If you’re shopping for a new desktop to replace your aging PC, you’ve probably found dozens of options. Unless you know about processors, RAM, and more, it’s hard to tell what’s best. Here are some excellent choices for every budget.
What to Look for in a Desktop
When it comes to buying desktops, you’re going to find a lot of similarities between machines. Unfortunately, many sites just toss raw specs at you. It’s up to you to know how powerful a component is and if that justifies the cost. Let’s start by breaking down those components into easy to understand concepts.
We’ll start with a simple analogy. Imagine your computer as a workshop area in your garage. You likely have a few things comprising that workshop, a calculator (the processor), a workbench area (RAM), drawers for storage (a hard drive), and possibly a graphing calculator for advanced projects (graphics card). Let’s examine each briefly.
Every computer, from your smartphone to your desktop, contains a Central Processing Unit (also called a CPU or Processor). In the workshop scenario, think of the processor as the calculator you rely on to get all your measurements and cuts right. When it comes time to do any math, you pull out the calculator and crunch the numbers.
When purchasing a machine with an Intel processor, you’re likely to see offerings such as i3, i5, or i7. The naming scheme here is pretty simple to follow, of those three options i3 is the least powerful CPU, while i7 is the most powerful. The i3 processor can keep up with browsing the internet, checking emails, and lightweight streaming. The i7 is perfect for intensive tasks like development and compiling code.
Random Access Memory (RAM) is a lot like the workbench in your shop. With a large workbench, you can work on multiple projects at once. A smaller workbench limits you to fewer simultaneous projects.
RAM is very similar, the more you have, the more your computer can accomplish simultaneously, which speeds up operations for you.
The great thing about RAM is you don’t have to spend much to upgrade the amount you have, and yet that small expense can produce noticeable benefits. If your desktop runs Windows, you shouldn’t have fewer than 8 GB of RAM.
If RAM is the workbench in your shop, then hard drives are the drawers. With more drawers, you have more space to store supplies, tools, and more.
Hard drives are the same concept, the larger the drive, the more you can store in it. In this case, instead of storing tools, you store files. Everything from photos, to videos, to all your documents, and the Operating System live on the hard drive.
Hard drives come in three formats: traditional hard disk drives with spinning platters (HDD), solid-state drives (SSD) with no moving parts and plenty of speed, and hybrid drives that marry a hard disk drive to solid-state drive for the best of both worlds.
You’ll get more space for fewer dollars with a hard-disk drive, but you’ll get faster speeds with a solid-state drive.
You probably know that every modern desktop comes with USB ports. But what you may not realize is that USB comes in multiple speeds and port shapes now. And unfortunately, the naming scheme makes it complicated to tell the difference between older and newer options.
The USB Implementors Forums (USB-IF) group that sets USB naming standards keeps changing the rules too, almost every year. So while you do want to know the difference between USB Gen 1, 2, and 2×2, they may be called something else by the time you read this.
Generally, you should try to keep an eye out for two things: USB 3.x ports (3.0, 3.1, 3.2, etc.). USB 3.x ports are much faster than USB 2.0 ports, and you’ll appreciate that speed. Skip any desktop that only offers USB 2.0.
And if possible, consider desktops that offer USB-C ports. The USB-C label alone doesn’t tell you speed, unfortunately. But it’s a newer USB port shape that usually comes with better data transfer rates. USB-C is reversible, meaning you don’t have to fiddle with which direction to face a USB-C cord to plug it in. And sometimes USB-C comes with additional features like video or the ability to power devices like a monitor.
For now, you can live without USB-C; it isn’t universal yet. But it’s likely that eventually, it will be. So having USB-C ports on your desktop gives it some future-proofing.
If your processor is a standard calculator than the graphics card is an upgrade to a graphing calculator. You can do more, create more, and plan more intricate builds with a graphing calculator.
Along those lines, a graphics card adds power to your PC for visual effects, which is useful in games, virtual reality add-ons, and video and photo editing. If you don’t need any of that, you can save money and rely on the integrated graphics your processor provides.
Windows desktops are the most ubiquitous option, and they’re available in any price range. Chromebox desktops run Chrome OS, are generally inexpensive, and perfect for entertainment or anything you accomplish in a Chrome browser.
Companies are selling Linux desktops more and more frequently, and Apple offers macOS desktops as well (such as the iMac and Mac Pro). Given the specific nature and needs of Linux and macOS, our list doesn’t cover machines with those operating systems.
How much you spend on a desktop generally dictates how powerful a machine will be, and what it can accomplish. If all you want to do is browse the web, stream video, and check your email, you can get away with spending less than someone who wants to edit video or develop programs.
