It wasn’t but a few years ago that pundits were clamoring for the death of the traditional desktop computer. And while PC sales are on the decline amid Apple’s success with the Mac (largely due to increased component costs), there’s no denying that there’s still an audience for the best computers.
By and large, performing hardware-intensive tasks such as gaming and video editing on a powerful rig with personalized components is an experience that’s virtually unparalleled. Despite tablets and laptops stealing much of the PC’s thunder in recent years, using a desktop is actually a relief when you consider the alternative is typically less powerful and cost more.
PCs, unlike other devices, are expandable over time. If you want to run Star Wars Battlefront 2 at 1440p Ultra settings, for instance, you can do so by effortlessly sliding an AMD Radeon RX 580 into an empty PCI-E slot in your computer’s chassis. That’s assuming you go after a traditional PC tower, however.
That’s right, there’s a wide range of form factors to choose from when shopping around for a new PC. The minimalism and compact nature of all-in-one computers is sure to appeal to those desperate for accessibility. Meanwhile, the traditional desktop PC tower still trucks on alongside tiny computers that go under your TV stand called mini PCs.
Save for our Apple examples, which naturally come loaded with macOS Sierra, and the Chrome OS-equipped Acer Chromebase, you can expect any one of the PCs on this list to support Windows 10 – whether out of the box or with an upgrade.
1. Dell XPS Tower Special Edition
Don’t be fooled, this machine is a gaming PC at heart
CPU: Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon RX 480 – Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 | Storage: 1TB HDD – 512GB SSD; 2TB HDD | Communication: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 7.09 x 14.02 x 15.22 inches
Leave it to Dell to contrive a computer that’s not only affordable, but arguably one of the best options for gaming disguised as a regular productivity machine. It may not have “the look,” but the XPS Tower Special Edition is capable of far more than basic number crunching. Featuring anywhere from an Intel Core i5 to Core i7 Skylake processor paired with 8GB of RAM, that would be enough to make the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition sing.
But Dell didn’t stop there. Rather, the computer company managed to squeeze in discrete graphics that, surprisingly for a pre-built machine, doesn’t cost an outrageous wad of cash. Not only that, but register your XPS Tower Special Edition with Dell and they’ll throw in complimentary customer support via the web. If you prefer your PCs with subdued, austere designs over those bedecked with aliens and snakes, this one does it all.
Read the full review: Dell XPS Tower Special Edition
2. Surface Studio
The art kid’s dream computer in a metallic nutshell
CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7 (6th generation)
The Surface Studio, though it costs a handful more than the already-lavish Dell XPS 27, is a godsend all-in-one for artists. Complete with the Surface Pen and puck-shaped Surface Dial palette controller, this machine isn’t quite cutting-edge in terms of hardware, but the outside more than makes up for it.
The 28-inch, 4,500 x 3,000 PixelSense Display puts even most 4K screens to shame, while the fully-articulating stand makes it a rather versatile tool whether it’s for work or play. That goes without the aluminum finish, which suits the Surface Studio well against the sheen of the Microsoft Windows logo from the rear.
Although it’s without a 7th-generation processor and Nvidia Pascal-series graphics, the Surface Studio is quite possibly the best way to access drawing tools such as Photoshop and Paint 3D. Truly, this is one of the most truly all-in-one computers money can buy, so long as you have the money to buy it.
Read the full review: Surface Studio
3. Apple iMac with 5K Retina display
A stylish all-in-one with a stunning screen
CPU: Intel Dual-Core i5 - Quad-Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 6000 | RAM: 8GB - 32GB | Storage: 1TB HDD - 3TB SSD | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 196 x 196 x 36mm
The iMac is known for its essentialism. Easy-to-use hardware combined with the famed accessibility of macOS makes for a nigh-perfect computing experience. A built-in screen, speakers and 802.11ac wireless networking are only complemented by the fantastic Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. All you need is a power cable to get it 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 just enough for basic tasks, up to 27-inch iMacs with quad-core processors and even the optional 5K display. If you want a faster, quieter and more reliable storage option, you can opt for a hybrid solid state drive as well.
Even on the low-end model, the IPS display is bright and vivid, with a clever design where the edges of the aluminum chassis are thinner than many standalone monitors. And as standard, the iMac runs macOS, although Apple makes it 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
4. Apple iMac with 4K Retina display (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
Still stylish, still stunning, but compact too
CPU: Intel Quad-Core i5 | 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
Boasting 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 in addition to 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 larger laptop. Apple is bundling the 4K iMac with a superb set of accessories, too 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)
5. Apple Mac mini
The cheapest way you can go Mac
CPU: Intel Dual-Core i5 | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 5100 | RAM: 4GB - 8GB | Storage: 500GB HDD | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 196 x 196 x 36mm
The Mac mini exhibits the luxury of an Apple desktop without the price tag to match. Starting at a mere $499 (£399, AU$779), the Mac mini is barebones yet affordable. Though it ships without the otherwise expected Magic Mouse and Keyboard peripherals, getting to choose your own accessories is, at the very least, liberating.
And, while it hasn't been updated in quite some time on the hardware front, the Mac Mini's Haswell-based i5 processor still chugs along nicely. Plus, with Iris Graphics onboard, you'll get a bit more juice than expected. Combined with 500GB of storage space and 4GB of RAM, the Mac mini is arguably the best starting point for OS X newcomers even if a contemporary makeover is long past due.
