Best PC Controllers 2018 – Buying Guide and Controller Reviews
Need the best controller for PC gaming? Mice and keyboards are the basic input standards we have long relied upon when gaming on our PCs. But certain games are generally easier to play using console-type controllers, and as more console titles get ported to Windows, gamepads designed for use with desktop systems have become a sensible option.
So you’re probably wondering, but which one?
To answer the question, we’ve gathered a few official and third-party controllers from the Xbox console line plus a number of purpose-built gamepads such as DualShock 4 gaming controllers and Steam Controllers. Of these, we selected the models which we thought were the most comfortable and usable of the group, and discuss their suitability with a few test games.
Below is a nice and simple list to show the best controller for PC gaming based on your budget and features that you wish to have. The table is definite as of October 2018 and is updated on a monthly basis.
|Best Controller for PC Gaming||Sony DualShock 4 |
|Windows (PC), PlayStation 4||Wireless|
|Best PC Controller for the Money||Microsoft XBOX 360 Wireless Controller||Windows (PC), XBOX 360||Wireless|
|Best PC Controller 2016 (Overall)||Microsoft XBOX Elite Wireless Controller||Windows (PC), XBOX One||Wireless|
|Best Controller for Games Without In-built Support||Valve Steam Controller||Windows (PC), Linux, Mac, SteamOS||Wireless|
We hope that you found the best PC controller via the list above. If you wish to get the best PC joystick instead, then check out our dedicated buyer’s guide for that. We will now dig deeper into the top controllers for PC gaming in the next sections.
Best Controller for PC Gaming – Sony DualShock 4
The Sony DualShock 4 is mostly everyone’s pick, even though it’s not really designed for use with Windows PCs. We’ve compared it to its forerunners and those from other brands, and we found that even if it’s not always better than its rivals in all aspects, we can say that it’s the best balanced of the bunch.
Be sure to grab the DualShock 4 USB Wireless adapter if you wish to connect the controller wirelessly to your PC or Mac.
We believe that this is the best controller for PC gaming out there right now. It’s very versatile and impressive in features, and overall an extremely good gaming PC controller.
It may not seem as sturdy as the Xbox One’s unit, but the unassuming looks belie its durability. When I forcefully grab and crush its grips with my hands, it hardly complains from the abuse. Pushing each button, trigger, bumper, and joystick with abusive force doesn’t make much of a physical impression on the switchgear, although there have been reported cases of long-term damage to the sticks’ rubber parts and triggers getting stuck.
Redoing worn-out rubber is possible with the use of gel tabs, and while sticky triggers are a bigger issue, we’ve not had any experiences with these problems. At most, the mechanisms may creak a bit after much play while remaining supple and responsive.
Best PC Controller for the Money – Microsoft XBOX 360 Wireless Controller
The Xbox 360 wireless controller is still a very good pick, and the Xbox One’s newer wired version is similarly good for tethered operation. We know gamers who’ve been using their XBOX 360 controllers for many years and their units still run well with only the occasional need for a clean-up.
The Xbox One’s somewhat tinier unit is just as nicely constructed and offers enhanced D-pads as well. Microsoft continually provides drivers for both, so these rarely need any troubleshooting and most PC titles with controller modes are optimized for use with these official units anyway.
This is without a doubt the best PC controller for the money.
Remember to get the XBOX 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows if you wish to play wirelessly with this PC controller.
Although the Sony DualShock 4 remains our favorite, it’s not unusual for us to play with our Microsoft XBox 360 controllers since their analog-stick layouts are excellent and their trigger and bumper feel bests that of the Xbox One controllers.
Best PC Controller Overall – Microsoft XBOX Elite Wireless Controller
This is one ‘Elite’ branding which does apply, in this case to the Xbox Elite controller which features state-of-the-art hardware. It’s built as solidly as any custom gaming rig, with a neat shape that will appeal to the elite call of duty in you. Remember to get the XBOX Wireless Adapter for PC when you buy this one so that you can play on your PC wireless with this controller for PC.
The Elite is designed to be sturdier and more attractive than standard controllers while offering the same level of reconfigurability and familiarity for console gamers. The shape and control scheme differs little from that of the regular model, although it seems heftier than most others we’ve tried. Its weightiness can feel reassuring in the hand, but those with a tinier wrist may find it tiring to hold during prolonged play. Every front button still features the same big spongy feel when pressed, while each bumper and trigger offer much the same familiar click-and-pull response as that of the standard model.
Best Controller for Games Without In-built Support – Valve Steam Controller
Valve Corp’s first try at a controller for the converging activities of PC gaming and living-room media is its eponymous Steam Controller. Its advanced touch hardware is meant to interoperate with most Steam game titles, but Valve’s problem is that its design retains cumbersome compromises in order to enable both gamepad play as well as classic keyboard and mouse operations. We can conclude that this is one of the best, if not the best game controllers for Windows 10 to play games without built-in controller support.
