This article was last updated by Digital Trends editor Luke Larsen on 9/3/2020.
The best desktop computer you can buy is the . 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.
The best desktop PCs at a glance:
- The best desktop PC: Dell XPS 8940
- The best desktop for gaming: HP Omen Obelisk
- The best all-in-one desktop: Apple iMac 5K
- The best desktop for students: Dell G5 Gaming Desktop
- The best compact desktop: Apple Mac Mini
Why you should buy this: You get a lot of PC for not a lot of money.
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 number of 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 as easily as a cubicle, 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 endless, but you can easily configure a powerful machine under $1,000 that you’ll be quite happy with. The system maxes out with the Nvidia RTX 2060 Super GPU, 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 XPS 8940 has a little bit of something for everyone.
Why you should buy this: Punchy performance packaged in a clean design gives this desktop a more mature vibe.
Who it’s for: PC gamers who don’t want to build their own system.
Why we picked the HP Omen Obelisk:
Not everyone has the time or interest to build their own gaming PC from scratch. The HP Omen Obelisk gives you most of the benefits of building your own system, without any of the hassle. It’s extremely easy to upgrade, offers nearly limitless configurations, and still gives you a look through the tempered glass at your glowing gaming behemoth.
You can save a bit of money by opting for slightly less powerful parts without sacrificing much performance, too. Our review unit, which can be found for as low as $1,700 on sale, comes with an older 9th-generation processor and an Nvidia RTX 2070 Super.
We still love the Omen Obelisk, but buying one right now can be difficult. The 10th-gen models haven’t yet arrived, and configurations are limited. That’ll likely change in the future, though, and you still find some great deals on the older models.
Read our in-depth HP Omen Obelisk review
Why you should buy this: Updated silicon inside an iconic design lets the iMac stand out from the competition.
Who it’s for: Professionals and home users looking for compact, beautiful, and powerful all-in-one computer.
Why we picked the Apple iMac 5K:
After the announcement of Mac’s transition to Apple Silicon, buying the latest iMac feels like a risky move. But considering how powerful the iMac has become in 2020, waiting over a year for a redesigned model isn’t feasible for most people.
Fortunately, what you’re getting in the latest 5K 27-inch iMac is a substantial improvement. It might not look different, but Apple has made numerous quality-of-life tweaks, including an upgraded 1080p webcam, improved speakers, and the option for the glorious nano-texture anti-reflective glass.
Most importantly, though, the 5K iMac now has support for the latest 10th-gen, 10-core Intel processors and the powerful new AMD Radeon 5000-series graphics cards. It all adds up to a heck of a lot of power for those doing video editing and other content creation at home.
Read our in-depth Apple iMac 5K (2020) review
Why you should buy this: It has excellent performance for the price.
Who it’s for: Students, families, entry-level gamers
Why we picked the Dell G5 Gaming Desktop:
When picking the best desktop, we wanted something that could do everything at an affordable price. That’s the Dell G5 Gaming Desktop to a tee. Even its $686 base model is a solid PC, including a GTX 1650 Super 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. Dell’s 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 2070 Super. That’s as powerful as mainstream PCs get.
Read our in-depth Dell G5 Gaming Desktop review
Why you should buy this: It’s tiny and powerful.
Who it’s for: Budget and space-restricted Apple fans.
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 made its surprise appearance. This Mac Mini truly embodies the idea of a miniature computer and doesn’t scrimp on the hardware inside. It’s a little pricier than previous iterations of the micro-system, but with an 8th-Generation six-core Intel CPU at its heart and up to 64GB of memory, it can crunch through general computing tasks with ease.
The Mac Mini, however, isn’t without drawbacks. Though it’s ideal for a majority of your computing needs, the lack of discrete graphics support and non-upgradeable RAM makes this a less than ideal choice for gamers and PC users looking for flexibility in a desktop. Fortunately, Apple made some smart decisions in designing the Mac Mini — Thunderbolt 3 support means you can add an external GPU and the included SSD is one of the fastest drives we’ve tested on a system. And despite the price jump, the Mac Mini is one of the most affordable ways to join the MacOS ecosystem.
For most home and office users, the Mac Mini will be a fast and capable desktop that’s able to handle most of your office tasks, web browsing, and media consumption. Most users will be pleased with how speedily MacOS runs on the upgraded 8th-Generation Intel processor for most of your computing work. Given that Apple did not find it necessary to update the previous version of this desktop for five years, if history is any indication, this year’s model should be able to stay relevant for just as long.
Read our in-depth Apple Mac Mini review
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?
- Should my desktop computer have an SSD or GPU?
- What’s the best processor for a desktop computer?
- Should my desktop computer have USB-C or Thunderbolt 3?
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 some of the more unique 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.
SSDs and graphics cards are premium upgrades that will be worth it to help keep your desktop running smoothly for years. 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 expansive hard drive to house larger files.
In addition to the storage, you’ll also want to 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 decent 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 much 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 2080 Super or 2080 Ti are overkill for most, but they’ll give you excellent frame rates and details. If you want something more respectful of budgets, considering a midrange GTX 1660 Ti or Radeon RX 5600 XT instead.
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.
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 is even less common on desktops, though it does offer the most bandwidth of any USB-based wired connection available at this time. If you want it, you’ll need to go with an Intel system, though if it’s not standard on the chassis or motherboard, you could always get a PCI-Express add-in card that has it.
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