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How We Decided
  • 83 Models Considered
  • 41 Hours Spent
  • 2 Experts Interviewed
  • 164 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Best Desktop Computers

    Although laptop and tablet computers tend to grab the headlines, there are many good reasons for owning a desktop. Computer manufacturers offer a staggering range of options to satisfy this demand, from bare-bones boxes that require you to select your own peripherals to servers that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

    It's impossible to cover them all, so what we've done is look at effective, trouble-free solutions for a wide variety of home and small business users. We haven't included gaming-focused machines or office servers because (a), they're expensive, and (b), people tend to have these types of machines custom-built to their own specifications.

    That's not to say that the following fall short in those areas. It's just that they take the "all-around" approach that the majority of us need, rather than being task-specific. They are:

    Products we Considered

    • Apple
      iMac with Retina 5K Display
    • ASUS
      CHROMEBOX
    • LG
      ChromeBase All-in-One Cloud
    • Lenovo
      C260 All-in-One Touchscreen
    • Dell
      XPS X8700
    Matthew
    EXPERT CONSULTANT

    Matthew has led IT departments and tech teams in a variety of industries. Currently, he works in the sports gaming industry. He has written reviews and been involved with electronics procurement decisions for a number of players at the business and individual level for over a decade. In his spare time, you may find Matthew playing frisbee, golf, or reading a good novel.


    Matthew  |  IT Professional, Product Manager

    Considerations

    Specifications

    Elements like processor speed, RAM, and hard drive capacity can be confusing, but our quick and straightforward overview gives you key information so you can compare each model and judge how it would suit your purposes.

    Peripherals & Software

    Low-end desktops can be little more than a small box, leaving you to choose your own monitor, keyboard, and so on. At the other end of the spectrum, you will find desktops that are packed with connectivity and invaluable software programs.

    Important Questions

    You can make a good assessment of a desktop computer package based on its technical details, but important questions often remain. We bring you the answers by looking at what both professionals and owners have to say.

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    Price

    You shouldn't buy a computer based on price alone, but price is obviously an important part of the equation. In this part of the review, we discuss the validity of each model's price by reviewing its pros and cons.

    The consensus among Asus Chromebox owners, both private and professional, is that the machine offers plenty of speed for the things it was designed to do.
    Considerations

    Specifications

    ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop

    With a dual-core Intel Celeron running at 1.4 GHz, the Asus Chromebox Desktop hovers at the lower end of the processor speed range. We won’t get into cache sizes in this review; that information is readily available if it’s important to you. But for the majority of us, it amounts to another layer of technical jargon that doesn’t really make or break a purchasing decision.

    This particular Asus has two GB of RAM and a 16-GB, solid-state hard drive. Although that capacity is quite small, solid-state hard drives are considerably faster than traditional disk-based drives. Should you need an external drive, it’s easy to add one via USB port. (The Chromebook has four of them.) You also get an HDMI port so you can do things like stream Internet content to a high-definition TV (given appropriate connection speeds).

    Like all of our finalists, the Asus Chromebox has Gigabit Ethernet support and 802.11 wireless connectivity.

    LG ChromeBase 22CV241-W 22-Inch All-in-One Cloud Desktop

    In terms of specifications, the LG ChromeBase 22CV241-W 22-Inch All-in-One Cloud desktop has a lot in common with the Asus. It runs an identical 1.4 GHz Celeron processor, has the same RAM capacity, and also offers a fast, 16-GB solid-state hard drive. There are four USB ports so you can add any peripherals you choose, plus an HDMI port to plug in TVs or media devices.

    Lenovo C260 19.5-Inch All-in-One Touchscreen Desktop

    The Lenovo C260 19.5-Inch All-in-One Touchscreen Desktop comes with an Intel Pentium processor rated at 2.4 GHz. This high-speed processor towers over the speed of the Asus and LG ChromeBase and is reinforced by four GB of RAM. While the Lenovo doesn't have a rapid, solid-state memory, it compensates by offering 500 MB of hard drive space. Like the Asus and LG models on our shortlist, there are four USB ports and one for HDMI.

