Wi-Fi is becoming more common in desktop computers, but not all desktop computers have it. Add Wi-Fi and you can connect to the Internet wirelessly and host Wi-Fi hotspots for your other devices.
This is a simple, inexpensive process. Buy the right little adapter and you can even take it with you, quickly adding Wi-Fi to any desktop you come across by plugging a tiny device into its USB port.
Why You Might Want to Do This
If you’re happy with your current Ethernet connection, there’s no need to throw away the cables and go wireless. Good old Ethernet cables are still useful, offer faster speeds, lower latency, and more reliable connections than Wi-Fi.
The benefits of Wi-Fi are tough to ignore, even in a desktop PC. With Wi-Fi, you can position your desktop computer anywhere in your home or office, as long as there’s a power outlet nearby. You can then connect it to your router without running an Ethernet cable. Adding Wi-Fi to your desktop PC can also be useful even if it already has an Ethernet connection. With Wi-Fi, you can host a Wi-Fi hotspot on your PC, allowing other devices to connect through its Internet connection.
The Easy Method: A USB-to-Wi-Fi Adapter
Just as you can add Bluetooth to an old computer simply by plugging a little Bluetooth dongle into its USB port, you can add Wi-Fi to a computer by plugging a tiny little dongle into a USB port. This is an easy and cheap option.
You can purchase a USB-to-Wi-Fi adapter for as little as $10 on Amazon. It’s a simple way to add Wi-Fi to any computer. You could leave the device in a spare USB port and forget it’s there or take it with you so you can add Wi-Fi to any desktop computer you come across. This is also a great way to add Wi-Fi to a Raspberry Pi.
Install an Internal Wi-Fi Card
You can also add a Wi-Fi card to your desktop PC. This involves opening up your PC, and then installing a dedicated internal Wi-Fi card in a PCI Express slot, PCI Express Mini slot, or something similar. Assuming your PC is designed to be opened easily and has a spare slot for an expansion card, this should work well.
The advantage of using a dedicated internal Wi-Fi card is that it will potentially have better reception than a little USB dongle—mostly because the internal version can include a larger antenna that sticks out of the back of your PC.
Expect to pay somewhere between $15 and $35 for an internal Wi-Fi card on Amazon. Before you purchase one, be sure your computer has a free slot of the appropriate type and that you’re comfortable installing it on your own. Assuming you can get your computer open easily, it should just be a matter of shutting it down, opening the case, plugging the card into the slot (and securing it with a screw, closing the case, and booting up.
When you’re done, your computer will be able to connect to Wi-Fi just like your average laptop. You may have to install the drivers that came with your Wi-Fi hardware first, though.
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While most desktops and laptops come with built-in Wi-Fi these days, some models lack the wireless capability, leaving their users connected to a router via ethernet cable.
Is your system located near a network router? If so, this cable setup isn’t much of an issue, but if you have trouble accessing the ethernet wire or need Wi-Fi’s flexibility, you need a new plan. Tap or click to get better Wi-Fi by using these features on your router.
Don’t worry; there’s no need to run out and purchase a new computer merely to use Wi-Fi. Several options can free your desktop or laptop from its ethernet cable and allow device mobility.
The easy way
By far, the fastest and cheapest way to add Wi-Fi to your PC or laptop is with a USB Wi-Fi adapter. Simply plug the device into a USB port on your computer, install the relevant drivers and you will be up and running in no time. Inexpensive, small and portable: This option may be ideal for you.
The Linksys AC580 wireless mini USB adapter supports several versions of Windows such as 10,7, 8, XP and Vista. Features include easy setup via Setup Wizard or WPS button, selectable dual-band (2.4GHz on Wireless-N or 5 GHz on Wireless AC) and WEP/WPA/WPA 2 encryption.
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Not to leave Mac users out, this TP-Link Archer T9UH adapter is high-gain, dual-band and is compatible with Windows 10, 8.1, 8, 7 and XP, in addition to Mac OS X and 10.9-10.13. It connects using USB 3.0 and utilizes dual-band to ensure your streaming is seamless.