Whether you are a casual desktop user, someone looking for the incredibly powerful, or in-between we have recommendations for you. Just keep in mind, you’ll have to provide or pay for your own monitor.
The Best Desktop for Under $500: ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N019U Mini PC
You might be surprised by the inclusion of a Chromebox in this list, but you shouldn’t be. Google spends a great deal of time improving ChromeOS, and those efforts show. The ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N019U Mini PC is a perfect example of that.
For less than $500, you’ll get a machine with competent enough specs to browse the web, check your email, and stream video from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Plus you get access to Android apps. If you’ve never used a ChromeOS machine before, it’s straightforward and easier to learn than you might think.
If you use the Google Chrome browser, you already have an advantage, as there are similarities between the two. When you want something easy to use, practically immune from viruses, and budget-friendly, you should ask yourself if a Chromebox is right for you.
ASUS CHROMEBOX 3-N019U Mini PC with Intel Core i3, 4K UHD Graphics and Power Over Type C Port, Star Gray
ChromeOS machines are great little engines that could. This one will easily get you through routine tasks like checking email and streaming video. And you'll spend less on it.
The Best $500 Desktop: Acer Aspire TC-885-UA92 Desktop
For a quick step up, the Acer Aspire desktop fits the bill. With Acer, you pick up Windows, USB-C, an i5 processor and 12 GB of RAM. You also get a fairly sizeable solid-state drive, at 512 GB, so you should have ample space to store your files and speed to boot.
You’ll find plenty of USB connections for all your peripherals, like the included mouse and keyboard, and flash drives. As a bonus, this desktop has 802.11 WiFi ac, Bluetooth 5. 0, and USB ports up front for easy connections.
Acer Aspire TC-885-UA92 Desktop, 9th Gen Intel Core i5-9400, 12GB DDR4, 512GB SSD, 8X DVD, 802.11AC Wifi, USB 3.1 Type C, Windows 10 Home, Black
The Acer Aspire desktop hits all the right points at this low price. You'll get a powerful enough CPU to keep up with routine tasks and a small amount of gaming. And Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are included.
The Best $600 Desktop: HP Pavilion Desktop Computer
If you need something more powerful, the HP Pavilion is ready to provide. With an Intel i7 processor, it should handle most things, outside of graphically intense games, with ease. You’ll get 12 GB of RAM, USB-C, ports up front, and a vast 1TB traditional hard drive for plenty of storage.
HP also includes integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so you can get to the internet without cables and easily sync devices like Bluetooth mice, keyboards, and headphones.
HP Pavilion Desktop Computer, Intel Core i7-8700, 12GB RAM, 1TB Hard Drive, Windows 10 (590-p0070, Silver)
With an i7 processor and 12 GB of RAM, this desktop should handle most things you toss at it. You'll also get USB-C, front-facing ports, and a 1 TB hard drive.
The Best $700 Desktop: CYBERPOWERPC Gamer Xtreme VR Gaming PC
When you’re ready to start dabbling in gaming and video editing, the Cyber PowerPC has you covered. Although you step back to an intel i5 processor, you gain an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 6GB graphics card.
Between that graphics card, 8 GB of RAM, and a hybrid drive (240 GB SSD and 1TH HDD), Cyber PowerPC calls this a VR ready system. When considering the decked out LEDs, it certainly looks the part.
CYBERPOWERPC Gamer Xtreme VR Gaming PC, Intel Core i5-9400F 2.9GHz, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 6GB, 8GB DDR4, 240GB SSD, 1TB HDD, WiFi Ready & Win 10 Home (GXiVR8060A8, Black)
At $700 you can start experimenting with VR. The CyberPower PC has enough power to game or develop and includes a mouse and keyboard.
The best $1000 Desktop: iBUYPOWER Gaming PC Computer Desktop Trace2 9250
For the desktop that puts everything else in this list to shame, turn to iBUYPOWER’s Trace2 9250. Though not inexpensive by any stretch of the word, you get an extremely powerful i7 processor, an equally powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics card, 16 GB of ram, and a 240GB SSD, 1TB HDD hybrid hard drive.
While the Cyber PowerPC did meet the threshold for a gaming computer, this desktop blows it away. It has enough power to do nearly anything you want it to do.
iBUYPOWER Gaming PC Computer Desktop Trace2 9250 (Intel Core i7-9700F 3.0GHz, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB, 16GB DDR4, 240GB SSD, 1TB HDD, WiFi & Win 10 Home) Black
For the desktop that does everything, pick iBUYPOWER's Trace2 9250. It has an i7 processor, 16 GB of ram, a powerful graphics card, and a large hard drive. This is truly VR ready.