    Dell XPS X8700-3130BLK Desktop

    Although the Dell XPS X8700-3130BLK desktop we're featuring includes an Intel Core i7 processor running at 3.6 GHz, you could save yourself a few dollars by choosing a similar Dell model with the slightly slower (but still impressive) i5 chip. Likewise, while this machine offers 16 GB of RAM and a huge, two-terrabyte (TB) hard drive, there are cheaper 12-MB RAM and 16-MB RAM options with a one-TB drive in the Dell family. Connectivity is one of the Dell's strongest features; in addition to HDMI capability, it offers a total of 10 USB ports.

    Apple iMac with Retina 5K display

    The Apple iMac features an Intel i5 processor with Retina 5K display. Although you might expect it to be quite a bit slower than the i7 in the Dell XPS, it actually runs at a very healthy 3.5 GHz. The Apple carries 8 GB of RAM and has a one-TB 'Fusion' hard drive. In most desktop computers, you have a choice: small amounts of fast, solid-state drive, or much bigger (and slower) traditional drives. Apple combines the two; frequently used files live in 'flash' storage for virtually instant access, and the rest reside on an "ordinary" drive -- ready to be swapped in and out as needed. There's no HDMI, but there is support for DVI and VGA via one of the two Thunderbolt ports. There are also four USB ports.

    With 14.7 million pixels and AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics card, the Apple iMac's image quality is a revelation.

    Considerations

    Peripherals & Software

    ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop

    Opt for the base model Asus Chromebox Desktop, as we did, and all you get is the box; you need to choose your own set of peripherals and pay for them separately. There are dozens of keyboard and mouse combinations available to suit (Logitech’s wireless MK270 is popular), and then all you need is a monitor. With an enormous variety available, you should have no trouble finding one that fits your budget.

    In terms of software, the Asus runs Google’s increasingly popular Chrome operating system. This OS is aimed at users who spend a lot of time browsing the Internet and/or accessing cloud-based software (Google Docs, for example). The Asus will also run Ubuntu Linux, but this systems is not as easy to install and would probably only interest those with specialist knowledge.

    LG ChromeBase 22CV241-W 22-Inch All-in-One Cloud Desktop

    The LG ChromeBase Cloud desktop computer is an all-in-one system: the 22-inch, 1080P high-resolution screen and the PC internals are all built into the same case, which does away with the need for a tower and cables. There's also a wired keyboard and mouse. An HD web cam is provided. The LG ChromeBase is another machine that runs on Google's Chrome OS, which updates itself automatically. Like the Asus, it is aimed at consumers who spend most of their time connected to the web rather than those who work a lot with Microsoft Office or other business software. Google would argue that you can use their cloud-based services instead, but those needing a home desktop for work might find this inconvenient.

    Lenovo C260 19.5-Inch All-in-One Touchscreen Desktop

    The Lenovo C260 Touchscreen Desktop computer is another space-saving, all-in-one model, this time with a 19.5-inch screen. Lenovo calls it HD+, but that shouldn't be confused with 1080P (which it is not). As you might have guessed, the screen is touch sensitive and makes use of the 10-point Windows system. A 720p web cam is built in. Surprisingly, a keyboard and mouse are not included and must be ordered separately. A DVD RW is fitted, as are front-facing stereo speakers. This is the first PC in our ratings to run Windows (8.1 at the time of writing); as such, it will be viewed by many as a "proper" home or business machine. You should have little or no problem transferring information and/or linking your existing Windows-based devices to this desktop.

    Dell XPS X8700-3130BLK Desktop

    There's no doubt that the Dell XPS desktop computer has plenty of speed and power, but the only "peripheral" it comes with is the built-in DVD RW optical drive. Everything else -- keyboard, mouse, and screen -- comes down to the owner's personal preference. This may seem inconvenient to some, but the Dell XPS is aimed at serious users who need multitasking power. Owners may have existing peripherals they want to connect, or they might have specific requirements that would make any "packaged" option redundant. A provision has been made for gamers and those working with intermediate-level video editing: the inclusion of a high-quality graphics card and Waves MaxxAudio 4 software. This Dell comes with the Windows 8.1 operating system.

