Best PC controller – the top gamepads for PC in 2021

We’ve tested the top PC controllers to help you choose the right pad for your gaming PC

Best PC controller

Whether you’re wanting to tear up the mud and asphalt in the new Dirt 5, stroll through the forestry in the best RPG games, soar above your local city in Microsoft Flight Simulator, or you just prefer using a pad over mouse and keyboard, owning one of the best PC controllers is the way to ensure the perfect gaming experience. From flight control replicas to your basic analogue joystick controllers, the best gamepads for PC have a lot to offer across many game genres.

Yes, whether it’s a great wired or wireless pad, an official or third-party device, having a well-built, comfortable controller can really make the difference to your game. So it’s important you make the right choice.

We’ve checked out the official Microsoft Xbox and Elite pads, as well as the excellent new Sony DualSense PS5 controller. But the likes of Nacon and Razer are all making decent alternatives if you’re looking for a flashier design or just want a host of different buttons at your disposal. But the biggest gamepad decision is about whether you favour the Xbox’s offset thumbstick design or the symmetrical PlayStation layout. For our money, the offset design gives you the best balance between control and easy access to the buttons, making the Xbox controller the best PC game controller you can buy.

There are specific controllers for other game genres, too. A flight or space-based sim really demands the best joystick for PC, especially one with a separate throttle for those dogfights. If you’re a dedicated racer, then a steering wheel with good force-feedback can shave valuable seconds off your in-game lap times, and may even save your life… No, really. Anything can be a controller if you truly put your mind to it, like playing Minecraft with a Bop It toy, but these are the best controllers for PC without any faff:

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Microsoft Xbox Wireless controller

The best controller for PC is the Microsoft Xbox Wireless.

The Xbox Wireless Controller is Microsoft’s latest attempt to perfect the default gamepad that ships with the Xbox Series X and Series S. While it might not look all that different from its predecessors, aside from dropping the console-specific branding from its name, there’s been plenty of changes four iterations on from the original Xbox One edition that make this the go-to gamepad on gaming PCs. Plus, it looks great sitting next to you on the best gaming desk.

The textured grip on the rear has been extended to cover the triggers for extra grip and precision, and there’s now a hybrid domed D-pad which we’ve previously only seen on the high-end Xbox Elite controller. Additionally, the controller shape has been tweaked so this controller fits a wider range of hand shapes and sizes, although these slight adjustments mean some previous attachments might no longer be compatible. As it’s Microsoft, there’s native compatibility with Windows 10 so there’s no fiddling around with drivers – all you need is a Bluetooth or USB-C connection to plug and play.

What we like
Tick Hybrid D-pad
Tick Bluetooth support / plug-and-play
Tick Textured Triggers

Microsoft Wireless Controller specs
Connection Wireless/micro USB
Power 2x AA batteries
Buttons 18
Layout Xbox

Sony DualShock 4 controller

The best thumbstick controller is the Sony Dualshock 4.

PC support for the PlayStation’s DualShock 4 pad is growing. Valve has updated Steam to allow full configuration of the DS4 in the same way you can mess with the Steam controller. That doesn’t, however, mean all Steam games will support it equally.

We still prefer the Xbox pad’s offset layout, and those DS4 trigger buttons are horrible, but the actual analogue sticks themselves are hands down the best around. If only we could get an Xbox pad with the DS4’s sticks. Time to get modding…

The PS5’s DualSense adaptive triggers mark a significant improvement that would be enough to topple the DS4 on our list if it actually worked on PC. We’re seeing Steam implementing native support in its beta client, meaning DS4’s days are numbered, but there could be a long road ahead before we see DualSense’s full potential on the platform.

What we like
Tick Analogue stick supremacy
Tick 3.5mm jack
Tick Bluetooth support

Sony DualShock 4 specs
Connection Wired/wireless
Power Li-ion
Buttons 19
Layout PlayStation
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Nintendo Switch Pro controller

The best alternative PC controller is the Nintendo Switch Pro.

The Nintendo Switch Pro has been made specifically for the diminutive console, but has been given its own Steam profile and can be connected to your gaming PC with either a wireless Bluetooth connection or, if you want to get configured in Steam, via a USB-C cable.

And it’s a quality pad too, feeling solid and reassuringly robust in the hand. The thumbsticks feel good and the buttons satisfying. It’s also got a whopping 40-hour battery life via Bluetooth too. Unfortunately it does suffer for being designed for the Switch because it lacks proper analogue triggers, something that’s important in a growing number of games, and that’s absolutely vital in any racing game that isn’t Mario Kart.

