The PC is an incredibly diverse platform for modern games. Ports of titles from every genre, console, and era of gaming can be found on the PC. Many games were designed for a gamepad, however, so you’ll need one for the best gaming experience. Gamers who just want to stick to PC-only titles should read our round-up of the best gaming keyboards. But if you’re looking for a game controller to play Forza Horizon 4, read on.
The 8bitdo SN30 Pro 2(available at Amazon) is the best PC game controller you can buy in 2021. It perfectly matches a retro gaming aesthetic with a modern gamepad design. The result is a comfortable, light controller that looks great and feels durable. It’s compatible with PC and Switch, can be used wired or over Bluetooth, and has a built-in battery.
These are the best PC game controllers we tested, ranked:
8bitdo SN30 Pro 2
PowerA Spectra Enhanced
Microsoft Xbox Wireless Controller (2020)
PlayStation Dualshock 4
8bitdo SN30 Pro
Amazon Luna controller
Nintendo Switch Pro
Steelseries Stratus Duo
Google Stadia controller
Logitech Gamepad F310
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The 8bitdo SN30 Pro 2 is a contender for the title of the best gamepad, ever, so it easily tops the list of best PC game controllers. It’s attractive, comfortable, and delivers must-have features without inflating the price.
We love this controller’s size and layout. The SN30 Pro 2 has a classic, comfortable design that fits well in most hands. It’s also a relatively light controller at 228 grams, which reduces strain during long play sessions. The controller’s symmetrical design places a responsive, large D-Pad above twin joysticks. This makes it a jack-of-all-trades well suited to all genres. You can use this controller to play Sonic the Hedgehog or Doom Eternal with equal ease.
The SN30 Pro 2 has all the features you’d expect of a high-end PC game controller. It has a built-in rechargeable battery with up to 20 hours of battery life, supports wired USB-C or wireless Bluetooth connections, includes rumble support, and has two back paddle buttons. You can customize the controller’s layout using 8bitdo’s software and save three profiles to the controller itself.
Compatibility is excellent. The controller officially supports Windows, macOS, Android, Raspberry Pi, and Nintendo Switch.
The best bit? All these perks come at a reasonable price. The SN30 Pro 2 is less expensive than any official console controller and only slightly more expensive than our budget pick. It’s a versatile, affordable choice that won’t let you down.
Editor’s note: We evaluated the 8bitdo SN30 Pro Plus, the model prior to the SN30 Pro 2. The SN30 Pro Plus lacks the back paddle buttons found on the SN30 Pro 2.
PowerA’s Spectra Enhanced is a shockingly good Xbox Wireless Controller clone sold at a very affordable price. It doesn’t support wireless connections, instead of connecting over USB-A, but can go toe-to-toe with the other gamepads on this list.
The PowerA Spectra flatters the Xbox One gamepad by cloning its look and layout. The only giveaway is the Spectra backlighting, which adds a bit of flair. Like the Xbox controller it emulates, the Spectra has an offset joystick layout with D-Pad located below the left joystick. The Spectra does a good job of emulating the button and joystick feel of the Xbox One gamepad and feels great, though the triggers are slightly less robust.
The PowerA Spectra Enhanced is officially licensed to work with Xbox One and Series X/S consoles. Windows technically is not on the list of official support, but the controller was detected as an Xbox gamepad in our testing. The Spectra gains several features you won’t find on a standard Xbox gamepad including two back paddle buttons and adjustable trigger stops that let you change how far the triggers travel.
Gamers looking for a budget gamepad can’t go wrong with the PowerA Spectra Enhanced. It’s as robust as the official Xbox gamepad and throws in a couple of extra buttons as a bonus.
I’m 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 at Reviewed, IEEE Spectrum, Wired, PCWorld, Lifewire, IGN, Business Insider, PCMag, Consumer’s Digest, MakeUseOf, The Escapist, and other publications. I was Lead Editor of Reviews at Digital Trends in 2020, where I worked as an editor since 2014. I’ve reviewed and tested thousands of laptops, keyboards, mice, game controllers, and monitors.
We tested PC game controllers in the usual way: by playing games on them. Every game controller considered for this list was tested first-hand with a custom desktop PC over wired and wireless connections (if supported).
The games we used for testing included several keystone titles that we returned to with every gamepad: Final Fantasy XIV, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Control, and an emulated version of Super Mario World. They represent a wide variety of genres and control schemes.
What We Look for in PC Gaming Controller Layouts
Modern PC game controllers come in two basic layouts: asymmetrical and symmetrical.
