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Just a few years ago, pundits were predicting the beginning of the end for traditional desktop towers. Though not as prevalent as they once were, desktop PCs are still kicking, even with the rise of devices speculated to "replace" them.
What many of us overlooked was the appeal of the desktop on a fundamental level. Buying one means averting dead batteries and replacing parts individually when they stop working. It also means streaming services like Netflix in 4K, assuming you're equipped with the proper hardware and OS to support it.
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PCs, unlike laptops and tablets, can be practically as powerful as your wallet can handle. Modular by nature, upgradeability in other devices generally pales in comparison to that of PCs. Graphics cards, CPUs and disk drives can all be swapped out for something better down the line.
That being said, there are a wide variety of form factors to choose from when shopping around for a new PC. The ease of use associated with all-in-ones is sure to appeal to some while others will prefer the inexpensive media devices crafted for the living room known as mini PCs.
With the exception of our Apple examples, which come bearing macOS 10.12 Sierra, and the Chrome OS-equipped Acer Chromebase, you can expect any one of the PCs on this list to natively bolster Windows 10.
Here we've listed 10 of the best PCs, ordered from highest to lowest in terms of pricing and specs. Keep in mind that our list is subject to change as new computers, like HP's tiny workstation, make their way to market.
1. 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
2. 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)
3. Dell Inspiron Desktop
This slim mini-tower is a decent performer
CPU: Intel Core i3 – Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics – Nvidia GeForce GTX 730 | RAM: 8GB – 12GB | Storage: 32GB – 128GB SSD | Communication: 802.11bgn, Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 13.78 x 6.06 x 11.13 inches
Sure, it’s not quite as small as a PC like the Acer Revo Build or an Intel Compute Stick, but you can configure a Dell Inspiron Dekstop as a mini-tower, and therefore, it 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 Skylake processor rather than a Celeron, and 8GB of memory – so it's a lot more capable than the Revo Build.
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 730 or an even more powerful AMD Radeon HD R9, for a decent all-round performance boost.
4. 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
5. 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.
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 an audio fabric that actually improves on sound quality and looks good doing it.
At the same time, the HP Pavilion Wave 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.
Unfortunately, there’s a sheer lack of upgradeability that comes with the territory of buying a PC like this. That wouldn’t be such a problem if the parts it came with were more impressive, but the HP Pavilion Wave tops off at a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM with no option for an SSD in sight.
Read the first look: HP Pavilion Wave
8. 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
9. Lenovo IdeaCentre 710
A micro PC which you can mount on the back of your display
CPU: Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti – GeForce GTX 960 | RAM: 12GB – 32GB | Storage: 2TB HDD + 128GB SSD – 2TB HDD + 256GB SSD | Communication: Lenovo AC Wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 7.12 x 17.98 x 15.77
Lenovo is in the business of, well, business and the IdeaCentre 710 is no exception. Stacked with one of the most powerful Skylake processors on the market combined with a discrete GPU of your choosing as well as your preferred hard drive and solid state drive pairing, the Lenovo IdeaCentre 710 is one of the best work PCs on the market.
It’s especially great if your job requires high-end graphics rendering such as 3D animation or video production. Although it’s far from being a gaming PC without limits, the IdeaCentre 710 can handle some light- to medium-weight gaming. Don’t expect to run Battlefield at the highest settings in 1080p, but the IdeaCentre 710 is still far more capable than it has any right to be – and without being overshadowed by a hefty price tag.
The only complaint we have is that for such a high-quality machine, the Lenovo IdeaCentre 710 ships with Windows 10 Home rather than Windows 10 Pro, so you’ll need to upgrade manually if you want the option to full remote control of your PC or the option to defer updates.
10. Acer Chromebase 24
An easy to use and excellent value all-in-one
CPU: Intel Celeron – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics – Intel HD Graphics 5500 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Storage: 16GB – 32GB SSD | Communication: 802.11ac, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 7.12 x 17.98 x 15.77
Chromebooks are Google's reaction to cheap laptops that can barely run Windows 10 but, for whatever reason, still do. As such, there's no reason the Chromebook operating system, Chrome OS, can't be applied to all-in-one PCs as well. That's the logic behind Acer's Chromebase 24, a powerful performer with some nifty additives.
Being an all-in-one, it bears the same benefits as Apple's far more expensive iMac – no need for loose cables spread across the floor. The speakers (of which there are two, along with four mics) are built into the display, which itself extends from the computer it contains.
Chrome OS is cleverly designed to work with files stored in the cloud rather than locally, as Google Apps substitutes Microsoft Office. It takes some getting used to, but once you do get into the swing of things, the Acer Chromebook 24 works, and it works well.
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Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article