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A decade ago the controller was a definitive line separating PC gamers from their console brethren. PC gamers used keyboards, console gamers used controllers Controller Wars: PS3 vs PS4, Xbox 360 vs Xbox One Controller Wars: PS3 vs PS4, Xbox 360 vs Xbox One Let us take a look at how both of these controllers have evolved from their predecessors, and then we will compare them to each other to see which might be the best controller. Read More , and there was very little overlap between the two.

Times have changed, however. Many games are now published with a focus on the console and then ported to PC, and developers usually retain gamepad support in the port. That’s resulted in more PC gamers with controllers and more developers are optimizing for that option. Not everyone has made the leap, however, so here’s what you need to know if you’re still a student of the keyboard.

Choosing Your Weapon

The obvious first step on the path towards embracing a controller is to buy one. There are many options, but several stand out as being better than the rest.

By far the most popular is the Xbox 360 gamepad. This is my personal favorite option, but that’s not the only reason why it’s so common. The real key to its success is Microsoft’s inclusion of support for the 360 controller in Windows, which means developers can use the exact same controls in a PC port that they use for the 360. In many cases a game ported from console to PC will default to the 360 controller’s layout and iconography even if you’re actually trying to use some other gamepad.

360controllerforwindows

A wired 360 controller for Windows typically runs between $30 and $35. You can also use any wireless 360 controller if you purchase the Xbox 360 wireless gaming receiver for Windows, which is $10.

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A popular alternative is the Razer Sabertooth Elite. This third-party controller mimics the look of the 360 controller but throws in six more programmable buttons and an improved directional pad. Another advantage is the controller’s versatility; it can be used with either a Windows PC or Xbox 360.

logitechf710

The third path is to pick up a Logitech controller like the F710, which looks more like the PlayStation 3 controller than the 360’s. To be honest, though, the reasons to take this route are limited, as an Xbox 360 wired controller will be cheaper and easier to use. You should only consider the F710 (or other third-party alternatives) if you have a deep-seated and irrational hatred of the 360 gamepad.

What About The PS3 Controller?

You can use your PS3 controller if your computer has Bluetooth using a program called Better DS3. That is not an option I’d recommend, however, unless you absolutely adore the PS3 controller. Configuring it can be difficult and, because many console-to-PC ports default to a configuration optimized for the 360 pad, you’ll probably have to fiddle with in-game settings.

What About The Xbox One And PS4 Controllers?

Microsoft plans to bake Xbox One Microsoft Xbox One Review And Giveaway Microsoft Xbox One Review And Giveaway The console wars are officially raging, and we've had sufficient time with both of them. That begs the question: how does the Xbox One compare? Read More controller drivers into Windows just as they did with the 360 controller. This is supposed to happen at some point in 2014, and will probably be distributed as a free Windows update.

xboxone-ps4controller

The PlayStation 4 Sony PlayStation 4 Review And Giveaway Sony PlayStation 4 Review And Giveaway Ladies and gentlemen, the next generation of video game consoles is here, with the Sony PlayStation 4! Read More controller can be made to work through the use of a wired or Bluetooth connection and a custom driver which tricks your PC into thinking it’s actually talking to a 360 controller. While many users report that this method works, it may not be flawless, as it’s simply the work of a lone gamer with some programming chops.

You’ve Got Your Controller. Now What?

Once you’ve got your controller you’re going to need some games to use it with. There are many ways to go about your search, but the easiest is to load Steam.

Controller support has become important to Steam ever since Valve developed Big Picture Mode Steam Releases Big Picture & Celebrates With Big Sale [Updates] Steam Releases Big Picture & Celebrates With Big Sale [Updates] Steam wants to be in your living room. To make this happen, the service has officially released a new interface mode known as “Big Picture.” Similar in appearance and function to Windows Media Center, Big... Read More , an interface tuned for use with a controller that replaces the fine, clickable elements of the normal interface with big, fat menus that work with a directional pad.

steambigpicture

When searching games on Steam you’ll see “Full Controller Support” listed in the description of titles designed to be 100% playable without a keyboard. You might also run into games with partial controller support; these are usually playable with the controller, but you may need a keyboard to enter text or navigate certain menus.

There’s also a Controller Friendly zGames section in Big Picture Mode. This category is not visible when viewing the normal Steam storefront, so a lot of people miss it.

Dealing With Games That Lack Controller Support

There are many games that provide support. Popular cross-platform releases almost always have it, which means there is no shortage of titles to choose from. If you’re into indie games, however, your selection will be more limited. The same is true if you try to play titles more than five to eight years old.

xpadder

You can try to solve this issue with Xpadder, a tool that emulates a keyboard and mouse input, thus making it possible to enjoy games that lack controller support with a gamepad. The controls may feel a bit strange, and you may need to experiment before you find a configuration that works, but it’s better than nothing. Xpadder is $9.99 and there is no trial.

