The Best Desktop Computers to Buy in 2021

The best desktop computer you can buy is the Dell XPS 8940. While building your own computer will always get you the best performance per dollar, the XPS 8940 is the best prebuilt PC you can buy, whether that’s for a family room at home or for a student dorm room. You can spec it up with powerful processors, but Dell also offers an affordable base model.

Many people choose desktops over laptops for extreme performance needs, though, which is why we’ve included picks below for heavier tasks like gaming or video editing. We’ve also included the best options for ultra-compact desktops or all-in-ones, which are ideal for those with limited space. You can also take a look at some of the best desktop deals we’ve found for today.

The best desktop PCs at a glance:

Dell XPS 8940

Why you should buy this: It’s the best overall desktop you can buy right now.

Who it’s for: Families, students, budget-conscious buyers.

Why we picked the Dell XPS 8940:

The best overall desktop is the one that will work for the most people, and that’s the Dell XPS 8940. On the exterior, it’s not flashy, but it’s a conservative desktop that would fit in just as easily in a cubicle as it would in a home office or dorm room.

Regardless of what configuration you choose, you’ll find something that matches your needs, especially since Dell builds them custom ordered. The options are nearly endless, but you can easily configure a powerful machine under $1,000 that you’ll be quite happy with. Some of the desktops come without a discrete graphics card, meaning they’re more suited towards work than games. However, you can get one of the more expensive ones that include a discrete GPU.

The system maxes out with either the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU or the GTX 1650 Super, as well as the 10-core Intel Core i9. That’s a lot of performance potential, though the lower-end options will get you the best bang for your buck. Whatever you choose, despite being fairly small and portable, everything is modular and upgradeable for future expansions.

You’ll want to look elsewhere for a monster gaming rig, but the Dell XPS 8940 has a little bit of something for everyone.

HP Omen 30L

Why you should buy this: It’s the best gaming desktop you can buy right now.

Who it’s for: PC gamers who don’t want to build their own system.

Why we picked the HP Omen 30L:

Not everyone has the time or interest to build their own gaming PC from scratch. Not to mention the near impossible hunt for buying a graphics card at a reasonable price.

The Omen 30L is a fantastic solution. Not only is this tower gorgeous to look at with its minimalist glass case, it also takes a lot of nods from the DIY world. Getting into the internals is completely tool-less and once you’re there, you’ll find completely standard components and connections that are as easy to swap out as in your own custom PC.

Of course, the Omen 30L has been updated with the latest Nvidia RTX 30-series graphics cards, which guarantees top-of-the-line performance. At a time when upgrading your own desktop is extremely expensive, a prebuilt option is a good alternative and the Omen 30L is the absolute best.

Read our in-depth HP Omen 30L Gaming Desktop review

Apple iMac (24-inch) M1

Apple iMac 24 inch

Why you should buy this: It’s the best all-in-one desktop currently on the market.

Who it’s for: Professionals and home users looking for compact, beautiful, and powerful all-in-one computers.

Why we picked the Apple iMac M1 (24-inch):

When it comes to Apple, a portion of the charm lies in the aesthetic. The 24-inch iMac is no exception. Coming in up to seven colors — blue, green, pink, white, yellow, orange, and purple — the iMac serves up the perfect blend of soft corners and angles. It’s also shockingly thin, measuring at a mere 11.5mm, making it thinner than any other all-in-one desktop on the market.

The 24-inch (or 23.5-inch, to be precise) version of the iMac is not just a pretty package with little to back it up. Equipped with Apple’s signature breathtaking 4.5K Retina display, this is a powerhouse for both professionals and home users who value display quality. The 4480 x 2520 resolution locked in a screen that is adequate but not massive results in a sharp image and true-to-life color reproduction. It also comes with a built-in 1080p webcam.

This model uses Apple’s M1 chip — an 8-core processor that is also found in the Macbook Pro and Macbook Air. This is combined with a 7-core graphics card in the cheapest model or an 8-core GPU in the two more expensive models. You can customize the desktop further, choosing between 8GB and 16GB unified memory, as well as upgrading the SSD from 256GB to 512GB or even 1TB.

In its basic configuration, Apple’s iMac comes with two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and no Ethernet port. This can be remedied by paying extra for the Ethernet port ($30) or choosing one of the more expensive versions. This is a solid desktop that can handle a number of heavy tasks while making your office look fancier than ever.

Read our in-depth Apple iMac M1 (24-inch) review

Dell G5 Gaming

Why you should buy this: It’s the best budget PC you can buy right now.

Who it’s for: Students, families, entry-level gamers.

Why we picked the Dell G5 Gaming Desktop:

When picking the best gaming desktop, we wanted something that can do everything you need at an affordable price. That’s the Dell G5 Gaming Desktop to a tee. Even its $700 base model is a solid PC, including an AMD RX 5300 and a quad-core 10th-gen Intel Core i3 processor. That’s plenty of power for most students, whether you’re working on a video project, editing photos, coding a game, or just writing your research paper.

