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The best gaming desktops

Any old desktop PC can play some games. But if you’re buying something specifically for PC gaming, you’ll need a bit more performance — and a bit more style. That’s why we picked the HP Omen 30L as the best gaming PC you can buy in 2021. It’s not just a powerful gaming PC, but it also offers a fantastic blend of performance, sleek design, and value.

We’ve also included excellent options for different scenarios and budgets, so no matter your gaming PC tastes, there’s something for everyone.

The best gaming desktops at a glance

HP Omen 30L

HP Omen 30L DESKTOP PC

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

Who it’s for:  PC gamers who want a lot of bang for their buck.

Why we picked the HP Omen 30L:

HP updated its gaming desktop portfolio with the Omen 30L (and 25L), which now replaces our former favorite, the HP Omen Obelisk. The name points to the number of liters this PC can actually hold, which translates to a chassis measuring 16.61 by 17.05 by x 6.50 inches.

The desktop comes in a few different starting points, with the cheapest one priced at $1,449. The first one, like all the others, runs on an Intel processor and lets you pick between the Core i7-10700K or a 10-core powerhouse, the Core i9-10850K. Both of these CPUs come with a liquid cooling system and can be overclocked up to 5.1 and 5.2 GHz respectively. The default discrete GPU is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, although customers have additional options ranging from the RTX 2080 Ti to RTX 3060 Ti. This PC supports up to 64GB of RAM and up to three storage devices: One SSD (512GB to 2TB) and two HDDs (1TB and 2TB).

The next starting point kicks things up a notch. It begins with the Core i7-11700K with the option to upgrade to the Core i9-11900K. This model only comes with one GPU, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060 Ti. It supports up to 64GB of RAM, while the storage choices are identical to the lower price point. There are two additional pre-built configurations: one that runs on a Core i9-10850K processor and a discrete Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, and one that offers a Core i7-10700K CPU combined with an RTX 2080 Super GPU. Current availability is limited, so it’s worth checking which configurations are currently in stock.

Customers who simply want to buy the HP Omen 30L outright without configuring can get a solid build for $1,699. It’s packed with Intel’s Core i7-11700K CPU, a GeForce RTX 3060 Ti GPU, 8GB of RAM (supports 64GB), and a 512GB M.2 SSD. Other notable features include Wi-Fi 5 (2×2), Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and a 600-watt power supply.

Dell G5 Gaming

Dell G5 with glass panel

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

Who it’s for: PC gamers who want a decent build without having to break the bank.

Why we picked the Dell G5 Gaming:

Dell serves up two gaming brands: The “value” G Series and its premium Alienware portfolio. The company refreshed its G5 Series desktop in 2020, bringing 10th-generation Intel CPUs to its budget-minded PCs.

This highly-affordable base configuration includes Intel’s Core i3-10100 four-core chip paired with the AMD Radeon RX 5300. They’re backed by 8GB of RAM and 1TB on a 7,200RPM hard drive. Move up to the next starting point for $100 more, and the base specs upgrade to Intel’s Core i5-10400F six-core chip and Nvidia’s GTX 1650 Super.

Depending on the starting point — of the eight options in all — this G5 desktop can be configured with up to Intel’s Core i9-10900KF processor, up to 64GB of RAM, and up to Nvidia’s RTX 3070 or AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 XT. Storage options include single and dual configurations with up to a 1TB NVMe SSD and up to a 2TB hard drive.

Rounding out the Dell G5 Gaming is an attractive case with an exterior illuminated strip, internal lighting, and a clear door.

Origin PC Neuron

origin neuron 2019
Riley Young/Digital Trends

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

Who it’s for: Gamers who want the best of the best and aren’t afraid to break the bank.

