The Best Gamepad for PC Gaming

Best Gamepads For Pc Featured

Many PC gamers, myself included, prefer the mouse and keyboard for most applications. This is because of the high-precision aim 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.

An important thing worth noting for PC gamers looking for gamepads is that outside of Xbox controllers, you won’t be able to guarantee that your in-game button prompts will match your controller unless the game in question specifically supports multiple controller layouts or you mod it to do so. For the most seamless experience for many users, Xbox controllers have a general advantage on the PC platform that other controllers don’t get to enjoy.

However, this can easily be overcome with the right tweaks, and certain great features (like gyro) aren’t available on Xbox controllers.

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.

best-gamepads-for-pc-xbox-360-controller

However, does it stand the test of time, weighed against other gamepads?

Pros

  • 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.
  • Full Steam Input support.
  • Familiar layout, comfortable grip.

Cons

  • Poor, squishy D-pad.
  • Tiny deadzones on analog sticks result in problems with “drift” in certain applications such as emulators.
  • Batteries required for wireless operation.
  • No longer in production, so prices may be inflated from some sellers.

Playstation 3 Controller

best-gamepads-for-pc-ps3-controller

The PlayStation 3 Controller, or the DualShock 3, was Sony’s first mainline wireless controller for its 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.

Pros

  • Familiar layout and comfortable grips.
  • Great D-Pad and analog sticks.
  • Official support on Steam, with a rare few games even offering PS Button prompts. If you can launch anything through Steam, your PS3 controller will be detected.
  • Pressure-sensitive buttons, which are useful for PS2 and PS3 emulation. You’ll need to configure the controller outside of Steam for this to work, though.
  • Rechargeable through USB, no batteries required for wireless operation.

Cons

  • You’ll need to install something like the XInput Wrapper for it to work properly with non-Steam game. (i.e., games from Epic, Ubisoft, or Microsoft Game Pass)
  • No gyro support on Steam.
  • No longer in production, so prices may be inflated from some sellers.

Steam Controller

best-gamepads-for-pc-steam-controller

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 … even if it was discontinued. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Pros

  • 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 and gyro 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.

Cons

  • 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.
  • Batteries required for wireless operation.
  • No longer in production, and unlike other previous-gen pads, wasn’t in production for very long – prices may be severely inflated as a result.

PlayStation 4 Controller

best-gamepads-for-pc-ps4-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.

Pros

  • Great all-around controller. Touchpad can be used as a PC touchpad with the right software, too.
  • Great comfort, D-pad, analogs, etc.
  • Gyro support, which can be utilized by Steam Input and certain emulators.
  • No batteries required for wireless operation.

Cons

  • Unlike PS2 and PS3 pads, there are no pressure-sensitive buttons. This makes it less suited for emulating those older consoles, at least with games that rely on that feature (like Metal Gear Solid 3).

Xbox One Controller

best-gamepads-for-pc-xbone

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.

Pros

  • 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.
  • Full Steam Input support.

Cons

  • Controller still prone to the occasional stick-drift, but this is far less common on this model than the 360 controller.
  • Batteries required for wireless operation.

Wii U Pro Controller

best-gamepads-for-pc-wii-u-pro

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.

Pros

  • Top-class D-pad and analogs. This is Nintendo we’re talking about: the veritable godfather of gamepads.
  • Comfortable grip and layout.
  • No batteries required.

Cons

  • Reversed position of analogs and buttons can be disorienting initially.
  • Very complex installation on PC, only made easier by buying an external peripheral.
  • Not supported by Steam Input.

Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller

Best Gamepads For Pc Xbox Elite Controller

The Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller occupies a curious space between the Xbox One controller and the Xbox Core controller. It shares most basic characteristics with the former, but both D-Pad variations are a lot closer in feel to the Core than the One. Like the Core, it supports USB-C, but unlike Core and One, it can actually be charged via USB and doesn’t require batteries at all.

Pros

  • Great shape and feel.
  • Superb customization – not just in software, but in hardware as well.
    All analog sticks and D-Pads can be swapped, trigger activation and pressure can be adjusted, analog stick resistance can be changed, and the paddles on the back of the controller can be rebound to any button.
  • Superb Steam support with a custom driver – in addition to the above-listed benefits, paddles on the back can now be bound to keyboard keys and other functions through Steam’s software.
  • No batteries required – controller can be recharged through USB.

