Why You Should Get an Xbox Controller for PC Gaming

The Xbox controller is still the best controller for PC gaming. If you game on a Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC, you should have one. Here’s why we recommend an Xbox controller instead of a PS5 DualSense controller or another third-party option.

Sure, mouse and keyboard are still king, but PCs are all about choice and flexibility. Controllers are the best option for many types of games, including platformers, racing games, and fighting games. There’s a reason many PC games will encourage you to play with a controller. Elden Ring and the popular Dark Souls series were made to be played with a controller, for example.

Modern Controllers Support Bluetooth and USB-C

You can now use basically any modern console controller for PC gaming. We’re recommending the standard Xbox “Core” controller that’s also used with the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S here. But the more expensive higher-end Xbox Elite Wireless Controller also works—if you want a high-end controller experience.

Even Sony and Nintendo controllers work. You can take a PS5’s DualSense controller and connect it to your PC, and you can even connect a Nintendo Switch Pro controller or Joy-Cons to a PC.

Modern controllers from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all use standard Bluetooth to wirelessly connect to your PC. If you prefer a wired connection, these controllers can all use a standard USB-C cable to plug in—aside from the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons, of course, which are wireless controllers unless you snap them onto a Nintendo Switch.

When this article was originally written back in 2014, we recommended wired Xbox 360 or Xbox One controllers because they plugged in via USB. To use an Xbox controller wirelessly with a PC, you needed an “Xbox Wireless Adapter” USB dongle. That’s no longer the case—it’s all Bluetooth.

Because an Xbox controller connects via Bluetooth, you can wirelessly pair it with other devices, too. In addition to Windows 10 and Windows 11 PCs, your Xbox controller can be paired with Android phones, iPhones, iPads, Macs, smart TVs, and any other device that supports Bluetooth controllers.

Why an Xbox Controller for PC Gaming Is the Best

While Sony’s PS5 DualSense controller works surprisingly well with PCs, and you can also pick up other controllers from a wide variety of brands, we still recommend the Xbox controller.

Many PC games are ported from the Xbox. Even games that aren’t ported from the Xbox generally assume you have an Xbox controller if they’re designed for controllers. If you’re using a controller with a PC game, there’s a good chance the on-screen prompts will automatically switch from mouse and keyboard to Xbox controller buttons. When you have a PS5 controller, some games may show DualSense button prompts instead—but not always.

Besides all that, the Xbox Wireless Controller, also sometimes called the “Core” controller or Xbox Wireless Core Controller, is a very well-made piece of hardware. It’s a reasonable price at $59 MSRP, although you can often find it on sale for $49 or perhaps even $39. It offers a variety of colors: Black, White, Red, Blue, and a yellow-green “Volt” color, in addition to other limited-time color schemes.

It doesn’t charge via USB, however—it uses standard AA batteries.


Xbox Core Wireless Controller

Best for PC Gaming

Want a controller for PC gaming? This is the one we recommend. It’s available in a wide variety of colors, so choose your favorite one.

How to Connect an Xbox Controller to a PC

To connect a modern Xbox Wireless Controller to a PC, you can either pair it via Bluetooth or connect it via USB.

On a Windows 10 PC, head to Settings > Devices > Bluetooth & Other Devices. Click “Add Bluetooth or other devices” and select “Bluetooth.”

On a Windows 11 PC, head to  Settings > Bluetooth & Devices. Click the “Add Device” button and select “Bluetooth.”

Xbox Bluetooth controller pairing setup on Windows 11

Now, turn on your Xbox controller and put it in pairing mode. Press the Xbox logo button in the middle of the controller and hold it down for a few seconds, until the button lights up.

Once the light is on, press and hold the “Pairing” button at the top of the controller, between the shoulder buttons, for a few seconds. The Xbox logo will start blinking rapidly, indicating the controller is in pairing mode. You can now release the Pairing button.

Xbox Series Controller Pairing Button
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

The controller will appear as an option in the Bluetooth device list on your PC. Click it, and your controller will be paired.

To use the controller in wired mode, simply connect it to your PC using a USB-C cable. The USB-C port is on the top of the controller, and you can use either a USB-C-to-C cable if your computer has USB Type-C ports, or use a USB-C-to-A cable if your computer has USB Type-A ports.

If you have an older wired Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller, just plug it into your computer using its USB cable.

If you have an older wireless Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller, you will likely need an “Xbox Wireless Adapter” dongle to connect it to your PC.

Related: How to Connect an Xbox Wireless Controller to a PC

How to Update Your Xbox Controller’s Firmware on PC

Download the Xbox Accessories app from the Microsoft Store on your Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC to update your Xbox controller’s firmware and customize its buttons.

You can only configure the controller and update its firmware when it’s connected via a USB-C cable, so the app will ask you to plug your controller in via a cable once you launch it.

XInput vs. DirectInput

On a technical level, Xbox Controllers are different from other controllers because they use the XInput API to send input data to games. This is different from the older DirectInput API that other controllers used. XInput is easier for developers to use (according to Microsoft) and offers support for analog triggers and controller vibration.

While you can connect a PS5 DualSense controller to a PC, it’s worth noting that it uses DirectInput rather than Xinput—and this may cause compatibility issues.

Many games are built with XInput support and an Xbox controller in mind. Some games may not even include DirectInput support at all, so they may not work with other controllers. If they do support DirectInput, you’ll have to configure the controls on your own, while the default controls will be designed by the developer with Xbox controllers in mind. You can use a tool like x360ce to emulate XInput, translating DirectInput controller calls to XInput, but this will require configuration and may not work perfectly.


Related: DirectInput vs. XInput for Game Controllers: What’s the Difference?

How the Xbox Controller Took Over on PC

Many PC games are ported from the Xbox. These games generally come with built-in support for the same controller they use on the Xbox. Plug in a controller, and you’ll usually see the on-screen button prompts change from mouse and keyboard to Xbox controller buttons. Some of the worst ports to PC don’t even include on-screen prompts for keyboard and mouse controllers–they show you Xbox controller buttons on screen whether or not you plug in an Xbox controller. Mouse and keyboard users are left struggling to figure out the appropriate buttons on their own.

This controller support was also advanced through Microsoft’s Games for Windows certification program, introduced back in 2006 and discontinued in 2013, which required native support for Xbox 360 controllers. This allowed people with Xbox 360 consoles to plug their controllers straight into their computer’s USB ports and use them without any configuration.

Today, Xbox controllers have become such a standardized controller that even indie games developed for PC are often designed with it in mind. They weren’t designed for Xbox and aren’t worried about passing Games for Windows certification–they’re just supporting the best, most common PC controller.

They’re are also great for playing classic console games in emulators on your PC. Hook up two or more, and you can play old multiplayer console games. It should be plug-and-play for PC games, but you’ll have to do a bit more work when configuring emulators to work with an Xbox controller.


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