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I'd like to get a gamepad for my PC; previously I've had great success with an Xbox 360 controller for the PC (the controller unfortunately is no longer with me!)

I wondered however whether a current Xbox One controller would be backwards compatible with PC games that support Xbox 360 controllers? Or is it better to stick with an Xbox 360 controller.

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The Xbox One controller is fully backwards compatible to the Xbox 360 one, as it uses the very same API as its predecessor (XInput) and features the same buttons 1. It's possible you'll need to install a driver first, though Windows should automatically search for and install all necessary drivers by itself.

The only trouble you might have, is with the PS4 controller which uses a different API (DirectInput), an API which is mostly supported on older games or emulators.

As for connecting your controller to your PC, you have 3 options.

  1. Connect the controller using a USB cable.
  2. Use the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows 10 (sold separately).
    There's also the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows, compatible with Windows 7/8.1 and 10.
    Note: Adapters for Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers are not compatible with each other.
  3. (Model 1708 or newer 2 ) Connect via Bluetooth. Requires Windows 10 with Anniversary update (version 1607, no Windows 7/8.1 support). Also works on Android.

1: The Start and Back buttons have been relabeled, but are essentially identical.

2: How to determine if your controller supports Bluetooth (Source: support.xbox.com):

Your controller has this feature if it looks like the one on bottom in this illustration:

Illustration of Xbox One controller

On Bluetooth-supported controllers, the plastic around the Xbox button is part of the face of the controller. On controllers without Bluetooth, the plastic around the Xbox button is part of the top, where the bumpers are.

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    I've heard that the Xbox One controller requires a special adapter to work on a PC (basically, it doesn't use the same wireless adapter that 360 controllers came with). Is this true? – two bugs Jun 12 '15 at 20:09
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    @twobugs. Yes, it's true, but only if you plan on using the controller wirelessly. You can use your everyday USB cable to connect the XBO controller to your PC. This is possibly the most significant improvement from 360 to One controller. With the 360, you'd have to buy either the wired controller, or the wireless controller + adapter. With the One, you can buy any controller. – Nolonar Jun 12 '15 at 20:12
  • There is going to be an adapter to use the Xbox One wireless controllers without a cable, but it's not out yet. – Powerlord Jun 12 '15 at 23:46
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    Said adapter costs $24.99... but only works on Windows 10. – Powerlord Jun 12 '15 at 23:51
  • @Powerlord. There is now an adapter that also works on 7 and 8.1. Also, newer models now support Bluetooth, but only on Windows 10 (Anniversary update or newer). – Nolonar Jan 16 at 15:42
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Also worth noting that the newest ones are also Bluetooth compatible. Not only can you use it on your computer wirelessly (providing it has bluetooth) but you can even use them for gta san andreas, minecraft and bully for android as well as a load of other games.

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