You give up portability for raw performance that can help you get things done
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Laptops offer portability, but if you need raw power and performance, there’s no beating a traditional desktop computer. Desktops don’t have the size or thermal constraints of a laptop, and don’t need to consider power consumption because they’re not running on battery power.
This makes them a significantly better choice for high-intensity work like 4K video editing, or resource intensive tasks like gaming. You can do these things on a laptop, but they’ll take longer and burn through battery life really quickly.
The trade off is that desktops aren’t portable, and require a lot more space. This won’t be a problem if you need a computer for your home office, but could get in the way if you’re used to working from public places, like your local coffee shop.
If you haven’t used a desktop computer in a while, don’t worry, we’ve researched the best ones available right now.
What Are the Best Desktop Computers?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best desktop computer alternative for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Operating System: The desktops in this guide either run Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft’s OS, or MacOS, which runs exclusively on Apple hardware.
All-In-One Vs. Tower: Desktop computers come in two styles: All-in-ones, which means the computer’s components are built into a screen, or towers, which need to be connected to a monitor separately. Our guide features a mix of both.
Processor: All of our recommendations have a modern Intel or AMD processor, and are capable of running almost any task you throw at them without slowdown.
RAM: The desktop computers in our guide have at least 8GB (gigabytes) of RAM (memory). Having more RAM can help apps run more smoothly, and allow you to use more of them simultaneously without slowdown.
Storage: We’re recommending desktop computer with between 256GB and 2 TB (terabytes) of storage. You won’t run into trouble with a smaller SSD (solid state drive) if you stream most of your media, but you’ll need a larger one if you like to keep large video files or projects on your machine.
Upgradability: One of the biggest benefits to using a desktop over a laptop is the ability to upgrade it over time. This feature is only available on tower style desktops.
Inputs: A computer’s inputs (known more commonly as ports), are what allow you to connect accessories to your machine. Each of our picks has a different assortment of ports, which you should strongly consider depending on how you intend to use your machine. All of them support WiFi and Bluetooth, though, so you have a range of wireless connectivity options, too.
- BEST OVERALL: Dell XPS 8930 Tower Desktop
Dell’s XPS 8930’s mix of excellent tech specs and upgradability that have earned it the top place in our guide.
This desktop is a tower computer that runs Window 10 Pro, Microsoft’s most advanced operating system to date. It has an 8-core i7 processor that runs at 4.7GHz, 64GB of RAM, and four terabytes of storage (2TB SSD + 2TB Hard Drive). These features make XPS 8930 the most powerful desktop computer we’re recommending by a long shot.
The most important components to look at are the ample amount of RAM and storage. You should have no problem running a handful of resource intensive apps simultaneously without any lag, and never worry about running out of disk space. The high amount of internal storage is especially useful if you like to keep a large media library on your computer rather than streaming it from the cloud.
The only place the XPS8930 falters is graphics performance. The machine relies on Intel’s integrated graphics instead of coming with an external card, which means you can’t use it for gaming or video production work. On the plus side, you can easily fix this problem by popping a graphics card into one of its five PCI-E slots. We recommend NVIDIA’s Geforce RTX 2070 if you need some serious graphical power.
Having five slots means you can make numerous upgrades to this machine, tailoring it to your specific needs. The XPS8930 is a great desktop out of the box, but you can definitely push it further over time.
On the ports side, Dell has outfitted its desktop really well. There are three USB-A ports, one USB-C port, a microphone input, a headphone jack, and an SD Card reader on the front of the machine for easy access. Around the back you’ll find six more USB-A ports, another USB-C port, one Ethernet port, an HDMI port, and a DisplayPort output. This desktop computer has enough inputs that you’ll never have to connect a hub; if you need more ports, you can always add them using a PCI-E card as necessary.
If you need a tower-style desktop computer that can handle anything you throw at it, and offers the ability to customize it as your needs change, Dell’s XPS 8930 is the best choice.
- ENTRY LEVEL: HP Slim Desktop
If you need a tower-style desktop computer for casual use, HP’s Slim Desktop is the right choice.
It runs Windows 10, and has a respectable set of tech specs: a 2.4GHz AMD Athlon processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. You may run into storage issues if you have a large media library, but you’ll be fine if you prefer streaming videos and music instead.
If you’re really concerned about storage, HP says this computer has a slot for an additional hard drive, though we recommend using an SSD like Crucial’sMX500 because it’s a lot faster. HP says this computer has two PCIE slots, so you have a limited upgrade path if you’d like to improve this desktop computer over time.
