The 5 best desktop computers in 2021 for work, gaming, school, and more

Summary List Placement

  • The best desktop computers offer excellent performance, upgradability, and a great selection of ports.
  • We’ve chosen the Dell XPS 8940 Desktop as our top pick for best desktop computer.
  • We’ve also identified top desktops for other uses, such as gaming, compact spaces, and for those on a budget.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Laptops have gotten better and better over the years, but the fact remains that size matters when it comes to computers — and with the size afforded by desktop computers, you can get more power, better graphics, and more user upgradability.

When buying a desktop computer, you’ll need to consider all the usual things that you would consider for any other computer purchase. A solid processor (CPU) will keep everything you can throw at it running smoothly without stutters or crashes. Memory, also known as RAM, also plays a big role, especially if you plan on running several apps at the same time and gaming, where a computer needs to store and quickly access files associated with those apps. Last but not least is storage and if you want to keep lots of games or files on your computer, you’ll need plenty of it.

There are other considerations too. If you’re a gamer, you’ll need a solid graphics card to ensure that your games can run properly. And, you’ll want to make sure you have enough ports and a design that fits in with your style — all while staying within your budget.

No matter what you’re looking for from a solid desktop computer, there should be something on this list for you. Here are the best desktop computers money can buy right now.

Here are the best desktop computers you can buy:

SEE ALSO: The best all-in-one PCs you can buy

The best desktop computer overall

The Dell XPS 8940 is relatively sleek and stylish, plus it offers solid performance at a pretty low price.

Pros: Inexpensive, lots of ports, sleek design

Cons: Not much graphics performance on low-end models

Looking for a solid all-a rounder? The Dell XPS 8940 desktop is sleek, powerful, and versatile — without breaking the bank. The computer doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles that you would expect from a gaming PC, but for everyone else, it’s more than enough. 

The XPS 8940 is available in a series of different configurations, but the base model is still pretty powerful. You’ll get a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, coupled with 8GB of RAM and 1TB of storage — all for a relatively affordable $600. Upgrade it a little, and you get serious processing power, with up to an Intel Core i9 processor, 64GB of RAM, a 2TB solid-state drive, and a 2TB hard drive. In addition, you can get up to an AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics card for the gamers out there.

There are plenty of ports on offer by the computer too. You’ll get a hefty seven USB 3.1 ports, along with a USB-C port. There’s also a DisplayPort, a HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and so on. Safe to say, you should run out of ports, though most of them are on the back. And, you’ll get some additional ports if you get a graphics card, which may be helpful for your needs.

We’re not the only ones that love the Dell XPS 8940 desktop. The computer scored a very respectable 7.6/10 from PCGamer, while the extremely similar previous-generation 8930 scored 4/5 on Top Ten Reviews. The downsides? Well, there aren’t many at this price, except maybe that the graphics on the lower-end models is pretty limited.

The best gaming desktop computer

The Alienware Aurora R11 is well-designed and incredibly powerful — and as such it should be able to easily handle everything the average gamer can throw at it.

Pros: Cool design, very powerful, tons of ports

Cons: Can get expensive

Perhaps you’re looking for a workhorse, in which case it’s worth considering the Alienware Aurora R11. The computer, built by Dell, offers the top-end performance that you need to run all your favorite games, plus its design ensures that it should look pretty great on any gaming workstation. 

As you would expect, the Aurora R11 offers high-end base specs. You’ll get a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of Ram and a 1TB hard drive, plus an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card. Upgrade it to the max, and you’ll get a 10th-gen Intel Core i9 with an absolutely huge 128GB of RAM and a 2TB solid-state drive with a 2TB hard drive too. All that, with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card.

The Aurora R11 expectedly offers a pretty gamer-friendly design, too. It looks like a big oval, with blue lighting at the front. There are plenty of ports too — including three USB 3.2 ports, a USB-C port, and audio ports on the front. On the back, you’ll get a massive six USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.2 ports, a USB-C 3.2 port, and more. That’s not to mention the ports you’ll get as part of your graphics card. Safe to say you should never run out of connectivity options.

The Aurora R11 has gotten excellent reviews since its release. Notably, LifeWire hailed it as the best gaming PC of 2020, while PCMag gave it an impressive 3.5/5. The main downsides noted in these reviews were that the rig can get pricey quickly.

The best Apple desktop computer

The Apple iMac offers a powerful all-in-one design for anyone who wants to remain in the Apple ecosystem.

Pros: All-in-one, relatively powerful, multiple configurations, solid port selection

Cons: Slightly aging design, most will want to upgrade

If you love Apple’s ecosystem, then you’re probably looking for a desktop computer that will work within that ecosystem. In that case, it’s worth buying the iMac, which has long been the go-to desktop for Apple users.

The iMac isn’t just a desktop — it’s an all-in-one. That means that it has a display built into it, too, so you don’t need to buy an external monitor to use with it. No hassle required.

