Many PC gamers, myself included, prefer the mouse and keyboard for most applications. This is because of the high-precision aiming offered by the mouse, and the superior number of functions and macros offered by a keyboard. However, a mouse and keyboard doesn’t usually work so well for couch gaming, and there are a number of games that simply play better with a gamepad.
With that in mind, it makes sense to find the best gamepad for PC gaming that fits your needs. Let’s begin.
Xbox 360 Controller
The Xbox 360 Controller is a time-honored classic in the eyes of many gamers. It is hailed as one of the most popular controllers in the seventh generation of consoles. Regardless of how it stacks up here, it remains one of the most influential controllers of all time. And thanks to XInput, it is also by far the most influential gamepad for PC gaming.
However, does it stand the test of time, weighed against other gamepads?
- Ubiquity. With the launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft brought “XInput” to Windows. XInput offered full support for 360 and 360-like controllers which made the gamepad the most-supported on the platform. It has also resulted in many gamepad-dependent titles to be ported over from console, such as Dark Souls.
- Familiar layout, comfortable grip.
- Poor, squishy D-pad.
- Tiny deadzones on analog sticks result in problems with “drift” in certain applications such as emulators.
Playstation 3 Controller
The PlayStation 3 Controller, or the DualShock 3, was Sony’s first mainline wireless controller for their consoles. The PS3 followed the PS2, one of the most successful consoles of all time. It makes sense, then, that the PS3 controller changed little about what made the PS2 pad so great. Here’s how it fares on PC.
- Familiar layout and comfortable grips.
- Great D-Pad and analog sticks.
- No official support: you’ll need to install something like the XInput Wrapper for it to work properly.
As part of their Steam Machine and Big Picture movement, Valve looked to push PC gaming into the living room. For many consumers, they succeeded, and the Steam Controller remains a go-to gamepad for a wide variety of PC gamers. Let’s see how it stacks up.
- Ubiquity. Compatible with every game in the Steam library, including those made primarily for mouse/keyboard.
- Extensive in-software customizability allows you to tailor any game to exactly your preferences for this controller.
- Touchpads offer a solution that’s far superior to analog sticks for aiming with speed and precision in FPS titles but still not quite at the level offered by a proper mouse.
- Unusual layout and grip: comfortable, but quite alien compared to the usual gamepads.
- Touchpads have a significant learning curve, and for games best-played with a D-pad, such as 2D fighting games or 2D platformers, this controller is far from ideal.
Playstation 4 Controller
Humbled by the initial reception of the PS3, Sony looked to do great things with the PS4, including turning it over to a developer-friendly x86 architecture. Understanding the need for change, the Playstation 4 Controller adjusted the PS design for superior comfort and usability. The touchpad was an odd choice for a console controller but makes quite the difference on PC.
- Great all-around controller. Touchpad can be used as a PC touchpad with the right software, too.
- Great comfort, D-pad, analogs, etc.
- Limited official support- with the DS4 Wireless Dongle offered by Sony, this controller can only be used with Remote Play on PC and certain supported titles on Steam.
- To make better utilization of this controller as a gamepad for PC, you’ll need to install something like DS4 Windows.
Xbox One Controller
The Xbox One Controller comes far after the era of the Xbox 360 which was plagued with poor quality-control on both the consoles (with the Red Ring of Death fiasco) and its controllers. Microsoft made this controller having learned its lesson from its past mistakes, and as the successor to the 360 controller, it stacks up even better on PC than its predecessor.
- Ubiquity. Like the 360 controller, the Xbox One Controller is compatible with all XInput games right out of the box. While it’s lacking in new control features, it’s still just as compatible with games as its predecessor.
- Comfortable grip and a familiar layout.
- D-pad and analogs have both seen great improvements from the original 360 controller.
- Controller still prone to the occasional stick-drift, but this is far less common on this model than the 360 controller.
Wii U Pro Controller
The Wii U Pro Controller is the odd one out of the bunch. While a great controller, it actually wasn’t the primary pad for its respective console: instead, it was a smaller alternative to the massive Wii U Gamepad, which needed to host a large touchscreen and NFC chip for Amiibo compatibility.
The Wii U Pro Controller strips away the gimmicks in favor of two things: usability and quality construction.
- Top-class D-pad and analogs. This is Nintendo we’re talking about, the veritable godfather of gamepads.
- Comfortable grip and layout.
- Reversed position of analogs and buttons can be disorienting initially.
- Very complex installation on PC, only made easier by buying an external peripheral.
Which One’s Right For You?
For the quickest pick-up-and-play experience, go for an Xbox One Controller. It’s compatible with all gamepad-ready titles on PC and is very solidly put together. The 360 controller, while cheaper in some cases, cannot be recommended due to its inferior build quality.
The Steam Controller has the best range of compatibility, with gamepad and non-gamepad games alike, but does have a learning curve. This means it’s best for people who want to be able to play all the games in their library, with their controller, on their couch.
The other controllers on this list are entirely up to personal preference but will require additional configuration to get working properly on your machine.