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The best desktop computers for 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 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. If you want to save some money, 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

Dell XPS SE in a park.

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 computer is the one that will work for the most people, and that’s the Dell XPS 8940. It’s understated in all the right ways, reasonably priced considering the power you can pack inside, and comes in a variety of configurations to suit work, gaming, or both.

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, with prices ranging from under $1,000 to over $3,000 depending on the parts you choose. 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 an Nvidia RTX 3070 graphics card and 11th-gen Intel Core i9 processor, as well as up to 64GB of RAM. The Dell XPS 8940 will benefit anyone looking for a flexible desktop PC. A low-end configuration is great for day-to-day work, while a tricked-out spec will allow you to play AAA games, run creative apps, and everything in between.

Even better, Dell frequently marks down the XPS 8940, so you might be able to score it on sale if you pay attention to the deals page.

Read our in-depth Dell XPS 8940 review

HP Omen 30L

HP Omen 30L next to a window.

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, but 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.

It’s better than most other desktops when it comes to gaming, and it comes with enough flexibility to allow you to upgrade down the line. If you’re interested in gaming or content creation, the HP Omen 30L offers plenty of power for now, and customization for the future.

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

Apple iMac 24-inch M1

Apple iMac 24 inch on a desk.

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):

Apple is more of a laptop than desktop brand, but the iMac is an exception. It’s a balanced computer that has power where it counts, and looks that are unmatched.

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 offers the ability to choose a look that fits you. 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. Prices start at $1,299 for the base model with Apple’s M1 chip — an 8-core processor that is also found in the Macbook Pro and Macbook Air — but you can spend up to $2,499 if you want extra RAM and storage.

Outside of raw power, the iMac M1 is a great desktop because it’s easy to use. Setup is seamless thanks to the no-nonsense MacOS operating system, and you don’t need to worry about finding a space for a hefty desktop. It’s a fantastic option for everyday use, but the M1 chip still provides enough power to run creative apps like Logic and Final Cut without breaking a sweat.

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

HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop

HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop on a desk.

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

Who it’s for: Students and entry-level gamers

Why we picked the HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop:

Dell discontinued our previous pick for this slot — the G5 Gaming Desktop — and there aren’t a lot of gaming PCs for around $1,000 right now. The only exception is the HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop. Although not as powerful as a machine with top spec, this Pavilion machine has power where it counts — and it’s as cheap as $700.

Unlike similar machines, this one comes with an AMD Ryzen APU regardless of your configuration. The base model starts with a Ryzen 3 5300G and AMD RX 5500. If you can extend your budget to around $1,300, you can pick up the Pavilion Gaming Desktop with a new Nvidia RTX 3060 and Ryzen 7 5700G.

It’s a fantastic option for students and 1080p gamers that don’t want to go broke buying a PC — especially with how graphics card prices are right now. Most competing machines are less powerful and cost more, and some lack a discrete graphics card altogether. The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop doesn’t make a lot of compromises considering it’s price, and that’s tough to find right now.

Apple Mac Mini M1

Apple Mac Mini M1 sitting on a desk.

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 M1:

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. It now features Apple’s M1 chip, which is probably the best feature. It’s the same chip inside the new iMac and Macbook Pro, offering you the same power as other Mac computers — just in a smaller package.

Size is the obvious standout feature of the Mac Mini. True to its name, it’s a square that measures 7.7 inches long and wide, and only 1.4 inches tall. It only weighs 2.6 pounds, too, so you can easily throw it in a backpack if you want some serious computing power on the go. It easily beats the best mini PC you can buy in the balance of size and performance.

If you don’t care about a Retina display and want a traditional desktop solution, the Mac Mini M1 is for you. It’s identical to Apple’s other computers in terms of specs, just with a much smaller body and lower price point. The other option is the Macbook Air, but even then, you’re paying a premium over the Mac Mini M1.

Read our in-depth Apple Mac Mini M1 review

HP Envy All-in-One

HP Envy all-in-one on a desk.

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

The HP Envy All-in-One is the iMac replacement we didn’t know we wanted. Apple has a stronghold on the all-in-one computer market, but this Envy model challenges that. It comes with a large, beautiful display, as well as enough power to fit just about any need.

HP’s Envy comes in five 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.

For hardware, the HP Envy starts with a 10th-gen Intel Core i5 processor and Nvidia GTX 1650, but you can scale that up to a 10th-gen Core i7 processor and RTX 2070 for a little extra power. Although far from a gaming desktop, the HP Envy All-in-One still comes with the horsepower to run some games, as well as apps like Premiere Pro and Photoshop.

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 HP Envy All-in-One provides.

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

Lenovo ThinkStation P620

Lenovo ThinkStation workstation next to a monitor.

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:

The Lenovo ThinkStation P620 is a workstation in every sense of the word. 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 different configurations, but all of them have one thing in common — the absolute best processors AMD has to offer. At the heart of every system is one of the latest AMD Ryzen Threadripper Pro chips, from the 12-core Threadripper 3945WX to the obscenely powerful 64-core Threadripper 3995WX.

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 their 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.

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.

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 i9-11900K 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 AMD Ryzen 5900X and 5950X.

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 an AMD Ryzen 7 or Ryzen 5 processor, 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.

When is the best time to buy a desktop?

The best time to buy a desktop is when your current computer isn’t able to handle the applications you want to use. Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day usually bring the steepest discounts on desktop computers, but the reality is that you can score a deal on a PC almost any time during the year. Make sure to keep our roundup of the best desktop deals handy for when you want to upgrade.

How do you know if you need a laptop or desktop?

Choosing between a desktop and a laptop comes down to portability and comfort. You can take a laptop nearly anywhere, but they’re not as comfortable to use as desktops with a larger screen. On the other hand, a desktop is more flexible and allows you to use a keyboard/mouse combo you like, but it’s restricted to one area.

Consider what you’ll use your machine for. If you’re gaming, for example, a desktop makes more sense. If you’re answering email and browsing the internet, a laptop is probably better a option.

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