Although it’s not nearly the behemoth it once was, the desktop PC still has its place in an ever-expanding landscape of devices. Unlike laptops, tablets or even smartphones, they aren’t limited by portability and battery life requirements. Whether you want to expand on storage, memory, graphics or sheer processing power, a desktop PC gives you the most flexibility to upgrade on hardware.
It’s also a surprisingly diverse category. These machines come in all shapes and sizes and can be used in many different ways. The beautiful, compact simplicity of the all-in-one computer is undeniably attractive. Components, such as the speakers and display are built directly into a single unit, with few cables left trailing around your desk. Therefore, it’s the perfect for those of us who like to keep our workspaces neat and tidy.
Small form-factor PCs and inexpensive micro media machines are a popular choice as well. There are small desktop PCs that are intended to be used in the living room, designed to look attractive and provide a quick way to access all sorts of digital media. You can hook one up to a surround sound system and your main TV to enjoy Netflix or your own DRM-free media files with software such as Plex.
And, of course, the traditional desktop tower keeps trucking on. Whether you leave it on your desk or underneath it, this hulking form factor gives you the freedom to choose whatever components and specification your budget allows for, from an inexpensive family computer that can be used for word processing, spreadsheets and other office tasks, to a powerful video editing workstation complete with a top-end processor and graphics card.
Prices vary depending on the configuration, from less than £200 (around $303 or AUS$432) for an entry-level family desktop computer, to four figures for a desktop with a powerful video card suitable for demanding gaming.
And, with the exception of our Apple examples that naturally ship with OS X 10.11 El Capitan, you can expect any of the PCs on this list to come with Windows 10 as standard. Here we’ve listed 10 of the best, ordered by price and spec starting first with only the most expensive and powerful machines money can buy.
1. Apple iMac with 5K Retina display
A stylish all-in-one with a stunning screen
CPU: Intel Core i5-4260U | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 5100 | RAM: 4GB 16GB | Storage: 500GB HDD | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 196 x 196 x 36mm
Bright IPS screen
Few wires or cables
Tough to upgrade
As we already mentioned, the unique selling point of all-in-ones is their simplicity, and that’s partly what makes the iMac so appealing. A built-in screen and speakers, 802.11ac wireless networking and a wireless keyboard and mouse means you only need a power cable to get up and running.
There’s quite a range of iMacs, starting at £899 (around $1,365 or AUS$1,943) for an entry-level 21.9-inch model with a dual-core processor that’s okay for basic tasks, up to 27-inch iMacs with quad-core processors, and even a 5K display.
Even on the low-end model, the IPS display is bright and vivid, with a clever design where the edges of the aluminium chassis are thinner than many standalone monitors. And as standard, the iMac runs OS X, although it’s very easy to install Windows alongside if you want to continue using your existing Windows software.
Read the full review: Apple iMac with 5K Retina display
2. Apple iMac with 4K Retina display (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
CPU: Intel Quad-Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz) | Graphics: Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200 | RAM: 8GB 1867MHz LPDDR3 | Storage: 1TB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400RPM | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 45cm x 52.8cm x 17.5cm
SSD not standard
Featuring a vibrant Retina 4K display that’s packed with color, Apple’s new 21.5-inch iMac is a small bundle of aluminum joy. Its display’s massive, 4,096 x 2,304 pixel-resolution is great for surfing the web in comfort with multiple windows side-by-side in El Capitan’s Split View, image and video editing, watching 4K video content and just about everything else.
As expected from an Apple computer, it’s a typically well-built machine that, in true iMac tradition, barely takes up more space on your desk than a large laptop. Apple is bundling the 4K iMac with a superb set of accessories, including the latest versions of its Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2 and its all-new Magic Keyboard.
Just make sure you upgrade the standard spinning hard drive to a 1TB Fusion Drive (or even better, the 256GB SSD) if you want to shell out a bit more cash to eliminate lengthy loading times.
