Desktop computers might feel like a thing of the past, but there are still plenty of reasons to choose a the best desktop PCs over a laptop. Oftentimes, even base model desktop computers are far more powerful than their mobile counterparts. This makes them better suited for multimedia projects like photo, video and music editing. And if you’re looking for a machine for your work or home office, you might as well get more power and performance at a similar (or lower) price. That’s right, desktop computers are often far more affordable than premium laptops.
If you feel like you need a little more performance from your desktop down the road, especially if you’re a gamer, desktop computers are easier to customize and upgrade than gaming laptops. It is much easier to swap out a desktop’s components and add some extra RAM compared to a laptop.
Plus, the best desktop computers are no longer behemoth towers that take up a massive amount of room. The Mac Mini put that myth to rest some time ago, and there are a lot of all-in-one desktops that don’t have a computer tower at all. You can also find some worthy mini computers from ASUS and Intel, which provide a solid alternative to the Mac Mini.
Simply put, there are a lot of reasons to invest in the best desktop computers of 2021:
- Can be more affordable than laptops
- Typically more powerful than laptops
- Most 2021 models are very compact
- Customizable components
So whether you’re looking for a new family computer, need a desktop for video editing, or want to find the best desktop computer for small businesses, we’ve picked 11 fantastic options for you to consider. Keep reading for the best desktop computers of 2021 from top brands like Dell, Microsoft, Apple and HP.
1. HP Envy Desktop
BEST DESKTOP COMPUTER OVERALL
If you prefer the tower form factor in a desktop PC, then the HP Envy is absolutely the way to go. Thanks to a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 and 8 GB of RAM, it’s capable of handling any task you throw at it (within reason). It’s also good enough for gaming and VR and doesn’t look completely hideous. It even has a DVD burner, which is a rarity these days. With an extremely reasonable starting price of just $699, this is a great option as both a shared family computer or an office workhorse. Of course, you’ll need to spend a little more on a separate computer monitor.
2. Apple iMac with M1
BEST ALL-IN-ONE DESKTOP COMPUTER
Before the M1 iMac was unveiled at the end of April, the iMac had had the same broad aesthetic since 2007, and the same exact design since 2012. And while it didn’t necessarily need a visual refresh, we’re not complaining because the new iMac is not only sleeker and more compact, but it’s also fun. Available in 7 colors, the M1 iMac design calls back to the original iMac from 1998 which came in the same range of colors (minus silver). But don’t let the cute look fool you: This computer is built for serious work. The all-new iMac also features Apple’s M1 chip, which singlehandedly turned the M1 MacBook Air into a computing powerhouse. Add to that a 24-inch Retina 4.5K display, Dolby Atmos speakers, a redesigned webcam and improved microphones, and you have a computer that can just about do it all. That includes Zoom calls, streaming 4K HDR movies, editing 4K video and even playing recent games in 1080p at 60 frames per second.
3. Dell XPS Desktop
The Dell XPS line of desktop computers has been one of the best since it first arrived 20 years ago, and it seems that with its latest generation of PCs, it just keeps getting better. While you can configure the XPS to your liking, we love the value that comes with a build featuring a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU and 8 GB of RAM, which will get you through all of your daily computing needs short of gaming or intensive video editing.
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4. Acer Aspire TC-895 Tower
BEST BUDGET TOWER
For a solid desktop computer under $800, the Acer Aspire should be towards the top of your list. According to PCMag speed testing, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a desktop computer at this price range with the same performance. It shows its prowess at handling everything from normal office work to intensive Adobe Cloud programs. And with its small footprint, you don’t need to worry if your workspace is a bit cramped. This Acer Aspire desktop computer is as affordable as it is smart.
5. HP Envy 32 All-In-One PC
BEST ALL-IN-ONE PC
What’s not to like about the HP Envy 32 All-in-one desktop computer? With HDMI, USB-C and Thunderbolt support, it has plenty of connectivity. It boasts a 4K screen great for content creators or the occasional gaming session. And 16 GB of RAM can handle multiple tasks simultaneously without a hitch in the giddy-up. Plus, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 GPU means that its more than equipped for gaming or 4K video editing. Plus, it’s got a sleek, ultra-thin display with edge-to-edge glass that will look great on your desk.
