We’ve reviewed nearly two hundred desktop PCs, putting each system through stringent benchmarks to see how these PCs perform. Prebuilt systems need to offer great configurations and excellent cooling, while custom PCs should allow for easy access to the components for easy upgrades.
The best desktop PCs at a glance
- The best desktop: Dell Inspiron 5680
- The best desktop for gaming: HP Omen Obelisk
- The best all-in-one desktop: Apple iMac 5K
- The best desktop for video editing: Corsair One Pro i180
- The best desktop for students: Dell XPS 8930
- The best compact desktop: Apple Mac Mini
Why you should buy this: You want solid performance without breaking the bank.
Who it’s for: Students, families
Why we picked the Dell Inspiron 5680:
The Inspiron 5680 is a quiet desktop PC that just gets the job done. Properly specced it can do pretty much anything you need without breaking your budget. It can serve as a solid, reliable workstation, or its intended purpose: A budget gaming rig.
Priced at $800, there’s a lot to love about the Inspiron. The 8th-gen Intel processor remains speedy despite not being the newest silicon on the market, and this unit ships with discrete Nvividia GTX graphics, making it a versatile system for gaming, graphics work, and general computing needs. Coupled with this desktop tower’s compact size, the Inspiron’s near silent operating even when it’s stressed under heavy load makes this PC a perfect solution for dorm rooms and living rooms.
For students looking to play games on their down time, the discrete GTX 1060 graphics on this system allows it to handle most games at 1440p resolution with ease, making it a well-rounded PC with few compromises. USB-C is an optional extra, but with enough internal space for future upgrades, the Inspiron promises to be a versatile PC that will grow up with you.
Read our full Dell Inspiron 5680 review
Why you should buy this: Punchy performance packaged in a clean design gives this desktop a more mature vibe.
Who it’s for: Gamers, home users.
How much will it cost: $849 – $4,000. Tested at $1,999.
Why we picked the HP Omen Obelisk:
Even if you’re looking for a desktop to get things done, chances are you’ll also want a system that’s powerful enough to handle some gaming in your free time. Topping out with RTX 2080 Ti graphics and Intel’s 9th-Generation processor in an understated design, HP’s Omen Obelisk checks both boxes.
And despite its Omen branding, this desktop will appeal to both casual home gamers and enthusiasts, with HP offering multiple configurations to suit your need and price point. Starting at just $750, the Omen Obelisk starts out with GTX 1050 graphics, but serious gamers will want the latest silicon and optional upgrades like 64GB of HyperX memory and Intel Optane storage.
Home users can save a bit of money by opting for slightly less powerful parts without sacrificing much performance. Our review unit, which can be found for as low as $1,500 on sale, comes with an older 8th-Generation processor and non-Ti RTX 2080 graphics. In this configuration, even demanding games were playable in 4K resolution, and most games in our review played at around 100 FPS when stepped down to 1440p. If you need more performance down the road, the spacious tower makes the upgrades simple and easy.
Read our full 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
How much will it cost: $1,799 – $5,249
Why we picked the Apple iMac 5K (2019):
The iMac’s silhouette hasn’t changed much for about seven years now, a testament to the enduring nature of Apple’s design. This year, Apple updated the iMac 5K to give it even more powerful innards to satiate the power-hungry needs of prosumers. Packed with up to an eight-core Intel 9th-Generation Core i9-9900K processor, the 5K edition of Apple’s all-in-one is the fastest we’ve tested and lets desktop Mac users experience discrete desktop graphics without having to step up to the more expensive iMac Pro or newly redesigned Mac Pro.
Our AMD Radeon Pro 580X-equipped review unit delivered strong performance on graphics tasks. However, MacOS isn’t built on gaming, and on titles like Fortnite and Civilization VI, and unfortunately, this GPU trailed the performance of Nvidia’s GTX 1050 Ti on HP’s 15-inch Spectre x360 laptop with a Max-Q design. That said, the 27-inch canvas on this iMac is more adept for tasks like video and photo editing, office tasks, and media consumption. And thanks to its bright, high contrast display supporting 100 percent of the sRGB color space, this desktop feels even more like a “pro” level desktop this year. Apple made design changes, allowing for easy memory upgrades down the future, and the SSD is extremely fast, making launching applications and file transfers speedier than ever.
The 2019 iMac 5K is an almost perfect all-in-one. Though it doesn’t support biometric logins and touchscreen support is still glaringly absent, this desktop delivers fast performance in a compact form factor with a large canvas for content creation and consumption.
Read our full Apple iMac 5K (2019) review
Why you should buy this: It looks and performs fantastically, even among stiff competition.