This adapter works with any router and has a WPS button for instant, effortless setup — but there are a few disadvantages. Your system may get booted from the network during sleep mode. If this occurs, an easy way to resolve this issue (without messing with your computer BIOS) is to simply disable sleep mode.
Know that in terms of strength, a USB Wi-Fi adapter may prove inadequate for your wireless needs. Compared to other ways to add Wi-Fi to your computer, this one has a greater potential for spotty connections.
Middle of the road
Thanks to an external antenna(s), PCIe Wi-Fi adapters provide a more stable connection — similar to those of a motherboard with integrated Wi-Fi. This option eliminates the need to use a USB port, as it connects to your system via a PCI slot on the motherboard. This means you’ll need to be a bit tech-savvy.
The ASUS PCE-AC68 wireless PCIe adapter is dual-band and is compatible with IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac network standards. Its three detachable antennas and magnetized stand offer flexible placement for better signal reception and quality.
A custom passive heat exchanger (heatsink) helps dissipate heat, ensuring improved reliability for non-stop operation.
Compatible with Windows 10, 8.1, 8, 7, and XP, the TP-Link Archer T6E supports WPA/WPA2 encryption and offers easy setup. This wireless PCIe express adapter boasts an advanced heatsink for better stability and longer lifespan. With speeds of up to 867 Mbps over 5 GHz and 400 Mbps over 2.4 GHz, you can enjoy lag-free HD streaming, surfing and online gaming.
Although PCIe Wi-Fi adapters provide better performance than USB adapters, they too have a few shortcomings. They are pricier than USB options and require installation. Whether you can use this adapter will depend on the motherboard configuration and the amount of open space in the device.
Take the long way
The third route is the more expensive of the three alternatives, and necessitates a higher level of expertise as you will be replacing the computer’s most crucial component: the motherboard. Hesitation aside, if you are looking to upgrade your PC and know you want wireless connectivity, installing a Wi-Fi-enabled motherboard is the way to go.
You will need to determine which motherboard can fit in your computer case and research potential compatibility issues with existing hardware before attempting to install a new motherboard, as permanent damage can result.
Regardless of which path you take to add Wi-Fi to your computer, you will find it freeing.
Not all desktop PCs come with built-in wifi, which makes total sense—why wouldn’t you just use an Ethernet connection for a system that’s going to mostly sit under (or on) your desk? It’s still good to have options, especially if your desktop PC happens to be located in an area that is difficult (or annoying) to access with a cable, and adding wifi to a system that doesn’t have it is easy.
You have a few options for connecting your desktop PC to your wireless network: you can use a USB wifi adapter, install a dedicated PCIe wifi card, or upgrade to a new motherboard with built-in wifi. (We suspect most people will go for the easiest options—numbers one and two.)
The convenient option: USB wifi adapters
A USB wifi adapter couldn’t be any simpler to use, assuming there aren’t any quirks with how your operating system recognizes or uses the device. Simply plug it into your desktop or laptop. You might have to install some drivers to get it up and running, but giving your system wireless capabilities should be an easy plug-and-play routine after that.
Since it’s a USB adapter, you can plug it into any working USB port on your system—on the front or rear of your system, and USB 2.0 or USB 3.0, too. (Though you might want to try USB 2.0 if you encounter any issues with a USB 3.0 port on an older desktop.)
The disadvantage of a USB wifi adapter is that you might find yourself bumped offline should your system go to sleep. You’ll want to play around with Window’s settings for sleep mode (sometimes, the answer might be a not-so-obvious choice ). You might even have to jump into your motherboard’s BIOS to make sure there aren’t any settings that are kicking off your USB devices when your system sleeps. You could also just disable sleep mode entirely, which isn’t the worst idea.
Additionally, USB wifi adapters can be hit and miss with their performance . Make sure whatever you buy is at least rated for speeds your router can support—don’t buy a cheap wireless-n adapter if you just purchased a brand-new AC1200 router, for example. And know that an adapter isn’t a guarantee; you might still have spotty connectivity wherever it is you’re trying to connect your system, or the adapter might not be as strong as it sounds on paper.