6. Acer Aspire C 27 All-In-One
BEST BUDGET ALL-IN-ONE
The Acer Aspire C 27 All-In-One desktop is a no-frills affair with a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8 GB of RAM, a 1080p display and a NVIDIA GeForce MX130 mid-range laptop graphics card. But considering that you get a 27-inch edge-to-edge display in a nice-looking package for less than $1000, you could do a lot worse when it comes to all-in-ones. Considering comparable all-in-one desktop computers can cost a decent amount more, you could even take the money saved here and treat yourself to a vibrant and sharp second monitor, a precise and responsive wireless mouse or even a room-filling set of speakers.
7. HP Chromebox G3
BEST CHROME OS DESKTOP
Those looking for a capable, affordable computer that can handle everything from remote learning to casual use should strongly consider a Chromebox. Powered by Google’s well-designed Chrome OS, this device can handle nearly any web-based task you can throw at it (and most people’s computer usage these days is largely web-based, anyway). Furthermore, HP’s Chromebox G3 is powered by a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU and 8 GB of RAM, which means this machine is going to be blazing fast. Chrome OS is not as demanding on computer hardware as Windows or Mac OS, so having full-powered components is a boon in this situation.
8. Asus Chromebox 3
BEST BUDGET CHROMEBOX
If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper Chromebox that still has plenty of horsepower, the Asus Chromebox 3 is roughly $150 less, and the only tradeoff is that it has an Intel Core i3 CPU instead of a Core i5. While that is a potential deal-breaker for a Windows machine, the lightweight and efficient nature of Chrome OS means that it’s less of a red flag.
9. Microsoft Surface Studio 2
BEST FOR CREATIVES
For the creatives out there, the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is a dream machine — as long as you’re not too invested in the idea of using a Mac. At the heart is a 28-inch, 4500×3000 pixel display that has been tuned to provide the best color accuracy possible. But the real attraction is the fact that the screen can swivel from a vertical position to a flat one, allowing you to directly interact with the panel to edit photos and work on illustrations with 10-point multitouch or the excellent Microsoft Surface Pen. It can even power two 4K monitors if you want.
Admittedly, the Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake CPU and NVIDIA GeForce GTX1080i are starting to get a little long in the tooth in the time since the Surface Studio 2 debuted in 2018, but they can still hold their own for most things that don’t involve heavy video rendering. You will absolutely pay a premium for the luxuries afforded by this computer, but if money isn’t a major factor, then you should give this top-rated desktop computer a serious look.
10. Dell Inspiron 27 7000 All-In-One
For most people, an all-in-one PC is all that’s needed and when it comes to the best desktop computers, the Dell Inspiron 27 AIO is a solid performer. With a 27-inch, 1080p touch display backed up by an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, 16 GB of RAM and a 1080p webcam that tucks away, all of your needs from entertainment to photo editing to heavy chrome use will be covered. And while the stark, industrial aesthetic may not be for everyone, we think it’s pretty sharp.
11. HP Pavilion All-In-One
Like the HP Envy All-In-One featured above, the HP Pavilion will cut an impressive figure on any desk. However, at less than half the price as the Envy, it might be the better option for businesses, students and shoppers on a tighter budget. With 8GB of RAM, the 24-inch HP Pavilion All-In-One is the computer to look at if you need something that can handle all of your everyday tasks, doesn’t require any additional hardware, and doesn’t cost a lot. There’s nothing flashy about the AMD Ryzen 3 quad-core processor and the display this machine is packing, but it will absolutely get the job done.
12. M1 Mac Mini
BEST COMPACT MAC
For those who don’t want an all-in-one, but still want the additional horsepower that often comes with larger desktop towers, look no further than the M1 Mac Mini. Equipped with the same world-beating components as the game-changing M1 MacBook Air, this Mac Mini can handle just about any typical task without breaking a sweat — browsing the web, playing back 4K video, running apps for work — while also being powerful enough to take on things like gaming and video editing. It’s also versatile enough to plug into your TV and function as a media hub, if that’s your thing.
13. Intel NUC 10 Performance Mini PC NUC10i5FNHCA
BEST COMPACT PC
There’s no denying that Apple makes some of the best desktop computers in the world, but Mac OS isn’t for everyone. If that’s the case, then Intel’s NUC line of mini PCs has emerged as an exciting alternative in recent years. The NUC 10 comes equipped with Intel’s 10th-generation Core i5 CPU and has everything you need to accomplish everyday tasks, all while fitting in the palm of your hand. Plus, if you decide you need more RAM or storage later on, it’s easily upgradeable.
14. Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition R10 Gaming PC
BEST GAMING PC
If gaming is part of the equation as you evaluate the best desktop PCs, then Alienware Aurora 11 Gaming Desktop is one of the best options. While you can opt for base-level specs and net a computer that will get you respectable gaming performance for under $1000, the real draw of this computer is that you can configure it with high-end components such as a AMD Ryzen 3700X CPU and the new NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 GPU to grind through the most demanding of AAA games at 4K resolutions or silky smooth 200 FPS framerates. But if you decide to go with a more modest build, the Aurora still provides plenty of power with the flexibility to upgrade your machine in the future.
15. Apple iMac with Retina 5K Display (2020)
It’s not the cheapest option available (although it’s not financially prohibitive), and it’s not the most powerful on this list (although it’s definitely more than capable), but when you factor in simplicity, display, longevity and design, the 27-inch iMac 5K Retina is easily one of the best desktop computers for sale in 2021.
All-in-ones can often be underpowered, but Apple’s offering comes equipped with one of the best displays money can buy, an excellent operating system and enough oomph to handle the demands of your average photo and video editing tasks for years to come. For professionals, students and creatives who need a machine that can keep up with them, you can’t do better than the gorgeous iMac.
16. ASUS Chromebit CS10 Stick-Desktop PC
Until recently, portability wasn’t much of a factor in the desktop world. However, as computing hardware simultaneously gets more powerful and more compact, a growing number of the best desktop PCs are actually incredibly portable. And if you are looking for the absolute cheapest and easiest way to jump into a desktop computing experience, the Asus Chromebit is it. You simply plug this stick into the HDMI port of a monitor or TV, connect a mouse and keyboard, and you’re ready to go. It’s definitely underpowered compared to the models featured above, and it doesn’t come with much internal storage, but at a price this low, there’s only so much you can expect. It also runs on Google’s Chrome OS, which is a legitimately great platform, provided you can get by entirely on web apps.
Everything You Need to Know About the Best Desktop Computers
Desktops and laptops definitely have their relative merits with the major difference boiling down to portability. But if you’re largely using your computer at home, here are some advantages of buying a desktop:
- Power: The best desktop computers are more powerful than your typical laptop.
- Affordability: The best desktop computers offer more bang for the buck.
- Upgradability: Many of the best desktop computers can be repaired or upgraded more easily.
- Flexibility: The best desktop computers allow you to pick your own monitor, speakers, keyboard and mouse.
The specs you want from the best desktop computers will largely depend on what your needs are. But the main things you’ll want to look for when buying a new computer are:
- CPU: A powerful CPU sets the standard for the overall speed and capability of your computer. As a baseline, you should want a computer that has at least a 10th generation Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 CPU. Ideally, you’ll want a desktop computer that has an 11th generation Intel Core i5 CPU (or an AMD Ryzen 5 CPU) If you’re a gamer or a creative professional (photographer, illustrator, video editor, etc.) you will likely want an 11th generation Intel Core i7 CPU (or an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU).
- RAM: Random access memory is specifically for apps to temporarily use while they’re running. Working together with the CPU, more RAM enables demanding apps to run as fast as possible, or many apps to run at the same time. At minimum, you’ll want to buy computer with 4GB of RAM, but 8GB of RAM is preferable. This will ensure that your computer can handle everything from web browsing productivity software 4K video and even some light photo and video editing. For dedicated gamers, streamers and creative professionals, 16GB of RAM is more desirable.
- GPU: For most users, the graphics cards that come with any of the best desktop computers will be fine. But gamers and creative professionals will want to spend a little extra to upgrade in this area. While a graphics card like an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 is a fine choice, jumping up to an GeForce RTX 2060 or 2080 will make a huge difference in what you can do with your computer.
- Storage: For most people, choosing between a hard drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SDD) will be a matter of preference when it comes to the best desktop computers. While hard drives are slower and more prone to failure because they have moving parts, they also offer more storage for the money. SSDs may be more costly, but their speed and reliability often makes them a great choice for gamers and video editors trying to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of their machines.
- Accessability/Upgradability: If you’re looking to buy a computer that will last you more than a few years, you’re going to want to buy a desktop computer that is fixable, upgradable and/or expandable. This means that you’ll be able to open up the case of your tower and access the hard drive/SSD, GPU, RAM and optical drive. Generally speaking, components such as the CPU, motherboard and power supply are not upgradable in pre-configured computers.
Most computer brands have made a solid desktop computer at some point or another, but here are a few of our favorite companies right now: