Staff, Courtesy of Microsoft
Laptops and smartphones are all the rage these days, but the right desktop computer can free you from tiny screens and sluggish processors. Desktop computers are the best choice for gaming, too, and most will allow you to customize or add components at will.
Specs to Consider
There are a dizzying array of options when it comes to desktop computers. But don’t let that overwhelm you. If all you’re doing is browsing the web, watching movies and creating documents, any computer on this list should perform well. Keep in mind that not every desktop computer comes with a monitor. If you’re buying a display separately, look for one that is at least full HD resolution. A 4K screen will offer an even crisper image.
First, decide whether you want a computer that runs the Mac or the Windows operating system. There’s a fierce debate between the Mac and Windows camps over which is better, but for most people who want to do everyday computing tasks like browsing the web, word processing and watching movies, either operating system does the job.
The exception to this rule is if you’re looking to use your desktop for gaming. While there are hundreds of games made for the Mac OS, the vast majority of serious gamers prefer Windows. Most games are released for Windows first, and often, they are not available for Mac computers.
For a Windows 10 desktop PC, expect to spend around $1,000 for a machine that can handle light gaming as well as photo and video editing. You should look for an Nvidia GTX/RTX or AMD Radeon RX graphics card and at least 16 gigabytes of RAM. That’s enough to run several programs at once, so you can type in Microsoft Word while having a web browser with multiple tabs open. For even smoother operation, invest in more RAM. Massive hard drives are relatively inexpensive these days but are easy to fill up if you’re storing games or videos. Look for at least 512 GB of storage unless you plan to keep a lot of your data in the cloud.
Mac desktops offer fewer options but can be a solid choice due to Apple’s well-earned reputation for top-notch hardware and reliable software. Either the Mac Mini or the iMac M1 should offer plenty of horsepower to tackle most tasks unless you are a serious gamer.
How We Selected
I’m a tech journalist who has owned desktop computers for decades. I recently spent a dozen hours researching and reading reviews of the latest desktops. I am currently using an iMac M1 (and wrote this review on it). As a freelancer, I’ve written for many publications, including The New York Times and The Atlantic. I looked at processor speeds, RAM, graphics cards, displays, storage, and prices to sort out the best of the desktops available.
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Apple iMac M1 (2021)
Display: 24 in. 4.5K | RAM: 8 GB | Processor: Apple M1 | Hard Drive: 256 GB SSD
The iMac M1 is my top choice, and the computer I use on a daily basis. It’s got a fantastic clear and bright monitor, which is big enough to easily display large documents, without being too awkward to fit on a desk. The M1 chip is fast enough to keep the Mac OS and most programs zipping at the click of a mouse. And the newly revamped iMac design is stylish enough to keep on display in your living room. The only thing I’d swap out is the terrible, tiny keyboard that Apple includes with this model.
- Excellent display quality
- Fast processing
HP Pavilion Desktop TP01-1140
Display: Not included | RAM: 12 GB | Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 | Hard Drive: 512 GB
This Pavilion is a basic machine that also throws in some decent sound and graphics. The 5.1 surround sound will make movies sound great, and the AMD Ryzen 5 4600G processor and Radeon graphics are enough to play some but not all PC games. The brushed aluminum look of the case is inoffensive and offers a plethora of ports, including HDMI.
- Decent sound and graphics
- Not best for serious gamers
$1,849.99 (12% off)
Display: 31.5 in. 4K ultra HD | RAM: 16 GB | Processor: Intel Core i7 | Hard Drive: 1 TB SSD
The Envy 32 is a sharp-looking all-in-one PC with a lot of angles and a visible speaker below the screen. HP markets this model to creators who do a lot of photo and video editing, and the Intel Core i7-9700 should be up to the task. The integrated 4K monitor is a standout with an excellent 6000:1 contrast ratio and 600 nits peak brightness. The big speaker is put to good use with front-firing tweeters and subwoofer speakers tuned by famed audio manufacturer Bang & Olufsen. You can even stream music from your phone to your PC speakers with the PC powered off.
- Integrated design saves space
- Excellent sound quality
Apple Mac Mini M1 (2020)
Display: Not included | RAM: 8 GB | Processor: Apple M1 | Hard Drive: 256 GB SSD
If the iMac is your all-in-one solution, Apple fans who want options can rejoice at the newly reinvigorated Mac Mini that sports the same M1 processor. The tiny Mini can easily connect to your choice of accessories. If you’ve already invested in some solid hardware, like an expensive monitor, it makes sense to consider the Mini. It’s also easy to transport when you travel. It’s got plenty of connection options, including USB, HDMI, and gigabit ethernet.
- Good option if you already have a monitor you like
- Fast processing
- Keyboard (and mouse) not included
Best for Gaming
HP Omen 25L
Display: Not included | RAM: 16 GB | Processor: Intel Core i7 | Hard Drive: 512 GB SSD
Gamers who want a rig that can handle most titles at acceptable frame rates should be happy with the Omen 25L. The NVIDIAGeForce GTX 1660T graphics card will power games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider with high dynamic range (HDR) and ray tracing at high and all other settings at an average 76 frames per second. This desktop supports dual monitors, and like most gaming PCs, is designed to be customizable for future upgrades.
- Quality graphics card
- Supports dual monitors
- Competitors offer faster frame rates
Display: Not included | RAM: 12 GB | Processor: Intel Core i5 | Hard Drive: 512 GB
This Acer model gets the job done at a reasonable price. The 10th Gen Intel Core i5-10400 6-Core processor is fast enough to run the latest version of Windows 10 snappily and tackles tasks like word processing and manipulating spreadsheets. Don’t try running modern PC games on this machine, however. The sharp-edged black case isn’t likely to win any design awards, but it won’t make you wince.
- Low price
- Comes with keyboard and mouse
Acer Aspire C27
Display: 27 in. full HD | RAM: 16 GB | Processor: Intel Quad-Core | Hard Drive: 1 TB SSD
The C27 might be the best looking PC on the market with an elegant all-in-one design that’s framed by a silver monitor. Acer claims it’s the slimmest all-in-one ever designed at 0.3 inches. The screen is a bit larger than Apple’s new 24-inch iMac, and the sound quality is a standout with dual-firing surround stereo speakers. It’s not meant for gaming, but the quad-core processor is more than fast enough for light office tasks and watching movies. A nice addition is the 1 TB SSD drive that’s big enough to store videos and fast enough to keep the system running smoothly.
- Elegant all-in-one design
- Very slim screen
Microsoft Surface Studio 2
Display: 28 in. touch screen | RAM: 32 GB | Processor: Intel Core i7 | Hard Drive: 1 TB SSD
The Surface Studio 2 is meant for graphics professionals, but it’s got tons of handy features for anyone who’s got the cash for the hefty price tag. It’s centered around a 28-inch touch screen display with 13.5 million pixels that are intended to more accurately represent real colors than competitors. The tiltable screen allows users to lower the screen almost flat and read or mark up documents with the stylus while standing up.
- Premium display quality
- Touch screen allows for drawing or quick note-taking
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