Laptops and mobile devices may be all the rage these days, but there are times when nothing but a proper desktop computer will do. Whether you’re a hardcore PC gamer, a work-from-home warrior, or a once-in-a-while user, a desktop computer is the perfect way to get peak performance at a fraction of the cost of an equivalent laptop.
Desktop computers come in all shapes and sizes. Plenty of people love the traditional tower design of larger machines, which are big enough to fit the latest and greatest components available, while others much prefer inexpensive microcomputers like the Raspberry Pi, which are still powerful enough for everyday use.
The sheer variety of desktop computers available can make finding the right one a challenge, but the good news is that you can find a just-right machine no matter what your needs or budget. Here’s everything you need to know to find the perfect desktop computer for you, including a few of our favorites.
Compare warranties. Most last at least a year, but in some cases they can be as short as 90 days. While it’s unlikely that anything major will go wrong with your computer within the warranty period, we’re still big fans of peace of mind. Don’t settle for a computer with a warranty that’s too short.
It’s easy to get lost in the desktop computer market, so start with these questions to help narrow your search.
Windows, MacOS, ChromeOS, or Linux?
The first thing to know before you buy a desktop computer is which operating system — the interface that controls how you interact with programs and features — you want to use. Windows and MacOS are the most popular, although both ChromeOS and Linux are quickly gaining popularity. The operating system you want is a personal choice, so spend some time watching videos that explore the different interfaces before you decide. Don’t be afraid to try out an operating system you’ve never used before. They're easy to learn, and they all include tutorials to help you get started.
It never hurts to keep a spare wired mouse and wired keyboard around. Most computers include wireless mice and wireless keyboards, but every once in a while, connectivity can be problematic. Having a backup option that’s wired means you’re ready for any situation.
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Are you a gamer?
If you’re looking for a desktop computer specifically for playing video games, you’ll need to limit your search to gaming computers. Gaming computers are built for the task, so they include things like powerful video cards, mechanical keyboards, and multiple ventilation options.
Will you be using your computer for intense tasks (like editing videos) or casual tasks (like web browsing)?
Spend some time thinking about all the things you want to do with your desktop computer. If you foresee doing a lot of processor-intensive work with it like editing audio or video, you’ll want a computer that’s powerful enough to handle everything. On the other hand, if most of your interactions take place in a web browser, or if you mainly plan on using your computer with software like Microsoft Office, you don’t need to overspend and get a super powerful machine. The more powerful the machine, the more you’ll spend.
Our research indicates that the right desktop PC setup includes plenty of desk space for an ergonomically sound mouse and keyboard.
We look for efficient, affordable desktop computers for everyday use as well as premium systems that can run today’s high-end games smoothly.
While investigating desktop computers, we have found that one of the reasons people prefer them to laptops is the full-size keyboard, especially if said keyboard uses mechanical switches.
We value quality desktop computers with low prices and relatively compact form factors. For everyday tasks, this is the type of computer many consumers want.
The powerful gaming desktop computers we review have plenty of fans to keep things cool and usually a handful of LED lights.
We pay close attention to each desktop computer’s internal components in order to recommend PCs that are suitable for both work and play.
Bonus points go to streamlined, user-friendly desktop computers that are easy to set up with no maintenance required.
We explore desktop computers that are compatible with one or more of the most popular operating systems: Mac, Linux, Chrome, and Windows.
We consider a number of all-in-one desktop computers, which combine the internal components and monitor in a single package with a small footprint.
When researching desktop computers, we make sure to consider offerings from respected and reliable brands that have been industry leaders for years.
Desktop computer features
While there’s a wide variety of form factors for desktop computers, they all have the same internal components. Pay the closest attention to these specs:
The central processing unit is the heart of your computer, the part that processes every bit of data and governs how fast a machine is. It also plays a big role in the overall cost: machines with the fastest processors are always the most expensive.
Random-access memory is memory that your computer uses to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. The more RAM the better — it can make a big difference. We recommend a minimum of 8 GB of RAM on standard computers, and 2 GB of RAM on microcomputers.
File storage devices like hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD) for storing your data and system files. Onboard file storage can range from 16 GB to 2 TB. We recommend getting a desktop computer with a minimum of 256 GB of available file storage. It goes quickly, and the operating system itself typically requires a decent amount of storage space.
Do your research carefully before attempting any upgrades. Makesure that any components you add or upgrade will work with your desktop computer--adding the wrong speed RAM, for example, can prevent your computer from loading an operating system.
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Every desktop computer has multiple ports for connecting to other devices. For example, you’ll see an Ethernet port for connecting to your local network, a 3.5 mm jack for connecting headphones, and USB ports for connecting peripherals like your mouse and keyboard. Consider what you’ll need to be connecting and whether you’ll need to meet modern standards like USB-C, and make sure the desktop computer you buy has room for all of them.