Cons

  • Extremely expensive due to all the aforementioned features. Expect to spend around $200 USD to get your hands on this controller brand-new.

PlayStation 5 Controller

Best Gamepads For Pc Ps5 Controller

Pros

  • Superb shape and feel.
  • Improved D-Pad over previous generation.
  • Gyro and touchpad.
  • Full Steam support.
  • No batteries required – controller can be charged through USB.

Cons

  • Slightly pricier than previous gen controllers.

Xbox Core Controller

Best Gamepads For Pc Xbox Series Controller

The Xbox Core Controller is the epitome of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” It carries over everything people love about the Xbox One controller, and the changes are straight upgrades from the previous experience. The D-Pad, especially, is leagues better than any previous Xbox controller outside of the Elite Series.

Pros

  • Ubiquity – compatible with all Xbox consoles from One onward, as well as XInput-supported games across the entire PC platform.
  • Full Steam Input support.
  • Improved D-Pad over Xbox One controllers.

Cons

  • Slightly pricier than previous gen controllers.
  • Despite USB-C, batteries are required for wireless operation.

Switch Pro Controller

Best Gamepads For Pc Switch Pro Controller

The Switch Pro Controller is a marked improvement over the Wii U Pro Controller. In addition to improvements in build quality, the analog sticks are now in a more conventional position, and the controller has become significantly lighter and more comfortable in the hand. Add features like gyro support and that sweet, sweet Nintendo D-Pad design, and you have a surprisingly good PC gamepad.

Pros

  • More conventional layout with top-notch Nintendo build quality – especially that D-Pad
  • Gyro support
  • Full Steam support, unlike the Wii U Pro Controller
  • No batteries required – controller can be charged through USB-C.

Cons

  • Non-analog triggers – less ideal for racing games and emulation of consoles with analog triggers, including, somewhat bafflingly, some of Nintendo’s own (Mario Sunshine for GameCube relies on analog triggers)
  • Slightly pricier than previous gen controllers

Which One’s Right for You?

There’s a nonzero chance that you already have one of these controllers because you already have one of the gaming consoles it was made for.

For those who aren’t super hardcore gamers or aren’t used to dealing with button prompts not matching your controller, an Xbox controller becomes a clear top contender based on the sole fact that it’s plug-and-play with everything – even outside of Steam – and the buttons will match.

For gamers who favor more in-depth control options and extra features like gyro aim, the Steam, PlayStation, and Nintendo controllers all offer some incentive over the Xbox controllers in these areas. If you favor 2D or other D-Pad heavy games, you may also find yourself leaning toward PlayStation and Nintendo controllers based solely on their superior D-Pads, though the Xbox Core and Elite controllers aren’t slacking in the D-Pad department, either.

If we had to narrow it down to three top picks for the most coverage possible, it’d be:

  • Xbox Core Controller
  • PlayStation 5 Controller
  • Switch Pro Controller OR PlayStation 3 Controller

Meanwhile, you can learn how to connect any Xbox controller to Android.

Related:

Christopher Harper Christopher Harper

I'm a longtime gamer, computer nerd, and general tech enthusiast.

2 comments

  1. why omit the AMAZING 8bitdo controllers. they have AMAZING build quality, have native PC support, and are superior hand feel to all the controllers ive used.
    i have both a 8bit to pro USB, a 8bitdo pro plus, and the recent 8bitdo pro 2
    the pro plus and pro 2 are by far my favorite controller to use on PC due to the grips. and i do own the switch pro, PS3, PS4 controllers, all genuine first party controllers.
    the only downside to the 8bitdo controllers is the ABXY buttons are nintendo labeled. (but are proper PC layout with A/B and X/Y swapped when you do use em on PC.

  2. i should also mention that i omitted model numbers the full model numbers are
    sn30 pro USB, sn30 pro+ and sn30 Pro 2.
    also the pro plus is readily available at a $49.99 price point on amazon.
    the pro plus and pro 2 are compatible with switch, mac (and also ps3 in this mode), android and PC. both have 4 BT pairings it can use (1 device registered per protocol, ie you can have registered 1 PC, 1 mac, 1 switch, AND 1 android at the same time)

    one more negative about using it on a switch is it is unable to wake the switch.

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