What we like
Tick Fantastic battery life
Tick Incredibly well-built
Tick USB-C and Bluetooth

Nintendo Switch Pro specs
Connection Bluetooth/USB-C
Power Li-ion
Buttons 18
Layout Xbox
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Microsoft Xbox One Elite Series 2

The best high-end controller for PC is the Xbox One Elite Series 2.

I mean, yeah, spending this much on a joypad might seem pretty crazy, but the Elite Series 2 is one seriously beautiful controller. Almost everything about it has been designed to just scream ‘QUALITY!’ in your face. It’s an evolution over the previous version rather than a revolution, but it’s got everything we loved about the original Elite, plus everything the competition has added to their high-end pads to try and compete.

It’s beautifully built, impressively responsive, and ultra-versatile too. But I’m still note sure it’s worth that hefty a price premium over the standard Xbox One controller, which is why the Elite Series 2 isn’t down as our absolute, must-have, best PC gamepad in this test. It’s the pad you might aspire to, especially if you’ve ever had one in your hands, but it’s most definitely a luxury rather than a necessity.

What we like
Tick All the paddles
Tick Built-in battery
Tick High build quality

Microsoft Xbox One Elite Series 2 specs
Connection Wireless/micro USB
Power Li-ion
Buttons 21
Layout Xbox

Read the PCGamesN Microsoft Xbox One Elite Series 2 review for our full verdict and score.

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Nacon Revolution Unlimited

The best hybrid PC controller is the Nacon Revolution Unlimited.

Many companies have tried to match the quality of Microsoft’s Xbox One Elite controller, but very few have managed to nail its mix of serious build quality and ultra customisation. But Nacon’s pad succeeds in both and also manages to mix both the excellent PlayStation thumbsticks and touchpad with the Xbox asymmetrical layout.

The only issue is the software. It refuses to connect unless you’re wired in and some of its wordless iconry is borderline impenetrable. But there are a whole host of customisation options buried in there if you really want to go deep.

What we like
Tick Great build quality
Tick Asymmetrical layout
Tick Excellent thumbsticks

Nacon Revolution Unlimited specs
Connection Wired/wireless
Power Li-Polymer 1300mAh
Buttons 21
Layout Xbox

Read the PCGamesN Nacon Revolution Unlimited review for our full verdict and score.

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Razer Wolverine Ultimate

The best paddle controller for PC is the Razer Wolverine Ultimate.

This Xbox and PC-compatible controller from Razer should be in your sights if you want extra paddles letting you multitask in games without taking your thumbs off the thumbsticks, for example jumping while aiming in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, boasting a pair of customisable paddle switches on the rear along with triggers with a ‘hair-trigger mode’ to reduce their travel distance before actuation. Oh, and RGB backlighting, because it wouldn’t be Razer without some of that. You also get interchangeable thumbsticks and D-pads – with thumbsticks of varying heights, and a domed or individual D-pad.

Although this is the most expensive controller listed here, its clicky face buttons are the gamepad-equivalent of jumping to a mechanical keyboard for the first time. Besides, if you’re using your controller for competitive play, this is the one you’ll want to consider given its customisability. One thing to note – this controller is wired, not wireless, although when playing competitively you’ll be grateful for the reduced input lag.

What we like
Tick Interchangeable thumbsticks and D-pad
Tick RGB!
Tick Customisability

Razer Wolverine Ultimate specs
Connection Wired
Power USB
Buttons 26
Layout Xbox
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Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition Chroma

The best RGB PC controller is the Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition Chroma.

The Cult of Razer has obviously taken one look at the Xbox One Elite controller and said ‘We can do better than that’.

It can’t. It’s added in some extra microswitch buttons to the Wolverine, some adjustable hair-triggers, dropped in a pair of pseudo paddle switches, perfect for FPS games, on the underside of the pad and kept it otherwise very clean. It’s a fantastic pad, but can’t quite hold a candle to the Elite. If you’re looking for RGB, though, the Wolverine is where it’s at.

What we like
Tick Clicky as heck
Tick RGB!
Tick Plenty of added functionality

Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition Chroma specs
Connection Wired
Power USB
Buttons 20
Layout Xbox
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EasySMX Wireless

The best cheap PC controller is the EasySMX Wireless.

