A PC controller is a hardware input device paired with a gaming console to create an interactive gaming experience. Most game controllers are easy to use. Most can be customized with the help of remappable functions. Newer versions have rechargeable batteries that can function wirelessly. Most are also compatible with Windows/Linux/macOS operating systems with the use of a simple USB cable or Bluetooth.
The go-to for most games nowadays is still the mouse and keyboard. This set-up is ideal for precision gaming, but more interactive simulation games require a more complicated device to run it well. Games such as racing, sports, combat, arcade and other best RPGs need more flexibility in the input. Such games can benefit from the added support offered by PC controllers.
Modern versions of PC controllers are a long way from their analog predecessors not only in terms of functionality but also in terms of usage. Modified versions of it are being used to control drones for military operations and teach medical students about the human body through virtual surgeries. Some 3D MRIs and CAT Scans even use the controller technology to navigate the displays. Clearly, these controllers have far-reaching and practical uses in other industries, and we have yet to see the full extent of its practical utility.
Best PC Controllers For 2020
There’s an old saying: Never go to battle unarmed. Any serious gamer would tell you that your best weapon is actually your controller, and need to get the right weapon of choice. Up the ante of your gaming with these specially-designed controllers.
XBox Elite Wireless Controller (Series 2)
This is one of the most advanced controllers available in the market today. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller offers comfort, precision, and control over your gaming experience. Its software allows you to change the configurations of your play style and remap all the button functions.
It comes in a sleek, dark black color with red markers with rubberized hand grips, adjustable-tension thumbsticks, and shorter hair-trigger locks shorten the travel of your triggers. You can also physically remove the paddles, Dpad, and thumbsticks. Just connect the device wirelessly through Bluetooth and connect a USB Type C cable to enjoy your favorite Xbox games. Oh, and did we mention that the battery lasts 40 hours on wireless? Get the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller (Series 2) on Amazon.
Compatibility: Windows 7/8/10/Vista, Mac OS (Wireless).
The Steam Controller is affordable given its unique design in terms of both hardware and software. It looks a little different from your typical gamepad because it has a touchpad instead of thumbsticks. The touchpad, intended to mimic your mouse pad and is used to point and select. Using the touchpad to navigate can take some time to learn, but then you also have an auto-aim assistance to help you learn the trick. The touchpad allows you to receive feedback vibrations. It has gyroscope and accelerometer sensors so you can tilt and steer for racing games.
The analog stick and buttons have just the right amount of softness and are very responsive. With the analog stick as trigger, you will hear a digital click for each trigger pull and have the option of changing dual-stage trigger input to either analog or digital. The device also connects wirelessly to your computer or TV through the Steam Link. You can also play games originally made for the keyboard using this device. Steam Controller is available on Amazon.
Compatibility: Windows 7/8/9/10/Vista (with USB wireless Adapter), TV or Display (720p or 1080p resolution)
Steel Series Stratus Duo Bluetooth
The simple, jet-black design of the Steel Series Stratus Duo feels like a timid facade to hide its efficiency and functionality. It has thumbsticks that have grooves on them for easy grip, analog joysticks that are easy to click, magnetic sensors that ensure precise targeting and navigation. The device pairs easily with any computer which registers it as an Xbox controller. If you want to go wireless, you can switch a toggle to use either the Bluetooth or a 2.4GHz wireless function, for which you’ll need to plug a small adapter to the computer.
It can function for more than 20 hours of wireless game time, and although it doesn’t come with rechargeable batteries, you can also charge it while playing. Steel Series is specially designed for Fortnite. If you already know how to download Fortnite, buying this controller is the next step to level up your gaming. You can buy Steel Series Stratus Duo Bluetooth on Amazon.
Compatibility: Windows 7/8/9/10/Vista, Android, Oculus Go, and Samsung Gear VR.
Logitech F310 is affordable and easy to use. Its aesthetically pleasing and practical design allows for a good hand-grip. It also has customizable software that allows you to switch the type of inputs supported by your games. You may need to click the LB and RB buttons a little harder though, but they are responsive for the most part. Purchase Logitech F310 on Amazon now.
Compatibility: All XBox One Consoles, Windows XP/7/Vista (with USB Adaptor).