Why we picked the Origin Neuron:

While shoppers can customize most gaming PCs when buying directly from OEMs, there are several “boutiques” that manufacture nothing but desktops and laptops. Origin PC entered the scene in 2009 and was recently acquired by Corsair, another well-known PC gaming brand. That means if you’re looking for a desktop sitting on the bleeding-edge of gaming power, Origin PC’s Neuron is a great buy.

Customers have only two starting points — $2,688 for Intel Core users and $2,551 for AMD Ryzen. This might seem less impressive compared to the multiple starting points with multiple options seen on competitor websites, but that makes the customizing process easy for even those who aren’t quite sure what hardware they want or need. Start by clicking Intel Core or AMD Ryzen listed under CPU, and configure the machine from there. Depending on your choices, you can knock a few hundred dollars off the starting price, but this comes at the cost of performance.

Customers keen on Intel processors will find seven options ranging from the Core i5-11400 six-core chip to the monster Core i9-11900K eight-core CPU. The AMD configuration offers four options ranging from the Ryzen 5 5600X six-core chip to the insanely expensive Ryzen 9 5950X 16-core chip. Meanwhile, GPU options start with Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti up to the 10GB version of RTX 3080. There are also two AMD cards to choose from: the AMD Radeon RX 6800 and the RX 6800 XT.

With those hardware specs out on the table, the Origin PC Neuron can get plenty expensive — insanely so — as customers climb the component ladder. But that’s the beauty of boutiques: To go beyond what any standard OEM will sell.

Lenovo Legion Tower 5i

Lenovo Legion Tower 5i

Why you should buy this: This is a solid alternative to the HP Omen 30L.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want good performance in games without breaking the bank.

Why we picked the Lenovo Legion Tower 5i:

If you’re looking for a well-rounded PC and you’re not dead-set on having all the latest specs, Lenovo offers a variety of balanced desktops at a reasonable price. Available in seven configurations with different starting price points, these PCs may not pack all the latest components, but they can still handle many games on high settings.

The cheapest starting point is just $999 and offers a budget PC for the nondemanding gamer. Equipped with a Core i5-10400F 6-core processor and an AMD Radeon RX 5500 discrete graphics card, this is a decent machine for both work and games, although some AAA titles are not likely to play smoothly. This variant also offers 8 GB of DDR4 2933MHz RAM, a 512GB PCIe SSD + 1 TB HDD combo, and a modest 400W power supply.

Spending $250 more lets you upgrade to a better CPU with the Core i7-10700 8-core processor. The graphics card also receives a welcome upgrade, getting you Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Super. The RAM remains the same, but the low price comes at the cost of the SSD which is downgraded to 256GB. Spending a total of $1,299 nets you the same CPU and GPU with a bigger SSD.

Most of the components only get better at higher price points, although the CPU stays the same. The best Lenovo Legion Tower 5i comes with a Core i7-10700 processor, 16GB of RAM, and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2070 Super. This setup also gives you an impressive 1TB PCIe SSD combined with 2TB of 7200 RPM storage, all of which is powered by a 650W power supply.

While Lenovo doesn’t let you customize beyond choosing the prebuilt set you want to buy, this is a good option for customers who don’t want to play around with settings. If you simply want a reliable PC that’s a solid alternative to the Omen 30L and remains affordable, this one is worth checking out.

CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon

CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon
CyberPowerPC

Why should you buy this: It’s a great gaming desktop under $1,000.

Who’s it for: Gamers who want a great PC for e-sports and AAA gaming at 1080p.

Why we picked the CyberpowerPC Gamer Dragon:

Not every gamer wants to break the bank when purchasing a new PC. Shoppers can find decent configurations for around $1,000, including this one from CyberPowerPC. The company, based in California, is another boutique PC builder founded in 1998 and targets the more affordable mainstream while still offering capable components in attractive chassis.

For just-shy of $1,000, the base configuration uses AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 six-core CPU stuffed into an Asus Prime B550-Plus ATX motherboard. They’re encased in a solid black tower complemented by tempered glass on the front and side, and LED-lit fans brighten up your desktop.