With an aluminum shell and simplistic industrial design, the Mac mini represents Apple at its very core. Where it mainly lacks, however, is in performance. Luckily the option for a Fusion Drive, which marries the power of both HDD and SSD technology, somewhat makes up for this inadequacy. A configuration sporting 8GB of RAM is an option too, but if you don't want to shell out the extra cash, the base model will do just fine.
Read the full review: Apple Mac mini
6. Acer Revo Build
A stackable media PC with plenty of storage
CPU: Intel Celeron N3050 – Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics – Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 2GB – 8GB | Storage: 32GB SSD – 1TB HDD | Communication: 802.11ac, Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 + LE | Dimensions (W x D x H): 5.3 x 5.3 x 2.2 inches
The Acer Revo Build is one of the few desktop computers you can actually take advantage of on the go in addition to with your at-home setup. Featuring upgradeability that’s as easy as stacking Lincoln Logs, the Revo Build is both the perfect media PC and a stellar charging station for your other devices.
Unfortunately, that’s assuming you shell out enough for the most expensive configuration, which comprises an Audio Block for built-in sound output, a 1TB hard drive block and even a graphics block for Ultra HD video. The Revo Build packs in not one, but three USB ports, an SD card slot and even DisplayPort. Plus, if your phone is up to task, you can even utilize wireless charging.
Read the full review: Acer Revo Build
7. HP Pavilion Wave
It's a prettier, if less-beefy, Mac Pro
CPU: Intel Core i3 – Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 530 – AMD Radeon R9 M470 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 1TB HDD | Communication: 802.11ac, Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.2 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 6.81 x 6.62 x 9.25 inches
The HP Pavilion Wave is the latest in a trend of desktops posing as entirely different hardware. This time it’s a speaker, thanks to a partnership with Bang & Olufsen, and the HP Pavilion Wave succeeds where others have failed. Rather than muddling the audio quality exerted from the Wave’s onboard speaker system. HP and B&O Play have devised a clever cylindrical design that actually improves on sound quality while looking good at the same time.
The HP Pavilion Wave also manages to future-proof itself with Bluetooth 4.2 capabilities, three standard USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, DisplayPort and even a single USB Type-C port.
Read the first look: HP Pavilion Wave
8. Dell XPS 27
A well-rounded jab at Apple’s ageing iMac
CPU: Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 530 | RAM: 8GB – 32GB | Storage: 1TB HDD – 2TB HDD; 32GB SSD | Communication: 802.11ac; Ethernet; Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 17.1 x 24.6 x 3.16 inches
The Dell XPS 27 is an all-in-one that does it all, and it does so with pristine equity. Resting atop an articulating stand is a massive 4K Ultra HD touchscreen display and a whopping sextet of ear-numbing speakers. Not only is it attractive, what with its silvery metallic finish and uniquely molded mouse and keyboard, but it’s also top-notch when it comes to delivering powerful specs.
Its high asking price might see you turn your head in the opposite direction, especially when compared to the more modest cost of a similarly configured HP AIO 27, but it’s arguably worth it for the advantages in both looks and performance – not to mention a snug set of peripherals attached. No, there’s no HDMI-in or pressure-sensitive stylus, but that’s because the Dell XPS 27 knows its audience.
It doesn’t cater to gamers specifically, nor was it crafted with designers in mind. Unlike the Origin Omni or even the Surface Studio, the Dell XPS 27 feels most at home with entertainment enthusiasts. Whether you’re making your own beats or vibing out to someone else’s; watching films or editing them yourself, the Dell XPS 27 should be at the top of your list when shopping around for a new PC.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 27 AIO
9. Intel Compute Stick (Core M)
The tiny computer that can
CPU: Intel Core m3 – Core m5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB eMMC | Communication: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 38mm x 12mm x 125mm
When we reviewed the original Intel Compute Stick, we were undeniably disappointed by its lackluster performance and ostensibly unnecessary fan integration. Well over a year later, Intel has addressed both of these complaints with one major change: the switch to the company’s Core M-series processors.
Whether you’re appeased by the Core m3 or you need the slight bump in power exhibited by the Core m5, the Intel Compute Stick offers a solution. Of course, it’s still not ideal to pack a fan into a tiny dongle, especially when the Core M CPUs were designed with noise elimination in mind.
But, the Intel Compute Stick still maintains a cost low enough to where it may not matter if it doesn’t run completely silent. Its tiny form factor and powerful (for the price) CPU is enough to tide you over nonetheless.
Read the full review: Intel Compute Stick
10. Asus VivoMini UN45
A compact desktop for everyday computing
CPU: Intel Celeron N3000 – Pentium N3700 | Graphics: Intel HD Integrated Graphics | RAM: 2GB – 8GB | Storage: 32GB – 128GB SSD | Communication: 802.11ac, Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 5.16 x 5.16 x 1.65 inches
Asus is a unique PC maker in that it offers a wide range of computers for a variety of different types of users. You typically won’t find in a mini PC with this many configuration options that no matter which one you opt for, the underlying computer remains the same.
The VivoMini UN45 may look like one of Asus’ DVD burners, but in reality, it’s a full-fledged desktop that can be used as a companion for watching 4K movies in your home theater or it can even be connected normally to a monitor or a TV.
Moreover, the UN45 bears an M.2 SSD regardless of which model you opt for, ranging from 32GB to 128GB. However, if you don’t mind the reduction in performance and configure your VivoMini UN45 with an Intel Celeron N3000, you’ll get the liberty of a fanless design that’s completely silent even when the CPU is under full load.
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Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article