How to connect a Nintendo Switch controller to your PC

Switch controllers

There’s one serious benefit that’s emerged from Nintendo’s choice to use standard Bluetooth technology in the Nintendo Switch: You can easily use the console’s unique controllers on PC, Mac, and even Android devices. That includes the Joy-Cons and the Switch Pro Controller, the latter of which is an additional $70 expense that’s totally worth it. And all you need to use these controllers on PC is a Bluetooth receiver (if you don’t already have built-in Bluetooth).

How to connect the Joy-Con controllers

You can easily pair Joy-Con controllers with a Windows or Mac computer from directly within the Bluetooth menu. Follow the steps below to do so.

Step 1: Turn on Bluetooth on your PC/Mac.

Step 2: Disconnect the Joy-Con from the Switch as you would normally.

Step 3: Hold the “sync” button on the Joy-Con — which is located between the SR and SL buttons — until the LED lights start flashing. Use the image below, if you’re in need of further clarification.

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Step 4: Look for the Joy-Con in your computer’s Bluetooth menu, and select the option to pair it with your device. There are some quirks, like the fact that the pairing lights on the Joy-Con won’t stop blinking. You can confirm that the controller is connected, however, by looking at your computer’s Bluetooth settings. If you see the error message below, move the controller around to ensure no other devices are interfering with the signal. Then try again.

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Unfortunately, the two Joy-Cons will be treated as separate controllers by default. That’s great for two-player games, but it makes the Joy-Cons useless for playing anything complex, like a first-person shooter (why are you using a controller to play a PC shooter anyway?). 

There is also a fairly elaborate workaround to sync a pair of Joy-Cons together as a single controller. It involves multiple external programs and some intensive tinkering, so we think the process we’ve described is the best way to go. If you’re interested, though, follow the steps outlined by Reddit user Jayzizzle1234.

How to connect the Switch Pro Controller via Steam

The Steam beta client now officially supports the Switch Pro Controller, giving you the ability to use it with all of your games and even remap its buttons, should you see fit.

Step 1: Download the Steam beta client and head to the “controller settings” menu in Steam. From here, you can check support for the Switch Pro Controller and enable the “use Nintendo button layout” option, which changes all your games’ button prompts to match the Pro Controller. If you leave this unchecked, the A/B and X/Y buttons will be swapped, like they are on the Xbox One.

Step 2: Next, plug in your Switch Pro Controller with a USB cable and you’ll be asked to register it, as well as calibrate the built-in gyro sensor for motion control in certain games.

Step 3: Once you’ve done that, select “controller configuration” and you can set the function of every button and stick on the controller, make preset configurations for certain games, or choose a community member’s own configuration by pressing the X button. If you like, you can even bind the gyro sensor to a particular function, which could enable you to be nearly as accurate as mouse-and-keyboard players in certain games.

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How to connect the Switch Pro Controller via Bluetooth

If you aren’t using Steam, you can also connect the Pro Controller directly to your Windows or MacOS machine via bluetooth. This way is a little trickier than connecting via USB, so we only reserving this method for when you plan to use the Pro Controller with games on a different platform, such as EA Origin, Ubisoft’s UPlay store, and Battle.Net.

Just like with the Joy-Con controllers, you’re going to use Bluetooth to connect the Pro Controller to a desktop PC or an alternative device. The steps are essentially the same as connecting the Joy-Cons, so check the bullet points above for the exact method. The sync button for the Pro Controller is located at the top of the controller, directly to the left of the USB-C plug.

The Pro Controller should prove more viable for a wider range of games than the Joy-Cons, namely because it touts a more traditional layout, although it’s not compatible with everything. That’s due to the controller APIs in use; the Pro Controller apparently uses DirectInput, rather than the newer API XInput, making it incompatible with many newer games.

One method to get around this is to download the freeware program x360ce, which translates DirectInput commands for XInput games.It was specifically designed for Xbox 360 controllers, so x360ce does recognize the Switch Pro Controller.

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Using it requires some gaming savvy, which, to be fair, you probably have if you’re attempting this in the first place. It’s an imperfect solution — not every game will work, no matter what you do. For now, we’ll have to wait for the homebrew community to come up with their own methods.

One more thing to keep in mind if you connect the controller wirelessly: You can’t charge the Pro Controller while its paired via Bluetooth. If you plan to connect it for non-Steam gaming, plug in the Pro Controller before and after, especially if it’s your controller of choice for marathon sessions. Thankfully, the Pro Controller has exceptional battery life — 40-plus hours on a full charge.

Other things to keep in mind

If you’re using the Joy-Cons, keep in mind that if you’ve had connectivity issues with your left Joy-Con on Switch, you may run into similar problems on other devices. The Bluetooth connection can be iffy and is easily interrupted by interfering devices. Keep the line between the Joy-Con and your PC clear, and if it’s getting inconsistent, try adjusting where you hold the controller.

Nintendo said shortly after the launch of the Switch that it had corrected future shipments’ connectivity issues, so if you didn’t buy your console when the console launched in 2017, or bought another Joy-Con recently, you’ll likely encounter fewer issues.

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Both the Joy-Cons and Pro Controller — outside of Steam — are best used with older games that support simple controls and the older DirectInput API. They may even be the best option for emulating old Nintendo games on your PC or other device — after all, what could be more fitting than using the newest Nintendo controller to play the oldest Nintendo games?

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