Best Controllers for PC Gaming

Updated February 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

29 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
367 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

Shopping guide for best controllers for PC gaming

Last Updated February 2019

Whether you’re a seasoned gamer ready to settle in for the next entry in the Red Dead Redemption series or a casual gamer looking to play the latest fun platformer, you need a good controller for your PC gaming. Your controller is crucial: it governs everything from your response times to how comfortably you can sit while playing.

Finding the right controller is a balancing act between knowing what features to look for, how much to pay, and which models live up to their promises. Here’s everything you need to know to find the right gaming controller for your PC gaming setup.

Gaming controllers have a lot of sensitive parts inside, so treat yours with care to avoid damage. Store your PC gaming controllers in a safe spot, and avoid dropping them on hard surfaces.

Key considerations

Before you start to compare specific features, consider these three questions.

Do you want a wireless controller or a wired controller? This question is probably the most important to consider before you start shopping. Wireless controllers cost more, although in some cases, they suffer from lag over a wireless connection. If you play competitively (or in any game where split-second reflexes matter), you may want to play it safe with a wired controller. If you prefer a clutter-free setup, however, a wireless controller may be the better choice.
 

Do you plan to use your controller with other systems aside from your PC? Some gaming controllers work with multiple systems, which can be perfect for gamers who own different consoles or even mobile devices. Controllers that boast compatibility with different systems are usually good for most gameplay, but switching between systems can sometimes be a clunky process. Therefore, they’re only a good value if you’re certain they’ll see a lot of use across different platforms.
 

Do you want any advanced features, such as turbo buttons? Some gaming controllers include optional features that help in certain games. For example, many controllers have “rumble” support, which means they vibrate at specific points in the game, like during an explosion or in response to taking damage. This can be a fun effect. Other controllers have a “turbo” function which repeatedly presses a button for you — a big advantage in shooting or fighting games that rely on repetitive button-pushing.

EXPERT TIP

Some PC gaming controllers are compatible with virtual reality (VR) systems. If you enjoy playing VR games, or if you own a standalone VR system, be sure to pick up a gaming controller that works with everything you might play.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Many of the most popular PC gaming controllers receive firmware updates from their manufacturers that ensure stability and, in some cases, add new features. When you first open your PC gaming controller, connect it to your computer and see if firmware updates are available.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

When you first start looking for a PC gaming controller, you’re likely to discover an unfortunate truth: they all look similar. Every PC gaming controller has a joystick on the left, buttons on the right, and triggers on the back. But if you look closer, you’ll find a lot of variety across models. In fact, some offer key features that make gaming a lot more fun and convenient. Here are our three favorite PC gaming controller features.

Bluetooth connectivity

If you’re going wireless, you have two choices: buy a controller that uses unique radio frequencies (RF) to communicate with a USB dongle you plug in to your computer, or buy a controller that connects via Bluetooth. Assuming your computer supports Bluetooth, it’s a lot more convenient to connect that way. And, as a bonus, many Bluetooth controllers also work with platforms like Android and iOS, so you can use them for mobile games as well.

Touchpad controls

Touchpad controls are fairly controversial in the gaming world (although to be fair, there’s very little that’s not controversial to gamers). With touchpad controls, instead of separate buttons or a joystick, you get one giant customizable touchpad area. Touchpad controls have a looser feel, which can be great with driving, skateboarding, and skiing games. If you’re ready to give up on button-mashing, or if you just want a controller that’s a little more forgiving than normal, consider one with touchpad controls.

Customizable buttons

With most PC games, you can customize the button-mapping on your controller. However, you cannot do it with all PC games. In these cases, it helps to have a PC gaming controller that works with software so you can define what each button does manually. If you do a lot of your own button-mapping and controller customizations, don’t assume your games will always let you do that — get a controller that comes with its own button-mapping software so you’re always covered.

DID YOU KNOW?

Do you miss the consoles of yesteryear? Many PC gaming controllers mimic the layout and look of controllers from classic systems like the NES and SNES. Aside from looking cool, these controllers offer a distinct advantage with retro games: they let you play the original titles using the same controls you did the first time around.