This affordable virtual reality (VR)-ready machine includes Nvidia’s GT 1030 2GB GDDR5 card that’s somewhat outdated but more than capable of great frame rates at 1080p — it’s also easily replaceable later. It’s backed by 8GB of RAM clocked at 3,000MHz, and a 500GB PCIe NVMe solid-state drive (SSD) paired with a Seagate 2TB hard drive.

Customers can reconfigure the CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon before taking the financial plunge. It supports AMD processors up to the Ryzen 9 5950X, up to 64GB of RAM, up to AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT, or up to the VR-ready GeForce RTX 3090 24GB. 16GB of RAM would be worth the affordable upgrade, though that raises the budget further past the $1,000 mark.

Falcon Northwest Talon

Falcon NW Talon

Why you should buy this: It’s a great boutique desktop alternative to the Origin Neuron.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want a high-end PC and are prepared to pay for it.

Why we picked the Falcon Northwest Talon:

At a time when most of the new graphics cards and processors are in high demand, getting your hands on your dream rig is more difficult than ever. You’re not only faced with higher prices but also with supply shortages. Buying a customizable prebuilt desktop, such as the Falcon Northwest Talon, is a great workaround that lets you have your cake and eat it too — as long as you’re willing to pay for it.

Falcon’s 20th anniversary Talon stands out at first glance thanks to the elegant chassis that can be customized nearly as much as the components inside of it can. You can go with a basic case, pay extra for a paint job, or even have artwork added to it. This is only the start of the journey — the real challenge lies in picking the hardware.

The company lets you choose between four starting points, with the cheapest one priced at $3,525. There are two options for AMD fans and two for those who prefer Intel Core. From there, the options are plenty, and the main deciding factor will be the depth of your wallet.

The cheapest AMD desktop comes with an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8-core processor (upgradeable all the way to the Ryzen 9 5950X). This is combined with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition graphics card, which you can replace with one of 12 other options, ranging from the cheaper RTX 3060 Ti to the monstrous RTX 3090. Falcon’s Intel Core desktop has an initial price of $3,700 and it comes with the Core i7-11700K 8-core processor, which can be upgraded to a Core i9-11900K. The GPU choices remain the same as in the AMD set.

For customers who are looking for the best the market has to offer, Falcon prepared two higher price points — one for AMD and one for Intel. Those desktops can be decked out with the strongest components available, such as the AMD Threadripper 3990X 64-core CPU or the cheaper Core i9-10980XE 18-core Intel equivalent.

Whether you’re looking for something more tame but still powerful or you want the PC equivalent of a spaceship, Falcon Northwest Talon has it all for those who are willing to customize it.

Intel NUC 9

Intel Ghost Canyon
Matthew Smith / Digital Trends

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

Who it’s for: Gamers who need loads of performance in a miniature PC.

Why we picked the Intel NUC 9:

If a miniature, palm-sized PC is what you want, Intel has your back. The company’s miniature NUC 9 PCs, formerly known as Ghost Canyon, arrived at the beginning of 2020, packing 9th-gen CPUs. There are five in all: Three Extreme kits and two Pro kits, the latter more suited for businesses.

The Extreme kits include the Core i5-9300H, the i7-9750H, or the i9-9980HK processor. There are no other components installed outside the motherboard, meaning owners must purchase the memory, storage, and software separately. The graphics component is integrated into the processor.

Don’t expect this tiny PC to play modern AAA games or offer more than playable frame rates in esports games, but it’s more than capable of handling indie games and older games if you’re willing to play with the settings.

The whole PC measures just 9.37 by 8.5 by 3.77 inches. It supports up to 64GB of RAM (2 times at 2,666MHz) and up to three M.2 SSDs. Four USB-A ports are on the back, along with two Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C). Two more USB-A ports and an SD card slot are on the front. Three additional USB headers reside on the motherboard.