HP’s Slim Desktop has four USB ports, an SD Card Slot and headphone jack on the front. HP doesn’t show the back of the machine, but says it has a pair of USB ports and an audio out jack.
This computer is a get pick if you spend most of your time streaming videos, browsing the web, and doing light work like word processing, creating spreadsheets, and putting together slideshows.
- BEST MAC: Apple 27-Inch iMac
Apple’s 27-Inch 5K iMac is the company’s latest-and-greatest desktop, and our recommendation if you’re in the market for a Mac.
This desktop is an all-in-one computer that runs MacOS Catalina, the most recent version of Apple’s operating system. Apple says this machine will be compatible with MacOS Big Sur, its upcoming desktop operating system.
This is a well-rounded desktop computer, but its marquee feature is a high-resolution 5K display. This is my personal computer, and I’m constantly impressed at how sharp text, images, and videos look compared to any external display I’ve tested.
This machine has a six-core 3.1GHZ Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. It’s also got a 720P webcam and microphone built into the top of the screen, so you can video conference with it right out of the box.
Apple outfitted its desktop with an AMD Radeon Pro 5300 graphics card with 4GB of dedicated video memory. These specs are good enough that you should have no problem running image or video editing software without major issues.
The low baseline of storage may pose a problem, though, especially since you can’t upgrade the internal SSD. Apple’s solution to upgradability on its desktops is to plug adapters or accessories into its various ports. If you’d like to add more storage to this computer, I recommend Samsung’s T7 drive, which is fast and super portable.
Speaking of ports, the 27-Inch 5K iMac has four USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C compatible) ports, an SD Card reader, Ethernet port, and headphone jack. This assortment should allow you to connect all of your accessories to it at once without any adapters.
If you want a highly capable all-in-one desktop computer that runs MacOS, the 27-Inch 5K iMac is our go-to pick.
- BEST FOR GAMING: Alienware Aurora R10
Alianware has been a mainstay in the gaming PC space for over a decade, and we recommend its Aurora R10 if you want to get more serious about computer gaming.
This tower computer runs Windows 10, and comes with some pretty beefy specs. It’s got a 16-core AMD Ryzen 7 3700X processor running at 3.6GHz, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 1TB Hard Drive. These specs are overkill for common tasks, but necessary to achieve and maintain a high frame-rate (a measure of graphical fidelity) while playing games.
On the graphics side, the Aurora R10 has an AMD Radeon RX5700 with 8GB of dedicated video memory. This card is powerful enough to play modern games at a high resolution, but you can upgrade it as new, more demanding titles get released.
Alianware says the Aurora R10 has a brand new cooling system that allows the computer to run at a lower temperature when its running at full power for extended periods of time. If a computer runs too hot, you run the risk of overheating it, and eventually damaging it.
The Aurora R10 has five PCIE slots (two are taken up, but can be replaced), so you have a lot of room for expansion as the computer gets older. Alianware was similarly generous when it comes to ports.
This desktop computer has three USB-A ports, one USB-C port, a microphone input, and a headphone jack on its front side. Around the back you’ll find 10 USB-A ports, one USB-C port, an Ethernet jack, one coaxial output, an optical output, three DisplayPorts, one HDMI port, and one DVI port.
If you’re getting into PC gaming, and don’t want to build your own computer, Alianware’s Aurora R10 has a lot to offer.
- BEST MINI PC: Intel NUC NUC10i7FNH
Intel’s NUC 10i7FNH is an extremely small desktop computer that offers impressive performance and features for its size.
This mini-tower is only 2-inches tall and 4.6-inches wide, and runs Windows 10 Pro. It has a six-core Intel i7 processor running at 1.1GHZ, 32GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. The processor is a little underpowered if you want to run extremely power-hungry apps, but fine for everyday tasks. The computer’s ample memory and storage more than make up for this slight dip in processor performance.
The big trade off when choosing a computer this small is that there’s no way to upgrade it. What you see is what you get. You can upgrade it using external accessories, but won’t be able to get inside the machine.
Intel has made this easier by this by stuffing the NUC10i7FNH full of ports. It has three USB-A ports, two USB-C ports (one is a Thunderbolt 3 port), an Ethernet jack, and an HDMI output. This assortment of ports should allow you to connect the necessary accessories to make this machine work for your specific needs.
If the only thing keeping you back from getting a desktop computer is their size, and you don’t mind sacrificing some performance to get there, we highly recommend Intel’s NUC10i7FNH.