    Apple iMac with Retina 5K display

    The Apple iMac Desktop computer is another all-in-one contender, but it's quite different from the LG and Lenovo. At 27 inches, the screen is much larger, and the machine itself is remarkably thin. That's impressive enough, but the image quality on the Retina 5K display is a revelation. (Standard high-definition monitors have 1080P. Ultra-high 4K monitors have over 8 million pixels.) This iMac has 14.7 million pixels, and it also has an AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics card so the graphics processor is a match for the screen. A wireless keyboard and mouse are provided, and a web cam is built in. However, there is no room for an optical drive in the thin case. Operating software is Mac OSX Yosemite, which is always going to be a point of contention. Some people love Macs and some don't. There certainly is a learning curve if you're coming from a Windows background. To ease this transition, an Office-like software suite is included that can handle word processing, databases, spreadsheets, and presentations. Programs for editing photos/videos and creating music are included, as is FaceTime for Skype-like calls.

    For a dramatically smoother experience, make sure any new machine comes equipped with a Solid State Drive (SSD) as the primary storage device. SSD's are an order of magnitude quicker than traditional magnetic drives, and consume less power to boot!

    Matthew
    IT Professional, Product Manager
    Considerations

    Important Questions

    ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop

    Many people wonder if the Asus Chromebox desktop will be powerful enough to suit their needs. The consensus of owners and professionals is that there’s plenty of speed for the things the Asus was designed to do: browse the Internet and work in the cloud. RAM can be expanded, and if you need more hard drive space, you could use cloud storage (you automatically get 100GB of space on Google Drive) or add an external solid-state drive.

    The Asus will run an online version of Microsoft Office, and Google’s own Docs apps are becoming increasingly popular, but it’s not really intended as a business computer. If you spend most of your time surfing the web, social networking, and streaming music/movies— and occasionally you want to write a letter—the Asus provides a reliable, hassle-free way to accomplish these things.

    LG ChromeBase 22CV241-W 22-Inch All-in-One Cloud Desktop

    Given that the LG ChromeBase Cloud Desktop computer shares the same RAM and hard disk size as the Asus, it's no big surprise that speed and expandability also comes into question with this model. The LG Chromebase is fast at what it's designed for, and it can be expanded, but that requires opening the case. Two easy alternatives, if you need more hard drive space, are to use cloud storage or get an external solid-state drive. A number of people asked about the feasibility of attaching a printer; this can't be done directly. There should be no problem with a wireless printer, but you would be wise to check compatibility before making a purchase. There were also those who wanted to transfer music or photos from iTunes. While the process is not entirely straightforward, it is possible to transfer files via Google Drive. Owners can find plenty of information online to help them with this.

    Lenovo C260 19.5-Inch All-in-One Touchscreen Desktop

    The majority of questions associated with the Lenovo C260 Touchscreen desktop computer relate to the 10-point touch screen. In a nutshell, "10-point" means that it can recognize 10 points of contact. (In other words, all of your fingers and thumbs.) In practice, most people only use two, three, or four digits, but the screen accepts swipe and pinch motions if provided for by the relevant OS or software. In real terms, the Lenovo provides a user experience similar to that of most smartphones and tablets. One or two prospective owners asked about connectivity (adding additional screens, plugging in headphones, and so on). There are sockets and jacks that allow you to connect most things. Basically, you can think of the Lenovo as a Windows PC with a touch screen. However, it should be noted that Bluetooth is not available.

    Dell XPS X8700-3130BLK Desktop

    Our research turned up relatively few questions associated with the Dell XPS Desktop computer, because regardless of the RAM and hard drive combination you choose, what you're getting is a fairly standard (yet fast and powerful) desktop tower. What queries there were came from people looking for a machine that is suitable for business and/or home use. Will it run multiple monitors? Yes. Does it support 4K? No. Does it have Bluetooth? Yes. What's it like for gaming? Very fast. There seems to be very little that this desktop computer cannot do, or be adapted to do. Dell is a well-established firm and the XPS encapsulates the company's considerable knowledge and experience.

