When buying a new desktop computer you basically have two options: you can build one yourself or you can buy pre-built. The former will almost always result in better value and upgradeability -- with perhaps the only exception being when buying a basic entry-level computer. But going the DIY route also requires a fair bit of knowledge, research and free time.
If the process of picking parts and building something yourself sounds right up your alley then our PC Buying Guide is a great place to get started. But if you just need something that works out of the box and is backed by its manufacturer’s service and warranty, or you are looking for something to recommend to your less DIY-inclined friends and family, then this is for you.
We've weighed dozens of expert reviews against our own research and tests to bring you our picks for best pre-built all-on-one PCs, gaming systems, small form factor PC and budget PC.
Best All In One
The iMac family is known for its stylish design among all-in-ones and that hasn’t changed in its latest iteration. The aluminum enclosure remains as impressive as the day Apple redesigned the lineup in 2012 and as slim as last year’s model. No change is not bad at all in this case. What you do get in this revision is Intel Skylake processors, upgraded AMD graphics and an upgraded display with a wider DCI P3 color gamut. This is said to offer 25% more colors versus the standard sRGB gamut, which is important if you're doing professional photo, video, and illustration work.
The 27-inch display boasts a remarkable 5,120-by-2,880-pixel (5K) resolution that’s unmatched in this category. Images are incredibly sharp and it's possible to run multiple apps simultaneously without feeling cramped for space -- you can display a 4K video image at full size while still having additional space for editing tools. The only complaint here would be the bezels surrounding the display which look rather large compared to monitors like the Dell UltraSharp U3415W.
In terms of connectivity you get four USB 3.0 ports and two Thunderbolt 2 connections, a SDXC slot and a Gigabit Ethernet jack -- all located on the backside toward the bottom so you can keep your cables under control.
The base configuration starts at $1,799 with a 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon R9 M380 GPU with 2GB video memory and 1TB hard drive. In general this will be more than capable at handling everyday tasks, though we would recommend spending an extra $200 to get the faster Fusion Drive storage and M390 graphics. A traditional hard drive just doesn’t cut it anymore. As usual, Apple is stingy with Flash storage, so that 1TB Fusion Drive contains just 24GB of SSD space which is still enough to make OS X and its core apps run fast but not the same as having a large SSD for all your apps.
The iMac is among the more expensive all-in-ones in the market but it’s without competition when it comes to display and build quality. Furthermore if you’ll be doing professional photo and video editing work, it will get the job done for less than a Mac Pro and a standalone 4K monitor.
Best Windows All In One
The Zen AIO Pro is one of the most stylish desktop all-in-one PCs in the Windows camp and there’s no hiding where the inspiration came from. The exterior is all metal and glass with a curved back panel that tapers to a sharp edge all around, it has an L-shaped stand and neatly positioned ports in the back. Yep, it’s pretty much an iMac clone with a darker brushed aluminum finish.
The 23.8-inch touch screen display is crisp and vibrant sporting a 3,840 by 2,160 pixel (UHD) resolution -- not in the same league as Apple’s 5K Retina Display but very good nonetheless. Under the hood a quad-core Intel Core i7-6700T CPU, 4GB to 32GB of DDR4 memory and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M discrete graphics card give the Asus AIO Pro the power to breeze through everyday tasks and handle some gaming too, as long as you back the resolution down to 1920 x 1080. Hot hardware, TomsGuide and ExpertReviews managed decent frame rates on games like Thief, Bioshock Infinite, and DiRT: Showdown by tweaking graphics settings a bit.
On the storage front Asus offers a variety of options including a traditional hard drive up to 2TB in size, as well as a combination of SSD for speed and HDD for storage, or even a super speedy 512GB PCIe-based M.2 Samsung SM951 SSD. As for connectivity, ports include 4 USB 3.0, 1 USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 USB 2.0, and 2 HDMI out. The Zen also ships with a standard-issue wireless keyboard and mouse combo which aren’t anything special but will get the job done.
Other highlights include Intel's RealSense 3D camera, which supports a variety of neat 3D-scanning and motion-tracking apps. You probably won’t be doing much with this after the novelty wears off, but Windows 10’s Hello feature to log into your Windows account with facial recognition can certainly be convenient.
