Desktop PCs are the most versatile category of computing hardware. Unlike laptops or tablets, they aren’t limited by portability and battery life requirements. A desktop PC can be crammed with more storage, a better processor, more memory and a graphics card that really is capable of playing modern games well.
It’s also a very diverse category. These machines come in all shapes and sizes and can be used in many different ways. The beautiful, compact simplicity of all-in-one computers is undeniably attractive. With the components, speakers and display built into a single unit, few cables are left trailing around your desk, perfect if you like to keep your workspace neat and tidy.
Small 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 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 form factor gives you the freedom to choose whatever components and specification you like, from an inexpensive family computer that can be used for office tasks such as word processing and spreadsheets, to a powerful video editing workstation, 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, any of the PCs in this list come with Windows 10 as standard. We’ve listed 10 of the best, ordered by price and spec starting with the most expensive and powerful machines first.
Also check out: What does the future hold for the PC?
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 (WxDxH): 196 x 196 x 36mm
Bright IPS screen
Few wires or cables
Almost impossible to upgrade after purchase
OS X a learning process for Windows users
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
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 @ 5400RPS | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (WxDxH): 45cm x 52.8cm x 17.5cm (H x W x D)
SSD not standard
Featuring a vibrant Retina 4K display that’s packed with colour, Apple’s new 21.5-inch iMac is a small bundle of aluminum joy. Its display’s massive pixel-resolution is great for surfing the web in comfort with multiple windows side-by-side, image and video editing, watching 4K video content and just about everything else. 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) 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 (WxDxH): 178 x 388 x 431mm
Slim tower design
High-end Core i5 model is surprisingly powerful
No SSD upgrade 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.
Read the full review:Dell Inspiron 3000
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 (WxDxH): 196 x 196 x 36mm
Apple’s most affordable Macintosh
Internal power supply means no additional power brick
Very few expansion options after purchase
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 (WxDxH): 180 x 350 x 390mm
CPU Turbo mode of 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.
Read the full review:Asus K31ADE
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 (WxDxH): 107 x 107 x 220mm
Small, sleek, smart design
Plenty of storage
Fairly weedy performance
External power adaptor
Lacks faster 802.11ac wireless
As it’s a media PC that will take centre-stage in a living room rather than being hidden under a desk, the 22cm-high Revo One comes with a remote control and carries a striking white pod-like design. It packs quite a lot of storage – this configuration has a single 2TB disk, with internal space to add a second hard disk, or an SSD. There are plenty of ports too, with two USB 3 and two USB 2 ports, HDMI and a DisplayPort.
Celeron processors are hardly supercomputing material, and we wouldn’t play the latest games on the Intel graphics inside the Revo One, but it’ll certainly be fine for office software and HD video playback.
And with built-in wireless networking, you’ll be able to place it anywhere you like, wherever your TV or display is, and not have to worry about trailing cables to your router.
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
Limited upgrade potential
If you’re looking for a mini computer to look smart in the office, sit surreptitiously under your TV or meet the compact requirements of a kid’s homework needs, then the HP Pavilion Mini is a smart contender.
While the base specification may not meet the requirements of gamers (who will want to consider the Maingear Spark or Alienware Alpha), or more intensive tasks, the higher-end model more than meets the needs of those looking for a home entertainment computer, and it’s priced favourably against the Acer Revo RL85.
The mid-range specification of the model we reviewed compares favourably against similarly priced but less powerful competitors like the Intel NUC, and the good looks make it a smart Windows alternative to the Mac Mini.
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
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 labour 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 adaptors.
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 wireless | Dimensions (WxDxH): 22 x 192 x 155mm
Low graphics performance
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 | Dimensions (WxDxH): 528 x 43 x 320mm
Astonishing value for an all-in-one PC
Simple to use
Limited to Chrome apps
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. 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.
Read the full review:LG Chromebase