    Apple iMac with Retina 5K display

    Many Windows users ask how they'll get on with the Apple iMac Retina 5K desktop computer. There is no easy answer to this question. The Mac OSX experience is different from the Windows experience, although not as different as it used to be. Few people struggle because the Apple iMac is very intuitive. There's always the option to run a Windows emulator (software that mimics Windows), so effectively you've got two computers in the same box if you want to look at it that way. Other questions come from "power users" -- experienced PC owners asking about relevant capacities. RAM upgrades are fairly simple, and bearing in mind what Apple charges for RAM, an upgrade can be an economical approach. Hard drive upgrades, while possible, require considerable work (and external alternatives are plentiful). In terms of game speed and graphics capabilities, we suggest you check out the full specifications available online. Suffice it to say that the Apple iMac is very powerful and extremely fast!

    Know your primary use case! Surfing the web, playing games, or editing videos/photos all require different levels of horsepower. You shouldn't need to spend thousands on a cutting edge processor and videocard if you just send emails, but gamers and professionals should buy more powerful processors, videocards, and storage devices.

    Matthew
    IT Professional, Product Manager
    The Apple iMac, with its Retina screen and lightning-quick Core i5 chip, is in a league all its own.
    Considerations

    Price

    ASUS CHROMEBOX-M004U Desktop

    The entry-level Asus Chromebox desktop computer costs $162. Strictly speaking, you don’t even need to add a monitor, as you could theoretically plug it into your HDTV via an HDMI cable. However, we’re assuming that most people looking for a budget desktop computer want something that can stand alone. Even then, adding a keyboard, mouse, and basic 19-inch monitor would only cost you around an extra $100, and many satisfied owners tell us that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

    The Asus Chromebox is fast and provides a great way for users to access their favorite websites. Given a decent Internet connection, it will happily stream movies to a large-screen TV. It will even handle document editing for you (using cloud-based software). It won’t replace the “traditional” desktop computer used for home and business yet, but as the cloud grows ever more impactful, how much longer will that type of machine even be necessary?

    LG ChromeBase 22CV241-W 22-Inch All-in-One Cloud Desktop

    At a cost of $349, the LG ChromeBase Cloud Desktop has very similar internals to the Asus Chromebox, so a lot of what you're paying for is the convenience and neatness of an all-in-one solution. A lot of people find the LG Chromebase an attractive proposition. There were one or two complaints about component quality, but hardly anyone in our survey experienced an actual breakage or failure. Most owners are very happy with their purchase, reporting that it's fast, quiet, easy to set up and use, and particularly good for young children. One said it was the best $349 they'd ever spent on a PC. You can't get higher praise than that!

    Lenovo C260 19.5-Inch All-in-One Touchscreen Desktop

    Right now, the Lenovo C260 Touchscreen desktop computer costs $519. Some will see it as the first "real" PC in our ratings because of the Windows OS rather than Chrome, but it's important to assess your priorities. If what you're looking for is a home and business combination, this is an effective and affordable approach that will also help keep a desk or table as uncluttered as possible (although some did find the screen a little small). It's got reasonable speed and storage, plenty of connectivity options, and many owners (and their kids) love the touch screen. It's not a PC for power users, but to be fair, that isn't the Lenovo's intended audience. This computer is aimed at people who are looking for a budget Windows desktop, and it offers those people a good deal for their money.