Astro C40 TR
As one of the cheaper premium controllers in the market, the Astro C40 TR has plenty to offer. You can expect a quick response rate and high precision targeting during critical moments, and also customize your profiles. This chunky device has longer joysticks, circular D-pads, soft but responsive buttons, and trigger stops that give you shorter and faster travel. You can change the configuration settings, swap buttons, create trigger stops, and change both sound levels and rumble capacity. It has removable buttons, and you can even swap the D-pads and the analog sticks. The Astro C40 TR can be bought at Amazon.
Compatibility: Playstation 4, Windows 7/8/10/Vista, Mac OS (Wireless).
Sony Dualshock 4
The Sony DualShock 4 is comfortable to use with sensitive analog sticks, a soft and comfortable grip, a user-friendly layout, and a clickable pad. It also gives you full control of your gameplay, with both ergonomic hardware and customizable options. That aside, you can also use the remap functions and adjust the sensitivity of your pad. It also has a gyroscope, touch bar, and lightbar that you can adjust. You connect the device through Bluetooth or a wireless adapter, and you will need DS4Windows to get your PC ready for games, but it will be worth it. You can buy Sony DualShock 4 on Amazon.
Compatibility: iPad, iPhone, Mac OS, and Apple TV, and PC (with USB Wireless Adaptor or Bluetooth).
8Bitdo Sn30 Pro+
This retro game controller gives you a large amount of control and connectivity. With the new 8BitDo Ultimate Software, you can customize almost anything on the device, such as the rumble vibrations and joystick sensitivity levels, the analog sticks for precision levels. You can also assign buttons with the functions of your choosing and set macros so that you don’t have to do the repetitive clicking of the same action buttons. The buttons, D-pads, and triggers are all responsive.
You can opt to connect via Wireless or Bluetooth and play games from the Playstation era. It is compatible with most Android devices, Macs, and PCs. The triggers are analog which means you can have two separate commands for each button depending on how hard you press them. The 8BitDo SN30Pro has a lot to offer despite the simplicity of its appearance, and it might well be worth a try. The 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ is up on Amazon.
Compatibility: Windows /8/10/Vista, Mac OS, Nintendo Switch, and Android.
Xbox One Wireless Controller
If the Xbox Elite is a bit too pricey for you, you might want to go for its cheaper but equally premium counterpart, the Xbox One Wireless controller. The device comes in a sleek, light black design with at least 12 attachments and a USB cable. Bluetooth-enabled Xbox One Wireless Controllers are able to connect with your PC through Bluetooth but older versions might need a wireless dongle to connect.
The device simply screams comfort and precision with its smooth and slick thumbsticks, precise metal pads, and good-grip handlebars. The software allows you to remap your buttons and choose from two user profiles using a physical switch on the controller. For comfort and precision, the Xbox Elite is surely worth the premium price. You can get Xbox One Wireless on Amazon.
Compatibility: All Xbox One consoles, Windows 7/8/9/10/Vista.
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller feels a lot like the Xbox 360 controller, except it has one of the best and most accurate D-pads in the market. The design is heavier than the PS4 and Xbox and has a sleek, smooth surface that prevents your hands from slipping. It has larger ABXY buttons and the analog sticks are securely placed so you can rest assured it won’t get pulled off. You can also go for forty-hour matches at a time with this device, and plug it with any NFC and USB-C compatible ports. Buy Nintendo Switch Pro on Amazon to up your gaming.
Compatibility: Nintendo Switch Consoles, Mac OS, Android, Windows 7/8/9/10/Vista.
Thrustmaster Warthog Flight HOTAS
For serious flight avatar gamers, the Thrustmaster Warthog throttle and stick is as real as it can get. The device is made from genuine surplus materials from real aircraft. There’s also a large amount of buttons like grey eight-way hat switch, two additional black 8-way hats, and a red pushbutton. The toggle switches even snap when you switch it on, which must feel like the real thing. There are two ways you can engage the trigger, and you can assign the function of each stage. The heavy metal plate also allows you to detach the throttle just as real pilots do.