Controllers for PC gaming: prices

Most PC gaming controllers cost between $15 and $39. Models in this price range are reliable, although most are wired controllers, so you’ll need to spend a little more if you want to go wireless. If you’re looking for a straightforward wired controller that will be dependable and ideal for most games, however, you don’t need to spend more than this.

If you’re a serious gamer who wants a fully customizable controller with zero lag time, you’ll need to spend between $40 and $150 for a model that can do everything you need. PC gaming controllers in this price range offer performance improvements as well as unique features. For example, some have LED backlighting so you can color-coordinate your controller with the game you’re playing.

Incredible features and affordability

Gamers rarely agree on anything, but they usually make an exception for Microsoft’s Xbox One controller. With this bundle, you get an Xbox One controller that can be used with the Xbox One or a PC, and you get a USB adapter for connecting it to your computer. The button layout, weight, and button response times are second to none.

Tips

  • When starting a new PC game with your controller, check to see how the controls work first. Different games handle controllers differently, and the default setups vary between titles. Before you start your next quest or mission in a new game, go to the controls menu and make sure every button is mapped to the correct function. If you need to make adjustments, it’s better to do it before you get too far into the game.
     

  • If you want to upgrade your audio experience while playing a PC game, buy a PC gaming controller with a headphone jack for private listening. Some controllers let you stream audio to your own headphones, which can be useful if you’re playing late at night and don’t want to wake others up. If you want to play your games in surround sound — or you just want to make sure no one else can hear your game — grab a PC gaming controller that includes a 3.5mm headphone jack.
     

  • Make sure your PC games are controller-compatible before you buy a PC gaming controller. Some PC games are designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard and can’t really be played with a controller. Before you go shopping, open all of your existing PC games and make sure they can be played with a controller.

Unique and functional

If you’re a fan of the Nintendo 64, the Retro-Link controller should look familiar, as it’s a replica of the console’s original three-legged controller. Fans of the original will tell you: it might look weird, but it’s a lot easier to use (especially in first-person shooter games), and it can make modern games more fun as you adapt to the unusual button layout.

Another product we considered

The Steam Controller is one of the most popular PC gaming controllers, and it includes an innovative touchpad on one side that can be advantageous in platformer games. Ultimately, it’s the perfect controller for gamers who love to tinker, but that also means it takes a little more time and effort to customize it. If you’ve got the patience to try a new approach to gaming controls, consider this option.

If you’re buying a wireless PC gaming controller, check to see if you’ll need to replace the batteries or recharge an internal one. If you buy a controller that requires AA or AAA batteries, be sure to keep a few spares around. If you buy one that requires you to recharge the battery, keep a spare USB charging cable on hand.

FAQ

Q. Can I use a PC gaming controller with a Mac?
A. Usually, you can. Most modern gaming controllers are cross-compatible with different operating systems like Windows, OS X, and even Linux distributions. If you’ve got a Mac, double-check the specific models you’re considering, and make sure the one you buy explicitly states that it’s compatible with Apple’s OS X.


Q. Why do some wireless PC gaming controllers say I need an available USB port?
A.
Some wireless PC gaming controllers connect to PCs using Bluetooth, so as long as the host computer supports Bluetooth, no adapters are necessary. Other wireless PC gaming controllers use radio frequency (RF), so they need the host computer to use their included USB adapter to receive RF signals from the controller. Both Bluetooth and RF are reliable connectivity methods, so base your choice on how many available USB ports you do — or don’t — have.


Q. How far can I sit from my computer if I get a wireless PC gaming controller?
A.
Most wireless PC gaming controllers have a connectivity range of 15 to 20 feet. In general, you’ll want to keep your controller within 5 to 10 feet of the host computer to prevent lag from causing problems in your games.

 

The team that worked on this review
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Jaime
    Jaime
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor
  • Rich
    Rich
    Writer
  • Steph
    Steph
    Web Producer

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