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Updated September 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best PC joysticks

For serious PC gamers, there is nothing more annoying than realizing you aren’t really in the game. The best PC joysticks become almost an extension of yourself, a way to seamlessly teleport to an alien landscape, World War II battlefield, or stunning fantasy panorama in the search for conquest, a way to level up, or a few more gold coins for that invisibility cloak you’ve had your eye on.

In addition to creating a more immersive experience, PC joysticks can also provide an ergonomic way to play your favorite games for hours more comfortably and more safely. But choosing the right PC joystick for your setup can be confusing. 

Our buying guide examines all the features and controls you’ll find when shopping for a PC joystick. From types to controls, we cover everything you need to know to pick up the right joystick for your PC gaming needs. We also cover what you can expect to pay and offer a few of our favorites to get you started.

I1  fight stick
Fight sticks are a great choice if you like fighter games like Street Fighter V.

Key considerations

Operating system

We’re looking at gaming devices for PCs, so if you run the Windows OS, the odds are good that they’ll work with your system. However, if you have a computer running an older version of Windows, you might run into some compatibility issues. First and foremost, be sure that any PC joystick you’re considering will work with your computer.

Some PC joysticks are designed to also work with other operating systems, such as Mac or Linux, which can increase the number of computers you can use with these gaming devices.

Type

“PC joysticks” is a broad term that covers a variety of PC gaming devices. While there is a bit of a gray area between categories, these can generally be broken down into three device types: gaming pads, flight joysticks, and fight sticks.

Gaming pads: These are the devices you typically find with gaming consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation. These two-handed controllers often incorporate buttons and other elements for gaming that are similar to popular console controllers.

Flight joysticks: Designed for use with one or two hands, these gaming devices are used in games that simulate aircraft or spacecraft. Some have two separate components to control flight and throttle with separate hands.

Fight sticks: Often used for retro gaming on classic game emulators, fight sticks are usually designed as a tabletop unit with controls that are familiar to anyone who has ever played classic arcade games.

Wired vs. wireless

PC joysticks can connect to your computer in one of two ways. They can be wired (usually via USB) or wireless. This comes down to personal preference, but there are pros and cons to using either, such as whether you want to deal with cords or batteries.

For wired PC joysticks, note the length of the device's cable, because some of these can be quite short (such as 5 feet).

Durability

From the rigors of a virtual war to the frenzied attack on an alien battlegroup, your PC joystick is going to take a beating. While all these devices are mostly made of plastic, some are more rugged than others. All elements of a PC joystick, from the casing to the buttons to the cord, should be able to hold up to the abuse that gamers throw at it.

Note: While it isn’t always the case, gaming devices from well-known brand names are often more durable than those from lesser-known retailers.

Installation/assembly

Most PC joysticks come fully assembled, and the installation is as simple as plug and play. That said, some PC joysticks require minimal assembly before you can use them, while others require that you download the software or install it from an included disc.

Some PC joysticks also have a programming option, which means you can set up various buttons and triggers to get the device working the way you want it to. This programming is typically optional and appeals to those gamers who like to “get under the hood” and personalize their devices.

Dyk 2-aiming with pc joystick
Did You Know?
Aiming with a PC joystick can usually be improved by either tweaking the controller software settings or changing the setting for the game itself.
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Features

Controls

The types and number of controls on your PC joystick depend largely on the type of device you purchase. In general, any levers, switches, and buttons should operate smoothly and be clearly responsive to touch (some joysticks allow you to tweak the sensitivity of the controls). 

Specific controls found on the various gaming device types include the following:

Gaming pads: In addition to buttons and triggers, gaming pads often have a D-pad that provides added functionality.

Flight joysticks: Most of these joysticks include a variety of controls that simulate flight, from pitch and roll control (for going backward or forward and left or right) to more advanced Z-axis twist controls (used to mimic the rudder controls in an airplane). You can upgrade the immersive experience with a HOTAS (hands-on throttle and stick) system, which is in the form of a dual controller: one for flight control and one for throttle. If you buy a flight joystick, choose one that offers greater stick tension because this provides a more authentic feel during a game.

Fight sticks: These emulate old video arcade controllers, usually with a simple joystick and a variety of buttons to control kicks, punches, or other actions.