An asymmetrical layout, like the Xbox Wireless Controller, places the left joystick above the D-Pad while the right joystick is 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 easier to access.
The symmetrical layout, championed by Playstation, places the joysticks beside each other and pushes the D-Pad up. The D-Pad is harder to access when using the joysticks for movement, but the joysticks are easy to ignore when playing a game that uses the D-Pad for movement.
We give slight preference to symmetrical layouts when testing PC game controllers. We feel a symmetrical layout is more versatile than an asymmetrical layout. This is because symmetrical layouts are generally preferable 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 because the platform has access to a wider range of games and genres than a console.
Your mileage may vary, however. Players only interested in modern 3D titles and console ports may lean towards an asymmetric layout.
Wired vs. Wireless
Most modern gamepads support both wired and wireless connections. The wireless connection is typically enabled through Bluetooth, though there are notable exceptions. Microsoft offers a proprietary wireless dongle for the Xbox controller and cloud gaming controllers, like the Google Stadia and Amazon Luna controller, which use Wi-Fi when connected to their respective services.
Wired connections remain the easy option. Wired controllers are reliably detected by Windows and require no additional setup to use. There’s no need to worry about latency or drop-outs caused by interference from other devices.
Most controllers support a Bluetooth connection that should, in theory, be automatically detected by Windows. This didn’t always prove true in our testing. Wireless can also fall victim to interference from other devices.
Most PC game controllers support a wireless connection but also work over USB, providing a backup if wireless goes awry. You do pay a slight premium for wireless, however. The PowerA Spectra Enhanced, our value pick, is a wired controller that undercuts wireless competitors without compromising quality or layout.
Cloud Controllers have Real Problems
The Google Stadia controller and Amazon Luna controller were included in our testing. Each has a solid, though generic, layout that doesn’t offend. That doesn’t mean they’re a great choice, however.
Amazon’s Luna controller can connect to a PC wirelessly over Bluetooth. This lets it function as a generic PC gamepad. We encountered connectivity problems over Bluetooth, however, so we had to revert to a wired connection.
The Google Stadia controller is technically wireless but only supports Wi-Fi and can’t be used wirelessly outside the Google Stadia platform. This contributed to its low ranking in our tests. The Stadia controller isn’t a great choice unless you intend to play Stadia exclusively.
Both cloud gaming controllers were among the most expensive we tested. That makes them hard to recommend over the less expensive, easier to use, and more broadly compatible PC game controllers that top our list.
Rechargeable vs. Disposable Batteries
A majority of 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 batteries are superior. Disposable AA batteries are inexpensive, but the cost of replacing batteries will add up over time. The more you game, the more you’ll spend on replacements. You’ll eventually spend as much on disposable batteries as you did on the controller itself.
A rechargeable battery is lighter than disposable batteries and allows for a more compact design on the rear of 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 can be used with rechargeable AA batteries. This is an extra cost, however, and undercuts the value of controllers that use disposable batteries.
Other PC Gaming Controllers We Tested
Microsoft Xbox Wireless Controller (2020)
No PC game controller is easier to use than the Xbox Wireless Controller. Microsoft, which owns both Windows and Xbox, brought Xbox gamepad compatibility into Windows during the Xbox 360 era. This effectively made the Xbox controller the default choice for PC gaming.
The Xbox Wireless Controller is reliably detected by Windows over both wired and wireless connections. Once detected, Windows automatically finishes setup using built-in drivers. This takes mere seconds. Most games assume the Xbox controller as the default and display button prompts that mirror the Xbox gamepad’s layout. It helps that the Xbox Wireless Controller is a solid, well-built gamepad with an asymmetrical layout well suited to 3D titles.
These strengths are offset by a couple of problems. The Xbox Wireless Controller doesn’t have a built-in rechargeable battery, so you’ll have to buy disposable AA batteries or purchase a rechargeable battery pack (the official battery is $25). The controller can connect wireless over Bluetooth but works best with the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows, another $25 expense.
Despite this, PC gamers who want a gamepad that just works in every game should consider the Xbox Wireless Controller. The Xbox Wireless Controller can also be used with MacOS, Xbox consoles, Android, and iOS.
Sony’s Dualshock 4 is a solid PC game controller. It’s not as easy to use as Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless Controller and is a tad pricey, but makes up for this with a built-in battery and versatile layout.
