Xbox Controller Mod Gets Serious About Stick Drift

Many a gamer has found that after a few years of racing around the track or sending demons back from whence they came, the analog sticks on their trusty controller can start to drift around. Many times it’s a fairly minor problem, something you might only notice if you were really keeping an eye out for it, but it can definitely be annoying. Those handy with a soldering iron might just swap out the sticks for replacements once it gets to that point, but [Taylor Burley] wondered how difficult it would be to recalibrate the ailing sticks instead.

To be clear, [Taylor] acknowledges this approach is overkill. It would be cheaper and easier to just replace the drifting stick with a new one. Even if you take into account that new sticks might not be as high quality as the originals and could give up the ghost faster, this probably isn’t worth the effort. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting hack.

In the video after the break, [Taylor] starts by explaining how stick drift occurs in the first place. Each axis of the stick is physically connected to the wiper of a potentiometer, so for 10K pots, the stick’s center point should correspond to a resistance of 5K. He then goes on to measure the resistance in a bad joystick, and sure enough, the center resistance is off by several hundred Ohms.

To fix this, he comes up with a simple circuit that places additional potentiometers between the wipers. With two joysticks and two adjustment pots per axis, that makes eight little adjustment wheels that need to be fiddled with to get the center points calibrated properly. In this case [Taylor] uses a controller diagnostic tool for the Xbox to quantify the impact his adjustments are making so he can dial it in perfectly, but the idea is the same no matter who’s logo is on the box.

We’d say this is the most overkill attempt at addressing the issue of stick drift on gaming controllers we’ve ever seen, but that title has to go to [Matteo Pisani], who replaced the analog stick on his Switch Joy-Con with a custom circular touchpad.

44 thoughts on “Xbox Controller Mod Gets Serious About Stick Drift

  1. So, I don’t have the part numbers off hand, but you can buy the right thumbstick modules straight from Mouser/Digikey. There are even part variants from the manufacturer with different spring force in them too. It didn’t take long to find them when I went to look up replacements myself a couple years ago.

  2. wouldn’t it just be cheaper to replace the whole assembly when it wears out? or use a higher quality part. you can get a hall effect thumb stick if you are willing to pay for it (ive seem them in the $50-150 price range in quantity one).

          1. no. you have linearity issues, dead bands at the top and bottom of your range (this can eat up between a fifth and a quarter of your adc resolution). also depending on how much range of motion you need you might have to throw some of that away or come up with an exotic b-field geometry. you need magnetic shielding to keep it from picking up all the stray magnetic fields from the pcb.

            also all the sensors ive played around with have been 5v, and i had trouble sourcing 3.3v parts. one project i had to run a bodge wire to give the sensor enough voltage, and then put resistor dividers on the output because of this.

        1. curious. are these hall effect or are they just pots that break out the center taper? page doesnt say anything about these being hall effect. i couldn’t find a datasheet. would be nice if it had the adc and hall sensor all in one package with a 2 wire interface.

    1. Never had drift but the most annoying problem with my now 5th controller are the damn bumpers that can go after a few months. If you are a hard soccer gamer on FIFA or Pro Evolution when one of these bumpers go it f#$ up your game. I have been playing handicap for like 2mths now!

      1. Just 8: you have to pull down the potentiometers, then just desolder the 4 stick legs and the 4 button legs. then you can get the pots out after you got rid of the mechanical part of the stick

  3. Mine drifts to the left, infinitesimal amounts, randomly. I believe there are only three choices left: replace the whole stick; replace the whole controller; or replace the whole console for a brand-new-last-generation one.

    Oh, boy… difficult choices… :D

  4. And now here we are months later the Nintendo switch units are having joysticks replaced for free due to bad drift, shame there is not enough space for an up to date sealed part that will give years of service.

    1. Don’t have filthy hands when using it or store it badly and the originals last well.
      Mine were second hand when I got them, with one drifting and over several years now I’ve finally had to replace the last original one of the 4 sticks (and that was changing them at the drift so marginal it almost never actually got seen as input – but I had the spares in stock having ordered enough replacements so why not).

      Be nice if they were better, but at the same time those killing the sticks off in short order seem to be mistreating them really.

  5. How is stick drift a thing? GameCube had auto calibration. Did someone have a big fit and decide that was “cheating” and “faking it” and remove it?

    Software should always keep working with bad hardware, when it is safe and practical, and this is exactly the kind of case where software calibration is the way to go.