If you know your system is always going to need wifi access, you’re better off investing in a PCIe adapter with dedicated antennas. While these aren’t guaranteed to always beat USB adapters for performance in every situation, odds are good that you’ll encounter better speeds and lower latency (at least, compared to a tiny USB 2.0 adapter).
Best for connectivity: PCIe wifi adapters
PCIe wifi adapters offer the same kind of connectivity you’d find on motherboards with built-in wifi. They generally tend to work better than USB adapters—the tiny ones, at least—giving you more stable connections across longer distances (and better throughput). They’re also great if you know you’re going to need to use most of (or all) or your system’s USB connections. Offload your wireless adapter elsewhere so you have plenty of space for that flash drive, gaming mouse, or humping dog .
There are only three real downsides to PCIe wifi adapters, and they’re relatively minor. First, these devices can be a little more expensive than USB wifi adapters, depending on what capabilities you’re looking to get. Second, you’ll have to install them in your system. That shouldn’t be a problem for most people, but it can be daunting for newbies. Finally, depending on your motherboard’s configuration and how much other hardware you’ve stuffed inside your system, you might not have room for a dedicated PCIe wifi adapter. If so, it’s back to a USB adapter for you.
Best if you’re already upgrading your PC: A wifi-enabled motherboard
If you’re planning to upgrade your PC anyway, and you suspect you might need wireless connectivity at some point—even if it’s just to have a simple backup solution if your Ethernet connection ever gets wonky—consider shopping for a motherboard with wifi capabilities built in. Some might even come with external antennas that connect to the rear of your motherboard and allow you to position them wherever you want (like on your desk), rather than having them shoot directly out the back of your desktop PC. It’s a minor point, but one that might get you a slightly stronger signal (or work better for your desk setup).
This article was originally published in April 2014 and updated on 12/5/19 with more thorough and current information.
Feb 25, 2019
Windows 10, like any other desktop operating system, can interact with other devices on the network. This includes media servers, shared network drives, and other computers. If you need to access a computer on your network, you need its local network address. You can enter the address in the run box and the device will ‘open’ in File Explorer. If you often need to access a computer on your network, it might be easier to just add it to This PC. Here’s how you can add a network computer to This PC on Windows 10.
Add a network computer
This process works for network computers as well as other network devices e.g., media servers located on the network.
Find local address
In order to add a local computer to This PC, you’re going to need to find its local address and you need to pick a folder for it to open to. It can be your user folder or anything else. On Macs, Windows, and Linux systems, you can use ipconfig to get the local address.
Open This PC and click ‘Add a network location’ at the top. In the window that opens, click Next. Select ‘Choose a custom network location’.
On the next screen, enter the local address starting with ‘\\’ and then add the path to the folder you want to access. If you want to check if the address is correct, paste it into the location bar in File Explorer. If it is able to open the location, it is correct. Click Next.
Give the device a name and click Next, and then Next again.
Open File Explorer and go to This PC. The computer will appear under the Network section. If you look at the navigation bar on the left, you will see that the computer also appears under This PC when you expand it.
If you’re looking for other ways to quickly access this same location, you can right-click the network location and select ‘Pin to Start’, or ‘Pin to Quick Access’. You can also create a shortcut to the location on your desktop and move it anywhere else.
If you often use the run box to access various locations or apps on your system, entering the local address each time you need to access a system on the network can be tedious.
If you ever want to remove the network computer from This PC, all you have to do is right-click it and select Delete or Remove.
Connect a Bluetooth audio device (Windows 10)
To connect your Bluetooth headset, speaker, or headphones to your Windows 10 PC, you’ll need to pair the device first.
Turn on your Bluetooth device and make it discoverable. The way you make it discoverable depends on the device. Check the device info or website to find out more.
On the taskbar, select the action center icon and make sure Bluetooth is turned on.
In action center, select Connect, then pick your device.
Follow any additional instructions. Otherwise, you’re done.
Miracast wireless displays
Wirelessly connect your PC to a TV, projector, another PC, or other kind of external display that supports Miracast.
Turn on your TV or projector. If you’re using a Miracast dongle or adapter, make sure it’s plugged in to the display.
