What Is The Best Desktop Computer To Buy
Finding the best desktop computer is no easy task, but there are some great options in 2023. Our top pick for the year is Dell's XPS Desktop 8950 with its powerful Intel and AMD CPU options, as well as discrete Nvidia GPUs. There are still great desktop PCs from HP, Apple, Lenovo, and less-known brands like Falcon Northwest too, though.
what is the best desktop computer to buy
We've extensively tested dozens of desktop computers to find the best PC for gaming, your home office, and everything in between. If you want to score a deal, make sure to keep our roundup of the best cheap desktop deals handy.
The best overall desktop PC is the one that will work for the most people, and that's the Dell XPS 8950. It's understated in all the right ways, reasonably priced considering the power you can pack inside, and comes in a variety of configurations to suit work, gaming, or both. Choosing the highest-rated PC isn't easy, but the Dell XPS 8950 gets rid of that issue.
Regardless of what configuration you choose, you'll find something that matches your needs. That's because Dell builds them custom ordered, which is the best feature of the XPS 8950. The options are nearly endless, with prices ranging from $750 to over $3,000 depending on the parts you choose. Some of the desktops come without a discrete graphics card, meaning they're more suited for work than games. However, you can get one of the more expensive ones that include a discrete graphics card.
Dell is offering this new XPS desktop with Intel Alder Lake and DDR5 RAM for those who are in search of the best gaming PC. You can add up to an RTX 3090 graphics card as well, which is a serious amount of power considering the size of the machine. Powerful hardware means more heat, but the XPS 8950 gets rid of it well with optional liquid cooling and a case with plenty of room for airflow.
Outside of new components, this new version also supports DDR5 memory, which can make a big difference in gaming performance. If you want the best gaming desktop without the fuss, the HP Omen 45L can deliver.
Outside of raw power, the iMac M1 is a great desktop because it's easy to use. Setup is seamless thanks to the no-nonsense macOS operating system, and you don't need to worry about finding a space for a hefty desktop. It's a fantastic option for everyday use, but the M1 chip still provides enough power to run creative apps like Logic and Final Cut without breaking a sweat.
The base M2 model is a big upgrade over 2020's Mac mini M1, but the updated desktop really shines with the M2 Pro chip. That takes the Mac mini from being a MacBook without a screen to a full-fledged creator machine capable of tackling the most demanding tasks you can throw at a computer today.
The HP Envy 34 All-in-One packs flagship hardware behind a screen. If you're looking for a Windows iMac alternative, the HP Envy 34 is your best option. It features a beautiful 34-inch ultrawide display, which you can open toolless-ly in the back to upgrade memory and storage.
You can configure up to a Core i9-12900K in the machine, and it's not a mobile part. You're getting the full, fat 16 cores available to the desktop CPU. Combine that with up to an Nvidia RTX A2000 GPU, 64GB of DDR5, and 8TB of total storage, and you have one of the most powerful home desktops you can buy right now. And you can fit it in a backpack.
It comes at a price, though. Although the Z2 G9 is an excellent machine with some of the most powerful you can buy today, you can spend several thousand dollars depending on your configuration. That said, if you're a pro, or just need a high-end desktop with a small footprint, the HP Z2 G9 is an excellent choice.
Desktops aren't the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about ChromeOS. The HP Chromebase 22 makes a strong argument for them, though. It's best described as a family PC, with an intuitive interface and dead-simple usability.
The Lenovo ThinkStation P620 is a workstation in every sense of the word. This is a desktop designed to perform the most resource-heavy tasks out there. Created specifically for engineering, data science, machine learning, 3D modeling, video editing, and more, the ThinkStation is the kind of PC that will find uses across many fields, aiding professionals in their daily tasks.
The best thing to do is look at individual desktop reviews rather than relying on what someone says is the "best brand." Some brands come out with excellent PCs one generation and poor desktops the next, so it's important to check in on reviews when you need to upgrade.
