PC gaming isn’t just about using a mouse and keyboard: It’s about choice. Some games are just better with a controller in your hands, especially with so many console games launching on PC. But not all controllers are equal.
Using a console-style controller with your PC used to be a complicated ordeal. For the longest time, the PC controller was some kind of alien artifact you bought in your local game store. It might have resembled a Playstation or Xbox controller, but it didn’t look or feel right.
Thankfully, PC gaming is much more controller-friendly these days. Now you can plug any modern controller into your computer via USB and it will likely work instantly. With so many options available though, which controller is right for you?
There are a few factors to consider when thinking about buying a PC controller. First and foremost, what are you planning to play? Some games just aren’t suited to a mouse and keyboard. While they are perfect for first-person shooters or real-time strategy games, they’re less ideal for action-adventure or fighting games. Sometimes the keys just can’t give you what an analog stick can, and that’s where controllers come in handy.
That said, there are many options to choose from when buying a controller. There are all kinds of price points and a range of features, as well as game-specific controllers such as arcade sticks for fighting games or HOTAS for flight simulators. Whatever genre you’re playing, there is a perfect controller for you.
So, if you’re a PC player who has yet to invest in a controller, below are some options for various games, styles, and prices!
Best PC Controller Overall: Xbox Wireless Controller
- ✓ Widely available
- ✓ Reliable
- ✓ Easy to use
- ✗ Official controllers are not cheap
- ✗ Lacking extra features
Xbox has been the gold standard of controller design for years now. The Xbox 360 controller was considered the only choice for PC gaming in its day, and that legacy has been passed down through two console generations to its current iteration. The core of the Xbox 360 design is still there, but it has been refined and tweaked into the best controller readily available on the market today.
The modern Xbox Wireless Controller is light, durable, and well-made, being ergonomic and with grips built into the design. The controller can be connected wirelessly via Bluetooth or with a USB wireless adapter, although this isn’t required—you can also simply plug it in with a USB-C cable and get to gaming.
Unfortunately, first-party controllers are not the cheapest. The Xbox Wireless Controller is $60—cheaper than the Sony DualSense, but still more expensive than most third-party options on the market. That said, they are high-quality controllers and good value for the cost.
Xbox Wireless Controller
A modern classic, the Xbox controller is practical, easy to use and reliable, making it perfect for most PC gamers.
Best Budget PC Controller: PowerA Spectra
- ✓ Wide range of options
- ✓ Compatible with PC and multiple consoles
- ✓ Very affordable
- ✗ Reliability is an issue
- ✗ Analog sticks are liable to drift
Is the PowerA Spectra an Xbox controller in all ways but the name? Pretty much. It’s not completely identical to Xbox’s offering, it’s certainly a cheaper version of it.
If you’ve ever used an Xbox-styled, third-party controller you’ll know they never feel quite right. Just not quite the same as the official controller, even though PowerA’s controller works pretty well. Is that a huge deal? That depends on what you’re looking for.
Typically, value is associated with use. The reason we recommend the more expensive Xbox controller as the best overall is that for extended use, it’s great value for money. If you don’t see yourself using a controller much for your PC gaming, but want to have one for those rare times you need one, it’s worth considering the Spectra instead. The controller is wired, so there’s no extra fuss about finding a spare wire or setting up a wireless connection.
Basically, the PowerA Spectra is cheap and convenient. It’s a great option for someone who just needs a controller handy for occasional use, or as a backup controller.
The PowerA Spectra is a great option on a cheaper budget that does the job and does it well.
Best Premium PC Controller: Xbox Elite Series 2
- ✓ Best version of the best controller
- ✓ Very customizable
- ✓ Excellent grips
- ✗ Premium price
- ✗ Overkill for only occasional use
The Xbox Elite Series 2 is the gold standard of controllers. But like gold, it doesn’t come cheap.
The build quality is superb, it has sleek and satisfying back paddles, the analog sticks and directional pad are swappable, and the buttons are easily remapped both on Xbox and PC. All of this is for less than what many of the third-party alternatives would ask for something similar, as well.
But when we say premium, we mean premium. These controllers are nearly $200, a big step up in price from the $60 you pay for the normal Xbox controller. An Elite S2 is a big financial commitment, and a hard one to justify.
The original Elite controller was also great, apart from an issue where the grips started to peel off after extended use. Thankfully, this revised version has the grips integrated into the body so that peeling should no longer be a problem.
The Elite Series 2 of the controller is a refinement of an excellent formula, as near perfection as is available today. If you’re looking to splash out and you want the best controller for your money, this is the best choice for you.
Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller
As well-designed and feature-rich as a controller gets, the Elite Series 2 is the pinnacle of gaming with a controller.
Best Wired PC Controller: Razer Wolverine Ultimate
- ✓ Similar features to Elite 2
- ✓ Even more buttons
- ✓ Fancy RGB lighting
- ✗ Clicky buttons can be distracting
- ✗ Wired connection only
There are plenty of reasons to prefer to keep your controllers wired. Even though wireless has become the standard with consoles, running a wireless controller on a PC can be a hassle.
Luckily, there is a high-quality option that not only includes those who prefer a wired controller, it caters to them specifically. We are talking about the Razer Wolverine series of controllers, or more specifically the Razer Wolverine Ultimate.