The EasySMX Wireless is proof positive you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a well-built PC gaming controller. Sure, it’s losing some of the finesse of the other, more expensive pads, and is more aping the original Xbox 360 controller than the modern Xbox One version, but it’s got a decent battery life and the wireless connection is solid.

It’s also an absolute bargain, even if the triggers maybe don’t feel quite as accomplished as you might want them to be. But it’s still a solid, reliable controller that doesn’t cost the earth, and you can’t really ask a lot more than that. A genuinely great budget controller for playing the best PC games.

What we like
Tick Cheap
Tick Wireless
Tick Solid layout

EasySMX Wireless specs
Connection Wireless 2.4GHz
Power 2x AA batteries
Buttons 17
Layout Xbox
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Thrustmaster Warthog

The best flight stick is the Thrustmaster Warthog.

Thrustmaster’s Warthog flightstick is a replica of the controllers in the classic A-10 Tankbuster, seemingly hewn from the same military-grade materials, and probably only slightly cheaper than a second-hand plane. Yes, the Warthog is frighteningly expensive, but if you’re already looking to pick up one of the best PC flight sticks then you’ve probably got pretty niche tastes – and this is the best way to satisfy them.

The Warthog has been around for a while now, but we’ve still seen no other flightstick come close to the feeling we get when using it. It’s a lot of money, but still manages to feel worth it when you’re hurtling through an asteroid belt, flipping on a pirate, and reducing their ship to tiny bits of melty scrap. That said, we’re still keen to see what Logitech does with the Saitek brand in the future and whether it will offer some serious competition to the Warthog.

What we like
Tick Satisfying clicky switches
Tick Chunky (it’s a good thing)
Tick Fantastic throttle action

Thrustmaster Warthog specs
HOTAS Tick
Programmable buttons 22
Hat switches 4x 8-way, 2x 4-way
Z-axis rotation Cross
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Fanatec Clubsport

The best PC racing wheel is the Fanatec Clubsport.

Sooo, yeah… the Fanatec Clubsport setup is the price of a powerful gaming PC, but it’s also the stuff of gaming peripheral dreams – and it’s all down to just how beautifully designed, created, and finished the Clubsport kit is. If you don’t go for one of the preconfigured bundles you’ll have to create your own, picking and choosing from a very long list of goodies.

The main wheel base is the same across the board, but then you can fit different steering wheels, gearshifts, and pedals to the mix. And they’re all built out of solid lumps of metal and precision-engineered components. The Fanatec system has hands-down the best force feedback system we’ve ever used, even down to feedback from the pedals, too.

What we like
Tick Incredible force feedback
Tick Modular
Tick Precision engineered

Fanatec Clubsport specs
Rotation 900°
Buttons 17
Pedals 3
Adjustable pedals Tick
Product Image 1
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Thrustmaster TMX

The best budget PC racing wheel is the Thrustmaster TMX

Most people aren’t going to blow a four-figure sum on a racing wheel – if you are then bully for you – and a perfect budget option that will still give you a pretty realistic driving experience is Thrustmaster’s TMX wheel. You don’t really want to go for anything cheaper, as here you get force feedback and 900-degree wheel rotation, the same as a real car – compared to some budget wheels which may only have 180-degree rotation.

The TMX uses belt-driven technology as opposed to the inferior gear-driven tech for its force feedback, giving you a smoother, less notchy feel when going through the motions. The brake and throttle pedals are adjustable by angle to suit your seating position, and the brake pedal gets progressively harder as you stamp on it, for a little added realism.

What we like
Tick Great value for money
Tick Full 900-degree rotation
Tick Solid build

Thrustmaster TMX specs
Rotation 900°
Buttons 12
Pedals 2
Adjustable pedals Tick

Best PC controllers comparison

Here’s our handy video guide on all the differences between the best PC controllers.

wired vs wireless controllers

With the latest 2.4GHz wireless connections, latency of wireless pads is almost on par with wired models, and you’d be hard-pressed to notice any difference. As a bonus, it helps you manage cables, too. Battery life is a consideration however, as you might find your controller falling short mid-clutch.

PC controller price list

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$59.99
$54.99
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Product Image 3
$74.99
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Product Image 4
$179.99
$149.99
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Product Image 5
$189.99
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Product Image 6
$159.99
$99.99
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Product Image 7
$120.00
$65.11
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Product Image 8
$32.99
$29.99
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Product Image 9
$759.00
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Product Image 11
$229.99
$199.99
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