The best CPU will depend on how you're using your desktop. Gamers who want the utmost performance will want an overclockable Intel Core i9-11900K found on most high-end systems, while creatives looking at juggling large media files will want something with more cores. That means AMD, which offers 12- and 16-core chips in the form of the AMD Ryzen 5900X and 5950X.
If you're working primarily on Office files and use your desktop to browse the web, scaling down to an Intel Core i5 or Core i7, or an AMD Ryzen 7 or Ryzen 5 processor, would help make substantial savings without impacting performance much.
USB-C is beginning to show up in more desktop builds, but it's still more common on laptops. It's not strictly necessary, as there are plenty of USB-A to USB-C cables out there, but if it's a must for you, keep an eye on the case that your new system comes in. That will or won't have USB-C as standard.
Thunderbolt 3 uses the USB-C form factor but it offers the most bandwidth of any USB-based wired connection available at this time, giving speeds that scorch standard USB ports. However, it is even less common on desktops than plain old USB-C. If you want it, you'll need to go with an Intel or Apple system, though if you opt for the former and Thunderbolt 3 is not standard on the chassis or motherboard, you could always get a PCI-Express add-in card that has it.
The best time to buy a desktop is when your current computer isn't able to handle the applications you want to use. Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day usually bring the steepest discounts on desktop computers, but the reality is that you can score a deal on a PC almost any time during the year. Make sure to keep our roundup of the best desktop deals handy for when you want to upgrade.
Choosing between a desktop and a laptop comes down to portability and comfort. You can take a laptop nearly anywhere, but they're not as comfortable to use as desktops with a larger screen. On the other hand, a desktop is more flexible and allows you to use a keyboard/mouse combo you like, but it's restricted to one area.
Prices are at an all-time low, while at the same time, computers are becoming incredibly powerful and full of convenient features. But choosing the right computer to match your needs and budget can be an overwhelming task -- especially for tech-shy folks intimidated by geeky terminology and pushy salespeople.
While laptops are becoming more powerful, a desktop is still better suited for graphic-intensive applications such as computer gaming, video editing, or animation rendering. But if portability is a priority, then laptops are the only way to go.
Other things to keep in mind when deciding between a laptop and a desktop computer include upfront costs, noise and cooling, and peripherals. You should expect a laptop to cost a bit more than a desktop of similar specifications, as you're buying the display and input mechanisms at the same time, as well as paying for a battery -- though there are great budget laptops out there.
Laptops are also often very compact, which means they are more likely to be noisier when the fans ramp up to keep the computer cool. While desktops can also get noisy when under heavy loads like gaming or video editing, they tend to still be quieter than laptops under the same load due to the improved airflow in the case -- and you can always modify the cooling to improve it. That's not so easy with laptops.
As for peripherals, desktops tend to have more ports than laptops, meaning if you need to connect a bunch of peripherals (e.g. printers, external storage, speakers, microphone, etc.) then a desktop may be a better choice. The latest port standards include USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, which are excellent connections to look for.
Personal preference and experience dictate the operating system of choice more than anything, making it hard to recommend one over the other. The best way to tell which one is ideal for you is to try both out to see which one feels more intuitive for you to work on, and which one will work with your favorite programs. Mac computers are generally more expensive than Windows-based PCs, though they tend to be a little more secure. With fewer macOS PCs out there, hackers are less interested in making viruses for them. The closed-ecosystem approach Apple employs for its products also makes it harder to distribute malware -- though not impossible.
Outside of that niche, the app ecosystem for both macOS and Windows is very good -- there are so many apps for both platforms so no matter what you need to do, you'll likely be able to find an app to accomplish the task. Ultimately, you need to make the call for yourself, but definitely keep in mind that today's Mac computers can also run the Windows operating system through programs such as Boot Camp, Parallels, or VMWare Fusion.
If you need a bit more power for any kind of photo or video editing or are planning to play the latest games, then ideally you will want to look for a computer that sports a six-core (or better) processor such as an Intel i5 or i7 or an AMD Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7.