On your PC, make sure Wi-Fi is turned on.
On the taskbar, select the action center icon > Connect > pick your display.
Follow any additional instructions on the screen. Otherwise, you’re done.
WiGig wireless displays
Wirelessly connect your PC to a monitor, projector, or other kind of external display that is connected to a WiGig dock.
Turn on the TV or projector.
Turn on your WiGig dock and make sure it’s connected to the display.
Make sure your PC supports WiGig and that it’s turned on. If your PC supports WiGig, you’ll see a WiGig control in Settings > Network & Internet > Airplane mode.
On the taskbar, select the action center icon > Connect > pick your dock.
Follow any additional instructions on the screen. Otherwise, you’re done.
Although the majority of laptops—and even desktops—now come with Bluetooth support, some of us still need Bluetooth upgrades. If you’re rocking a device without Bluetooth support, don’t fret. Read on as we show you how to add Bluetooth support easily and cheaply to any computer.
Why Would I Want To Do This?
While you can get by just fine without Bluetooth support on your computer (especially if you’re using a desktop) there are tens of thousands of peripherals and accessories that require—or would be made more convenient by—Bluetooth.
You could, for example, run an auxiliary audio cable from your computer to any of the Bluetooth speakers we reviewed in our Bluetooth speaker guide, but it would make your speaker a lot more portable and convenient to pipe in the music over Bluetooth so you could retain the ability to move it anywhere in your office. Bluetooth is also handy when using wireless headphones, game controllers, and other peripherals.
See If Your Computer Already Has Bluetooth
Before we proceed, we’d encourage you to give your computer a double check for Bluetooth radios. If you have an older laptop or computer, you’re probably correct in assuming that you don’t have Bluetooth built-in. If you have a newer laptop, however, it’s practically a given that you have Bluetooth. Similarly, it used to be a non-existent feature on desktop PCs, but in the last few years a surprising number of desktops have begun shipping with Bluetooth radios.
It’s simple to check for evidence of Bluetooth in Windows. You can check for Bluetooth by heading to Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network Connections. If there is a properly installed and configured Bluetooth radio, you’ll see an entry for “Bluetooth Network Connection” alongside other network connections like Ethernet and Wi-Fi.
Alternatively, you can open up Device Manager—just hit Start and search for “device manager”—and then look for a “Bluetooth” entry. Device Manager will show you if your PC has a Bluetooth device, even if it’s not correctly set up.
We also suggest double checking the stats on your PC just to be sure. Although unlikely, it’s possible that the hardware vendor behind your hardware uses a specialty driver or some other tool that you need to download in order to enable the Bluetooth connection. A little poking around with Google with reveal if you have the hardware in the first place and if you need any special driver, BIOS, or other updates.
Add Bluetooth to Your PC
If you’ve found that your PC does not have Bluetooth built in, then you’ll need to add it. The good news is that it’s easy to do and you don’t have to spend much on it.
Step One: Buy What You’ll Need
You don’t need a whole lot to follow along with this tutorial. Once you’ve determined that your computer is definitely in need of a Bluetooth radio (and not just a driver update), it’s time to check that you have a free USB port. If you don’t, and there’s no making room because you need all your current ports, you should consider getting a quality USB hub or a USB expansion card.
With a free USB port in hand, the only other thing you need is a USB Bluetooth adapter. For the purposes of this tutorial (and for use on our own machines), we’ll be using highly-rated and inexpensive Kinivo BTD-400 ($11.99) USB dongle.
There are other ways to approach the problem, but the majority of them are quite impractical. You could, for example, use up your laptop’s mini PCI slot with a laptop Bluetooth/Wi-Fi module, but that’s a lot of hassle. One reason you might want to go the mini PCI route is if you really don’t want to give up a USB port on a laptop and don’t want to carry around a USB hub.
On the desktop side, the only reason we can see for not using the USB-based solution is if you’re explicitly in the market for a Wi-Fi PCI card for a desktop computer, since many Wi-Fi PCI cards come with Bluetooth built in.
