The best desktop computers

From hot rods to budget sleepers, our favorite desktops can handle anything

As mobile devices become more capable, the desktop — our old standby — is too easily forgotten. While manufacturers might lament the decline in desktop sales, it’s all good news for consumers. You’ve always been able to get more bang for your buck out of a desktop computer than you could out of, say, a laptop. Now more than ever, desktop manufacturers are in fierce competition to provide you with the best value without sacrificing performance.

Here we’ve compiled the best desktop computers currently on the market. Whether you need something for your dorm room, home office, or gaming cave, we’ve got you covered with the best desktop PCs on the market today.

At a glance

Product Category Rating
Dell Inspiron 5680 Best desktop overall 4 out of 5
Alienware Area-51 Best gaming PC 4.5 out of 5
Apple Mac Mini Best compact PC 4 out of 5
Dell XPS 8930 Best budget PC 3.5 out of 5
Surface Studio 2 Best all-in-one 4 out of 5

Dell Inspiron 5680

Best desktop overall

Dell Inspiron 5675 review offset
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: You want good performance on a budget.

The best for budget-minded gamers

Our Score

Dell Inspiron Desktop 5680 (2018)

The Dell Inspiron 5680 provides competitive specs and unmatched value at less than $1,000.

Who it’s for: Students, families

How much will it cost: $830+

Why we picked the Dell Inspiron 5680:

The Inspiron 5680 is a quiet desktop PC that just gets the job done. Properly specced it can do pretty much anything you need without breaking your budget. It can serve as a solid, reliable workstation, or its intended purpose: A budget gaming rig.

It’s not the most expensive system on this list, but it has a couple of features that give it a leg up over some of its more expensive competitors. It’s whisper quiet even under a heavy load, which makes it a great choice for dorm rooms or living rooms, or anywhere that excessive fan noise wouldn’t be particularly appreciated. It never gets very loud, and it’s practically inaudible under a desk, even under heavy load.

The Inspiron is also surprisingly compact. You can put this thing anywhere; it’d fit comfortably under a desk, on top of it, or even in a small cupboard. It’s just flashy enough to look stylish without looking out of place in a home office. Overall, the Inspiron 5680 is a workhorse, plain and simple. If you need a new desktop PC, a new all-around workstation that will dutifully serve with only a sensible number of bells and whistles, the Inspiron is your best bet.

Read our full Dell Inspiron 5680 review

Alienware Area-51

The best gaming PC

Alienware Area-51 R5 Review |
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Its big box power is accented by a sublimely quiet gaming experience.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want ultimate gaming power in a unique-looking chassis.

How much will it cost: Starts at $1,900 – $8,000. Tested at $6,710

Why we picked the Alienware Area 51:

Alienware’s Area 51 has always been a striking gaming PC and the latest R5 iteration is no different. With a hefty, but uniquely angled and styled chassis, the new version packs up to dual GTX 1080 graphics alongside Intel CPUs and memory options which will leave no gamer wanting.

One of the most exciting elements of this sleek system is that it’s so quiet. It’s also well designed for those planning customization of their own. Its case design is such that removing graphics cards, memory, and other components can be done quickly and easily without a tool in sight. As a robust system, it can also stand up to any knocks and bangs during transit – perfect if you like to pop along to a local or national LAN party. It’s a bit on the hefty side, but the sturdiness of the chassis makes up for that.

You have to pay through the nose for such a quality machine, but if you want a futureproofed gaming desktop with plenty of power today, there’s little better than the latest Alienware Area 51.

Check out our list of the best gaming laptops for more options.

Read our full Alienware Area-51 R5 review

Apple Mac Mini

Best compact PC

this work around turns your ipad into a display mac mini

Why you should buy this: It’s tiny and powerful.

The Best Compact PC

Our Score

Apple Mac mini (2018)

Tiny but mighty, the Mac Mini is a great full desktop replacement.

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

How much will it cost: Starts at $800. Optional hardware up to $4,100.

Why we picked the Apple Mac Mini:

Apple’s Mac Mini might have been the most neglected of the company’s hardware — that is, until the 2018 version was surprisingly announced and launched. This new Mac Mini truly embodies the idea of a miniature computer and doesn’t scrimp on the hardware inside it. It’s a little pricier than previous iteration of the micro-system, but with an eighth-Generation Intel CPU at its heart and up to 64GB of memory, it can crunch through general computing tasks with ease.

