What Joystick Drift Means For PS5 Owners

And how to avoid it

Key Takeaways

  • A breakdown of the DualSense controller on the PS5 revealed that some components could be prone to drifting issues as early as four months after purchase.
  • Joystick drift is an issue that plagues many current consoles, and in some cases is unavoidable.
  • Hardware issues aside, experts say there are things users can do to help lessen the chance they run into this issue with their controller.
Closeup of a Sony PlayStation controller.

PlayStation 5 owners soon could find themselves dealing with annoying joystick drift, less than a year after the new console’s release.

Joystick drift—a defect in which the joystick or analog stick on your controller registers movements that you aren't making—is one of the most annoying problems that a gaming console’s controller can suffer from, often requiring hefty repairs or even a complete replacement.

A recent breakdown of the PS5’s DualSense controller revealed a number of reasons PS5 owners might see joystick drift, especially when playing games that require heavy controller use to move around and power the camera. These issues are something that experts say can’t be avoided, but there are things users can do to help lower their chances of encountering the issue.

"Analog stick drift is fairly ubiquitous among gaming consoles. The PS5 is just the latest to come under fire, though the complaints are severe (and justified) given the console hasn't been out that long," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire in an email. 

Breaking Down the Problem

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a recent gaming console dealing with drifting problems. Users started to notice their Joycons drifting back in 2017 after the release of the Nintendo Switch. The problem escalated over the years, with Nintendo even finding itself facing multiple lawsuits over the issue.

Drifting isn’t necessarily a PlayStation-only issue, but the fact that users could see their DualSense experiencing these problems as early as four months into usage is worrying.

According to the teardown that iFixit did of the controller, the joystick potentiometers—which are the parts used to determine the joystick’s position and movement—only have an operating life of 2 million cycles. 

A parent and child playing PlayStation games together sitting in the living room floor.
mihailomilovanovic / Getty Images

While that number might seem high, it’s important to take into account the various rates at which different games cause cycles within the potentiometers.

iFixit states in its breakdown that playing less stick-intensive games—not Call of Duty or other first-person shooters—results in up to 80 rotations per minute. At this rate you’d surpass that 2-million cycle lifespan in just 209 days if you only played two hours per day.

Of course, this operating life isn’t the only issue that can cause drifting in your DualSense controller, and even if you hit that 2-million cycle operating life, there’s no guarantee that you’d come across any wear and tear to the potentiometers that causes drifting.

Other things like dust and dirt can cause the joystick sensors to pick up incorrectly, thus causing drifting movements when in use.

No More Drifting

"While you might think that controller drift is the end of your expensive controller, you can fix it," Josh Chambers, an editor at HowtoGame told Lifewire via email. "You'd need to go out and purchase a separate joystick as a replacement, open up your controller and swap it out, fixing the device."

Replacing the joystick on the DualSense is a bit of a chore, though, as the designers behind the controller have soldered the pieces together, requiring you to first remove the original solder and then be able to solder it back into place.

The PS5 is just the latest to come under fire, though the complaints are severe (and justified) given the console hasn't been out that long.

It requires a lot of delicacy to pull off, and Chambers warns that users who aren’t comfortable tearing their controller apart will want to look into other options first.

If you haven’t had your DualSense controller that long—and you haven’t been playing many stick-intensive games for long hours every day—then joystick drift could just be caused by dirt, grime, or dust getting caught in the joystick connectors.

Chambers recommends using rubbing alcohol to try to clear out any excess dirt by dripping a small amount into the joystick, then moving the stick around to try to clear out any debris. 

"My recommendation is to clean out the controller as best you can. This will take a small screwdriver and a clean cloth (like the kind you'd use to clean eyeglasses) to gently wipe down the interior of the controller," Freiberger said.

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