    1. Old Apple II Analog Joysticks had a similar “solution” already in place, with mechanical adjustements to manually calibrate the center and compensate any drifts while in “idle” position. I do believe those cases where the drift is more permanent could be solved in software with a simple calibration routine when powered/connected.

      In my case (an Xbox 360 controller), the drift is caused by small reading errors, not constant, like a light pressure to the left that disappears sometimes; it would be tough to detect them in sw, as it would be difficult to tell if it was indeed a bad part or a user-induced movement. Any auto-calibration could cause the drift to move the other way while compensating ocasional “correct” readings from the faulty part.

      A stick replacement would be cheap and nice; a new controller would be nice, not cheap; a new console would be waaaay too nice (honestly, I’m looking for an excuse to buy a new XBox… lol..)

    2. And N64 had a special button combination you could use at any time (as long as it was plugged in with the power on) which took the current joystick position as the new (0,0) point.
      It was a lot of fun to sneakily perform this function while handing a controller to someone, watching to see how long it took them to notice it had been zeroed with the stick jammed all the way to one side!

  6. Out of curiosity, has anyone encountered a DualShock (or DualAnalog if you can find one) or DS2 controller with stick drift? My abused-since-childhood controllers still centre without issue, and being mass-market consumer products sold at a lower price point to current controllers it seems unlikely they were just ‘better built’ than modern 2-axis pots.

  7. While this is an interesting solution, wouldn’t it be easier to just spray contact cleaner into the joystick module? I did a quick check and found others that have solved drift this way.

    Also, doing another check, I found replacement joystick modules (packs of 1 to 4) for around $10.

    One good thing about this article, it made me realise that the odd drift I was getting in Cyberpunk is probably my controller and not the game. Doh!

    1. I’d imagine that after a period of intense use, you’d be shoving a little pile of carbon dust back and forth, and depending on whether wiper centered left of it, right of it, or in the middle of it you’d get different readings. So performing percussive maintenance may be effective.

    2. After a while the center track (middle pin) disappears and you have to change the entire pot. They’re cheap though, you just have to source them.
      Usually if there’s little to no damage to the pot, you can clean them with a piece of paper with alcohol.

  8. Seems like it should not be this difficult. I have used sticks on RC systems that have you release the stick to calibrate center and then move to each corner to measure limits. Only issue would be if the center is not repeatable which would indicate a mechanical problem.

    1. Mechanical or also electrical – dirty pots (because of carbon buildup or just general gunk) will show a lot of noise. you can connect any dualshock 4 to a Windows PC and check its analog sticks via the built-in joystick configurator.

  9. Couldn’t someone just hack the firmware? Set the controller to auto calibrate when first powered up? So even if your not reading the 5000ohm it would power up, read 4679ohm and go ok, that’s the zero point now! You would slowly lose the ability to move the stick in that direction, but exactly the same as with this hack!

  10. So… What about that thing I saw on LTT, with hotswappable modules??? Wouldn’t that be the way to make controllers more eco-friendly, and harder to break to the point where you need to replace the whole thing???

  11. Dont you only need one dial for each axis? Just put a fixed resistor in place on one side of the stick, meaning before it in the electrical path, and then your pot after. Then you have a middle point by just matching the fixed with the pot. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.

  12. I replaced the potentiometers in two different controllers. From close inspection of one of them, if you unclip the sides and look where the wiper makes contact with a metal horseshoe contact you’ll probably notice that contact path has worn through. I believe this was the issue for my stick drift.

  13. I’ve been through at least 3-4 controllers throughout 2020 from playing Rocket League, Brawlhalla (worst culprits), and some COD and Destiny 2. It’s sad how that should even be a thing to where I’m almost buying a new one to not rage every few months or so. I’ve had better luck with a cheap ass controller opposed to a $60+ one. Microsoft needs to fucking care about the customer more. These big companies are going to regret the decisions they make to half ass stuff in the future due to hardcore fans of xbox (or whatever you play) leaving their products for another competitors. Wake up elitist companies. Shits getting old real fast.

  14. I notice the default cente on my 360 controller is off even when the replacement stick voltage (read with DMM) is exactly at 1/2 the voltage. This lead me to think that they don’t use the same excitation voltage as the same refrence in their ADC. i.e. not using ratiometric conversion.

    The centering can be manually calibrated with the setting GUI, so I don’t understand about stick drift issues.

  15. these should be standard in any electronic sub-system that can drift over time; much faster to reach in with a tiny screwdriver through a hole in the enclosure and slightly adjusting until it is right than sending it off for repair…

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