It comes with a wide selection of ports, which is a nice change of pace from some of Apple’s other small computing systems and it’s supremely quiet, thanks to a redesigned cooling system. This isn’t a gaming system — we have other recommendations for that — but MacOS isn’t exactly a hotbed of gaming activity anyhow. This is a working and media-viewing machine, and it does a fantastic job of it.

There are some alternatives out there with Windows support, like the Hades Canyon NUC from Intel, but it’s noticeably more expensive. If you need a miniature desktop system, the Mac Mini is our current favorite and a solid competitor to the other entries on this list.

Read our full Apple Mac Mini review

Dell XPS 8930

Best budget desktop

Dell XPS 8930 Tower Review

Why you should buy this: You get a lot of PC for not a lot of money.

The best stealth gaming desktop

Our Score

Dell XPS 8930 Tower

Dell's XPS 8930 does a surprising amount of gaming in a chassis fit for an office.

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

How much will it cost: Starts at $550. Options up to $1,310.

Why we picked the Dell XPS 8930:

The Dell XPS 8930 offers plenty of bang for buck no matter what price point you look at. We might be inclined to add an SSD to the $550 base model, but a Core i3-8100 and 8GB of RAM is plenty of power for basic office tasks and school work. The slightly more expensive options come with dedicated graphics cards, more storage space, double the RAM, and faster processors all the way up to a six-core Core i7-8700, which can handle much heavier lifting.

No matter which configuration you opt for you, though, Dell gives you the option of customizing it to your tastes. You can expand the storage or introduce secondary drives if desired, increase the amount of memory, or even opt for slightly more capable processors and graphics cards in some cases.

Considering the only downside to our review version was that the cheapest configurations lacked must-have hardware features, you don’t need to go without as we did. Make the 8930 your own and you’ll have a fantastically affordable, but capable, machine for work and play.

Read our full Dell XPS 8930 review

Surface Studio 2

The best all-in-one

Microsoft Surface Studio 2
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It looks and performs fantastically, even among stiff competition.

Surface Studio 2

Our Score

Surface Studio 2

As great to use as it is to look at, the Surface Studio 2 can be an office centerpiece

Who it’s for: Graphics professionals, artists, and anyone who wants their PC to make a statement.

How much will it cost: $3,500 – $4,700

Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Studio 2:

With Apple’s focus on iOS in recent years and infrequent hardware updates to its professional products, Microsoft has stormed the gates of the once-Apple-held all-in-one stronghold and done so in decisive fashion. The Surface Studio 2 is inarguably the best looking all-in-one we have ever seen, and that goes for the screen as much as its unique design.

At 28-inches diagonally, the display sports a stunning resolution of 4,500 x 3,000, delivering crisp and clear visuals. Thanks to Microsoft’s PixelSense technology, its colors really pop — with deep, dark blacks, and crisp, clear whites. The overall experience makes this an amazing all-in-one for working and playing, though the 3:2 aspect ratio means movies do have some serious black bar letterboxing.

To power that gorgeous screen, Microsoft has packed the Surface Studio 2 with a Core i7-7820HQ and paired it with between 16 and 32GB of RAM. The CPU is decent, but a little underwhelming. We had hoped for an eighth-generation Intel chip in this build, but it’s enough of an upgrade over its predecessor that it’s not the end of the world. Graphics have seen a much bigger leap in performance though, with options up to a GTX 1070, which will handle even intensive games without much difficulty, although the screen’s high resolution might mean lowering some settings to maintain stable frame rates.

On top of its great hardware, the Surface Studio 2 has a fantastic hinge system which makes changing its orientation easy and effortless, so you can switch between drawing on it with the compatible pen, to typing away in a more traditional desktop orientation.

The Surface Studio 2 is the best all-in-one in the world right now, and we love it.

Read our full Microsoft Surface Studio 2 review

Should you buy now, or wait?

That’s the real question here, isn’t it? If you’ve read this far, you probably already have a good idea of what you want out of a new desktop, but when should you pull the trigger on the decision?

Well, now’s as good a time as any. Graphics card prices have come down significantly in the past few months which is great for home builders. That may mean we’ll see some offers from pre-built desktop makers which want to stay competitive. Additionally, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, and most other major manufacturers have refreshed their flagship desktop lines with Intel’s 8th and 9th-generation chips and there are some options for Ryzen+ CPU choices too. 

Gamer systems now sport Nvidia’s RTX-series GPUs as well. They’re expensive, but great if you want serious gaming power and future-proofing against ray tracing and DLSS games.

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.

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