Your playing behavior
Like our other buying guides, such as the best gaming mice and best gaming keyboards, it is also important for PC controllers to think about their gaming behavior. What kinds of games do you like or play most often? For first-person shooters, MOBAs, real-time strategy games, and MMORPGs, it is recommended to use a mouse and keyboard. However, if you also play genres such as action-adventures (think of the Tomb Raider games), RPGs (think of Dark Souls), and beat-’em-ups, then you should consider using a controller. Of course, your personal preference is also important: use what you feel comfortable with.
Some of our favorite controllers often have extra buttons or special features that can make your life easier, especially in competitive games. However, it’s up to you to decide if you need it. Think again about your gaming behavior and whether your favorite games benefit from special features. If not, you might want to buy a more basic controller like the Xbox One controller.
With or without wire
Wireless games are the norm on consoles and certainly nice on PC, but think about whether you want to pay that extra price. You often have to purchase a wireless adapter, or the controller costs more because of the wireless. Because you are often fairly close to the screen when gaming on PC, it is often not a big problem to play with a controller with a wire. Wireless gaming also consumes the battery life of a controller very quickly.
The controllers on this list vary widely in size. This is certainly important to keep in mind: do you prefer a light and smaller controller like the DualShock 4 or something heavier and sturdier like the Xbox One controller?
Check out our best PC and mobile controllers in 2021
Buying a PC or mobile controller: the technical terms explained
RGB: In the whole world, this is the abbreviation for ‘Red Green Blue’, the basic colors with which you can form many combinations of other colors. Perfect for personalizing your controller, which can often be done via accompanying software.
2.4GHz: Because it is important in gaming that there is as little time as possible between pressing a button and a reaction on your screen (also called ‘latency’), the connection between a controller and device must be as fast as possible. If a controller works with a wire, then it always does. However, a wireless controller needs to have a 2.4GHz wireless connection to allow fast responses (or a technology similar to it).
Rumble: A synonym for ‘vibrations’. Some controllers have a very strong rumble, others less so, and some don’t have any (often to push the price a bit).
Clicky: By this, we mean that a button on a controller gives tactile and audible feedback when you press it. Tastes can, of course, differ; not everyone likes that pressing a ‘face button’ (i.e., A, B, X, Y or cross, triangle, square, or circle) causes a loud click. It can be a bit disturbing, especially for your roommates. But at the same time, it also ensures that you’ve pressed the button and gives controllers a “premium” feel, a bit like the best gaming keyboards.
3.5mm jack: This is an input that allows you to use wired headsets. That’s important to get started with some of the best gaming headsets in 2021. Xbox One, Xbox Series X, DualShock 4, and DualSense controllers have a 3.5mm input. Most other controllers too, but check it well before you buy.
USB-A / USB-C: These two different forms of USB ports are both still widely used, but USB-C is slowly becoming the new standard as it can charge faster and can also charge more powerful devices.
Paddles: Some controllers (especially those intended for eSports) have little extra buttons or flaps on the back that take over the role of other buttons – mainly the face buttons. The idea is that you never have to take your thumbs off the sticks to, for example, reload or jump. Many premium PC controllers have these features, and they can make a difference in competitive games.
Modular design: Some PC and mobile controllers have a so-called modular design. We mean that you can adjust and even swap the individual parts of the controller (modules). A good example on this list is the Thrustmaster eSwap controller. The sticks of this controller can be easily exchanged, which is especially useful if your sticks get worn out after a while.