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The best gaming desktops

A great gaming PC is like a sports car. It’s the portal to endlessly wonderful experiences that you can share with your nearest and dearest. It not only needs to look the part, but it also must make just the right kind of noise for your tastes. That’s why we picked the HP Omen 30L as the best gaming PC you can buy in 2020. It’s not necessarily the most powerful gaming PC, but it 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

The best gaming PC: HP Omen 30L

HP Omen 30L

Why you should buy this: Both starting points provide a great value for the money, packing the latest AMD or Intel CPUs, whichever you prefer.

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 in May 2020 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 $999 starting point caters to AMD gamers with the Ryzen 5 3600 that’s configurable up to the Ryzen 9 3900. The default discrete GPU is the Radeon RX 5700XT, although customers have additional options ranging from the RTX 2060 SUPER to the RTX 2080 Ti. It supports up to 32GB of RAM and up to three storage devices: One SSD (256GB to 2TB) and two HDDs (1TB and 2TB).

The $1,099 starting point targets Intel gamers. It begins with the Core i5-10600K with two upgrade options up to the Core i9-10900K. The default GPU is Nvidia’s GTX 1660 TI, but customers can configure it with up to the RTX 2080 Ti. This model supports up to 64GB of RAM, while the storage choices are identical to the AMD model.

Customers who simply want to buy the HP Omen 30L outright without configuring can get a solid build for $1,899. It’s packed with Intel’s Core i7-10700K CPU, a GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU, 16GB of RAM (supports 64GB), a 512GB M.2 SSD, and a 2TB 7,200RPM HDD. Other notable features include Wi-Fi 5 (2×2), Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and a 750-watt power supply.

The best boutique gaming PC: Origin PC Neuron

origin neuron 2019
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: If your wallet has no bounds, then the Neuron is your ticket to the bleeding-edge of gaming technology.

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 one starting point at $1,452 versus 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 that want or need. Start by clicking Intel Core or AMD Ryzen listed under CPU, and configure the machine from there.

Customers keen with Intel processors will find 11 options ranging from the Core i5-10400 six-core chip to the monster Core i9-10980XE 18-core CPU. The AMD configuration offers 12 options ranging from the Ryzen 5 3600 six-core chip to the insanely expensive Ryzen Threadripper 3900X 64-core chip. Meanwhile, GPU options start with Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Super up to dual RTX Titan 24GB cards. The only AMD card offered with this model is the RX 5700 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.

The best gaming PC under $1,000: CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon

CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon

Why should you buy this: The Gamer Dragon’s base configuration provides plenty of affordable hardware for great frame rates.

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 under $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 AMD’s Radeon RX 580 add-in 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 512GB 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 3950X, up to 64GB of RAM, up to AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 XT, or up to EVGA’s GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER with a custom water block. 16GB of RAM would be worth the affordable upgrade, though that does stray just north of our $1,000 budget.

The best budget gaming PC: Dell G5 Gaming

Dell G5 with glass panel

Why you should buy this: Dell’s G5 Series is a great entry point in PC gaming for those who don’t have loads of money to spend.

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 Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650 SUPER GPU. They’re backed by 8GB of RAM and 1TB on a 7,200RPM hard drive. Move up to the next starting point for $150 more, and the base specs upgrade to Intel’s Core i5-10400F six-core chip and Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Super.

Depending on the starting point — four 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 2070 or AMD’s Radeon RX 5600. 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. Customers can swap it out for a chassis with bezel lighting ($19.60) or one with bezel lighting, internal lighting, and a clear door ($68.60).

The best mini gaming PC: Intel Ghost Canyon NUC 9

Intel Ghost Canyon
Matthew Smith / Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Intel’s NUC is a great start for gamers who want to build a powerful PC but have no room for a desktop.

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

Why we picked the Intel Ghost Canyon NUC:

If a miniature, palm-sized PC is what you want, Intel has your back. The company’s Ghost Canyon miniature NUC 9 PCs 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 e-sports 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 Ghost Canyon 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.

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.

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. 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 too 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 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.