The device uses 3D Hall Effect sensors for precise targeting and movement like you’ve never seen before, and a guaranteed no-dead zone on your screen. We need to point out that this surgical precision does not wear out over time, at least for as long as your hardware is functional. Other combinations of the hardware are available such as the stick and keyboard, stick and mouse, and dual sticks. Check Thrustmaster Warthog Flight HOTAS on Amazon for more reviews.
Compatibility: Windows 7/8/9/10/Vista, XBox One, XBox 4, XP SP4, Android.
Logitech F710 Wireless Gamepad
The retro-style design of the Logitech F710 Wireless gamepad reminds us a lot of the classic Playstation device. It’s a heavy-set device with a silver coating in the front and a fat, rubberized bottom for a good grip ideal for long sessions of gaming. The buttons are great and the thumbsticks too, even though they are placed in a rather awkward position.
The best thing about this device is that it is completely wireless. All you need to do is plug in the nano receiver and then change the batteries once in a while. You can even connect to the internet to download software and switch between DirectInput or Xinput modes of play. It uses haptic technology so the gamepad will register rumble, and there’s also an option to customize your buttons and your gaming profile. In terms of responsiveness, you also won’t notice any lags with the thumbsticks and the D-pad. Logitech F710 Wireless Gamepad is available on Amazon.
Compatibility: XP SP3 and SP4, Android TV, Windows 7/8/10/Vista.
Razer Tartarus Pro
The Razer Tartarus Pro is a heavy-set controller with heavy-duty keys and an adjustable, built-in wrist rest. If you don’t like clickiness, the set of Razer Analog Optical switches and membrane keys feel buttery smooth to press without making mechanical noises. You can configure the keys to have dual functions, for example, pressing the key halfway will make a character walk, and pressing it the entire way will make the character run.
The Razer Tartarus is Synapse-enabled meaning you can store thousands of profiles and game mechanics into a cloud system. There are 32 keys, a D-pad and a mouse which are all programmable. You can even customize the lighting of the keypad through Chroma Studio, and have the device emulate a joystick or controller through the D-pad. The device is mainly intended for left-handed players. Unfortunately, there’s no existing version for right-handed players. Nonetheless, players who are keen on dexterity will still find this device much better than their average keyboard. Owning Razer Tartarus Pro is as easy as a click on Amazon.
Compatibility: Windows 7 / 8, MacOS
Razer Wolverine Ultimate
The Razer Wolverine Ultimate has a good grip and clicky main buttons. You can swap the sticks, adjust the sensitivity of the triggers, and fine-tune the layout through the D-pad, and reprogram the extra buttons. You can even change the lighting with Chroma. Unfortunately, the device is not wireless or Bluetooth-ready and you still need to plug the USB cable to charge the built-in batteries. Buy Razer Wolverine Ultimate on Amazon.
Compatibility: Windows 7/8/10/Vista, XP SP3, XP Professional, Mac OS
GameSir T4 PC Wireless Controller
Specially designed for PC compatibility, the GameSir T4 allows you to choose to connect to your PC through a wireless dongle or USB cable. The built-in rechargeable batteries can stay wireless for about 5 hours of continuous play. You can configure all keys and change the sensitivity levels of your trigger buttons. There are also five feedback vibration levels to choose from to ensure that you feel each hit, crash, and explosion. The GameSir T4 PC Wireless Controller is an affordable and quality controller. Check what others are saying about GameSir T4 Wireless Controller on Amazon.
Compatibility: Windows 7/8/9/10, Switch, XP SP3, Android TV.
HORI Real Arcade Pro V Kai
The HORI Real Arcade Pro V Kai gaming stick is a premium fighting stick specially designed for contact fighting games. It has a standard analog stick that cuts down input load and six press-friendly buttons for different modes of punching and kicking. The entire module is heavy, weighing more than 2 kilos. But you can still place it on your lap or on top of a table and the rubber stoppers at the bottom make sure that it stays in place.
The buttons, analog stick and metal casing are all made of high-quality materials that will resist wear and tear. You can plug the device to other android devices and controllers, and even use it on your PS3 as a replacement for the D-pad. If you’re a fan of Street Fighter V or other games that have a lot of karate, this controller is for you. HORI Real Arcade Pro V Kai on available on Amazon.
