With so many console games making their way to PC, a controller has become a staple of PC gaming; thanks to its wide support, the Xbox 360 controller is all but the default choice. Whether you want to gain analog control in an action game or just prefer to play from your couch, setting up the controller takes almost no effort on Windows 7 and 8 computers. Keep in mind, however, that not all games support controllers, and on some of those that do -- such as first-person shooters -- a controller's less accurate aiming can put you at a disadvantage against mouse and keyboard players.
The Driver Situation
Every computer peripheral needs a driver to work. Since Microsoft makes both Windows and the Xbox, however, you don't need to go out of your way to find one for the 360 controller: Eager to promote the use of their own product, Microsoft included the 360 controller driver in Windows 8, and Windows 7 will download it automatically when you first connect the controller. If you're still using Vista, head to Microsoft's site to download drivers for the wired or wireless controller. Without the proper driver, the controller will not function properly.
Every wired 360 controller, whether sold as an Xbox 360 or a PC controller, works identically on Windows. The wired controller is as simple to set up on your computer as it is on an Xbox: just plug it in. As long as you're on Windows 8, on Windows 7 with an Internet connection or installed the drivers on Vista, the system takes care of the rest. Wait until you see the Windows notification that setup has finished and Ring of Light is glowing green, then head into a game.
To use a wireless 360 controller on PC, you need a wireless receiver. A standard Bluetooth dongle won't work -- you need the receiver included in the box with the wireless PC controller. Microsoft doesn't sell this receiver separately, but once you have one, it works with any wireless 360 controller, even those sold for console use.
Plug in the receiver -- after installing the drivers, if you're using Vista -- and turn on the controller with the "Guide" button in the center. Press the button on the receiver, and then press the connection button on the top side of the controller to sync the controller and receiver. Once the controller lights stop flashing, you're ready to go. You only need to sync the controller once. In the future, just turn it on by pressing the "Guide" button.
What About the Play & Charge Cable?
Sorry, but the cable included with the Play & Charge Kit only works to charge your controller. Even though it connects a controller to a USB port, you can't use it in place of a wireless receiver. Wireless 360 controllers, whether plugged in or not, always communicate wirelessly.
Play Your Games
Most games that support the 360 controller don't require much, if any, setup in-game. Often, games switch over to controller mode as soon as you press any button the pad. If a game doesn't adapt automatically, use the mouse and keyboard to open the control options and look for a controller setting.
If you're using the Steam digital distribution service, you'll see if a game supports a controller right from the store page. Games that Steam lists as having Partial Controller Support might occasionally require you to use a mouse and keyboard at various points in the game, such as navigating menus. Steam games that claim Full Controller Support never require you to put down the controller from the moment you open the game. Steam itself also works with the 360 controller -- hold the "Guide" button to launch Big Picture mode and navigate your library right from the controller.