Vibration

To add to your gaming experience, consider choosing a PC joystick that includes vibration, or feedback. Usually available with more advanced gaming devices, this feature causes the device to vibrate when, for example, you roll over rough terrain with your tank, take enemy fire, get ambushed, or any number of other actions that programmers can add to a game.

Comfort

Gamers often spend hours gaming, so any PC joystick you buy should be comfortable to hold and operate for long periods of time. A well-designed gaming device should be well-balanced and ergonomic enough that you won’t experience excessive hand fatigue (or worse) when using it.

Quantity

While most PC joysticks are sold individually, you can sometimes buy a pair of controllers as a set. This is more common with gaming pads. Bottom line: know how many gaming devices you are paying for.

More buttons and controls on a PC joystick provide you with more programmable options but might be too much of a learning curve for the casual user.

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Pricing

Inexpensive

PC joysticks in the $10 to $30 range are typically in the form of simple gaming pads similar to what you would find with Xbox and PlayStation consoles. These are usually wired and sometimes offer a more classic design for retro gaming using emulators.

Mid-range

In the $30 to $100 range, you can find a variety of types of PC joysticks. Options here range from higher-quality gaming pads (often wireless) to fight sticks to flight joysticks, some with simple HOTAS systems. Pairs of gaming pads are also in this range.

Expensive

Serious gamers will want to consider those PC joysticks in the $100 to $200 and higher range. Here you can find top-quality fight sticks and HOTAS flight joysticks. PC joysticks at these price points are more durable and tend to offer more programmable options, so gamers can customize their devices to work the way they want them to.

Dyk1-first joystick
Did You Know?
Ralph H. Baer invented the first video game joystick in 1967.
Staff
BestReviews

Tips

  • Buy a USB extension cord. The cords with some PC joysticks can be very short, to the point where it’s difficult to comfortably use the joystick. If you have one of these, pick up a USB extension cord.
  • Look for feet on a table-based joystick. For flight sticks or HOTAS systems, buy one that includes rubber feet or suction cups. These help to keep the joystick in place when you’re lining up for a strafing run.
  • Adjust the sensitivity. To get used to your controller, adjust the sensitivity all the way down to straight and then gradually increase it as you become more comfortable using it.
  • Choose a type of PC joystick you’re already used to. If you have extensive experience gaming on a console such as the Xbox or PlayStation, you might be better off going with a PC gaming pad that looks and works like the console you’re used to.
  • Try a gaming steering wheel. If you enjoy auto racing games, a gaming steering wheel is another type of PC gaming device that’s geared to vehicle driving or racing games. These typically include additional controllers for gas, brake, and clutch and even shifting levers.
I2-new controller
Any new controller may feel awkward at first, but you will improve the more you use it.

FAQ

Q. Which is better: wired or wireless?

A. While this is a matter of personal preference, there are some issues to consider when deciding between a wired and wireless joystick. A wired joystick means you need to constantly deal with cables, but you won’t need to stop a game to swap out batteries or recharge the gaming device.

A wireless device isn’t limited by cord length, nor are you constantly tripping over cords. However, if the device uses batteries, these will be an ongoing expense, and recharge time can really put a dent in your gameplay. Users of some wireless devices also notice some minor issues with lagging.

Q. I like to play a variety of games. Should I buy a gaming pad or a flight joystick?

A. That depends on what types of games you play most often. If you usually play Microsoft Flight Simulator or some other type of flight game, then a flight joystick can provide you with a more realistic experience.

For a wider variety of gaming, however, we recommend a gaming pad. This can be used with everything from first-person shooters to RPGs and is a great option if you’re into side-scrollers or other retro games.

Q. Can’t I just use my keyboard and mouse for gaming?

A. You certainly can, and some gamers do just fine with nothing but a mouse and keyboard to control their actions in a game. Often gamers find that some games, such as shooters or strategy games, are easier to play using a keyboard and mouse. For something like a flight simulator or classic scroller, though, a specialized controller (like a flight joystick) adds a lot more to the experience than a keyboard and mouse. PC joysticks also offer a much more immersive gaming experience than what you can have with a keyboard and mouse.

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