The Zen AIO Pro can be had for as little as $1,399 for a "Signature Edition" base model at the Microsoft Store. You get 8GB of RAM and a 1TB SSHD. If you can spend a bit more a step up model doubles the RAM to 16GB and trades the SSHD for a 1TB HDD + 512GB PCIe 3.0 SSD combo for $1,900.
Best Budget All In One
The C40 keeps things simple with a glossy black front, thick bezels around the screen, and a Y-shaped base offering tilt adjustments. It looks clean and feels durable. With a starting price at around $430, the Lenovo C40 offers plenty to like in a basic touch-screen PC for getting online, light productivity and media consumption. Its 21.5-inch full HD display offers decent color accuracy and on offer are various models featuring either 4GB or 8GB of RAM as well as an AMD A6-7310, Intel Pentium 3825U or Intel Core i3 5005U CPU.
We recommend going with the Core i3 for a bit more performance. Right now you can get this model with 4GB of RAM and 1TB of storage for $617 on Amazon, or the AMD A6-7310 model with double the RAM for $607. Don't expect blazing performance from either but for your average day to day computing tasks you're certainly covered, you also get dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Lenovo even added an HDMI-in port so that your all-in-one can double as a standalone display.
Best Gaming PC
Not everyone who appreciates powerful hardware has the time or skill to build their own -- and this is where boutique PC builders such as Origin come in.
Their Genesis gaming system is among the prettier and more flexible we’ve found. Rather than using an off the shelf case, Origin designed its own full-size case featuring a steel frame and plastic enclosure, which can be tuned to your liking with three factory color options and custom paint options for both interior and exterior. On the inside back panel and ceiling and on both sides of the top front are rows of LED lights, which can be controlled and customized with a smartphone app.
Origin is going all the way with customization on this one. The motherboard can be oriented in one of four ways, depending on how you want to cool the system and which of its components you want to show off. You can also decide the orientation in which the front panel opens, and there’s easy access to USB ports on the top.
As you would expect hardware options are aplenty and how much you spend depends on how crazy you go with components. You can get up to an Intel Core i7 6700K CPU, four Titan X GPUs, 64GB of RAM, and many, many storage combinations. To put things into context, we configured the Genesis as close to our PC Buying Guide’s Enthusiast build and it cost almost twice as much -- though it did have some higher end components by default. The gap narrows down the higher end you go. Configuring the Genesis closer to our Luxury build 'only' resulted in a 44% premium.
Part of that premium you are paying is justified -- aside from labor -- by the inclusion of a 1-year subscription to Origin's warranty program with 24-hour phone and online support, and 1-year part replacement. You can also enroll in their Evolve Part Upgrade Service for an extra $40, which lets you return your old system parts to Origin for their current market value when upgrading to a newer or better component.
The Origin is a handsomely crafted rig and a terrific contender in the cost-no-object arena. Though at the end of the day we’d choose to build something as powerful for less, if you can foot the build for one of these we doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Best Value Gaming PC
There are many different systems billed as budget gaming PCs and yet most of them skimp on the single most important component: the GPU. For our budget pick we wanted something with at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 and the Alienware X51 not only delivers, but does so in a sleek mini-tower that will look just as good on your desk or in the living room. Although $1250 for our customized build is not exactly cheap, this is the least we would consider for serious gaming on a pre-built system, short of buying a cheap desktop PC and upgrading the graphics card on your own -- which is also an option and you can read more about it in our budget PC pick.
The Alienware X51 R3 performs admirably for its size and price point, equipped with a GeForce GTX 970 you’ll be able to play any modern games at 1440p with graphics settings set to high -- gaming benchmarks here. Our configured build also includes a Core i5-6400 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe SSD. Keep in mind that you’ll need to factor in the cost of a monitor and peripherals.
In terms of design the X51 has a glossy front panel with a single illuminated Alienware logo power button and access to essential port as well as an optical drive. The left and right side panels both sport sharp LED triangles that can light up in various colors.
There is no shortage of connectivity options, especially when you consider its size. In total you get six USB 3.0 ports (two on the front panel and four on the rear), two USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, one full-sized HDMI port, 3 DisplayPorts, one DVI-D port, audio in and out ports with optical output and Dell's graphics dock port for an external Alienware Graphics Amplifier, if you want to add another graphics card down the road.
