The 8 Best PC Controllers of 2021

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The Rundown
"Absolutely stunning in its appearance and in its design."
"The Xbox Elite Wireless controller has premium hand-grips and includes standard, tall, and domed thumbsticks, as well as faceted and standard D-Pads."
"The Xbox Wireless Controller uses Bluetooth for its wireless connection, so you should have an easy time pairing it with a gaming laptop, a tablet, or a desktop if it supports Bluetooth as well."
Best Button Options:
Razer Wolverine Ultimate at Amazon
"The Razer Wolverine has textured grips for a secure hold."
"The Xbox Adaptive Controller is all about customization and accessibility."
Best Customizable:
ASTRO Gaming C40 TR at Amazon
"Comes with a bunch of accessories, including a travel case, extra caps in different heights and concavities."
"If you’re not looking to spend too much, the PowerA Spectra Controller is a good option."
"The Scuf Infinity1 controller takes the Xbox One controller’s design and levels it up."

The best PC controllers can provide a seamless and comfortable gaming experience. Why do you need a PC controller instead of just one of the best gaming mice? A ton of gaming genres benefit greatly from having a controller in hand— many games where you’re playing a single character will feel more natural with a controller. However, if you’re playing simulation games, strategy games, war games, or games that require you to control a large army or a lot of resources, you’ll want to also invest in a good gaming mouse and gaming keyboard, as you’ll be able to better navigate through the game world and menus. Most gamers have a mouse, keyboard, and controller, and they move between them based on which type of game they’re playing.

Connectivity is important with a PC controller. It should have easy button mapping, and you shouldn’t have to worry too much about learning new mapping for different games. Really high-end controllers often let you customize the buttons and sensitivities, making the controller exactly how you like it. Some of the best controllers are dual-purpose too, and they can work on both a console and a PC. This makes the controller a better value. We’ve evaluated a number of PC controllers, and our pick for the best is the Xbox Elite Series 2 because of its customizability and seamless connection to PC. However, if the price is a little steep, we’ve also included our picks for the best PC controllers in other categories like the best budget PC controller and the most reliable.

Best Overall: Microsoft Xbox Elite Series 2

What We Like
  • Customizable

  • Integrates well on PC

  • Wireless and USB-C charging

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

The Xbox Elite Series 2 is the next-gen version of Xbox’s original Elite Series controller, and it’s a gamer’s dream come true, absolutely stunning in its appearance and in its design. It has Bluetooth connectivity unlike its predecessor, as well as a built-in rechargeable battery with up to 40 hours of battery life. You can charge the controller in the included case, using the charging dock, or using the included USB-C cable.

This controller is exceptionally comfortable and the controls are outstanding. Everything feels super tight, lighting fast, and ultra-responsive (including the back paddles). The Elite Series 2 is made for efficiency. Plus, you can basically turn it into a controller tailor-made for you. You get a thumbstick adjustment tool to change the tension to your liking, you can map buttons, as well as make different profiles so you can have different customization options for different games. Hands down, this is the best PC controller on the market right now. The only notable downside is the cost, but for a controller this amazing, it’s worth the investment. You can use the Elite Series 2 with PC or Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X consoles.

“...the original Elite controller has been improved with the second iteration, making it the best first-party controller you can get for XB1 or PC.” -Zach Sweat, Product Tester

Runner Up, Best Overall: Microsoft Xbox Elite Wireless Controller

Xbox One Elite Controller
What We Like
  • Premium design and feel

  • Additional rear paddles and trigger toggles

  • Compatible with PC and Xbox

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

The Original Xbox Elite is still a fabulous controller, even with the improvements made to the new model Elite Series 2. It includes all the usual buttons, sticks, and triggers, but adds onto them with a set of paddles underneath the controller, and toggles for the triggers.

The paddles underneath copy the controls of the ABXY buttons, allowing you to press them without having to take your thumb off the right analog stick. The Hair Trigger Locks will make the triggers depress a shorter distance in use, so when you need to shoot quickly, you’ll be able to.

The Xbox Elite Wireless controller has premium hand-grips and includes standard, tall, and domed thumbsticks, as well as faceted and standard D-Pads. However, some users have indicated that their rubber grips have peeled over time. You can, however, find replacement grips on Amazon. If you expect to travel with the controller, it also comes with a convenient carrying case that can store the controller, paddles, cable, extra thumbsticks, and D-Pad. And, of course, this one works on Xbox One consoles as well as PC. However, for wireless use with a PC, you’ll need a special adapter. In his review, our tester Zach loved the premium design and features, and called it the ultimate device for console or PC.