Read the full review: Apple iMac with 4K Retina display (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
3. Dell Inspiron 3000
A slim mini-tower which is a decent performer
CPU: Intel Core i3-4170 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 1TB hard disk | Communication: Dell Wireless-N 1705, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 178 x 388 x 431mm
Slim tower design
Core i5 is surprisingly powerful
No SSD option
Core i3 only dual-core
Dell’s Inspiron desktop computers aren’t quite as small as a PC like the Acer Revo One, but they still come in a mini-tower, and therefore won’t take up too much space either on a desk or underneath it. With a black design and a silver trim, Dell has gone to some length to make this standard PC chassis look quite sleek and a bit more exciting than a mere black box.
As standard, it has a dual-core Intel Core i3 processor rather than a Celeron, and 8GB of memory – so it’s a lot more powerful than the Revo One.
For an extra bit of cash, you can upgrade the processor to a quad-core Intel Core i5-4460 and the graphics card to a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT705, for a decent all-round performance boost. Dell also sells complete packages with a bundled 23-inch S2340L display.
4. Apple Mac mini
The cheapest way you can go Mac
CPU: Intel Core i5-4260U | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 5100 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 500GB hard disk | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 196 x 196 x 36mm
The most affordable Mac
Internal power supply
Few expansion options
Upgrades get expensive
If you fancy making the switch to an Apple computer without paying the high prices of some of the iMac and MacBook products, the Mac mini is definitely the best option. It’s fairly affordable, and reasonably powerful too.
It also looks really good. Apple favours aluminium materials and minimalist design in all its modern devices, and the Mac mini is perhaps the finest example – plus it’s astonishingly small.
The base specification is more than good enough for general use, OS X will run just fine, and you can use Windows on it too. Apple now makes it quite hard to upgrade the Mac mini though, so if you want to boost the specification, it’s wise to do so when you make the purchase. A Fusion Drive (the inclusion of an SSD) and a memory upgrade to 8GB would be our choice, but this does increase the mini’s overall cost.
Read the full review: Apple Mac mini
5. Asus K31ADE
A compact desktop machine for everyday computing
CPU: Intel Core i3-4170 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 1TB hard disk | Communication: 802.11ac | Dimensions (W x D x H): 180 x 350 x 390mm
CPU boosts to 3.7GHz
Blu-ray drives available
No SSD option
Only 4GB of memory
Asus states its K31 desktop tower PCs are ‘all you need for daily computing’, an assessment we’d agree with given the versatile nature of the specification. The metallic-looking tower of the K31ADE is another mini-desktop case, smaller than most mid-sized PCs.
Like the Dell Inspiron 3000, this model uses a dual-core Intel Core i3 processor, with 4GB of memory. Upgrades are available though, with Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors, a range of Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon graphics cards and even 10Gb/sec USB 3.1 on some models.
6. Acer Revo One RL85
A compact media PC with plenty of storage
CPU: Intel Celeron 2957 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 2TB hard disk | Communication: 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 107 x 107 x 220mm
Small, sleek, smart design
Plenty of storage
Fairly weedy performance
Lacks 802.11ac Wi-Fi
If you’re looking to share your PC with an entire household rather than locking it behind a desk in your home office, Acer’s Revo One accomplishes just that. Though it doesn’t have the most powerful processor on the market, don’t underestimate its versatility.
The Revo One packs in not only two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and DisplayPort, but it also comes with a 2TB hard drive in case you’re worried about running out of space for your massive movie collection. Plus, thankfully, it has a built-in wireless card meaning there’s no need to reconfigure your entire house’s network wiring just to keep it underneath the TV.
7. HP Pavilion Mini
The Windows-toting answer to a Mac Mini
CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i3-40255U | RAM: 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM | Storage: 1TB 5,400rpm HDD | Communication: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 144mm x 144mm x 52mm
If you’d rather prevent a computer from occupying your entire desk space, the Mac Mini is worth your consideration. However, if Apple’s OS just doesn’t do it for you, HP offers a stunning Windows alternative. The Pavilion Mini as it’s called won’t blow your mind in terms of specs, but it will get the job done if you’re not planning on doing any intensive gaming or video editing.
