compatible with games that don’t natively support controllers, it is no wonder that every single button and function of the Steam controller can be remapped. In this regard, the Steam controller is unrivaled.
- Dual trackpads – As mentioned above, the Steam controller trades the second analog stick and the D-pad for two highly responsive trackpads. These can serve almost any purpose, from simple mouse control to steering wheels, or anything else that a particular game may require.
- Superb haptics – Every quality controller has vibration motors built into it, but Valve’s Steam controller takes vibration to a whole new level. It offers precise, high-fidelity haptic feedback that enables maximum immersion.
- Gyroscope and accelerometer – The Steam controller is the best PC controller when it comes to motion control capabilities, as it sports both a gyroscope and an accelerometer. Thanks to this, users can utilize motion controls either for fine-tuning their aim in shooting games, using it as a steering wheel in racing games, or just as a regular mouse pointer on the desktop.
- Excellent battery life – Just like an Xbox controller, the Steam controller uses two removable AA batteries. However, even if you do not get rechargeable ones, the controller still has power consumption much lower than that of the competition.
- Not as precise as keyboard and mouse – When using the Steam controller in a game that does not natively support a controller, you will find that using the gyroscope or the trackpad as a mouse pointer is both more tiring and less precise. Imagine using it to quickly click all the small buttons in a real-time strategy game’s interface and you will understand what we are thinking about.
- Unusual layout – As previously stated, the Steam controller is quite a big step away from traditional controller layouts. That said, many people will definitely need some time to get accustomed to its unique dual-trackpads and repositioned front buttons.
- Affordable solution
- Vibration function included
- Compatible with Android smartphones
- Wired-only connectivity
- Flamboyant exterior
About The Controller
Unlike the other entries on the list, GameSir is barely a recognizable name. This Hong Kong-based company is not an industry giant like Sony, Microsoft, or Valve, and they focus specifically on the production of gaming controllers.
The G3w’s design borrows a lot from the DualShock 4, but don’t think for a second that you’re dealing with some poor-quality bootleg!
- Dual Vibration Motors – While it is common for budget PC gamepads to exclude the vibration function, this is not the case with G3w. Its vibration motors provide good feedback, although it is obviously not with the same precision that a premium-quality controller can offer.
- Smartphone bracket – Bundled with the controller is a detachable bracket designed to securely hold any smartphone in place, from small 3.5-inch devices to the 6-inch phablets. Moreover, it can be easily angled for optimal viewing.
- Pressure-sensitive triggers – Like vibration, pressure-sensitive buttons are another feature that is rarely found in affordable PC controllers. Fans of games that utilize this function, such as racing games, are sure to appreciate it.
- Easy installation – The G3w is as easy to set up as an Xbox controller on Windows. All you need to do is plug it in, and drivers will be downloaded automatically.
- No wireless support – A lack of Bluetooth connectivity may be a problem for those who like connecting their PC to a TV set for some games. There is a wireless version of this controller, too, but it comes with a somewhat higher price tag.
- Design – While it borrows the overall ergonomic exterior from the DualShock 4, the G3w’s frontal design is eye-catching, but not necessarily in a good way. The plastic definitely looks and feels good, but the intense colors and the clashing of the prominent red and blue highlights are far from unnoticeable.
Which Controller Should You Buy?
In order to decide just which of these controllers is the best PC controller for you, consider the following:
- Do you own a gaming system other than PC?
If the answer is “yes”, then you should consider a controller that you can use with those other systems, too.
- Do you need Bluetooth connectivity?
All the high-end controllers today have wireless connection capabilities that are enabled by Bluetooth, something that many people take for granted. On the other end of the spectrum, the more affordable controllers still come with wired connection support only.
If you are shopping for a budget controller for your PC, and you intend to sit at your computer desk while using it, then you don’t need to spend money on a more expensive wireless one. If on the other hand, you like to connect your PC to the TV and play on the big screen, a wireless connection allows for much more freedom.
- What games do you play the most?
This might not seem relevant at first, but some controllers can be exceedingly better at certain types of games than others.
For example, DualShock 4 has a quiet, responsive, and comfortable D-pad, which makes it a great choice if you’re into side-scrollers or fighting games. On the other hand, Xbox One’s bigger and more ergonomic triggers make it ideal for shooters.
- How much are you willing to spend?
As for determining your budget, it comes down mainly to how much you intend to use the controller. If you’re going to be playing a lot of games suited for one, then you certainly won’t regret paying upwards of $50 for a proper console controller. Conversely, if there is just a handful of games that need a controller and you’re buying one just for those, then a more affordable solution would be a wiser choice.
The Best PC Controller – The Xbox One Controller
In the end, our pick for the best controller on this list goes to the Xbox One controller due to its plug-and-play compatibility with Windows 10, making it the most straightforward and hassle-free option.
Sure, the DualShock 4 is a very viable option for PC now thanks to Steam, but even so, the integration is not quite as seamless as with the Xbox One controller. And as much as we prefer the D-pad and the gyroscope on Sony’s controller, we feel that many gamers would appreciate hassle-free compatibility over those extra features.
The Best Budget PC Controller – Xbox 360 Controller
There may exist cheaper controllers out there, but the Xbox 360 controller clearly offers the best balance of price and quality, and there’s no arguing it. More importantly, it has been the controller of choice for PC gamers for many years following its release.
The wireless version is quite cheap today, and if you can’t afford it, the wired one is even cheaper. Frankly, the only real problem with the trusty old 360 controllers is its controversial D-pad, and if you can get over that, this is definitely the best affordable PC controller currently on the market.
If you’ve enjoyed this guide, you might also find our guide on the best racing wheels intriguing too.