"When it comes to a premium controller experience, the Elite stands in a world of its own." — Zach Sweat, product tester

Best Plug-and-play: Xbox Wireless Controller (Xbox One S Version)

Xbox Wireless Controller
What We Like
  • Solid and durable

  • Easy to pair with PC

  • Headphone jack

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly too large for smaller hands

If you’re looking for a simple plug-and-play controller for your PC that won’t cost you as much as a high-end controller, look no further than this Xbox One S Wireless Controller. Since it’s designed by Microsoft, it’s not too much of a surprise that it plays nice with gaming PCs that run Windows 10. It’ll also work with Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X consoles.

The Xbox Wireless Controller uses Bluetooth for its wireless connection, so you should have an easy time pairing it with a gaming laptop or a desktop that supports Bluetooth. Of course, you also have the option of connecting the controller to your computer via USB cable. The Xbox Wireless Controller has a simple design, with dual analog sticks, a D-pad, and all of the standard buttons and triggers you’d expect to find on a current-gen controller. Plus, it has a 3.5mm jack, so you can plug headphones directly into the controller. While the standard is white with black accents, Microsoft offers a wide variety of color customization options. Our reviewer Zach called the Xbox One S controller the best wireless controller for anyone not willing to shell out for the Elite.

"The new and improved Xbox One S controller is the optimal choice for Xbox One and PC owners looking to upgrade their old worn out controllers or those that want built-in Bluetooth." — Zach Sweat, product tester

Best Button Options: Razer Wolverine Ultimate

What We Like
  • Premium industrial design

  • Tons of potential button layouts

  • 3.5mm jack for headphones

What We Don't Like
  • High price tag

The Razer Wolverine Ultimate takes design cues from the Xbox One controller, but adds in some of the upgraded features seen in Scuf controllers and the Xbox Elite Wireless controller. The Razer Wolverine also looks great too, with subtle lighting effects you can customize to match RGB lighting on your gaming PC and peripherals. 

In addition to the standard controls, it packs on four paddles to the rear side along with two extra bumpers. This gives you a lot of options for gaming. The main triggers also have trigger stops to make you quicker in shooting games. If you need a lot of button options for PC gaming, then this may be the controller for you. You’ll be able to swap out D-Pads, choose your height and style of your sticks, and adjust the sensitivity and vibration intensity. A 3.5mm jack will let you plug headphones directly into the controller, and the USB cable slides snugly into a slot, so you won’t have to worry about bending the port out of shape, as can happen with some other controllers.

Best Accessibility: Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller

What We Like
  • Totally unique

  • Amazing accessibility options

  • Completely remappable

What We Don't Like
  • Fairly large

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is all about customization and accessibility. The controller features large, user-friendly buttons, and offers a wide range of inputs and jacks, allowing you to connect a plethora of external devices to create an entirely personalized controller. The Adaptive Controller is part of the Xbox family, meaning it is compatible with the Xbox One consoles and Windows 10. It includes features such as Xbox Wireless, Copilot, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity. In addition to the controller’s physical functions, it connects to the Xbox Accessories app and allows you to further tailor your controls with the “button remapping” function. You can even create different profiles to save custom settings for up to three individuals or games.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller was a collaborative effort with The AbleGamers Foundation, Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Warfighter Engaged, and SpecialEffect. Consultations from these community members helped create the controller’s design, functionality, and packaging.

Best Customizable: ASTRO Gaming C40 TR Controller

What We Like
  • Customizable

  • Quality feel

  • Useful accessories

What We Don't Like
  • No Bluetooth (uses 2.4 Ghz)

The Astro C40 is extremely high quality, and you can feel the weight of it when you hold it in your hand. It comes with a bunch of accessories, including a travel case, extra caps in different heights and concavities, a faceplate changing tool, a USB wireless transmitter, and a USB 2.0 cable. When gaming with the Astro C40, everything feels ultra-quick and responsive.