The Dualshock 4 is a small, light controller with a symmetrical layout. This makes it easy to use in a wide variety of 3D and 2D games. The 8bitdo SN30 Pro 2 is better for 2D games by a hair, but the Dualshock 4 is a good alternative. The Dualshock 4 has a built-in rechargeable battery and relies on Bluetooth for wireless.
You may find the Dualshock 4 difficult to use with some games. Steam has official Dualshock 4 support and some games will detect the controller, but Windows does not. You will need to install a third-party program like DS4Windows to ensure the controller works properly in all games. DS4Windows is easy to install, but this extra hurdle will put off gamers who want simplicity.
Gamers can use the Dualshock 4’s touchpad to control the mouse. This has limited appeal but can be helpful if you want to use a controller with a game that doesn’t have built-in controller support.
The Dualshock 4 is relatively expensive at $64.99. The Dualshock 4 can be used with Windows, MacOS, Sony’s PlayStation 4 console, Android, and iOS.
Sony’s Dualsense is a new spin on the Dualshock 4 for the Playstation5, but it remains a solid choice for PC gaming thanks to its features and board platform compatibility. However, it’s more expensive than the Dualshock 4 and among the most expensive PC game controllers we tested.
The Dualsense is a larger, heavier controller than the Dualshock 4. It feels more similar to the Xbox Wireless Controller when picked up. This provides a sense of quality and luxury. However, it retains a familiar symmetrical layout that works well with both 3D and 2D titles. The Dualsense has a built-in rechargeable battery and relies on Bluetooth for wireless gaming.
Like the Dualshock 4, the Dualsense may be difficult to use with some games. Steam has official Dualsense support but Windows does not. You will need a third-party program like DS4Windows to enable the controller in all games. DS4Windows is easy to use but this hurdle won’t appeal to everyone.
Gamers can use the Dualsense touchpad to control the mouse. The touchpad is larger on the Dualsense than on the Dualshock 4, which makes it more comfortable to use.
The Dualsense controller ties the Google Stadia and Amazon Luna controllers for the most expensive we tested. The Dualsense can be used with Windows, MacOS, Sony’s PlayStation 5 console, Android, and iOS.
The 8bitdo SN30 Pro is similar to the SN30 Pro 2 but targets a different audience. It mimics the look and feel of a Super Nintendo gamepad while retaining features required for new titles, such as triggers. It’s ideal for retro games but lackluster for modern 3D titles.
8bitdo uses a symmetrical layout for the SN30 Pro, but the gamepad lacks the grips that extend from the bottom of most modern controllers. This forces your hands towards the gamepad’s D-Pad and primary buttons and away from the joysticks. The joysticks remain for use in 3D games, but the D-Pad is the center of attention. It’s a less comfortable gamepad in most cases, but some gamers will prefer it for 2D platformers and retro games.
The 8bitdo SN30 Pro has a built-in rechargeable battery and can connect wirelessly over Bluetooth. It works well with Windows games by default and 8bitdo’s software can be used to customize the controller. This gamepad also supports the Nintendo Switch, Android, macOS, iOS, and Raspberry Pi.
Shaving the grips off the SN30 Pro saves you a few bucks, making it the third most affordable controller on this list. The SN30 Pro 2 is worth its slightly higher price in most titles but retro games should feel free to pocket the savings.
Amazon’s Luna controller is a decent controller designed primarily for Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service. It’s well designed and comfortable to use, but we encountered problems in our testing.
The Luna controller has a generic asymmetrical layout similar to the Xbox Wireless Controller. This makes the controller ideal for 3D games, though the overall feel and build quality is slightly inferior to the Xbox alternative. The center of the Luna controller has several additional buttons, like an Alexa button, though they’re not useful outside of Amazon’s Luna service. Bluetooth is used for wireless gaming and the controller relies on disposable AA batteries.
Amazon’s Luna controller worked in Windows games when connected over USB-C. A Bluetooth connection was possible and Windows identified the controller once we installed Amazon’s Luna drivers for Windows, but the controller frequently lost connection. We weren’t able to resolve this issue.
The Luna’s high price is difficult to justify given its features and unreliable Bluetooth connection. It ties the Dualsense, Switch Pro, and Stadia controllers for the most expensive on our list. The Luna controller is comfortable but doesn’t make sense unless you plan to use Amazon’s Luna service or use a wired connection on your PC.
The SteelSeries Stratus Duo is a unique controller that targets multi-platform gamers. It’s a reasonable choice if you want one controller to use on both PC and mobile, but it’s not the most enjoyable controller to use with most games.
