The wired Xbox 360 controller is USB, so using it for PC gaming is easy–but things get a bit more complex if you have a wireless controller. Let’s take a look at how you can enjoy wireless gameplay on your PC while minimizing the headaches.
The Three Prong Path to Wireless Freedom
When it comes to wireless Xbox 360 on Windows you have three options: the expensive and easy way, the cheap and somewhat frustrating way, and the grey market middle ground. If you’re sitting at your computer desk and not across the living room, for example–then you might just want to skip the whole hassle, just buy an official wired Xbox 360 controller for $27, and be done with it. A wired controller is pure plug and play with no hassle–but if you absolutely must have wireless play at your PC, you’ll need to buy a USB-to-wireless adapter.
That’s right, you can’t just connect a wireless Xbox 360 controller to your PC using Bluetooth, or anything like that. Xbox 360 controllers use a propriety 2.4Ghz communication method that need a specific a USB adapter made for the Xbox 360 controller–no substitutes allowed.
This is where the decision making process gets slightly complicated. Microsoft doesn’t sell the adapter by itself. They sell it in a bundle with a wireless controller–but if you already have a wireless controller, you probably don’t want to buy another one just to get the adapter.
If you want to buy the adapter separately, you can, but you’ll either be buying a Chinese knockoff product, or an official adapter that’s been separated from its kit by a third party. Picking from these potential options is the most important step in the project.
The Official Bundle: Expensive, But Headache-Free
If you don’t mind paying a premium (and potentially buying an extra controller you don’t need) then the most frustration-free and guaranteed-to-work method is to buy the official Xbox 360 wireless controller for Windows bundle. Despite the Xbox 360 getting a little long in the tooth, you can still find official Xbox 360 “For Windows” controller packs both on the shelves at many electronics retailers, online, and directly from Microsoft. And hey, if you only need the USB receiver, you can always sell the controller on Craigslist and try to get your money back.
The MSRP of the official bundle $59.95, and you’ll usually find it at close to that price at places like Best Buy. If you can find it cheaper from a reputable retailer, then by all means jump on it. If you must shop on Amazon, be sure you’re buying a product marked “fulfilled by Amazon” and be ready to return it if it ends up that the product is not an official model. (Remember, “fulfilled by Amazon does not guarantee a genuine product.)
The Dubious Aftermarket Clones: Cheap and Doable, but a Headache
On the opposite side of things, you’ll find piles upon piles of knockoff USB receivers sold separately all over Amazon, eBay, and other big online marketplaces. Typically, you’ll find them ranging in price from $7-15 and they’re either flawless clones that are indistinguishable from the official adapter dongle or they’re terrible knockoffs that will give you a headache setting them up.
The official Microsoft Xbox 360, seen above left, is always branded as “Microsoft” on the front and says “Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows” on the back. The knockoffs are almost always branded “X360”, seen above right, and usually say “PC Wireless Gaming Receiver” or a variation on the back. Note the purposeful omission of any copy or trademarked names like “Microsoft”, “Xbox 360”, or “Windows”.
In general, we don’t recommend buying these. But if you already have one, we’ve got your back–scroll down for detailed instructions on getting it up and running, even when Windows doesn’t want to place nice.
The Official Orphans: A (Nearly) Sure Bet, as Long as You Can Find One
In between the expense of buying an official Xbox 360 Windows controller bundle and cheap $7 eBay specials, you’ll find a sort of grey market happy medium if you’re willing to make a small gamble. If you look on Amazon and eBay, you’ll find hundreds of official Microsoft brand Xbox 360 PC dongles that have been separated from their controller mates.
Your best bet is to look for listings that include not just the dongle (with proper markings and tags, as we saw above) but also include an official driver CD and booklet. While you don’t need either of those things to use the controller (Windows will download the drivers automatically), it’s generally a good indicator that the listing is legitimate. It’s not really profitable (or legally wise) for companies to go to the extra hassle of creating fake Microsoft support materials.
Just remember that Microsoft does not officially sell these separately, so if you’re buying one separately, you are taking a bit of a gamble. While we recommend you carefully study each listing, read reviews, and make sure there is a good return policy for whatever online retailer you’re using, we can say that we’ve had great luck purchasing these official adapters for $15 a piece off Amazon (specifically fulfilled by RushHourWholesalers). Every one we’ve ordered has shipped with a driver disc, documentation, and is identical in terms of branding, construction, and labeling to those found in the official bundle.
How to Install an Official Microsoft Adapter
If you’ve purchased the official bundle, got your hands on an official adapter, or just happened to have purchased a knockoff adapter of exceptionally good quality, then the installation process is incredibly simple.
On Windows 8 and above, you can simply plug the adapter right into your PC. A few seconds later, it will be automatically detected and Windows will install the drivers. You can confirm this by opening up the Windows Device Manager–press the Start button and type “device manager” to access it. Look down at the bottom of the hardware list for the Xbox adapter entry:
On Windows 7 and earlier, you’ll be prompted by the “Add Hardware” wizard to add the USB adapter. You can select “Install the software automatically”, and if your version of Windows has the drivers the process will continue automatically. If you don’t have the drivers already on your PC, you can either use the included driver disc or download the appropriate drivers from the official website here.
Once the adapter is installed (and you’ve confirmed its presence on the Device Manger list) you can jump down the section “Pairing Your Controllers to Your PC”.
How to Install a Knockoff Adapter
If you’re stuck with one of the lower-quality knockoffs, we’re sorry–by comparison, it’s a huge pain. Fortunately for you, it’s not hard to get them up and running as long as you know the completely non-intuitive way to do 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. Whenever you unplug it, you’ll need to repeat the annoying steps we’re about to outline–so you’ll want to leave it plugged in at all times, if you can.
Let’s emphasize that last point again: with the majority of aftermarket adapters we’ve come across if you unplug the adapter you have to repeat the annoying multi-step installation process. In my experience, it was worth the extra money to buy another genuine adapter just to avoid this hassle.
With the adapter plugged in, navigate to the Windows Device Manager. Press the Start button and type “device manager” to access it. Look under “Other Devices” in the list of devices under the entry for your computer.
We know it’s quite nondescript, but unless you have multiple Unknown Devices on your PC, that little “Unknown device” entry is your knockoff Xbox 360 controller adapter. Right click it 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: These screenshots are from the setup process on Windows 8 and 10; under Windows 7 it’s possible that you may need to look under “Microsoft Common Controller” instead of “Xbox 360 Peripherals”.
On 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 knockoff 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, 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:
If you see that entry, you’re in business–it’s time to add your controllers to your PC.
How to Pair Your Controller(s) to Your PC
The only thing left to do at this point is to sync your controller to the new wireless receiver. If you’re an Xbox 360 user porting some or all of their old controllers to their PC, then this process will seem very familiar, as its only a hair different than the process of pairing controllers with the actual Xbox 360.
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 multiplayer 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 if you have an aftermarket dongle. 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.