Alternatively, you can use JoyToKey, which does essentially the same thing but costs only $7 and does offer a free trial. In my opinion JoyToKey is a bit harder to use than Xpadder because it lacks the useful visual representation of your controller, but both ultimately do the same job.

Conclusion

This is everything you need to know about using a controller with your PC. A little bit more than you need to know, in fact, because all you really have to do is buy a Xbox 360 controller for Windows and plug it in to your computer. Job done. Gamepads only become complex when you decide to use alternatives that lack first-party support for PC compatibility, such as the PS3’s DualShock.

Do you like the 360’s gamepad, or do you prefer to use a different option? Let us know in the comments!

  1. JoePerkins
    January 15, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I use the original one for Super Nintendo, best gamepad ever. You can follow http://www.instructables.com/id/SNES-Teensy-USBPS3-Gamepad/ to build yourself one :D

  2. Riley H
    January 11, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I used a DS3 tool with to plug my PS3 controller into it. While the one I used had a 360 button layout emulator, it had to be messed with each time to allow the use of the analog sticks. I now use a 360 controller but will likely upgrade to the XBONE controller once windows releases the drivers for the upgraded D-pad

  3. RMXIII
    January 10, 2014 at 2:05 am

    Unfortunally 360 controller is just that decent on PC now days. I was lucky to get a wired back one used for $20 here so that worked out well for me. Was attempting to use my PS3 controller but that was a pain in the ass.

  4. Peter E
    January 9, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    some quite good stuff in here, but are you really telling me that there is absolutely no logical alternative to an xbox 360 controller?

  5. Deimos Apex
    December 31, 2013 at 6:35 am

    l found a very compact USB adapter that allows connection of PS2, GameCube and original Xbox controllers. You can even use all 3 ports simultaneously. It was under $10 and puts all the old controllers I had laying around to good use. I got 2 of them so if the person I am playing with wants to use the same kind of controller I am using, they are able to plug into the other adapter.

  6. Harish
    December 31, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Im currently working on a new build and ddnt have time to research on controllers again as my razer onza recently broke, i wasnt that sure about the razer sabertooth either but a few reviews with the help of this post have helped me out, this post came in the right time!

  7. Keefe K
    December 30, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    I wish I would have known about this sooner...I couldn't figure out why my old controller for my PC wasn't working. I found a solution on Google, but I couldn't find a way to get the keys arranged in a way I'd like. So I just went out and bought a Logitech F310, and it's pretty decent.

  8. Stephan K
    December 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I'm using a Logitech F310 (Like the F710 but wired), I got it much cheaper than a XBOX 360 controller and I'm very happy with it

  9. Parker Milum
    December 30, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    The Logitech F710 is a cheaper than a wireless XBox gamepad ($45 vs $50) and you don't need to buy a $10-$20 adapter...

    Furthermore the F310 is a $25 wired version of the F710, though it excludes a rumble pack, but is still a cheaper solution than the wired X360 gamepad...

    So besides those revoltingly-false claims regarding 3rd party gamepads, this article was good. But please get your facts straight.

  10. Scott Luker
    December 30, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    For a FREE alternative to xpadder that actually works amazingly well use AntiMicro

    Can be found here
    http://www.ryochan7.com/projects/antimicro/

  11. Doug D
    December 30, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Hey how about a controller that can be used with Linux? Would x-padder work in that instance?

  12. Matthew
    December 30, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    There is a freeware joypad to keyboard option:

    J2K - http://www.emulation-evolved.net/?q=node/19

    It does not support any mouse emulation, only keyboard functions, which would limit its usefulness on games which use both.

  13. Paul Wilson
    December 30, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Wait and see what the new Steam Controller is like.

  14. Hugo
    December 30, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    You should also check the Xbox360ce, I use it very frequently for my cheap $12 controller to emulate the xbox360 setup, it works great and it's free.

    https://code.google.com/p/x360ce/

  15. Daniel J
    December 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Never think, just buy Xbox 360 Controller :) It is by far the best controller to use

  16. jim
    December 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for covering this rare topic. Many of my friends are shocked to come over to my house to see an Xbox 360 controller hooked up to my PC - they are not PC gaming enthusiasts.

    • Jonen560ti
      December 30, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      admittedly, it took a while before i realized a 360 controller could be connected to a PC that easily. i assumed you had to use cable and that there would be hell getting it to work with the game and input lag to boot, but no. i recently played Trine 2 natively in Linux with a 360 controller. there was slight input lag and the constantly blinking lights on the controller were annoying though, i hope Linux games will support controllers better with the introduction of SteamOS

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