Each corner grip forms a big chunk of a convex shape that encourages each thumb to comfortably arc over a touchpad. We find the bulging grips a bit too much to hold comfortably as they dig a little too much into my palms. Thus your fingers may stiffen after some extended gaming with these, which may result in inadvertent pushes on the back-paddles and cramping of your thumbs.
Testing various models
There are those who say that most games are best played with mice and keyboards. You can safely dismiss such claims, as something like Grid Autosports is just not that suited to keyboard control, and neither is Super Meat Boy. In point of fact, Ultra Street Fighter 5 cannot be played with keyboards without the gamer looking somewhat foolish. While it’s a truism that most hardcore PC titles are best played with mice and keyboards, a decent console-type controller can help round out a gamer’s competitive toolset.
Like the Sony DualShock 4, the Xbox One’s controllers establish the default criteria by which third-party controllers are judged, and most brands try to emulate their features and feel. We believe these few models from Sony and Microsoft set the standards, for we haven’t discovered anything really superior to the Sony DualShock 4, and the Microsoft Xbox 360 wireless controller models are almost as good.
Thus it may surprise you that we don’t consider the Xbox 360/One controllers to be the best choice for PC gamers, even if these represent the industry-standard in consoles. Although the form and control scheme of the Microsoft controller is still preferred by many, our tests have led us to believe that if you discount the superior offset-analog feel of the 360 controllers’ joysticks, you’ll likely find the Sony Dualshock 4 to have more advantages to their design.
The XBOX 360 controllers remain a superb choice that is only bettered by the Sony DualShock 4 in some parts. It’s a good thing that the Xbox One wireless controllers are compatible with a Windows PC, but they are still up not on par with the Sony Dualshock 4 controller for PC and PS4.
Reviewing the reviewers
We couldn’t assess the listed models with more than our own senses, so our group went about and asked others to try them and see which ones are both comfortable and useable. Most of those who responded said that the Sony DualShock 4 controllers were the controllers that felt best in their hands while gaming.
To their remark, we added our opinions on the build and material quality of the controllers’ shells and switchgear. We also included our sense of each button layout’s effectiveness as well as our mutual take of the various D-pads and joysticks. We then decided whether these aspects did suit most of us, assuming that we as a group could represent the average gamer. We ended up testing the most popular game controllers, e.g. Sony’s DualShock 4 PC controllers and the official Microsoft controllers that come with Xbox 360/Xbox One consoles, as well as Razer’s Wildcats and Sabertooths, and Logitech’s dual F models.
While D-pad controls may be effective for some console players, most FPS gamers dismiss these types in favor of WASD-style key controls for movement and mice buttons for aiming and firing. We did our best to get a feel with each model for common PC shooter titles, but it was a trying experience. Thus most of the games we used to gauge the controllers’ performances were titles known for control schemes oriented to D-pads and analog stalks, such as Super Meat Boy and Ultra Street Fighter 4. We also played with Grid Autosports in order to assess the various analog pots in terms of their ability to rebound and re-center rapidly, their sensitivity to minute navigational changes, and their handheld comfort over long periods.
Comparing the competition
We went through many controller models before settling on the Sony DualShock 4 PC controller as the finest as the others simply weren’t as impressive in each and every aspect. The Logitech wired model was both inexpensive and competent, though, a worthy combination to many gamers on a budget. So if you are on the lookout for the best computer gaming controller and wish to see the competition of the PC controllers listed above, then check out the following top PC controllers.
We can’t recommend the Razer Wildcat controller for most kinds of competitive play, although it is marketed extensively in the e-Sports community. Its form and sizing is nearly that of the Xbox One controller’s standard controller and can be enhanced with grip mods to make it easier and more comfortable to hold. It’s constructed out of plastics, not unlike that of other regular models, which could mean it’s no more susceptible to damages from accidents or abuse than anything other than the Xbox’s tough Elites.
Each trigger pulls readily, and this can be quickened with adjusters at the shell’s rear. Buttons depress with pleasingly responsive snaps like that of quality mice. The somewhat light activation touch could lead to more inadvertent presses or bumpy activations than expected, though.
The D-pad’s mechanism constrains the actions of the d-buttons in the four basic directions, and so not all in-game inputs may be captured. The good news is that the simplified scheme will also result in fewer input errors and therefore fewer in-game surprises. Gamers with small hands might not find it easy to manipulate the extra inner buttons and the dual rear triggers, but those with meaty palms should be able to keep each thumb freer to work the stick.
