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Snazzy, innovative laptop designs are constantly evolving. Smartphones are ubiquitous and astonishingly capable. So where does that leave that '80s relic, the desktop PC? There are still plenty for sale, and innovation never stops in the desktop market, especially among small-form-factor and all-in-one models. But many shoppers seem to consider desktops an anachronism, heading straight to the laptop aisle for their next computer purchase.
That's not always the right move. Desktops aren't facing extinction, and they're doing anything but standing still. For consumers and businesses alike, these are the most cost-effective and customizable desktop computers for 2023, as shown by our favorite examples from recent reviews. Check them out, then read on to learn everything you need to know about finding the best desktop for you.
Simply put, the Falcon Northwest FragBox delivers superb performance for a decent price and inside a seemingly impossibly tiny chassis for what it contains. This small form factor gaming desktop is in a class of its own, somehow fitting a massive Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU inside, outpacing its competition. Paired with an Intel Core i9-13900K, it is undefeated in our gaming benchmarks.
Space-starved PC gamers in small living spaces who want to sacrifice as little performance as possible are a clear audience for the FragBox. In addition to (and despite) its size, the FragBox is quiet in operation, decently serviceable, and has mid-tower-like expansion. Falcon Northwest also targets a particularly cash-flush consumer: while this FragBox is unequaled among small-form-factor gaming desktops, it has an asking price to match.
With the OptiPlex 5090, Dell crafted an affordable office (or remote working) desktop with a professional-grade Intel Core i5 processor including vPro security technology built in as well as plenty of room for future component upgrades or replacements. While the base configuration is a little bare, higher loadouts are where it's at, which make better use of the multiple USB and DisplayPort connections.
Is a big, sharp screen your first priority in an AIO? HP's Envy 34 All-in-One offers a massive (34-inch diagonal) 5K display with panoramic 5,120-by-2,160-pixel resolution, as well as a 16-megapixel webcam that magnetically snaps almost anywhere along the top or either side of the screen to make you look your best. It's also a lively performer, even for mid-level gaming, thanks to a discrete Nvidia GeForce GPU instead of the usual integrated graphics, and it has all the ports, memory, and storage you'll likely need, as well as a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
At the other end of HP's all-in-one desktop offerings, the under-$500 Chromebase 22 brings the appeal of an easy-to-use, online-friendly Chromebook to your desk or den or kitchen counter. Its 21.5-inch 1080p screen pivots between landscape (horizontal) and portrait (vertical) modes, letting you switch from enjoying a YouTube or Netflix video to seeing most of a webpage or Google Workspace word processing document without scrolling. Its small-footprint, cone-shaped base doubles as a surprisingly high-quality speaker, and it offers a high-res webcam and wireless keyboard and mouse.
The latest Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is another entry in Intel's long line of mini PCs, and another that comes highly recommended. Leveraging laptop components to create a truly compact desktop experience, the Intel NUC 12 Pro is surprisingly powerful, and ready for everything from media streaming to professional work. With plenty of ports and a design that encourages add-ons and novel uses, this tiny PC is great for everything shy of gaming and heavy media editing. It's also offered as either a preconfigured system, or a bare-bones kit (you provide the RAM, solid-state drive, and Windows license), making it a great choice for hobbyists looking to tinker.
Obviously, ordinary workstations like Dell's more mainstream Precision or HP's Z or Lenovo's ThinkStation desktops can handle almost all creative, architectural, and data analysis jobs. Many software applications (including our performance benchmarks) actually can't take full advantage of the P620's power. But when only the ultimate will do, scientists and engineers will be grateful for this monster's muscle.
We've reviewed an impressive variety and capability of desktops above, right? We don't deny that a laptop or tablet is a better pick for people who depend on business travel, or whose computing consists mostly of basic surfing and typing from the living-room couch. But for small offices, families, creative pros, gamers, and tech tinkerers, desktops are often the best choice and the best value.
While desktops don't come in as many distinct form factors as laptops, there's great variation in computing power and room for upgrades and expansion. Let's dive into these, and a bunch of other important factors, as you prepare to buy your next desktop.
One of the desktop's most alluring promises is the value it delivers. Your money simply goes further with desktop PCs and their components. Instead of buying a $700 laptop with a competent Intel Core i5 processor, you can get a $700 desktop with a more powerful Core i7 CPU in it, and maybe even squeeze in a dedicated graphics card.
You can find complete mini PCs for very light work and display-signage tasks for under $300, and perfectly serviceable small towers for $300 to $600. Gaming desktops with dedicated graphics cards start at around $500. You can also find all-in-one desktops, with the display and all of the computing components built into a single device, starting at around $400.
The thing with desktops is, opting for a cheap one does not carry some of the same risks you'd face with a like-priced laptop. A $250 Black Friday special or a steeply discounted refurbished desktop could perform just fine for basic computing, and you wouldn't need to worry about the wear and tear on cheap materials that you might with a laptop of a similar price. That inexpensive laptop would be subject to the vagaries of daily commuting and the occasional drop from a coffee table. The desktop, in contrast, would need to stay put and just work.
Windows is the latest iteration of Microsoft's operating system. Desktops that use it and previous versions of the OS are what most people typically rely on, so you'll be assured of the best compatibility and the widest selection of third-party software. Desktops running Windows are also readily available below $500, making them attractive to casual users, families looking for a second PC, and bargain hunters.
Google's ChromeOS is a viable alternative to Windows and macOS, but desktops running it (called Chromeboxes) are rare and best suited to niche uses like powering a restaurant menu display. A fourth option is to buy a desktop with no operating system at all and install an open-source one of your choosing, such as Ubuntu Linux. We don't recommend going this route unless you're technically savvy, willing to experiment, and okay fixing software compatibility issues and other quirks.
Macs and Windows PCs are available in all three of the major desktop form factors: mini PCs that can fit on a bookshelf, sleek all-in-ones with built-in (and usually high-resolution) displays, and traditional desktop towers that are bulky but offer room for more or less easy expansion. These three forms each have strengths and weaknesses, and none of them is an obvious best choice for everyone. You'll have to choose based on what you plan to do with your desktop and where you plan to put it.
For truly cramped quarters or light workloads, as well as for people who love the efficient use of space, a mini PC could be the best choice. They come in sizes ranging from tiny sticks not much larger than a USB thumb drive to small-form-factor (SFF) towers that may be nearly a foot tall but have compact footprints. The very smallest sizes have the benefit of disappearing behind an HDMI-equipped monitor or TV, and they contain a processor, memory, storage, and ports to hook up keyboards and mice. They're economical and power-efficient, and can serve as adequate web browsing or multimedia viewing platforms. But know that the models at the truly tiny end of the scale offer no room for adding extra internal components, and their preinstalled parts are usually difficult or impossible to upgrade.
An all-in-one (AIO) desktop is quite a different animal than both of these form factors. An AIO can save you some space, since the display is built in. An AIO's value proposition comes down to space saving and whether you happen to be shopping for a desktop display at the same time. Though you can find budget AIOs with basic feature sets, lower resolutions, and non-touch screens, many new models offer touch-enabled screens, and some AIO panels have exceptionally high native resolutions of 4K (3,840 by 2,160 pixels) or even 5K (5,120 by 2,880 pixels). Touch displays make them excellent choices for watching movies or serving as a multimedia hub in the kitchen or other public area of your home, though the very highest resolutions target content creators rather than consumers. 041b061a72