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 a Pro Controller

The Pro Controller can also connect to your Windows or MacOS machine, or even an Android device. Don’t try to plug it in via USB, however, because that won’t work.

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.

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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. But it’s an imperfect solution — no amount of fiddling could get Portal 2 to recognize the Pro Controller, for example — and for now, we’ll have to wait for the homebrew community to come up with their own methods.

Other things to keep in mind

Another thing: You can’t charge the Pro Controller while its paired via Bluetooth, so keep it plugged in while not in use 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.

Also, if you’re using the Joy-Cons, keep in mind that if you have 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 janky, try adjusting where you hold the controller.

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Both the Joy-Cons and Pro Controller 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?

Updated March 19, 2018, by Steven Petite: Added information on using a pair of Joy-Cons as a single controller.