The X51 keeps it clean on the software front, running Windows 10 Pro with just a few preloaded programs that let you customize how the machine looks and performs.
If you are willing to make some compromises on the graphics department, the Alienware X51 actually starts at $699 with a Core i3 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 745 graphics card, with other configurations in-between offering a GTX 750Ti GPU, Radeon R9 370 or GeForce GTX 960. Key components – including the GPU, CPU, memory and hard drive – are also easy to access on the Alienware X51, so you can make upgrades on your own.
A cheaper, similarly spec’d option would be the Asus G11CD starting at $1,050 -- with a 1TB HDD instead of an SSD. But if you like the idea of being able to perform upgrades, the G11CD is not the machine for you, rather it's an alternative built to be a hassle-free, plug-and-play gaming PC, so there's no easy way to swap out its components.
Best Small Form Factor PC
If you're comfortable buying and installing your own RAM, storage and operating system, the barebones Intel NUC provides a fantastic starting point for a capable small form factor system. The Core i5 5250U powered NUC5i5RYK with Intel Graphics HD 6000 retails for $344, while a version with a 2.5-inch drive bay in addition to the M.2 slot is just $5 more.
At 4.5 x 4.4 x 1.3 inches and just 1 pound, the NUC5i5RYK is tiny enough to sit on any desk or media center cabinet, or simply hide behind a monitor using the bundled VESA mounting bracket. Its silver and black design doesn’t make much of an impression and could be easily mistaken for a router, but the metal chassis and plastic enclosure feels solid and well built. Ports include four USB 3.0, one Mini HDMI 1.4a, one Mini DisplayPort 1.2, and an Ethernet jack.
With a high-capacity drive inside or attached via USB, the NUC5i5RYK can serve as an excellent home-theater PC, or even as a secondary PC for everyday productivity and multimedia tasks. You basically get a high-end Ultrabook in a desktop form factor. All told after adding a pair of RAM modules and storage you would have a very capable system for around $600 -- before factoring in the cost of the OS, monitor and peripherals if necessary. You can find pre-configured systems on Amazon for around this much if you’d rather have a working system out-of-the box.
Editor's note: A newer version of the NUC powered by Skylake processors and faster Iris HD graphics is now available. On paper, it's a worthy update to the platform, especially for the extra graphics horsepower, addition of microSD card reader and return of the full-size HDMI port. However user reports abound about random crashes and incompatibilities that have not been sorted as of writing. If these are fixed via firmware updates in the near future we'll replace our current recommendation for the newer 6th-gen NUC offering.
Best Budget PC
The Asus M32CD is Amazon’s best selling desktop computer and with good reason -- it provides a solid plug and play solution for those looking to purchase a computer package with minimal setup. Priced at $450 you get a 6th-gen Intel Core i5-6400 processor with integrated 530 HD Graphics, 8GB DDR4 RAM, a 1TB hard drive, as well as Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity options. In terms of value for money, it’s definitely an excellent all-rounder, with plenty of power for your everyday home computer needs.
It also looks pretty sleek with a brushed metal finish and a clean, subtle design. The front and back offer a decent array of ports, including two USB 3.0 (front) ports, two USB 3.1 (rear), three USB 2.0 (rear) ports, 8-channel audio, single VGA and single HDMI port -- with support for 4K displays.
The lack of a dedicated graphics card means you won’t be doing much gaming out of the box, beyond perhaps some less demanding titles on medium to low graphics settings. Fortunately, the M32CD can be easily upgraded. In addition to an extra hard drive and RAM module, there’s also one PCI-e x16 expansion slot available. The included 300W PSU will be able to power a budget card like the $150 GeForce GTX 950, which will run many modern titles at 50-60fps when gaming at 1080p.
If you want to take it up a notch to yield a cost-effective gaming computer, you could get a GeForce GTX 970 inside provided you also upgrade the PSU. In all you’re looking at a ~$400 investment, or a total cost of $850. That’s not bad at all for a budget PC that can handle serious gaming. That said, if you were to swap in an SSD and more RAM, you start getting closer to our best value gaming PC pick, which is an overall better system.
If you are thinking of purchasing this with the intention of upgrading it, just be aware that by opening the case you void the manufacturer’s 1-year warranty.