PC is an incredibly diverse gaming platform and you can find ports of titles from every genre, console and era of gaming. Many games are designed for a gamepad, so you’ll need one for the best gaming experience The best PC gaming controllers should be able to tackle every genre from fighting games to first-person shooters with ease.
The 8bitdo SN30 Pro+ (Available on Amazon for $49.99) The best PC game controllers you can buy in 2022 It perfectly matches a retro gaming aesthetic with a modern gamepad design The result is a comfortable, lightweight controller that looks great and feels durable. It’s compatible with PC and Switch, can be used wired or via Bluetooth, has a built-in battery and reusable buttons.
These are the best PC game controllers we’ve tested, ranked:
- 8bitdo SN30 Pro+
- Improved PowerA spectra
- Microsoft Xbox Wireless Controller (2020)
- PlayStation DualShock 4
- PlayStation DualSense
- 8bitdo SN30 Pro
- Amazon Luna Controller
- SteelSeries Stratus Duo
Other PC gaming controllers we’ve tested
How We Test PC Gaming Controllers
I am Matthew S. Smith, a technology journalist, reviewer, and geek with fifteen years of experience writing about PC gaming hardware and peripherals. You can find my work in Reviewed, IEEE Spectrum, Wired, PCWorld, Lifewire, IGN, Business Insider, PCMag, Consumer’s Digest, MakeUseOf, The Escapist and other publications. I was the editor-in-chief of Digital Trends Reviews in 2020, where I have worked as an editor since 2014. I’ve reviewed and tested thousands of laptops, keyboards, mice, game controllers and monitors.
How do we test
We test PC game controllers the usual way: by playing games on them. Every controller considered for this list was tested first-hand with a custom desktop PC via wired and wireless connections (if supported).
Among the games we used for testing were several keystone titles that we returned with each gamepad: Final Fantasy XIV, Microsoft Flight Simulator, controland an emulated version of it Super Mario World. They represent a variety of genres and control schemes.
What we look for in a PC gaming controller layout
Modern PC game controllers come in two basic layouts: asymmetrical or symmetrical.
An asymmetrical layout, similar to the Xbox Wireless Controller, places the left joystick above the D-pad while the right joystick sits below the four primary buttons. This asymmetrical design is superior for games that use joysticks for 3D movement. The d-pad is often used to provide additional action buttons in these titles, and this layout makes the d-pad easy to access.
The symmetrical layout, championed by Sony, places the joysticks next to each other and pushes the D-pad up. The d-pad is hard to access when using the joystick for movement, but the joysticks are easy to ignore when playing a game that uses the d-pad for movement.
We slightly prefer symmetrical layouts when testing PC game controllers. We think a symmetrical layout is more versatile than an asymmetrical layout. This is because symmetrical layouts are generally preferred for 2D games that play best with a D-pad but are still great in 3D titles. A versatile controller is useful for PC gaming as the platform has access to a wider range of games and genres than consoles.
However, your mileage may vary. Players only interested in modern 3D titles and console ports may lean towards an asymmetrical format.
Wired vs Wireless
Most modern gamepads support both wired and wireless connections. Wireless connectivity is usually enabled via Bluetooth or a USB dongle via 2.4 GHz. Microsoft offers a proprietary wireless dongle for Xbox controllers, and cloud gaming controllers, such as the Google Stadia and Amazon Luna controllers, use Wi-Fi when connected to their respective services.
Wired connections remain the simpler option. Wired controllers are reliably detected by Windows and require no additional setup to use. No need to worry about latency or drop-out due to interference from other devices.
Most controllers support a Bluetooth connection which, in theory, should be automatically detected by Windows. This did not always prove true in our tests. Wireless may be subject to interference from other devices.
Most PC game controllers support a wireless connection but also work over USB, providing a backup if the wireless goes bad. But you pay a small premium for wireless. The PowerA Spectra Enhanced, our standard pick, is a wired controller that undercuts wireless competitors without compromising quality or format.
Cloud controllers have real problems
The Google Stadia controller and Amazon Luna controller were included in our tests. Each has a solid, albeit generic, layout that doesn’t offend. That doesn’t mean they’re a great choice.
Amazon’s Luna controller can connect wirelessly to a PC via Bluetooth. This allows it to function as a generic PC gamepad. We encountered connectivity issues via Bluetooth, so we had to revert to a wired connection.
The Google Stadia controller is technically wireless but only supports Wi-Fi and cannot be used wirelessly outside of the Google Stadia platform. This contributed to its low ranking in our tests and its exclusion from this list. The Stadia controller isn’t a good choice unless you just want to play Stadia.
Both Cloud Gaming controllers were the most expensive we tested. This makes it hard to recommend them for the less expensive, easier to use and more widely compatible PC game controllers at the top of our list. We recommend staying away from both.
Rechargeable vs. Disposable Batteries
Most wireless controllers use a built-in rechargeable battery. However, Microsoft’s Xbox controller and Amazon’s Luna controller use disposable AA batteries.
Built-in rechargeable battery is superior. Disposable AA batteries are cheaper, but battery replacement costs add up over time. A long gaming session can easily eat up a pair of non-rechargeable batteries. You’ll end up spending as much on the disposable battery as you did on the controller itself.
A rechargeable battery is lighter than a disposable battery and allows for a more compact design behind the controller. This makes a controller with a rechargeable battery more comfortable to use.
Controllers that use disposable AA batteries can be upgraded with a rechargeable battery pack or used with rechargeable AA batteries. However, this is an additional cost and lowers the value of controllers that use disposable batteries.