Desktop computer prices
Between $30 and $100, you’ll find a lot of good desktop microcomputers (like the Raspberry Pi), as well as computer sticks (computers about the size of a pack of gum that plug directly into monitors). If you just need a desktop computer for web browsing and basic tasks like word processing, a computer in this price range will definitely work. If you’re looking for a more powerful computer with plenty of file storage, or you want a machine that runs Windows or MacOS, you’ll need to spend a little more.
Between $300 and $800, you’ll encounter budget machines that are good middle-of-the-road options. Desktop computers on the low end of this price range meet modern standards for speed and power, but often just barely. Expect to see a lot of last-generation processors and machines with smaller hard drives at these price points. If you’re looking for a machine that only needs to last a few years, this is the price range to keep in mind.
Keep some canned air or a mini blower-vacuum handy and regularly clean your computer. Desktop computers are good at a lot of things, including collecting dust, so have a plan for how you’re going to keep everything tidy. Canned air is great, but if you’re environmentally conscious, consider a small vacuum with an air blower.
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Between $800 and $2,000, you’ll see the desktop computers that are the cream of the crop. Machines in this price range don’t cut any corners: fast processors, ample RAM, plenty of storage, and quality accessories. If you’re looking to invest in a desktop computer for the long term, or you just want the best computer out there, there’s no avoiding it — it’s going to be expensive.
- Put your desktop computer in a well-ventilated area. Desktop computers can generate a lot of heat, and they need a steady airflow to keep cool. The best way to keep your computer from overheating is to put it in a place where there’s adequate air circulation. Most importantly, note where your computer’s exhaust fans are, and be certain that they’ve got enough room.
- Get a desktop computer with internal space for additional drives if you plan on adding file storage later. One of the sad truths in the digital age is that eventually you’re going to need more file storage. Plan ahead and decide how you’ll want to add more in the future. You could buy an external drive, but you’d need to plug that into the wall and your computer. If you decide that an internal hard drive is the way to go, be certain that the computer you buy has room for it.
- List all the devices you plan to connect to your computer and verify that you’ll have enough ports to accommodate them all. It’s easy to forget all of the adapters, gadgets, and accessories we plug into our computers, so make a list of yours. Be sure to include everything from your printer to your phone charging cables. Triple-check that the desktop computer you buy has enough space for all of them.
- For a truly uncluttered look, buy a small form factor computer and mount it behind your monitor. Many smaller computers, such as the Raspberry Pi, work with kits that allow you to install your computer out of sight while still being able to take advantage of all of its features.
If you’re buying a Windows-based desktop computer, consult with an expert to see about removing “bloatware,” manufacturer-installed software that can create security risks for your machine. Don’t delete applications or files yourself unless you know what you’re doing; some mistakes can render a computer unusable!
Q. Some computers require HDMI cables for video while others say they need displayPort cables. What are the differences, and which is better?
A. Both HDMI and displayPort are standard industry cables for connecting video sources (like a computer or a streaming box) to monitors and TVs. There are a few differences that will matter in specific scenarios; for example, HDMI can carry both audio and video, which is great in home theater situations, and displayPort cables can be used to daisy-chain multiple monitors. Most monitors support both HDMI and displayPort. If you’re buying a desktop computer for basic home use, either cable will be fine.
Q. How hard is it to learn to use Linux on a desktop computer?
A. Learning Linux can be easy and fun if you pick the right version. There are dozens of variants of Linux, often referred to as “distributions,” or “distros,” and many are aimed at first-time users (they even mimic the look and feel of other operating systems like Windows and MacOS). If you’re new to Linux, we recommend using either Mint Linux or Ubuntu Linux, both of which do a fantastic job at providing easy-to-use interfaces and applications.
Q. Do desktop computers come with speakers?
A. Not usually. Many desktop computers include a mouse and a keyboard, but that’s usually about it when it comes to accessories. That’s not a bad thing — in many caseswhen manufacturers do include speakers with their computers, the sound quality is subpar. To help your computer sound as good as it can, pick up a pair of computer speakers or headphones.
Our top pick for the year is Dell's XPS Desktop 8950 with its powerful Intel and AMD CPU options, as well as discrete Nvidia GPUs. There are still great desktop PCs from HP, Apple, Lenovo, and less-known brands like Falcon Northwest too, though.What is the most reliable desktop computer brand? ›
- Apple iMac 24-inch (M1, 2021) Michael M. ...
- HP Envy 34 All-in-One (2022) HP. ...