Compatibility: Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Windows 7/8/9/10/Vista
Different types of PC Controllers
Everybody knows that gaming starts with a keyboard and a mouse or a gamepad attached to a console, but these are not the only options out there. Traditional gamepads work well with most video games. The handy keyboard and mouse controller work well with shooting and strategy games. But what about the other genres? If playing sports, combat or flying games is your thing, then using a simple mouse and keyboard might not be practical or realistic.
With the thousands of games available on the market, there ought to be new controllers that cater to specific genres. There are gamepads with mini keyboards, wireless keyboards, and joysticks. You also have throttle stimulators for flight simulation games, arcade-inspired fighting sticks for hand-to-hand combat games, steering wheels and paddles for simulated racing, trackballs for field sports games, touchscreens for smartphone puzzles, and light-guns for first-person shooting games, among other types. With the increasing popularity of online games, it won’t be a surprise if more types of controllers will show up in the market within the next few years.
Pros of Using PC Controllers
There is an on-going debate among gamers on whether PC controllers work better than your keyboard and mouse combo. Still, you have to admit that PC gaming controllers are definitely a comfortable, convenient alternative to a keyboard and PC. PC controllers are a great gaming investment for gaming enthusiasts for the following reasons:
Ergonomic Comfort: New PC Controller designs have soft, rounded analog sticks for a comfortable hand-grip. It also has sensitive multi-directional pads for higher precision. The buttons are also designed for robust clicking. The rubber coating of the device is frictionless so that your fingers glide through the surface.
Convenience: The device allows you to customize buttons and keys to your liking. You can also switch from different player modes so that you can feel fully in control of your gameplay.
Durability: PC controllers do not have a shelf life, but a good-quality controller can serve you well for years when taken proper care of. PC controllers are also much cheaper than your PC and are much easier to replace.
Cons of Using PC Controllers
Some gamers are better at the keyboard and mouse than a controller, and that is not a problem.
Limited Functionality: Players have noted that controllers lack certain functions. Examples include: using mini maps to change vantage point, inability to select specific units as fast as with a mouse, etc.). A mouse offers better speed and precision that a controller doesn’t offer, and that the keypad makes for better hotkeys and unit groupings.
Premium Cost: There are a lot of premium controllers in the market, and if you are a serious gamer it is very tempting to shell out as much as $250.00 for one. Depending on the duration of use and your budget, you will need to decide whether more expensive brands are worth it.
Other than the high cost and clear limitations in functionality, there doesn’t seem to be few reasons to dislike controllers. They serve their purpose of making gaming a comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Features To Look For When Choosing A PC Controller
There are different levels of consideration when choosing a controller. These include price category, brand, basic functionality, physical color and design, usage of new technology, ergonomic design, durability, connectivity, etc.
Of course, the most important consideration in buying a controller is quality. Buttons and analog sticks must be able to respond well to your inputs and withstand long hours of game time without changes inefficiency. Choose a controller with sturdy buttons that have a smooth “click”. Some controllers have buttons that are purposefully designed to be longer and deeper than usual for dual functions (i.e. Razer Tartarus Pro). Analog sticks should be responsive yet sturdy, and multi-directional gamepads should be sensitive but not too sensitive so as not to go off in directions you didn’t swipe.
In order for the PC controller to work on any PC, it must be HID compliant and be able to observe the XInput or DirectInput protocol used by most online games. Console controllers such as Xbox and PS4 controllers are also PC-compatible.
Most PC controllers are coated in a rubberized plastic material to protect the metal hardware. But we are more interested in the sections of the controllers that come into contact with your hands, and that is a large section. As a general rule, the toggles and buttons should be deep enough for a good click, but not too deep. The pads should also be responsive to the slightest touch.
You might also want to choose the noise level of the buttons of your controller. Some controllers have “clicky” buttons that make lots of mechanical noises while others have a smoother keypad.
As for handlebars, they should be long enough to fit all your fingers and give you a good grip. Extra rubber padding on the handlebars is a plus. For gamepads with no handlebars, the underside is usually rubberized. You should be able to fit your palm on the underside of the gamepad and have a good grip.
