May 25, 2022

This is What Causes Your DualSense Drift

Drift; it’s a controller thing

For anyone lucky enough to own a PlayStation 5, there’s some problematic news you may want to know about;

Your brand-new DualSense Controller is fundamentally flawed by design.

Okay, that may sound a bit extreme. But, it is liable to controller drift. You’re not alone; it’s an issue that also affects the Dual Shock 4, Xbox One, and One Elite controller range.

A recent iFixit investigation found that the DualSense uses components that, “could easily exceed their operating life in just over 400 hours of game time”.

The DualSense’s thumb-sticks wear on the potentiometers (see image below)

As iFixit notes;

“The potentiometers in the DualSense joysticks work like that, except instead of moving back and forth in a straight line, the wiper races around a semicircular track made of the printed carbon film. When you move the joystick with your thumb, it rotates two little shafts, one connected to each wiper. The wipers translate their positions into voltage values, which the controller reads to determine the joystick’s position and movement”.

As to how and why drift occurs, there are four potential reasons;

  1. Sensor wear: “the wiper scrubbing back-and-forth against the resistive pad creates imperfections, altering the voltage readings across the terminal” – iFixit
  2. Spring fatigue: “In order to work, [the resistors] have to measure joystick movements from a consistent, neutral starting point. As you move your joystick around, the spring-loaded self-centring mechanism can stretch slightly, creating a new ‘neutral’ point” – iFixit
  3. Material stretching: “That’s not to say that plastic stretching throughout the joystick isn’t a factor. You are, after all, constantly pushing joysticks against their limits, sometimes quite hard” – iFixit
  4. Grime, dust, moisture, and other gunk (contamination): “the constant plastic-on-plastic grind [of gaming] creates plastic dust that can accumulate inside the joystick mechanism. Most modern controllers use self-lubricating plastics for smoother action. Self-lubricating ultimately means self-degrading; they work in part by sacrificing minute amounts of their own material” – iFixit 

There’s More Going On Than Meets the Eye

So, that’s a number of potential causes, but what about fixes? Well, the DualSense’s joystick modules are soldered onto the main controller board at 16 soldering points each. So, you could do a spot of professional-grade reverse-soldering, or take to YouTube for a number of different methods. iFixit offers some alternatives, such as;

“You could, for example, pry off the housings of the potentiometers and either clean or replace the rotating wiper. Or you might try carefully cleaning both the wiper and its graphite track. Some folks have tried physically twisting the potentiometer hardware ever so slightly in order to offset slightly incorrect position readings”.

The long-and-short of it is that, iFixit guesstimates, that the DualSense should last around 417 hours of playtime. It’s obviously not ideal when you consider that most people will expect to have their console for a sizeable length of time longer than 17 days. At least we have some sort of idea as to why this phenomenon occurs. Now, if only Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo could maybe, make sure it doesn’t?


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