Even though most students will be able to get by with an inexpensive desktop with a competent processor, more and more schools are requiring projects that rely on graphics power as part of the curriculum, and having a discrete GPU will be beneficial. The Dell G5 Gaming Desktop, though it’s marketed as an inexpensive gaming rig, delivers on this front with up to an Intel Core i9-10900KF and options for discrete graphics all the way up to an Nvidia RTX 3070.

Of course, that GPU can be used for games, too. Students often find themselves living in situations with limited space, which means you might not have access to a large television for console gaming, and may even have limited desk space. A good gaming PC like the Dell G5 is often the most practical option in these situations. You can use it to write papers and track down research, or you can pop on some gaming headphones and play late into the night.

Read our in-depth Dell G5 Gaming Desktop review

Apple Mac Mini

Apple Mac Mini 2018Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best small desktop computer out there.

Who it’s for: Budget- and space-restricted Apple fans.

Why we picked the Apple Mac Mini:

With a $699 starting price, Apple’s Mac Mini just got a big refresh with a major brain transplant to give it even more power in a compact package. This year, Apple is replacing the Intel processor inside with its own silicon, and early reviews show that the new eight-core M1 processor inside this compact desktop can take on larger PCs and win in both processing and graphics workloads.

Going with an M1-powered Mac Mini means you’ll be able to run Universal Mac apps with ease along with an extensive library of iOS apps that were designed originally for the iPhone and iPad. There is now an emerging library of apps that are created for the desktop powered by the Arm-based M1 processor, including Google’s recently released Chrome browser and the promise of titles from Adobe and Omni Group. But if you like to switch between Windows and Mac with Apple’s old Bootcamp utility — be warned that as the Mac Mini leaves Intel’s x86 architecture behind, you won’t be able to dual-boot into Microsoft’s Windows 10 OS.

Still, if you need to run the rare Windows software, Codeweaver’s CrossOver tool will let you run software designed for Windows, while VMWare and Parallels both promise solutions to bring other operating systems to M1 using a virtual machine.

Drawbacks aside, a more powerful custom-designed CPU with Apple’s integrated GPU solution will allow you to get plenty of work done on this diminutive desktop, and the Mac Mini will be able to play iOS games and stream videos to keep you entertained at an affordable price. If you’re not ready to jump into Apple’s M1 future, be sure to also check out our review of the Apple Mac Mini with Intel inside.

Read our in-depth Apple Mac Mini review

HP Envy All-in-One

HP Envy all-in-one

Why you should buy this: It’s a great alternative to the Apple iMac M1.

Who it’s for: Gamers, students, and other users who want an all-in-one setup but would rather stick to Intel.

Why we picked the HP Envy All-in-One: 

When we hear the term “all-in-one desktop,” most of us automatically think of Apple. It’s true that up until recently, Apple dominated the compact all-in-one game, but with this model, HP is giving the Mac a run for its money. Decked out with some of the more recent components, this is a surprisingly powerful desktop, especially when you consider the fact that all of it fits inside the screen.

HP’s Envy comes in four different sets of specs, each priced differently, allowing for some wiggle room in terms of both budget and power. Every model is equipped with a stunning 31.5-inch 4K display with a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution. The image is sharp and bright enough to rival the Apple iMac M1, but it is displayed on a much larger screen.

In terms of hardware, the Envy is equipped with an Intel Core processor combined with one of Nvidia’s GTX or RTX graphics cards. The cheapest price point comes with the 9th-generation Core i5-9400 CPU and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU. Spending more nets you better specs, allowing upgrades up to a Core i7-10700 processor, as well as an RTX 2070 graphics card. Every model comes with a minimum of 16GB RAM, an SSD, and a 1TB HDD.

HP Envy is the kind of desktop that can successfully perform most tasks. You can’t expect it to play AAA games at the highest settings, but you can still run lots of games on it with satisfactory results. Whether you’re a spreadsheet wizard, a gamer, a student, or a casual user, you’ll likely appreciate both the power and the space-saving qualities that the Envy provides.

Read our in-depth HP Envy All-in-One review

Lenovo ThinkStation P620

Why you should buy this: It’s the best workstation PC for professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Who it’s for: Creatives, scientists, machine-learning enthusiasts, and other notorious multitaskers who need a powerful workstation.

Why we picked the Lenovo ThinkStation P620:

Industry professionals value a workstation that can keep up with their needs, and Lenovo’s ThinkStation P620 proves itself up to the task. This is a desktop designed to perform the most resource-heavy tasks out there. Created specifically for engineering, data science, machine learning, 3D modeling, video editing, and more, the ThinkStation is the kind of PC that will find uses across many fields, aiding professionals in their daily tasks.

