How To Enable Vibration With The Xbox One Controller On Steam Link

The Steam Link was built for the Steam Controller, but Valve has added support for others, including the beloved Xbox One controller. Recent firmware updates have allowed native vibration support. Here’s how to enable it.

Previous limitations on the Bluetooth connection meant that the official Xbox One controller couldn’t support the “rumble” functions of games on anything except the PC with the official wireless dongle or a direct wired connection. But if you update the firmware of the controller itself, either through the Xbox One console or Windows 10, you can enable vibration over Bluetooth as well. Flip a few settings on the Steam Link streaming device, and you’re ready to play vibration-enabled PC games remotely with the de facto standard controller.

What You’ll Need

First, only the latest revision of the Xbox One controller includes Bluetooth—the previous revision isn’t compatible with the Steam Link. This new design is sometimes labelled the “Xbox One S Controller.” You can tell them apart because the updated version molds the Xbox button area into the plastic of the primary shell, while the old version has a separate glossy section that molds into the shoulder buttons. Like this:

If you have the controller on the left, you’re good to go. Note that both designs come in a variety of colors and patterns.

You’ll also need a Steam Link with an active network connection to your local PC and the Internet, and a microUSB cable. You can update your controller’s firmware with Windows 10 or the Xbox One console.

Step One: Update Controller Firmware

First, you’ll need to make sure that your Xbox One controller is running the latest firmware, which enables vibration over Bluetooth. If you’re updating via the PC, you’ll want to make sure you’ve downloaded the official Xbox Accessories app from the Microsoft Windows 10 store.

Launch the app, then plug your Xbox One controller into your PC with a MicroUSB cable. In the main menu of the app, click “More Options.”

Click the text that starts with “Firmware version:” to check for the latest update. The one you see in the screenshot—3.1.1221.0—is the latest at the time of writing; anything later than that should have vibration over Bluetooth enabled.

If your controller’s current firmware is older than the latest update, the app will download and install it over the MicroUSB connection automatically.

If you’re using an Xbox One console to update your controller, turn on the console and connect the controller. Open the main menu by pressing the Xbox button in the center of the controller, and then head to System > Kinect & Devices > Devices & Accessories. Choose the controller you’re planning to use with the Steam Link, and then select Device Info > Firmware Version > Continue. The console will download the latest version of the firmware and install it wirelessly.

Depending on how your Steam Link is configured, the controller firmware might be all you need to enable rumble functionality in PC games that support it. If not, follow the steps below next.

Step Two: Switch To the Modern Xbox Controller Driver on the Steam Link

Now you’ll need to switch to your Steam Link and enable the latest driver for your controller. Turn on the device and connect your controller if you haven’t already, but don’t connect to your PC yet. Go into the main Steam Link settings menu, and then select Settings > System.

On the latest versions of the Steam Link software, you should see an option to “Switch to Modern Xbox Controller Driver.” Select it. The menu will prompt you to restart the Steam Link device, so go ahead and do that. (If you don’t see this option, select “Check for updates” to update the main Steam Link OS, and then repeat Step Two when the update is done.)

When your Steam Link is successfully rebooted and your Xbox One controller is connected to it, connect to your gaming PC and enter Steam’s Big Picture Mode.

Step Three: Configure Your Games

With both your controller and your Steam Link updated, it’s time to configure individual games to enable the vibration function. In Big Picture mode, select any game that features native controller support.

In the game’s Steam Big Picture menu, select Manage Game > Controller Options.

In the “Use Steam Configuration for Non-Steam Controllers” dropdown menu, choose the “Global Setting (Xbox/Switch)” function. In the “[Experimental] Rumble Emulation” dropdown, choose the “On” setting.

Most games should have these settings enabled by default, and you won’t need to change them, but remember where these settings are in case your vibration feedback goes away. You also can change the rumble emulation frequency setting for more or less intense vibration.

Now start up your game and test out the function! You should get vibration feedback in more or less exactly the same game scenarios through the Steam Link as you do when playing with a controller connected directly to your PC.

If you’re not feeling any vibration, go through the steps above again and make sure everything is properly configured. Keep in mind that if your controller batteries are low, you might not have enough power left for the vibration motors to engage. Recharge or swap in a fresh battery and try again.

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.