Steelseries uses a symmetrical layout that’s most similar to the Playstation 5’s Dualsense controller. The layout is fine but could be improved. We weren’t impressed by the D-Pad’s action and felt the controller’s trigger action was slightly subpar. The face buttons are slightly recessed and can be difficult to activate quickly.
The controller is the only one we tested to include a physical power toggle. This is useful when packing the controller in a bag as it prevents the built-in battery from discharging over time due to accidental activation. This controller supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections with the latter enabled by a USB dongle. Windows detected the controller without issue over both wired and wireless connections.
The Steelseries Stratus Duo’s price is mid-pack, but it’s not a great value for PC gamers. Some of the controller’s unique features, like the power toggle, target mobile gamers. You can use the Stratus Duo with Windows and Android. It advertises support for Oculus Rift, Go, and Samsung Gear VR, but virtual reality was not included in our testing.
Wireless supported over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi dongle
The Nintendo Switch Pro controller is not a good choice for PC gaming. It’s among the most expensive controllers and may require third-party utilities to work with your favorite games.
Nintendo’s Switch Pro controller goes for an asymmetrical layout that looks and feels similar to the Xbox Wireless Controller. This is a bit surprising given the Switch’s wide variety of 2D titles but provides a solid experience in 3D games. While generally solid, the Switch Pro controller’s triggers have limited travel and aren’t ideal for racing games. The Switch Pro controller has a built-in rechargeable battery and uses Bluetooth for wireless connectivity.
The Switch Pro is supported by Steam and will work with Steam games. Windows also detects the controller but, in our testing, it didn’t work by default. This can be solved by third-party software like x360ce, which emulates the Xbox 360 controller, but many gamers will find this difficult. 8bitdo’s Wireless Bluetooth Adapter is another possible solution.
The Nintendo Switch Pro controller is expensive. The controller lacks extra features that justify this price and isn’t as easy to use as the Xbox Wireless Controller. The Switch Pro doesn’t officially support any device aside from the Nintendo Switch.
Google’s Stadia controller is not a good choice for PC gaming. It’s a fine generic gamepad but isn’t designed to play nice outside of Google’s Stadia service. This makes it pointless for most players.
The Google Stadia controller has a symmetrical layout that feels unique. Google’s design looks and feels similar to the Nintendo Switch Pro controller, but the layout has more in common with the Dualshock 4. Google tacks on a total of five face buttons between the D-Pad and primary buttons, the most of any controller we tested. Unfortunately, these buttons are dedicated to Stadia platform features.
This controller is wireless but only supports a Wi-Fi connection when used with Google Stadia. It otherwise works as a wired controller. This is a significant knock against the controller on the PC and compatible mobile platforms including Android and iOS. The Stadia controller is only wireless if used to play Stadia on a PC or Chromecast. A rechargeable battery is built-in but feels pointless since you’ll often use a wired connection.
If all of the above hasn’t turned you off the Google Stadia controller, the price will. This is among the most expensive PC game controllers on the market. We can’t even recommend the controller for use with Stadia on a PC, as Stadia’s PC client (accessed through Google Chrome) supports the Xbox Wireless Controller, Dualshock 4, and Switch Pro controller.
The Logitech F310 is an outdated gamepad and a poor choice for the majority of modern PC gaming.
Released in 2010, the F310 feels like a relic from a bygone age of terrible PC gamepads. It has a symmetrical layout but doesn’t attempt to emulate the sleek, compact Dualshock 4. Instead, Logitech opts for a bloated and bulbous layout that includes a mushy D-Pad and the most heavily sprung trigger buttons ever made. You might find the layout comfortable if you’re a professional NBA player, but it’s far too large for most people.
The Logitech F310 is a wired controller. It worked with Windows in our testing, though some user reviews claim that it does not work with their Windows 10 machine. It doesn’t support macOS, game consoles, or mobile devices.
This game controller is by far the least expensive we tested, but it’s not a good value. It’s not comfortable to use in many games and lacks modern conveniences like wireless connectivity. We think you’ll eventually give up and buy a better PC game controller, sending the Logitech F310 (and the money you spent on it) to the bin.
Matthew S. Smith is a veteran tech journalist and general-purpose PC hardware nerd. Formerly the Lead Editor of Reviews at Digital Trends, he has over a decade of experience covering PC hardware. Matt often flies the virtual skies in Microsoft Flight Simulator and is on a quest to grow the perfect heirloom tomato.
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