- Intel NUC 12 Extreme (Dragon Canyon) SimplyNUC. ...
- HP Chromebase All-in-One 22. HP. ...
- Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020) C. ...
- Corsair One a200. Corsair. ...
- MSI MEG Aegis Ti5 (2022) MSI. ...
- Apple Mac Studio. Wachiwit/Shutterstock.
- Apple MacBook Air (M2)
- MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch)
- MacBook Air (M1)
- HP Spectre x360 14.
- Asus ROG Zephyrus G15.
- Asus Zenbook Pro Duo 14.
- Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.
- Asus Chromebook Flip CX5.
For a decent but basic new PC or laptop, expect to be paying somewhere between $400 and $600. If you're looking for a system which will last 4 to 5 years, you're probably going to be paying somewhere between $600 and $900.Which brand computer is best? ›
- Lenovo. As the largest computer maker at the time of writing, it stands to reason that Lenovo has the most products. ...
- Dell. The company's wide range of high-quality devices is a significant reason Dell is one of the top computer companies today. ...
- Apple. ...
- Microsoft. ...
- Asus. ...
- Acer. ...
- Processor. Learn more about processors, which are the brains of desktop PCs.
- RAM. Find out how RAM (random access memory) factors into your desktop purchasing decision.
- Graphics Processing Unit. ...
- Physical Storage. ...
- Form Factor.
In our tests, we found that Dell desktops powered by the Intel Core processor family outperformed comparable HP desktops. With up to 148.4 percent increased performance over HP systems, Dell desktops are an excellent choice to meet workers' performance and productivity needs.What month is the best time to buy a new computer? ›
Often, Brown says, you'll find computers in January at prices 10% lower than on the same models that were sold in December. Holiday weekends: Another great time to land a bargain is during holiday weekends throughout the year, including Presidents Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend.How many years does a desktop computer last? ›
For most desktop PCs, you can expect a minimum three-year lifespan. However, most computers survive five to eight years, depending on the upgrading components. Maintenance is also critical, as dust is very problematic for PC components.Is it better to have a laptop or desktop? ›
The general division between computing devices is still based on where you use it: Laptops suit on-the-go users. They combine hours of battery life with the performance and responsiveness to power immersive experiences that keep you productive wherever you go. Desktops are ideal for power users.
The Guinness Book of World Records says the C64 is the best selling single computer model of all time with sales of about 30 million units between 1982 and 1993. Commodore blew it, though, and bigger companies like IBM got into the act. Dell, Apple and other PC manufacturers have since dominated the market.What are good specs for a desktop computer? ›
|Processor (CPU):||Intel Core i5 (sixth generation or newer) or equivalent|
|Memory:||16 GB RAM|
|Storage:||500 GB internal storage drive|
|Monitor/Display:||14" LCD monitor, resolution of 1600 x 900 or better.|
|Network Adapter:||802.11ac 2.4/5 GHz wireless adapter|
Windows 10 features are best experienced on a modern PC.Is Costco a good place to buy a computer? ›
Costco's website outlines the reason why it's wise to check out the warehouse store before buying a computer. There's the 90-day return policy and free technical support, along with a one-year manufacturer's warranty and a two-year Costco extended warranty.What is the difference between a PC and a desktop? ›
a desktop PC is the number of components. While desktops are comprised of the computer case plus a separate monitor, all-in-ones combine the display and the computer into one package.Which is best all in one or desktop? ›
Want to play the latest games and have the most powerful system possible? A custom desktop is your best bet. However, if you're looking to have the most streamlined, no-frills, plug-and-play desktop workspace, an all-in-one PC may be just what you're looking for.What is the #1 selling computer company in the US? ›
The overall market leader in the global personal computer market in 2022 was Lenovo with a market share of 24.1 percent with HP a close second with a 19.4 percent share. In terms of unit sales, Lenovo had 69 million shipments, while HP had around 55.6 million shipments.Is it better to buy a computer now or wait? ›
In short, if you can wait six months to a year to start your next build, you'll find your high-end choices greatly expanded. Of course that isn't all that helpful if you need a new PC right now. If you just can't wait, you'll still see some amazing performance compared to a desktop from just a few years ago.Is HP or Dell desktop better? ›
In our tests, we found that Dell desktops powered by the Intel Core processor family outperformed comparable HP desktops. With up to 148.4 percent increased performance over HP systems, Dell desktops are an excellent choice to meet workers' performance and productivity needs.What is more important when buying a computer? ›
An important factor to consider when buying any PC is the processor. This is the heart of the machine, and it determines how fast your computer will be. The most important thing to look for in a processor is its clock speed, measured in GHz. The higher the clock speed, the faster your computer will be.