Step Two: Install the Bluetooth Dongle
If you’re installing the Kinivo on Windows 8 or 10, the process is dead simple: just plug it in. Windows includes the basic Broadcom Bluetooth drivers required by the dongle and will install them automatically when it recognizes the new device.
If you’re installing it on an earlier version of Windows, you’ll need to install the Bluetooth drivers. You’ll know you require the drivers if the Device Manager pane looks like this after you plug in the dongle.
You can download the drivers from Kinivo (the manufacturer of the dongle) or from Broadcom (the manufacturer of the actual Bluetooth radio inside the device). Download the version for your operating system (here’s how to see if you’re running 32-bit or 64-bit Windows), run the installer, and you’re good to go.
Step Three: Pair Your Devices
Now that you have the dongle installed, you’re ready to pair a device. We’ll demonstrate the process by hooking up one of the speakers we used in our guide to portable Bluetooth speakers.
After inserting the dongle (and with the appropriate drivers installed), a Bluetooth icon should appear in the system tray as seen in the screenshot below. Right-click the icon and choose “Add a Bluetooth Device” from the context menu.
If you’re using Windows 8 or 10, you’ll see a screen like the one below. Just hit the “Pair” button for the device you want to connect.
If you’re using Windows 7—or a previous version—you’ll see a screen like this one instead. Select the device you want to connect and then hit “Next.”
After making your selection, Windows will communicate with the device for around a half minute as it automatically finishes the pairing process. After that, your device is available for use!
You can manage your Bluetooth devices by accessing the Bluetooth menu via the system tray (as we did a moment ago) or navigating to Control Panel -> All Control Panel Items -> Devices and Printers. Either way, you should be able to see (and interact with) both your Bluetooth dongle and any attached Bluetooth devices.
That’s all there is to it! $15, one USB port, a virtually painless installation process, and now your computer has Bluetooth connectivity.
Windows 10 lets you add wireless profiles manually to connect automatically when the network in range — here’s how to complete the task with Settings and Control Panel.
On Windows 10, you typically arrive at the location and then connect to the wireless network. However, you can also create a Wi-Fi network profile in advance, and then when the computer is in range, it will connect to the network manually.
The ability to provision wireless profiles not only allows you to set up multiple connections in advance, but it is a convenient way to manage Wi-Fi connections on multiple computers in an organization. For example, when adding new devices to the network or when planning to make changes to the network and you want to prevent users from losing connectivity.
Whatever the reason it might be, Windows 10 includes at least two ways to add one or more wireless network profiles manually using the Settings app and Control Panel.
In this guide, you will learn the easy steps to add a new wireless connection manually on Windows 10.
Create new wireless profile using Settings on Windows 10
Use the following steps to add a new Wi-Fi network profile manually on Windows 10:
Open Settings on Windows 10.
Click on Network & internet.
Click on Wi-Fi.
Under the “Wi-Fi” section, click the Manage known networks option.
Manage known networks option
Click the Add a new network button.
Settings add a new network option
Confirm the name of the network.
Select the security type configured in the network.
Confirm the security key (password).
Add a new Wi-Fi network profile settings
(Optional) Check the Connect automatically option.
(Optional) Check the Connect even if this network is not broadcasting option.
Click the Save button.
Once you complete the steps, you will no longer have to worry about manually connecting to the wireless network when your device is in range.
Create new wireless profile using Control Panel on Windows 10
Use the following steps to set up a new Wi-Fi connection manually:
Open Control Panel.
Click on Network and Internet.
Click on Network and Sharing Center.
Under the “Change your networking settings” section, click the Set up a new connection or network option.
Set up a new connection or network option
Select the Manually connect to a wireless network option.
Set up a connection or network options
Click the Next button.
Confirm the Wi-Fi name.
Select the security type configured in the network.
Confirm the security key (password).
Control Panel new wireless profile configuration
(Optional) Check the Start this connection automatically option.
(Optional) Check the Connect even if the network is not broadcasting option.
Click the Next button.
Click the Close button.
After you complete the steps, when you are in the range of the wireless network you added manually, the computer will connect automatically.