Plus, it’s still faster than a lot of mini computers on the market, and with plenty of storage space to boot. And, if you don’t need a mouse and keyboard, most retailers are selling it for downwards of $300. Not a bad deal if you just need a compact computer to get you through the day to day.
Read the full review: HP Pavilion Mini
8. HP 260 G1
The tiny computer that can
CPU: Intel Celeron 2957U | RAM: 2GB to 16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM | Storage: 32GB M.2 SSD | Communication: HP 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi | Dimensions (W x D x H): 17.5 x 17.7 x 3.4 cm
Two memory slots
DisplayPort and VGA
No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth
The HP 260 G1 is a great all-rounder product which is perfect for light tasks either in an office environment or in the home. Because it is part of HP’s business range, it comes with better-than-average support – that’s next business day service for parts and labor as well as free 24/7 telephone support. We also appreciate the presence of DisplayPort and VGA which allows the box to cover a wider spectrum of displays, even if that requires adapters.
There’s a lot to like about the HP 260 G1; true, it is not perfect and of course given the price, there have been concessions made. However, none of them are deal breakers and once prospective buyers understand that they are not buying a more expensive computer, but one that costs less than most smartphones, this little bundle of joy will make for a lot of happy owners.
Read the full review: HP 260 G1
9. Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190
A micro PC which you can mount on the back of your display
CPU: Intel Celeron 1017U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 500GB hard disk | Communication: 802.11n Wi-Fi | Dimensions (W x D x H): 22 x 192 x 155mm
We’re always referring to PCs that are “good enough” for general computing tasks, which means the most common uses for a modern computer that the average person needs. That means web browsing, email, social media including Facebook, watching YouTube, and editing documents for school or work.
None of those examples need large amounts of memory, storage, or a powerful graphics card, so if that’s all you want a computer for, you don’t need to spend too much money. In this case, Lenovo’s IdeaCentre Q190 should be just fine.
As the least expensive computer in this list, the Q190 is a micro PC that comes with a stand for vertical mounting, or it can be attached to the back of a display.
Sure, its 1.6GHz dual-core Celeron 1017U processor really isn’t capable of much more than the aforementioned general computing tasks, but if you’re on a slim budget, it’s enough to get by.
Besides, if you like this small form factor but still want something slightly more powerful, upgrades with faster Pentium and Core i3 processors are available.
10. LG Chromebase
An easy to use and excellent value all-in-one
CPU: Intel Celeron 2955U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB flash | Wireless: 802.11n Wi-Fi | Dimensions (W x D x H): 528 x 43 x 320mm
Simple to use
Chrome OS is a decent alternative to Windows on laptops, but there’s no reason why it can’t be used in a desktop computer in the same way. LG has had that very idea when making the Chromebase, an all-in-one PC that runs Google’s desktop OS.
Being an all-in-one, it carries the same benefits as Apple’s far more expensive iMac – no need for cables everywhere, the speakers are built into the display, and it’s all very straightforward. And actually, some of the hardware is really quite smart. You get an IPS screen, which looks really good.
Of course, Chrome OS has some downsides. You can’t run Windows software, so that means no Microsoft Office, for example. That said, Google recently announced that its Play app store will be making its way to Chrome OS later this year, which could potentially breathe new life into the LG Chromebase’s software catalog.
Chrome OS is intentionally designed to work with files stored in the cloud rather than locally, and has equivalents of Microsoft’s software which run in a browser rather than from the computer. It takes some getting used to, but it does work, and works well.
Once again, for basic use, this type of setup will prove to work well, although it may take some time to get used to. All said, it’s tough to beat a deal like this.
Read the full review: LG Chromebase
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
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