The greenish and cheap-looking grip mods can be a challenge to apply but they will let you grab the shell with a more comforting squeeze. This might actually work as a ready tension reliever for when you’re in a stressful scene, for they sure have a relaxing and grippy feel. However, only you can decide if it’s worth keeping the simple black style of the shell or putting on the gaudy livery.
This model has the build and feature set to command a higher price, given that XBox Elites don’t normally cost more. It also sports some of the customizations and extras of the latter although they aren’t as polished. For example, the rear trigger options must be disconnected from minute connectors, in contrast to the swappable magnetic modules of Microsoft’s controller. The time required to swap out triggers may have deterred many users of from constantly trying out various layouts. This model is more like a slightly modifiable interpretation of the XBox controller, which doesn’t afford it much if any real advantage over the official gear aside from the grip flexibility.
On the other hand, Xbox’s Elite controllers appear to be proper yet well-appointed versions of the original versions, but with more convenient customizability which motivated users to experiment with various configurations. The Wildcat’s software settings were not as advanced as it only offers two trigger and bumper keymap profiles.
Logitech F310 Gamepad
This is the gamer’s budget choice, particularly if one needs to equip two or more players with sturdy and reliable controllers without spending a lot. It has no wireless function, but it is a well-built and dependable model that comes for half the price of a Sony DualShock 4. A good pick also and we think it is one of the best controllers for PC games for the value right now.
Still, its D-pad mechanism isn’t the equal of that of the Sony DualShock 4, it has a lot of play in its button and trigger mechanisms, which are rarely as precise. Every trigger and bumper are mounted on bulges which your fingers’ middles may scrape against, and each analog joystick is designed with a curved form that’s ill-suited to sweaty palms. The trigger mechanisms were also notable for their overly resistant pulls, which can tire out your fingers over time if they’re constantly pressing down on mapped toggle keys.
Logitech F710 Wireless Gamepad
Few will see Logitech’s F710 as a good alternative to the Xbox 360 gaming PC controller, which costs only slightly more, weighs less, and performs better. Its shape and feature set is nearly the same but it’s not as handy or comfortable to use as the cheaper wired version, while the smaller and thinner trigger controls have too much built-in resistance for quick and easy presses.
Mad Catz CTRLR (Pro Controller for XBOX 360 and Gamepad for Android Devices)
The CTRLR model gets a mention here as it sports good specs and has a graceful look which combines the Xbox One’s gamepad design with that of larger analog controls, along with nicer bumper switches. Sadly, it isn’t compatible with gaming on PCs as it’s designed for use with Android mobiles. None of the titles we ran would identify it unless we ran the slow and small keymap driver to relay keyboard functions, which just isn’t acceptable for a PC-compatible gaming peripheral.
That said, the company has an Xbox-compatible model which offers some unique features, the Pro Controller for Xbox 360. Although it’s priced relatively high, this model isn’t actually marketed to PC gamers. As a USB peripheral, it ought to be compatible with most desktop setups, though, more so than the ill-fated droid model. And this is the thing, it has a novel feature which we haven’t come across elsewhere in that the D-pads and joysticks can trade positions.
This is an intriguing proposition, but we were unable to secure a sample in time for testing with the rest. Hopefully, we’ll be able to conduct a future test with Mad Catz’s transformer-like controller included.
Although Razer’s popular Xbox-compatible controller has garnered many reviews, we aren’t too impressed with the model. It does have an outstanding feature in its additional pair of bumpers, which will allow more of your FPS controls to be mapped so that you won’t be needing to move your fingers off the joysticks too often.
But there’s nothing you can do with it that you can’t already accomplish with a standard keyboard. Aside from the Razer Sabertooth controller’s extra button pair and its integrated LED display, it isn’t much more than a sharp-cornered 360-style controller with a better set of clicky triggers and a clunkier type of D-pad. And the controller’s distinct switches have a mechanical action which feels more appropriate for side functions than for gaming in platformers. The frontal button cluster in this PC game controller is particularly aggravating as key presses there don’t have much travel, and activate with a tiny press that’s hardly satisfying.
There are many decent models which work with PC games, but the Sony DualShock 4 stands well ahead, with only the Microsoft XBOX 360 controllers being able to compete with it on features and quality at the given price. Gaming enthusiasts have released a number of dependable drivers and settings to customize its wireless operation for gaming PCs.
The Microsoft Xbox 360 controller remains the only other high-end model worth considering, especially with its excellent offset joysticks. The Xbox One’s model would have been a contender but for its inexplicable lack of wireless connectivity with Windows PCs, which just won’t do these days.
For users on a strict budget, the inexpensive Logitech F310 Gamepad is a reliable wired model that’s comfortably solid, but in terms of build and design, it’s obviously not in the same league as Sony’s and Microsoft’s models – with the Sony DualShock 4 being the best controller for PC gaming for most people.