If for whatever reason you need to have WiFi occasionally on your desktop PC , you can always use a USB WiFi adapter; However, if you need WiFi to be more permanent and stable, then you will need a PCIe WiFi expansion card , for which in this article we are going to recommend the best on the market.
Keep in mind that these types of expansion cards require installation, and of course you have at least one free PCIe socket on your motherboard. In exchange, you will have a faster and more stable connection than if you used a USB adapter, making it ideal if, due to the conditions of your home, you need to be able to connect your desktop PC to domestic WiFi. With that said, let’s go there.
This is the best wireless network card that ASUS has in its catalog, and one that will not leave users indifferent. To begin with, it offers the possibility of plugging the four antennas either directly into the network card, or into an adapter that will allow us to put them more “in sight” to improve coverage. Still, it offers WiFi AC3100 4 × 4 connectivity of up to 2100 Mbps in the 5 GHz band and 1000 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band, with 60% more coverage than with 3 × 3 AC adapters.
Internally, this PCIe WiFi card needs a PCI-Express 2.0 x1 socket to function, but of course it supports PCIe 3.0 sockets. It integrates, as you can see, its own passive heatsink to avoid problems with overheating.
This other manufacturer option offers WiFi 6 AX3000 (802.11ax), with better performance and lower power consumption. Like the previous one, it occupies a PCI-Express 2.0 x1 socket and has its own integrated heatsink, and like the previous one we will have the option of anchoring the antennas directly to the card or using their included extender.
It should be noted that it has ofdma and mu-mimo technology, so in this case with two antennas it is more than enough to have excellent wireless coverage. Also, in this case, this expansion card adds Bluetooth 5.0 to the PC, which is always welcome.
GIGABYTE GC-WB1733D-I Wifi PCIe
This Gigabyte wireless card offers 802.11ac WiFi connectivity with two antennas (2 × 2) for better coverage. It integrates an Intel Wireless AC-9260 network card with a performance of up to 1733 Mbps on the 5 GHz channel, and also adds Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity.
TP-Link Archer TX3000E
Network specialist TP-LINK also has a handful of very high-end PCIe wireless adapters, most notably this TX3000E model that integrates WiFi 6 (AX3000) on the desktop PC using a PCI-Express 2.0 x1 port. It provides a performance of up to 2402 Mbps in the 5 GHz band and 574 Mbps in the 2.4 Ghz band, and also adds Bluetooth 5.0 to the system with the same card.
As with the ASUS models that we have seen before, in this case we will have the opportunity to choose whether to install the antennas directly on the network card or use the supplied extender, which best suits the user in pursuit of having the best wireless coverage.
TP-Link Archer T6E
This other TP-LINK model is somewhat older, but it is an excellent option to have WiFi connectivity on a desktop PC at a low cost, since its price is really quite attractive. It uses a PCI-Express 2.0 x1 socket on the motherboard and has its factory passive heatsink.
In this case, the network card is dual band 802.11n that offers speeds of up to 867 Mbps in the 5 GHz band and 400 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band, and has two antennas that are installed directly on the network card.
Ubit AX Wifi PCIe
We are talking about the best PCIe WiFi cards on the market, and so far we have recommended the ones we know. In this case we make an exception and add this little-known manufacturer model due to its performance / price ratio and user ratings, which have made it a top seller.
It provides WiFi 6 with speeds of up to 2402 Mbps in the 5 GHz band and 574 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band, with two antennas for better coverage. Also add Bluetooth 5.0 to the system.
Console controllers don’t always work as soon as you plug them into a Windows PC or Mac. We’ve compiled a list of guides so you can learn how to make your favorite controller work with your computer.
Most controllers intended to be used on PCs, like USB Logitech controllers, will be HID-compliant devices and support the XInput or DirectInput protocol, which you can use in most games. Some may work out of the box and others may need a custom driver. For console controllers, especially older ones, you may need a hardware adapter if it doesn’t plug into USB, as Bluetooth support is hit or miss.
This guide covers Windows and macOS, but most HID controllers will work on Linux, too. It’ll just take a little configuration, with which Linux users are probably familiar.
