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The best gaming desktops for 2019

Our favorite gaming desktops make the latest consoles look pathetic

We rigorously review new gaming desktops nearly every week, each with its own quirks and eccentricities. Performance is always important, but we also look for the long-term viability of these systems in terms of extra features, upgradability, and noise levels.

The best you can buy right now is the HP Omen Obelisk. It’s not necessarily the most powerful gaming PC you can buy, but it offers a fantastic blend of performance, sleek design, and value. We’ve also included fantastic options below for different form factors and budget levels.

The best gaming desktops at a glance

The best gaming PC: HP Omen Obelisk

HP Omen Obelisk

Why you should buy this: HP’s Omen Obelisk delivers punchy performance in a sleek, modern design at an affordable price point.

Who it’s for: Home users who don’t want an aggressively styled performance gaming system but demand RTX graphics performance. 

Why we picked the HP Omen Obelisk:

With plenty of configuration options and a price point to meet any budget, HP’s Omen Obelisk is a sleek desktop that you’ll be proud to showcase on your desk. Though this gaming desktop can pass as just a regular home PC, don’t let this rig’s understated aesthetics fool you. Behind it’s all-metal case and tempered glass window are some powerful components, and the updated 2019 configuration tops out with Intel’s 9th-Generation Core i9-9900K processor and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics.

At $2,500, serious gamers will get the latest Intel and Nvidia silicon options, making the top-of-the-line Obelisk competitive with some of the best gaming PCs on the market today. Home users looking for a casual gaming system can bring the cost down with less powerful components without sacrificing much performance. Our review unit, which shipped with a slightly older 8th-Generation Intel processor and the non-Ti version of Nvidia’s RTX 2080 graphics, delivered solid performance and can be found for less than $1,500 through sales and promotions. Titles like Battlefield I and Civilization 6 played at around 100 FPS, while more demanding titles like Deus Ex Mankind Divided was playable at 2K, only stuttering at a higher 4K resolution. If you demand the best that HP will let you buy, upgrades like speedy Intel Optane memory, up to 64GB HyperX memory, and additional storage will help the Omen Obelisk leave your opponents in the dust. If you’re willing to go down to GTX 1050 graphics, the Omen Obelisk starts at just $749.

And with plenty of space inside this tower, DIY users will have ample room to add an after-market liquid cooled radiator and make needed upgrades to keep the Omen Obelisk running smoothly for years to come. And given its more demure appearance, even non-gamers and some creatives will find the sleek lines of the Omen Obelisk appealing. 

Read our full HP Omen Obelisk review

The best gaming PC under $1,000: Dell Inspiron 5680

Dell Inspiron 5680 review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: You want performance without breaking the bank.

Who it’s for: Budget-minded gamers who want a slick gaming rig.

Why we picked the Dell Inspiron 5680:

Not everyone wants (or is able) to spend thousands on a gaming PC. Luckily, there are potent options out there for even the most frugal gamers, and Dell’s Inspiron 5680 is at the top of the list.

If you’re a fiend for gorgeous graphics, you can find better options, but few — if any — desktops offer the same level of power as the Inspiron for such a reasonable price. The unit’s GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card is best suited to 1080p resolution, and it’ll play demanding games like Battlefield 1 without breaking a sweat.

In Battlefield 1, the Inspiron and its GTX 1060 never dipped far below 60 FPS at 1440p, even at ultra-high detail settings. To be fair though, our review unit wasn’t the basic $600 model, but a slightly upgraded one which retails for $1,100. Either way, it’s still an exceptionally capable machine at a bargain price. Dell also sells an AMD-powered version featuring up to an RX 570.

The Dell Inspiron 5680 is a solid performer with a few drawbacks, but its low price and solid gaming performance make it a good choice, especially if you’re looking to step into the world of PC gaming for the first time.

Read our full Dell Inspiron 5680 review

The best mini gaming desktop: Intel Hades Canyon NUC

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You want the best performance in the smallest form factor possible.

Who’s it for: Gamers who play at small desks or entertainment centers.

Why we picked the Intel Hades Canyon NUC:

Not every gamer has the luxury of desktop real estate to accommodate a large tower, and if you fall into this camp, Intel’s Hades Canyon NUC may be a perfect solution. Despite its compact 1.2-liter box, this diminutive desktop promises serious gaming performance, including high gaming frame rates for stutter-free gaming.

To give the Hades Canyon its gaming cred, Intel paired its Core i7-8705G processor alongside AMD’s Radeon RX Vega graphics. This solution will give the performance comparable to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics, making it an excellent solution for gamers and home users who want a desktop with discrete graphics that’s roughly the same size as a Mac Mini.

