If you’re a heavy controller user for your games, be it on PC or console; you’re likely familiar with stick drift.
Seeing signs of drift on your controller’s sticks is the bane of every gamer who just wants to enjoy their favorite games without any hassle.
Stick drift has been a persistent issue as long as controllers have existed. Gradual wear and tear will eventually cause your gamepad’s joysticks to behave abnormally, right up until they fail altogether.
Drift is when your controller’s analog joysticks start picking up phantom inputs. This is obviously not ideal and can make playing games very annoying. Either your character will keep looking around of its own volition, or your gun will randomly aim down its sights at inconvenient times.
A regular controller will experience stick drift after around one year of regular heavy use (of course, your mileage may vary). But luckily, you can buy new joysticks to replace your old ones with drift instead of throwing your whole controller away for a new one. This is a practice many enthusiast controller users do, but the fact is that each joystick you put in will start drifting until you have to replace it.
But what if this didn’t have to be the case? What if there was a new type of joystick that simply did not develop drift no matter how long you use them? Could something like that even be possible?
Well, that’s where Hall Effect joysticks come in.
What are hall effect joysticks?
Hall Effect joysticks get their name from The Hall Effect, which is in turn named after its founder Edwin Hall.
In simple terms, the Hall Effect represents a change in voltage that is caused when a magnetic field interferes with an electrical flow from a conductor.
Hall Effect joysticks use this principle by having permanent magnets in them that move in relative to an electrical conductor. The voltage change that then occurs is converted to positional data to track the joystick’s movements.
Since the components in a Hall Effect joystick never physically touch, the sensors do not wear out like they do on analog joysticks. This means that in theory, Hall Effect joysticks never develop drift in their lifetime. In other words, magnets, how do they work.
Hall Effect vs analog joysticks
Analog joysticks are based on Ohm’s Law of electrical resistance. The components within an analog, or ‘potentiometer’ joystick move along each other; this either increases or decreases the resistance of the electric circuit.
Analog joysticks can be very precise in their tracking since it deals with a measurable change in electrical resistance by components that physically touch one another.
Hall Effect joysticks, as I mentioned earlier, use a magnet that moves in relation to an electrical conductor. The positional tracking data for the joysticks is obtained by the change in voltage observed when the magnetic field crosses the electric field.
While Hall Effect joysticks do not experience the traditional drift observed in analog joysticks, they do have some other issues. The magnets used in Hall Effect sensors can lose or change their magnetism. This will cause the joysticks to become less accurate in their tracking. However, the chances of this occurring are much lower than an analog stick developing drift since the Hall Effect joysticks must be exposed to a lot of electromagnetic interference to induce a change in magnetism.
Tiny dead zone on Hall Effect
Because Hall Effect sticks are much less likely to wear down, their controllers don’t need nearly any dead zone to accommodate for the eventual drift that analog sticks produce. The result of this smaller dead zone is that Hall Effect sticks are much more responsive, a small movement on the stick will be represented on the screen, it could be a huge competitive advantage, especially for shooters.
Downsides of analog joysticks
The main problem with analog joysticks is the constant touching of the components in them will cause them to wear down. The available range of resistances will change, which can cause the analog joysticks to become wildly less accurate.
Hall Effect sensors being entirely drift-free is not factual. Especially since exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures as well as electromagnetic interferences will cause the magnets to wear out, making the sensors less and less accurate.
But the key difference here is that Hall Effect joysticks will take decades of vigorous use to even show signs of drift, while analog joysticks start drifting after only few months of use.
Hall Effect joysticks are superior by all means over analog joysticks for this exact reason.
Controllers and portables with Hall Effect Joysticks
While Hall Effect sensors only cost slightly more than analog ones, they are almost never used by big-name manufacturers on game controllers. Sony’s DualShock and DualSense controllers all use analog joysticks. Even Xbox controllers all come with regular analog sensors in them. The same goes for the Nintendo Switch and the Steam Deck.
The lack of mainstream Hall Effect sensors is likely due to these companies not willing (yet) to pay licensing fees to use patented tech.
However, the industry has started to take note of the benefits of Hall Effect sensors in the past few years. New up-and-coming devices such as the Aya Neo uses Hall Effect sensors on their joysticks, which feel much superior to many other joysticks produced by competitors.
Moreover, third-party Hall Effect controllers are available by many brands that work with Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PC. There are also Hal Effect upgrade kits for the Steam Deck which elevates the experience on an already great portable console.
Hall Effect sensors may not be the industry standard yet, but they are getting there.
Hall Effect sticks for PS5, Xbox, and Switch
Currently, there are no available Hall Effect replacement kits for PS5 or Xbox controllers. Replacing the joysticks on these controllers is much harder compared to the Steam Deck since they are not on separate PCBs (unlike the Steam Deck). This is unfortunate since stick drift is all too common among Xbox and DualSense controllers. No controller that costs upwards of $70 should have joysticks that stop working after only a few months of use.
The GuliKt Hall Effect Sensing Joystick is a new third-party controller that uses Hall Effect sensors and is compatible with Xbox, PC, and Nintendo Switch. It retails for $60 and is definitely a worthy investment.
That about sums everything up. Stick drift in game controllers and joysticks was a glaring issue for decades and it took the longest time for the industry to start addressing it. This is even more confusing since Hall Effect sensors have been around for ages without them being properly implemented in gamepads.
However, now that manufacturers are slowly but surely wisening up to the benefits of Hall Effect sensors, I feel like the age of drift-free controllers is just around the corner.