PlayStation 4 (DualShock 4)
Windows supports Sony PS4 controllers without additional software as long as you plug them in via USB. You’ll need a hardware adapter to use the controller wirelessly.
Macs also support Sony’s latest controllers by default, even with a wireless connection. Unfortunately, these controllers show up as a generic input device, which may not work in all games.
PlayStation 3 (DualShock 3)
Windows needs a custom driver for PS3 controllers. It’s a bit complicated to set up, but we’ve got the instructions.
Macs support these controllers without any extra software. Just wirelessly connect via Bluetooth or plug it in with a USB cable.
PlayStation 1 and 2 (DualShock 1 and 2)
Sony’s PS1 and PS2 controllers are older and don’t use USB. You can get an adapter, but it’s probably best to pick up a DualShock 3, as it’s almost entirely the same but with wireless and USB support.
Windows is supported fully out of the box, seeing as this is Microsoft’s flagship controller. Just plug and play, or connect over Bluetooth. You can even update the controller’s firmware from your PC if you’re using Windows 10.
Macs support Xbox One controllers wirelessly without anything extra, but you’ll need extra software if you want to plug your controller in via USB. Specifically, you need the 360Controller driver, which extends support for wired USB Xbox One controllers.
Windows supports wired 360 controllers by default, but wireless controllers will need a special USB adapter.
Mac needs a custom driver. Due to problems with kernel extensions (kexts,) wireless support causes kernel panics, and is disabled in this driver.
Original Xbox (Xbox “1”)
You’ll need an adapter and some custom drivers, but it doesn’t seem entirely easy. MacOS has an older driver, but it may not work on newer versions of macOS. Also, if you’re crazy, you can forego the adapter altogether and splice together a couple of cables, although we don’t recommend this.
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Nintendo’s Switch Pro controller works automatically after you connect it via Bluetooth on Windows and macOS, but you’ll have to set it up in Steam to use in games.
Wii Remotes and Wii U Pro Controllers
Windows will connect the controller by default, but it may not be usable as a controller in all apps. Dolphin, the Wii emulator, supports using them as inputs, but we didn’t have any on hand to test system-wide use.
Mac is supported in the same way—only in Dolphin. System-wide use is technically supported, but we heavily recommend finding a new controller. MacOS Sierra broke support for the only driver, Wjoy, but it was updated on a new fork. However, the current release doesn’t work either, so you’ll have to build the latest commit from source in Xcode, update a bunch of build targets, fix a few errors, sign it with an Apple developer account, and then after all that you have to boot into Recovery Mode and disable system integrity protection to install it. Only then can you properly connect the controller.
You’ll need an adapter of course, but Windows and Mac should be supported by default through HID. Support may vary though depending on the adapter you get. You can get an official one, but the Mayflash adapter seems to work fine for half the price. This adapter has a switch so you can use it on PC as well as console, which will turn it into an HID device rather than a proprietary console only one. Dolphin can communicate with it directly, though, and will support the Wii U mode, which can fix some bugs with the additional ports.
Note that macOS’s HID implementation overrides Dolphin’s direct communication with the device, so it doesn’t support having multiple controllers plugged in. There is a workaround, but it may not work with every adapter. It does involve disabling SIP, though admittedly just for kext extensions, which is a little safer.
Guitar Hero Controllers
This one’s a little weird, as Guitar Hero has many different console versions, but there’s still a thriving community on PC with CloneHero. Most should work with an adapter, so it’s best to check their wiki for instructions.
Other Retro Controllers usually need adapters, unless you get updated USB versions of them. Most adapters should use standard XInput and DirectInput connections and should be configurable in Steam and any of the apps below.
Third Party Controllers will vary depending on what you get, but most should use the same standard XInput connections. Usually, it will list its compatibility on Amazon, so make sure to buy one that’s compatible, or pick up something more mainstream.
If your controller isn’t listed here, or you can’t get it to work with these guides, a quick Google search for the controller name plus your OS version and “driver” should lead you to decent results.
If you need to remap your controller, you can use Steam’s built-in Big Picture Mode to do so. If you need to use it in a non-Steam game, you can try AntiMicro for Windows and Enjoyable for macOS, both free.