There are some drawbacks that may make the Hades Canyon less appealing to casual gamers — to get this desktop to its $740 price point, this PC does not ship with any RAM or storage installed. However, if you your way inside a PC, this “BYO-RAM and SSD” strategy can be save you money and provide flexibility.

Read our full Intel Hades Canyon NUC review

The best custom gaming PC: Falcon Northwest Talon 20th Anniversary Edition

Why you should buy this: You want to pair the latest processors with the best graphics solutions.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want uncompromised performance in an accessible mid-tower form factor.

Why we picked the Falcon Northwest Talon:

Falcon may have finally entered the RGB lighting revolution with the 20th Anniversary Edition of the popular Talon mid-sized gaming tower, but don’t be fooled by the eye-flashing addition: This PC still packs one of the most powerful punches we’ve seen on a gaming rig. Whether you’re a gamer with an eye for design or a designer who needs a powerful desktop to handle your graphics needs, the Talon is the best anti-Mac Pro we’ve seen to date, thanks to the company’s unwavering attention to design details and a solid construction that’s second to none in the industry. Not only can the Talon deliver gaming victories thanks to its powerful performance, but the 4mm bead-blasted metal body formed from extruded aluminum makes it seems like this rig can even survive actual battlefields inside games like Call of Duty.

Beyond a massive redesign that brings large airy tempered glass windows to showcase the new lighting system, the Talon Northwest is one of the most powerful PCs we’ve tested. Our 12-core AMD Ryzen 9 3000-powered review unit easily blew through benchmarks thanks to support for faster PCIe 4.0 standards, and when paired with dual Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics cards, this gaming rig is sure to bring envy in the eyes of your rivals.

Non-gamers will benefit from speedy solid-state drive speeds for use in data analysis and AI applications. Even if you’re a DIYer accustomed to building your own PC, you won’t be able to replicate Falcon Northwest’s carefully tested thermal management system that’s integrated into the robust case design. Neatly wrapped cable management, exotic paint jobs more common of sports cars, and custom UV printing help to make the Talon even more personalized. In use, the Talon feels more like a supersonic jet than an appendage on a bird of prey, so be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming review of this powerful gaming desktop.

Read about the arrival of RGB lighting on Falcon Northwest’s Talon

Most powerful gaming PC: Digital Storm Aventum X

Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: You’re looking for unrivaled performance and cost is no object.

Who it’s for: Gamers who crave the best performance

Why we picked the Digital Storm Aventum X:

If you have a budget to consider, then you probably shouldn’t look at Digital Storm’s Aventum X. Priced as much as a sports car, with cost in excess of $50,000, the Aventum X is a show horse for the best gaming technology available today, and gamers in possession of this trophy desktop will get unrivaled performance.

There’s no hiding that the Aventum X is a massive tower, but its large size gives this desktop a lot of flexibility. The Aventum X can accommodate up to four Nvidia RTX graphics cards, up to three high performance computing (HPC) silicon, and Intel’s 28-core Xeon W-3175X processor along with 512GB of RAM and three bays for storage, making it perfect for data analysis, gaming, and creative workflows. Our dual-RTX 2080 Ti-equipped review unit delivered one of fastest results on the 3DMark benchark tool, proving that when fully configured, this desktop that can handle absolutely anything you throw at it.

The Aventum X is unabashed by the insane level of geekiness and decadence that’s housed inside, and two floor-to-ceiling glass panels help to showcase the technology inside, including the liquid cooling plumbing and the massive fans that not only looks cool, but helps this desktop keep its cool. It’s a PC designed by gamers and built for serious gamers privileged enough to have the budget to invest in one of the best desktops available today.

Read our full Digital Storm Aventum X 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

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 with 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, like the Dell Inspiron 5680 on our list, could easily be used for casual gaming. At the very basic, 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 mid-range GTX 1650 or 1660 graphics will help future-proof your gaming PC if you intend on keeping the same rig for at least a few years.

Gamers will also want to have enough RAM — we suggest at least 16GB of memory — and fast storage. You won’t need to invest on an expensive SSD with large storage by going with a dual-drive strategy. 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, and if you want something more flashy, you can go with dedicated gaming brands like those from Acer, Asus, Alienware, and MSI, most of which come with more aggressive styling.

Who 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 i9-9900K processor coupled with Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti 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 — so most gamers will likely want to stick with a single high-end graphics card, like Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti series 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 pre-built systems are a bit to cliche, 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 augmented reality and VR support to Nvidia’s real-time ray tracing on the RTX graphics and AMD’s push for 2K gaming on the new Radeon RX 5000 cards — 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. The divide between work and play is quickly disappearing. Manufacturers like HP recognize that gamers don’t just play games and office workers also want to stay entertained during their downtime. All that’s needed to play games is a capable processor, 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 with more understated aesthetics that will blend in better with your office decor. Once you have your the right PC selected, just pick out a few games and have fun.

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