Other notable features include Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, Gigabit Ethernet, audio input and output, and enough room to add a discrete graphics card. The Intel NUC 9 is easily a solid choice for customers that need performance but don’t have the physical space for the traditional desktop.

How we test

You’ve read our reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. 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

PC versus laptop for gaming

While you can play on the go with a gaming laptop outfitted with a discrete graphics card, a gaming desktop will deliver more flexibility, power, and performance for serious gamers. With more space inside a desktop tower, thermal management is generally better, which leads to stronger graphics and processing performance without the fear of throttling.

Another benefit of going with a desktop is that there is more space to perform upgrades in the future, so you can add more memory or storage, swap out your graphics card, and upgrade your motherboard and processor down the road. When shopping for a gaming desktop, you should look for key features like upgradability, expandability, and support for the latest protocols, like Thunderbolt 3, which could help extend the life of your investment.

What’s the best gaming PC for beginners?

Even if you’re not an enthusiast gamer, there are plenty of affordable gaming PC options for beginners. Desktops that aren’t marketed to gamers could easily be used for casual gaming. At the very least, you’ll want a desktop with discrete graphics support. Even though you can save a bit of money today with Nvidia’s GTX 1050 graphics or a more basic AMD Radeon card, stepping up to a midrange GTX 1650 or 1660 graphics card will help keep you on the playing field for at least another year. Newer cards, such as RTX 3080, are all huge upgrades but are also difficult to come by.

Gamers will also want to have enough RAM — we suggest at least 16GB of memory — and fast storage. Moreover, taking the dual-drive route means you don’t need to invest in an expensive SSD with large storage. This allows you to pair a more modest capacity SSD with a larger hard drive to store all the large media libraries for your game.

Preconfigured options from reputable brands — like HP, Dell, and Lenovo — are great places to start. If you want something more flashy, go with dedicated gaming brands like those from Acer, Asus, Alienware, and MSI, most of which come with more aggressive styling.

What company makes the best gaming PC?

At the high end of the spectrum, many of the top gaming PCs today come with an overclockable Intel Core i9-11900K processor (or an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X) coupled with Nvidia’s RTX 3080 or RTX 3090 graphics. If you’re looking to push performance, you’ll want to explore models with multi-GPU support, like the Digital Storm Aventum X, which can be configured with up to four graphics cards, or the Origin PC Millennium.

Given that not many titles today support multiple graphics cards, all this power would be wasted unless you’re using the same rig for creative work during the day. Most gamers will likely want to stick with a single high-end graphics card, like Nvidia’s RTX 3080 or AMD’s new 7nm Radeon RX 5000 graphics, which will be powerful enough to last for a few years.

Gamers have plenty of options to choose from, and if prebuilt systems are a bit too simple for your style, you can step up to a boutique PC from Origin PC, Digital Storm, CyberPower PC, Falcon NW, and more. These brands will let you choose from a wide selection of components to give you the best performance possible for your budget.

Is PC gaming dying?

Absolutely not. With sales of general-purpose desktops stagnating in recent years, manufacturers like HP and Lenovo are investing more resources into their gaming brands to fuel growth.

With new hardware features supported on gaming PCs — from VR and augmented reality to real-time ray tracing — developers will have plenty of new technologies to leverage in order to tell visually engaging stories through their games. According to market research from Newzoo, $1 of every $4 spent on games was done on a PC.

Can gaming PCs be used for work?

Most definitely. Manufacturers like HP recognize that gamers don’t just play games — office workers want to stay entertained during their downtime, too. All that’s needed to play games is a capable processor, a strong enough discrete graphics card, and enough memory to keep the entire system running smoothly.

If you’re looking to save money by using one desktop for gaming and for your productivity tasks, you’ll want to choose a PC or one of the best laptops with more understated aesthetics that will blend in better with your office decor. Once you have the right PC selected, just pick out a few games and have fun.

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