This isn’t the most seamless controller in terms of its connectivity, and it doesn’t have the lengthy battery life or Bluetooth connectivity you get with the Elite Series 2, but it has some features that make it a worthwhile PC controller. It has back paddles, and the customization options are pretty much endless. Using the companion software, you can map buttons, adjust sensitivities, adjust sound settings, and so much more. This controller is designed for PC and PlayStation 4, but you can change the layout from DualShock to Xbox style. If you want to use the Astro C40 controller on PS5, you can play PS4 games on PS5, but you can’t play PS5 games.

Best Budget: PowerA Spectra Controller

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Feels good in the hand

  • Lighting around buttons

What We Don't Like
  • Not wireless

If you’re not looking to spend too much, the PowerA Spectra Controller is a good option. The wired controller easily connects to PC, but it’s made for Xbox One. With a detachable braided USB cable that’s just under 10 feet long, you have plenty of slack when you play your favorite PC titles.

The PowerA Spectra feels good in the hand, with a soft-touch finish and good button feel. It also has mappable buttons on the back you can program in just a few seconds, as there’s a program button right on the back of the controller. This controller looks and feels more expensive than it is. One of our favorite things about it is the edge lighting that surrounds the buttons and trim. The LED lighting, which you can change between seven different colors, makes the controller match a PC with RGB lighting. And, because the lights are actually pretty bright, this also helps you to see the controller’s buttons better in a room with dim lighting.

Most Versatile: Scuf Infinity1

Scuf Infinity1
What We Like
  • Easily and broadly customizable

  • Familiar layout

  • Rear paddle options

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

The Scuf Infinity1 controller takes the Xbox One controller’s design and levels it up, with more customization, color options, and high-quality components. If you like the shape and feel of an Xbox One controller but want something that’s more advanced and far more customizable, you should look at the Scuf Infinity1 controller. 

The Scuf Infinity1 gives you plenty of visual design options, but what really makes this controller special are all the options and performance perks you get with hand grips, thumbsticks, the D-Pad, buttons, paddles, and triggers. You can shorten the trigger travel distance, change out the handgrips, choose your thumbstick height, and cap type. You can also take advantage of the rear paddles so your thumbs don’t have to leave the analog sticks. 

Much of the customization available to the Scuf Inifinity1 is extremely easy to use. You can quickly and easily swap the sticks using the controller’s ring and lock system, or reassign the rear paddles on the fly without jumping into the software. A simple key allows you to adjust the hair triggers quickly to suit your needs from game to game. The battery life is impressive too, with up to 30 hours on a single charge.

Final Verdict

If you're looking for the absolute best PC controller bar none, with the most premium design touches, feel, and build quality, the Xbox Elite Series 2 is the king of the hill. But if you want something more affordable, look no further than the PowerA Spectra or the Xbox One S Wireless Controller.

About Our Trusted Experts

Erika Rawes has been writing professionally for more than a decade, and she’s spent the last five years writing about consumer technology. Erika has reviewed roughly 125 gadgets, including computers, peripherals, A/V equipment, mobile devices, and smart home gadgets. Erika currently writes for Digital Trends and Lifewire.

Mark Thomas Knapp has been a tech journalist since back in 2012, and has lead coverage of a huge variety of topics, including gaming, PCs, breaking news, and more. His byline has appeared in several top tech media publications.

Zach Sweat is an experienced tech writer, editor, and photographer, specializing in video games, consoles, and PC hardware. He's written extensively about a variety of gaming platforms for Lifewire, including the PC.

What to Look for in a PC Controller

Design - Far from just an aesthetic consideration, design is crucial in a very practical way for controllers. How does it fit your hand, how heavy is it, how durable are the materials if you drop it on a hardwood floor? How easy are the buttons, triggers and analog sticks? Design also plays into familiarity; if you have a layout you prefer, you want a PC controller that mirrors it as closely as possible.

Connectivity - How a controller connects to devices, and whether its wired or wireless, can be a make or break feature for a lot of gamers. USB is mandatory for some, while others will want to take advantage of their PCs built in Bluetooth support and live that fully wireless lifestyle.

Customizability - A lot of modern controllers now offer various features to extensively customize them, whether that means remappable buttons, additional paddles, interchangeable D-pads or analog sticks, trigger stops, or a host of other options. Customization is key to making a gamepad feel comfortable and like its truly yours, and also allows you to alter functionality on the fly for different titles (or platforms).

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