Lenovo offers four versions of the ThinkStation, each with different components. One of the things they all have in common is the monstrous (in a good way) AMD Ryzen Threadripper Pro CPU. The first three ThinkStations come with the 12-core, 24-thread Ryzen Threadripper Pro 3945WX that can be overclocked up to 4.30GHz. If you’re willing to shell out $3,499, you’ll be getting the Ryzen Threadripper Pro 3955WX, a multitasking powerhouse with 16 cores and 32 threads.

The processor alone is enough to make the ThinkStation P620 worth considering, but there’s more. This workstation comes with one of Nvidia’s Quadro series cards. These cards were designed specifically to support computer-aided design (CAD), digital content creation, machine learning, and other challenging tasks. Lenovo lets you upgrade to two GPUs instead of one if you need it, creating a nearly unstoppable workstation capable of tackling just about anything.

While the Lenovo ThinkStation P620 only comes with an SSD (up to 1TB) and no extra storage, you can customize it to add an extra drive. You can also increase the amount of RAM up to 64GB, upping the price, but also the performance.

How we test

You’ve read our reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them.

Reviews often lack context. We’ll give out a score and analyze the finer points of desktop performance, but how do we reach those conclusions? How do we test these machines?

Allow us to lift the veil. Here we’ll explain the benchmarks we use for objective testing and the perspective from which we approach subjective topics. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions, but we hope that sharing our process will leave you better equipped to decide what desktop best fits your needs.

Research and buying tips

What’s the best brand of desktop computer?

Picking the right desktop to serve your needs for the next few years can be an overwhelming decision given the large selection of models on store shelves and online. Fortunately, though, unless you’re searching for a particularly niche model — like an extremely compact desktop or one that’s equipped with multiple graphics cards — most systems today ship with similar components inside, so you can expect comparable performance for systems outfitted with similar components. Some are more expensive than others, but the options are there.

With performance out of the way, this frees you up to look at other features, like a desktop’s unique design and the manufacturer’s post-purchase support. For support, Apple usually wins with its Genius Grove — formerly called the Genius Bar — where you have in-person access to support at the company’s many retail locations.

If you’re looking for extended support, you’ll be better off with an enterprise-class desktop from brands like Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Business desktops are a bit more expensive than the consumer counterparts, but they’re rigorously tested and often come with optional warranty upgrades that cover on-site repairs, accidental damage protection, and extended coverage options beyond the standard one-year warranty that can help to extend the life of your investment.

Should my desktop computer have an SSD or GPU?

SSDs and graphics cards are premium upgrades that will be worth it to help keep your desktop running smoothly for a long time to come. Prices for SSDs have come down in recent years, but you don’t have to spend extravagantly for a high capacity solid-state drive to reap the rewards. Instead, students on a budget can go with a dual-drive strategy, combining a more manageable and speedy SSD with enough capacity to store the OS and frequently used applications, while resorting to a less expensive and more expansive hard drive to house larger files.

In addition to the storage, you should also explore how much memory you’ll want on your desktop, and most PCs today will ship with at least 8GB of RAM. 16GB is worth the price for gamers and heavy web users, but 32GB and above is only really useful for high-end tasks like video editing and rendering.

Even if you’re not a gamer or heavy content creator, having discrete graphics can be beneficial. With more apps offloading some of the heavy lifting from the processor to the GPU, a good graphics card can help speed up some office tasks and web browsing where GPU acceleration is enabled.

But while graphics cards can help some tasks, their main function is gaming and if you aren’t doing that, you don’t need to spend a huge amount on a big, powerful one — especially since they can easily become the most expensive component in your system. High-end cards like Nvidia’s ray tracing-capable RTX 3080 are overkill for most, but they’ll give you excellent frame rates and details. If you want something more respectful of budgets, consider a mid-range GTX 1660 Ti or Radeon RX 5600 XT instead.

What is the best processor for a desktop computer?

The best CPU will depend on how you’re using your desktop. Gamers who want the utmost performance will want an overclockable Intel Core i9-10900K found on most high-end systems, while creatives looking at juggling large media files will want something with more cores. That means AMD, which offers 12- and 16-core chips in the form of the Ryzen 3900X and 3950X.

If you’re working primarily on Office files and use your desktop to browse the web, scaling down to an Intel Core i5 or Core i7, or a Ryzen 7 or Ryzen 5 CPU, would help make substantial savings without impacting performance much.

Should my desktop have USB-C or Thunderbolt 3?

USB-C is beginning to show up in more desktop builds, but it’s still more common on laptops. It’s not strictly necessary, as there are plenty of USB-A to USB-C cables out there, but if it’s a must for you, keep an eye on the case that your new system comes in. That will or won’t have USB-C as standard.

Thunderbolt 3 uses the USB-C form factor but it offers the most bandwidth of any USB-based wired connection available at this time, giving speeds that scorch standard USB ports. However, it is even less common on desktops than plain old USB-C. If you want it, you’ll need to go with an Intel or Apple system, though if you opt for the former and Thunderbolt 3 is not standard on the chassis or motherboard, you could always get a PCI-Express add-in card that has it.

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