For controllers with mini keypads like the Razer Tartarus Pro, make sure that you are able to reach the keys from the left or right. These mini keypads don’t usually come in different sizes to fit larger or smaller hands. In this case, decide whether the small difference in size will be comfortable enough.
Most PC controllers are able to last disconnected from a power source anywhere from 4 to 10 hours of game time. Some premium brands are even able to last 40 hours without the need to recharge. Battery life is dependent on several factors including the discharge rate of the device and temperature. It also has a cycle life or the number of times you can charge a battery before it falls to 80% of its capacity. Opt for a device with a higher cycle life, if such information is available.
Traditional controllers are wired. But the increasing trend these days for the controllers to have a Bluetooth or wireless option. You can do this with the help of a small adaptor or dongle attached to the PC or through Bluetooth which won’t need anything extra. Once connected, your PC can respond to any headsets attached and sends information to and from your computer like a walkie-talkie.
You can opt for a wireless controller if you think the USB connection is a bother. You just need a Bluetooth-adapted computer, in which case you won’t need any additional plugs, or a wireless adaptor to plug into the computer. but you will still need to charge it with a USB cable once in a while.
You might also want advanced features like wireless connectivity through Bluetooth or 2.4 GHz wireless connection, haptic technology that causes rumble, magnetic sensors for precision targeting, adjustable keypad lighting software, or cloud-enabled storage for your profiles.
Also available in the market are personalized, modified controllers that you can look into. Although not part of this guide, design companies like Evil Controller take your standard Xbox controllers and allow you to design the exterior yourself. There are also pseudo-controllers like the Tap Strap. It’s a bracelet that you wear around your knuckles and it resembles the functions. This wearable keyboard can be used to play games, but its design is still in its infancy and needs to be adapted further for gameplay.
In the future, PC controllers could expect to get an upgrade from new technologies such as facial recognition and voice technology, gesture control, high-definition graphics, mobile gaming, and cloud gaming. But until these technologies are developed and refined, we are satisfied to rely on the current features offered by the well-established brands.
Branded PC controllers can cost anywhere from $ 20.00 to $ 250.00, with premium controllers costing anywhere between $ 1300.00 to $200.00. Set a budget for your purchase first and consider what a reasonable purchase might mean for you. When we say reasonable, we mean a cost that warrants quality and sustainability. There are great budget controllers that offer the basic features and comfort that you need, while there are also premium, more expensive controllers made of durable materials and feature the new technology.
Maintenance and Care of PC Controllers
If you want your PC controller to last for years, you need to observe proper care and regular maintenance of the device. The PC controller has the same components as your average computer. It has an operating system that manages the internal processes of the PC and a user-application software. Consider your device as an investment, and treat it with care to ensure that it lasts for years to come.
- Disconnect the controller after use and unplug the connection.
- Store your PC controller in a clean, dry place. Like any electronic device, the PC controller is sensitive to liquids. That is why you should keep them clean and dry at all times. Beware of any physical damage to the hardware that could prevent you from using it ever again.
- Your controllers can collect dust over time, particularly when stored away for long periods. As such, we recommend wiping your device with a cloth lightly dampened with a soap solution. This is to prevent dirt from accumulating and causing any technical glitches.
- Wireless adapters usually come in the form of small nano receivers attached to your PC. Due to their small size, adapters are easy to forget and easy to lose. Make sure to keep them in place in their socket or store them in a safe place after each gaming session.
- Beginners may also struggle to understand the usage of the PC controller keys. In this case, almost all controllers come with a user manual that you can refer to.
- Most console controllers are also not HDI compliant in which case you will need a hardware adapter or USB support. Bluetooth connection may also be a hit or miss.
- Don’t overcharge your device to save its cycle life and charge the device before it is completely drained. Battery capacity is sensitive to fluctuations in power. Experts say the best time to charge a device is between 20% to 80% battery power to preserve cycle life.
- Make sure to check the device soon after buying it and keep the warranty certificate in case it has a design or manufacturing defect.
- Study the specifications of the device and follow the maintenance procedures as indicated.
The gaming industry has come a long way from the simple analog dial buttons. Notwithstanding the large variety of options, making an informed decision should be easy with the right resources. With the right information and an awareness of what you really want in a controller, you are sure to be able to find one that will fit your budget and personality.