Who it’s for: Creatives who need a compact, artfully-designed PC with plenty of power
How much will it cost: $4,999
Why we picked the Corsair One Pro i180:
If you have limited desktop real estate and need something that delivers stronger performance than Apple’s Mac Mini, Corsair’s One Pro i180 promises to deliver ample performance in a form factor that’s barely larger than last year’s trash can-inspired Mac Pro. This desktop comes with a 12-core Intel Core i9-9920X processor — among one of the fastest CPUs we’ve tested on a desktop — and RTX 2080 graphics, giving it solid performance.
While the 12-core processor may be excessive for gamers, creatives will appreciate the silicon’s strong multi-threaded performance, which will help the One Pro i180 with large media files. In addition, the One Pro i180 is able to pack in a full-size RTX graphics card in a tower that’s about as tall as a 2-liter soda bottle. The RTX 2080 graphics isn’t the strongest for workstations, but it can still readily handle video editing, 3D rendering, 4K gaming, and more. Given that the fans do get audible when you’re setting up the One Pro on a desk, stepping down to from the 2080 Ti likely helps keep the One Pro i180 running cool while also saving on cost — this PC is priced at $5,000, roughly double the cost of a similarly configured gaming system with an Intel Core i9-9900K CPU.
At this price point, there’s no doubt that the One Pro i180 is a premium PC designed for style-conscious creatives, and fortunately, its metal-clad build quality, solid thermal engineering, speedy performance, and upgradeable design all live up to Corsair’s asking price.
Read our full Corsair One Pro i180 review
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.
How much will it cost: Starts at $500. Options up to $1,310.
Why we picked the Dell XPS 8930:
The Dell XPS 8930 offers plenty of bang for buck no matter what price point you look at. We might be inclined to add an SSD to the $500 base model, but a Core i3-8100 and 8GB of RAM is plenty of power for basic office tasks and school work. The slightly more expensive options come with dedicated graphics cards, more storage space, double the RAM, and faster processors all the way up to a six-core Core i7-8700, which can handle much heavier lifting.
No matter which configuration you opt for you, though, Dell gives you the option of customizing it to your tastes. You can expand the storage or introduce secondary drives if desired, increase the amount of memory, or even opt for slightly more capable processors and graphics cards in some cases.
Considering the only downside to our review version was that the cheapest configurations lacked must-have hardware features, you don’t need to go without as we did. Make the 8930 your own and you’ll have a fantastically affordable, but capable, machine for work and play, all packaged inside a sleek tower.
Read our full Dell XPS 8930 review
Why you should buy this: It’s tiny and powerful.
Who it’s for: Budget and space-restricted Apple fans.
How much will it cost: Starts at $800. Optional hardware up to $4,100.
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 was surprisingly announced and launched. This new Mac Mini truly embodies the idea of a miniature computer and doesn’t scrimp on the hardware inside it. 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 speedy MacOS and runs on the upgraded 8th-Generation Intel processor, and 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 full 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 in 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.
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. For more performance, you’ll want to upgrade to 16GB or 32GB of memory, though more RAM will add to the cost, but you’ll be able to get more multitasking done.
Even if you’re not a gamer or heavy content creator, having discrete graphics will 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 even Office tasks and web browsing. A capable graphics card will even let students take advantage of 1080p games on their downtime, and the GPU can add flexibility if you want to edit quick photos or videos. Creatives and gamers will want high-end cards, like Nvidia’s ray tracing-capable RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti in the arsenal for even more performance.
The best CPU will depend on how you’re using your desktop. Gamers will want an overclockable Intel Core i9-9900K found on most high-end systems, while creatives looking at juggling large media files will want something with more cores, like the 12-core Intel Core i9-9920X processor. 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 processor will help you save some money on the cost of the PC, and you can use what you saved to invest in a larger solid-state drive. Another option is to go with an older 8th-gen Intel processor, which still delivers plenty of performance for casual desktop tasks. AMD also makes some great Ryzen processors, and those are also worth a look, as they’re generally less expensive than the Intel counterparts while delivering comparable performance.
USB-C is still not common on PCs today, but the port can give you a lot of flexibility if you’re looking at connecting a dock to add even more accessories. If you’ve already invested in the USB-C ecosystem, the standard can be used to connect to USB-C drives, monitors, and devices like smartphones.
As the industry slowly transitions to USB-C, having the port alongside USB-A ports will help keep your desktop future-proof. Gamers will want to find systems with Thunderbolt 3 connections. The Thunderbolt 3 port looks like a USB-C port and is designed to accommodate USB-C accessories, but is designated with a lightning bolt logo. Thunderbolt 3’s most useful feature today is that it will allow you to connect an eGPUs, allowing you to easily upgrade your graphics card without having to reach inside your desktop.
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