Razer is no stranger to the controller market. Few of their releases are as popular as the Wolverine though, an Xbox controller of Razer’s own design. While being unusually designed for wired use only, it boasts many of the features found on the Xbox Elite controllers. It has extra buttons, remappable controls, swappable sticks, and a d-pad. In fact, the Wolverine has two more buttons than the Elite, with two extra shoulder buttons.
The face buttons have a distinct clicky feel and sound, not unlike the clicking of a mouse. Further similarities to other Razer products include the absolutely extra RGB light strip across the top of the controller. It’s not a proper Razer product unless it lights up!
In many ways, the Wolverine is the Xbox Elite controller for the PC die-hard. Although this controller is also compatible with the Xbox, this is a PC peripheral through and through.
At a cheaper price than the Elite Series 2, this controller is a top contender. Its layout and design are different than the Series 2, though, so it would be worth looking into should you be tempted to grab this more affordable alternative.
Razer Wolverine Ultimate
The PC player's controller, The Wolverine Ultimate is a Razer product through and through. It rivals the Elite Series 2 in function, with a style of its own.
Best PC Controller for Retro Gaming: 8bitdo SN30 Pro+
- ✓ Classic style
- ✓ Modern features
- ✓ Versatile usability
- ✗ No additional features
These days, PC gaming is pretty much all-encompassing. There are few things you can’t do on the platform, and many people play all kinds of classic retro games that were meant for PC. In fact, It is likely that the vast majority of people playing retro games these days do so using a PC or a Raspberry Pi.
The SN30 Pro+ from 8bitdo is the PC retro gamer’s dream controller. This was designed to bring modern features and sensibilities to a classic design. Based on the Super Nintendo controller, the SN30 Pro+ takes that familiar shape and adds modern features (like analog sticks and ergonomic grips) to make it useable with whatever game you’d like to play.
8bitdo knows how to make a controller with all the functionality you would want, and ground it in nostalgia. This controller is an absolute must-buy for retro fans.
8Bitdo Sn30 Pro+
The SN30+ Pro controller is an absolute must-buy for retro fans, being an affordable, nostalgia driven controller.
Best PC Controller for Flight Simulators: Logitech G Saitek X52 Pro
- ✓ Feature-rich
- ✓ Good price
- ✗ Reliability can be an issue
With the popularity of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator came a wave of interest in flight controllers, better known as HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick). These are the aircraft simulator equivalent of a driving wheel.
There are quite a few options in this space, with a pretty huge range in price. For our choice, we tried to balance price with quality, and we landed on the Logitech G Saitek X52 Pro.
The X52 Pro comes as two separated units—since the stick and the throttle are not attached, so placing them on your desk should be a lot easier than the competition. The X52 Pro is also well suited for VR, as unlike the newer X56 this model has all of its buttons on the controls themselves. Knowing where your buttons are and what they do is vital for VR, so if that’s your aim, this is the flight stick to get.
Outside of VR, one of the useful features of this HOTAS is the LCD display on the throttle. This handy little screen can display things like date and time, it can also show your current profile so you know what your button set up is.
If at any time you are unsure what a button does, holding the small button on the back of the throttle and pressing any other button will have the LCD screen display what that button does.
The control stick has plenty of useful features too. It does all of the expected things like roll and yaw, it can even rotate for pitch if you want it to. The X52 Pro has several buttons on it for plenty of functions, including a dual trigger and a pinky trigger with adjustable height to accommodate different hand sizes.
Best of all, it has a button front and center on the stick with a little flap covering it. There is nothing better than a bit of stylish flair.
Logitech G Saitek X52 Pro
A sturdy and classic design, this well-featured HOTAS is ideal for new flight sim fans and returning enthusiasts.
Best PC Fight Stick: Qanba Obsidian
- ✓ Great stick and buttons
- ✓ Very solid build quality
- ✓ Easily modified
- ✗ Basic visual design
- ✗ Could be too heavy for some
The days where you felt like you needed a fight stick to play fighting games have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean we have to give them up. These days, fight sticks are more of a personal preference than something you need to be taken seriously. If an arcade stick feels like the right input method for you, our recommendation is the Qanba Obsidian.
Fight sticks are premium controllers and often come at a premium price. The Obsidian is not cheap, usually coming in around $200. In the realm of fight sticks, though, that’s about a mid-range price that makes sure the fight stick is still quality. You wouldn’t want to spend under a hundred dollars if you want a decent stick, so let’s talk about why this one is worth the extra cost.
First, the build quality is fantastic. The Obsidian has genuine metal parts, where many fight sticks have plastic with metallic paint jobs. The main faceplate and both side sections of the stick are metal. The knob of the joystick itself is also brushed metal, giving the whole package a premium feel.
This also gives the unit a good weight, giving it that crucial stability you want in an arcade stick. The Obsidian isn’t going to move much at all in your lap. As great as it is out of the box, It’s also a fantastic option for those who like to modify their sticks. If you find yourself wanting to change out the Sanwa OBSF-30 buttons that come with the Obsidian, it’s very easy to do.
If you are a fighting game fan looking to invest in your hobby and maybe step up your game, a decent fight stick is what you want. To get a top-quality stick for a reasonable price with the potential for future modifications, check out the Qanba Obsidian.
The Qanba Obsidian is a superbly designed fight stick with excellent hardware and a sleek design.
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