The iMac is pretty high-powered too. The computer comes in two sizes — a 21.5-inch model, and a 27-inch model — and while the 21.5-inch model doesn’t have the exact same specs as the larger device, it’s still relatively powerful. The base model offers a 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, while the highest end 27-inch iMac can be upgraded to offer a 10th-generation Intel Core i7, 128GB of RAM, and a whopping 8TB of solid-state storage. You’ll even get up to a Radeon Pro 5700 XT graphics card.

The iMac is beautifully designed too, like any Apple product. It’s got a stunning aluminum build that will look great on any desk. Around the back is where you’ll get ports, including four USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an SD card slot, and a gigabit ethernet port. 

The iMac has long gotten great reviews. PCMag gave the 27-inch iMac an impressive 4/5, while Wired gave it an equivalent 8/10. The downsides? Well, notably that while the iMac looks great, it has had the same design for some time now, so it’s aging a little. Also, most will want to upgrade to at least 16GB of RAM, up from the 8GB in the base model.

The best compact desktop computer

The Apple Mac Mini boasts a sleek and stylish design, Apple’s new processor, and integration with the rest of Apple’s ecosystem.

Pros: Sleek design, powerful performance, works with all apps

Cons: More USB 4 ports would be nice

Unless you’re seriously against Apple’s MacOS operating system, the Mac Mini is the best compact desktop computer right now. It has a sleek and stylish design with enough ports for most, plus it runs on Apple’s all-new M1 processor, which is incredibly powerful and makes the transition seamless.

When Apple announced the transition to a new M1 processor architecture, many were concerned that apps built for Intel Macs wouldn’t work on M1 Macs, and wondered how difficult switching would be. The answer? It’s absolutely simple. Many apps now work with both classic Intel processors and Apple’s new processors, and even those that don’t can be translated in the background by Apple’s Rosetta 2 software. In other words, the worst you’ll experience is an app pausing for a second or two before opening, after which it’ll run as well as it always has. It’s actually kind of incredible.

The only other thing you might be wondering about is whether you should get 8GB of RAM or upgrade to 16GB. I’ve been using an 8GB model for a few weeks now, and find that even as a power user, it’s more than capable the majority of the time. With Mail, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Word, Podcasts, Safari, Reminders, and often both Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro open at the same time, the computer still feels responsive and quick. On the heaviest of heavy days, which included 4K video editing, the computer can sometimes skip a little, and as a result we recommend getting 16GB of RAM if you plan on using those pro-level apps. For most workflows, however, 8GB will be enough.

The only downside to this Mac Mini compared to the last generation is that it has slightly fewer ports. But you’ll still get two USB-A ports, two USB 4.0 ports (USB-C), an HDMI port, a headphone jack, and an ethernet port, which should be more than enough for most.

The best desktop computer under $500

The Acer Aspire TC is inexpensive, sure, but it still offers excellent performance for a computer in its price range.

Pros: Inexpensive, excellent port selection, solid performance for the price, customizable

Cons: Lackluster graphics performance

If you want a decent desktop on a budget, there are some great options. Namely, it’s worth considering the Acer Aspire TC, which offers excellent performance for the price, plus it can be upgraded down the line as needed.

Despite being low-cost, the Acer Aspire TC has a lot to offer. The base model of the computer comes with a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, but it can be upgraded to offer an Intel Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 1TB hard drive – though of course, those specs will pass the $500 line. 

There’s a great-selection of ports on offer too. There are two USB 2.0 ports, a hefty five USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C port, two HDMI ports, and more. Safe to say, you should never run out of connectivity options on this computer. 

The Acer Aspire TC has made a name for itself for offering excellent value-for-money, and reviews reflect that. PCMag gave the computer a 4.5/5, which is a glowing score. The only real downsides to the computer are that the computer doesn’t offer great graphics performance, but that’s somewhat to be expected from a computer in this price range.

What to look for in a desktop computer

As with any computer, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re browsing for your next desktop. For starters, you’ll want to think about the operating system (OS) that you prefer: Windows or macOS. Of course, the OS comes down to one’s personal preference. A good number of people happen to find that macOS is easier to use than Windows. However, Windows computers are on the cheaper side compared to Macs, and are widely more compatible with various programs and external devices.

You’ll also want to think about how powerful you need the computer to be. Most of the computers on this list feature Intel Core i processors (CPUs), which come in a range of models. At the most basic level, the entry-level CPU is the i3, the mid-range is between the i5 and i7, and the high-powered option is the i9. Additionally, gamers and visual media professionals need to consider the graphics card inside the computer, with the Nvidia GeForce RTX series being the highest-end graphics cards available today.

Apart from the processor, there’s memory, or RAM, which impacts the overall speed and day-to-day use as well as multitasking capability — we would recommend at least 8GB of RAM; and storage, which dictates how many files, including videos and music, can be stored on the desktop. For this, we’d recommend going for at least 256GB of space to start.

Related posts