    Dell XPS X8700-3130BLK Desktop

    The Dell XPS desktop computer, at a cost of $1099, is very much aimed at power users. Of course you'll need to add a keyboard, screen, and monitor. Given the type of consumer who typically buys the Dell XPS, the monitor in particular could be quite an expensive addition. However, that's often the case when you're looking for a desktop computer with this kind of power. While price is important, everybody knows that you can't get a PC like this without making a considerable investment. Having said that, there's no doubt that the Dell XPS is competitive. It's highly rated by both owners and professional reviewers. It's fast, has more ports than most consumers ever need, and has all the connectivity you'd expect. As for gaming, the included graphics card appears to be doing its job. Said one enthusiastic owner, "Gaming: WOW!" If you're an avid gamer, that says it all.

    Apple iMac with Retina 5K display

    The Apple iMac Retina 5K desktop computer costs $2199. That's a lot of money. Even if you add a decent 1080P screen to the Dell XPS, the total cost of the Dell doesn't come close to the cost of the Apple iMac. Indeed, it's more than most consumers will want to spend on a home desktop. But this computer is in a league all its own. It has more power than many home users will ever need. Its stand-out feature is the Retina screen. Apple argues that this screen is the best monitor ever on a home PC, and at the moment, they're probably right. But it's not just the visual quality that sells this product, as owners will tell you. This machine -- despite its supposedly "less powerful" Core i5 chip -- is very fast indeed, and packed with software. Of all the users we surveyed, only one complained that it was too expensive. Most people who bought this computer consider it to be an excellent value.

    Best of the Best

    Each of our finalists makes a strong case, and none would be a bad choice, but the best desktop computer is the Apple iMac 5K Retina. In the final analysis, it's not even a close call.

    The above claim is a strong statement, but it's supported by the opinions of the vast majority of Apple iMac owners, professional journalists, and reviewers. Even people that admit they don't really want to like it have to agree that the iMac has no real competition.

    Yes, it's expensive, but few think it's overpriced. The screen is outstanding. If you've seen 4K and think that's impressive, then 5K has noticeably more clarity and richness. The iMac is a technological marvel, but that in itself isn't enough; you've got to have considerable power just to make a monitor like that perform. The iMac does. Thanks to the graphics card, owners describe this computer with terms like "blisteringly fast." Then there's the connectivity and the hundreds of dollars in software that's included -- for free. These aren't just trials that clog up your hard drive; they're proper, fully-functional productivity and entertainment tools. Currently all operating system and software upgrades are free, too.

    Some people will never buy an Apple at any price, despite the company's legendary reliability. Equally, there are those who wouldn't buy anything else. In the battle for honors as the best desktop computer, you have to offer something to everyone while simultaneously out-performing your rivals. Right now, the iMac does precisely that.

    In the battle for honors as the best desktop computer, you have to offer something to everyone while simultaneously out-performing your rivals. The iMac does precisely that.

    Best Bang for your Buck

    Each of our top five contenders is a tremendous value. However, Best Bang for Your Buck award goes to the Asus Chromebox.

    Not surprisingly, the LG Chromebase nearly claimed this title. It’s technically very similar to the Asus and provides a neat, all-in-one solution. For those on a budget who need a Windows desktop PC, the Lenovo is a strong contender. Power users love the flexibility of the Dell XPS, as we’ve already seen.

    However, assuming that you don’t need a business machine and that you mostly want a desktop for Internet browsing, social networking, and watching movies, the Asus delivers an exceptional performance for the money. Owners rave about how easy it is to set up and how fast the solid-state hard drive is. There are no fears associated with storage because you can use either cloud-based services (which is what the Asus was designed for) or added external drives. On top of that, the Chrome OS continues to improve. It updates itself so you don’t have the hassle, it provides its own antivirus and security features, and it is likely to offer an expanded range of valuable services in the future.

    The little Asus Chromebox is very popular with consumers. It’s not a direct PC replacement in the traditional sense, but fewer people these days require a traditional desktop. What they want is something that the whole family can use without really having to think about it. The Asus fulfills that requirement very well indeed.

    The Asus Chromebox is a desktop computer the whole family can use without really having to think about it.

    EXPERT TIP

    Be careful when opting in to extended warranties. Many users replace their computers after 2-3 years. Paying for warranty coverage past your use date is frustrating.


    Matthew  | IT Professional, Product Manager
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