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Ask HTG: How Can I Hook Up My Xbox 360 Controllers to My Computer?

If you hit up a big box retailer you may notice something a bit confusing. There are wireless Xbox 360 controllers labeled for use with the Xbox and wireless controllers labeled for use with Windows. In reality, the only difference is that one comes with a cheap wireless USB adapter. Read on as we show you how to get your controllers linked to Windows without shelling out $40+ to do it.

Dear How-To Geek,

I’m pretty frustrated right now and I have a feeling you guys will be able to help. Here’s the score: I have an Xbox 360 I don’t play much anymore and I have a computer I’d like to play more games on. The thing is, I’m pretty used to the controller and would like to take advantage of all those games in my Steam library that have full/partial controller support.

I thought hooking up one of my wireless controllers to my PC would be a breeze, but it has turned out to be a huge headache. I stopped by the local electronics store and asked if they had an adapter. They said they didn’t, that you got the adapter when you bought one of the Xbox 360 controllers marketed specifically for Windows. That’s great and all, but I already have four wireless controllers. I didn’t want to buy a fifth controller just to get the little adapter. The guy at the store told me I could get online and buy just the adapter.

I did that. I even bought an adapter that Amazon labeled as “by Microsoft” that appeared to be Microsoft branded. I get it in the mail and it’s not actually a real Microsoft device, apparently, because it doesn’t work and has a Chinese-labeled driver disc included. I couldn’t install the drivers from the disk and even though I followed the instructions to pair one of my controllers to the device (and the lights blink like it works) nothing happens. I even went to the Microsoft website and downloaded the official drivers and still couldn’t get it to work.

Am I out of luck, out of $15, and still forced to go buy the extra controller to get the stupid adapter? Help!

Sincerely,

Adapter Angry

Oh man, do we feel you. According to our Amazon purchase history we, specifically, must have felt the same got-ripped-off-rage you’re feeling now right around October 23rd, 2012. From what we can tell, Microsoft doesn’t sell (nor does it appear they ever sold) the USB adapter independently from the 360 controller for Windows package.

Fortunately for you (and everyone else that has bought the knock off USB adapters) it’s not hard to get them up and running as long as you know the completely non-intuitive way to go about doing it.

First, plug your device into your computer. We recommend plugging it directly into a port on the back. If you must plug it into a USB hub, make sure it’s a powered hub. We’d also recommend picking a port that you’ll be able to leave the device more or less permanently attached to as, should you unplug it, you’ll need to repeat the steps we’re about to outline.

With the device plugged in, navigate to the Windows Device Manager. You can type “Device Manager” in the Start Menu search box or paste mmc devmgmt.msc and hit enter to jump right to it. Look under “Other Devices” in the list of devices under the entry for your computer.

We know it’s quite nondescript but, barring some other issues with unknown devices on your computer where you see multiple errors like this, that little “Unknown device” entry is your won’t-play-nice knock-off Xbox 360 controller. Right click and select Properties.

Select the Driver tab in the Unknown device Properties box and then click Update Driver:

When prompted to select whether you want Windows to search automatically or for you to browse your computer for the drivers, select “Browse my computer for driver software”. Don’t worry, you don’t actually need any drivers as they’re already included with Windows. (On the off chance that yours have gone missing, however, you can download the drivers here.)

You’ll be given the option to search for the drivers in a location you specify or you can pick from a list of device drivers already installed. We want the latter, so select “Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer”:

Scroll down the list until you see “Xbox 360 Peripherals”. Double click on it.

Note: We’re using Windows 8 for this tutorial; under Windows 7 it’s possible that you may need to look under “Microsoft Common Controller” instead of “Xbox 360 Peripherals”.

In the next screen, select “Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows Version 6.3.xxxx”. Click Next.

When prompted by the driver update warning, click Yes. The hardware signature of the knock off doesn’t, in fact, match the driver signature, but it will work fine just the same. You’ll receive a confirmation that the device was installed properly:

If you get the error “Xbox 360 Controller for Windows / This Device Cannot Start. (Code 10)”, then you’ve accidentally selected the drivers for the controller not the receiver. You’ll need to go back into the device manager and delete the erroneous entry and repeat the tutorial from the start.

Back in the Device Manager, scroll down to the bottom and double check that there is now an entry for the Xbox receiver:

The only thing left to do at this point is to sync your controller to the new wireless receiver. Press the button on the receiver (the light will blink) then, immediately after, press the connect button on your wireless controller (located at the top of the controller just above the battery pack. The green ring of lights on the Xbox controller will rotate around and then the controller will signify which controller it is by lighting up the appropriate quadrant (the wireless receiver will support up to 4 controllers for those rare multi-player PC games).

One final step you may wish to take, even though it’s not required to get the controllers to work, is to download the 360 for Windows controller software, it adds in a really convenient function; you can tap and hold the Xbox logo on the controller to get a battery status check:

That’s all there is to it! Before you dash off to play, however, we strongly recommend bookmarking, Evernote clipping, printing, or otherwise saving this tutorial; as we mentioned at the start, if you unplug the receiver you have to go back into the Device Manager and install the drivers again.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/20/14

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