eports of the desktop computer’s death have been greatly exaggerated. While laptops and tablets may have become ubiquitous, the best desktop computers retain their place (on the desk) as the serious business computer, the gaming computer, or the homework computer.
There’s something about a computer that you can’t walk off with that seems to promote concentration. No spreadsheets in front of the TV or 3D rendering in bed here – you’ll have to sit on a proper chair (or a gaming chair) and use a proper keyboard and mouse. You can have a huge monitor, or three monitors, rather than being confined to a 15-inch screen on a laptop, or even smaller on a tablet.
Desktop computers also tend to have more powerful processors, especially where graphics are concerned. All that extra space in the case for cooling means CPUs can run faster and harder. There is space for more RAM, extra expansion cards, greater storage capacity, and more peripherals can be attached thanks to a greater number of ports on the back, and front, of the machine.
A laptop is always a compromise between what you want and what can be fitted in a slim and light shell, but a desktop computer allows you to spec the computer of your dreams, and not have to worry about it getting too hot, or running out of battery. They tend to come in two forms – the all-in-one that crams computer parts into the back of a monitor (or a keyboard, in the case of one of our picks) or the headless, which comes with no screen, no mouse and no keyboard other than those you supply yourself.
There are some excellent desktop computers on the market, here are just a few of them.
Apple Mac Mini
Best for: working from home
Sporting Apple’s latest M1 CPU in a tiny case, the Mac Mini is little more than a laptop in desktop disguise. However, the Mini is such a beautifully-tuned computer, completely in-sync with its own operating system (moving to MacOS from Windows is not the jarring lurch some people think it will be) that it just has to top this list.
The M1 is a tiny powerhouse that outperforms the Intel processors it replaced while drawing less power, all the applications you need are available either in M1-native form or translated through Apple’s seamless Rosetta 2 abstraction layer – though don’t expect to be playing many games on it. The experience of using a modern Mac, with all the little upgrades and thoughtful inclusions that have accumulated over the years, easily rivals Windows 11 in the desktop computing world.
The Mac Mini is so small that, paired with a large monitor and wireless mouse and keyboard, it practically vanishes into the background – you’ll only notice it when you reach around to connect something to its rich selection of ports, which include extremely fast USB4 connections, alongside HDMI and Ethernet. And while there’s no option to upgrade the processor – yet – you can pop in 16GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage to create a truly impressive, yet still tiny, desktop computer.
Dell Inspiron Small Desktop
Best for: those on a budget
Available in six different configurations, the low price of the cheapest may be eye-catching, but the low spec of a two-core Intel Pentium Gold CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 1TB spinning hard drive are very weak in 2022. It’s worth stepping up two levels to the £579 model. This will get you a 10th-gen, six-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD alongside the 1TB hard drive, which will provide a much more satisfactory experience and be able to handle just about anything you throw at it.
You’ll need to provide your own screen, mouse and keyboard, but the Small Desktop comes with Windows 11 installed, and has a good scattering of USB ports including one Type-C on the front of the case, which is also home to a DVD writer, a relative rarity these days. There’s an SD card slot for unloading the images from your digital camera, and an empty PCIe x16 slot inside ready for you to install an additional graphics card, should you want to turn it into a gaming machine (power supply permitting, of course).
At just over 30cm tall and 15cm wide, it’s not a tiny machine like the Mac Mini, but is compact enough, especially if hidden under a desk.
Apple iMac M1
Best for: use as both computer and ornament
The iMac now looks just as good as any TV set, and comes in a range of pastel colours. It’s a showcase for the M1 chip, and as such comes only in a 24.5in model that builds the computing parts into the back of its 4.5K screen.
We’d recommend the upgraded version over the base model, as this nets you a slightly more powerful graphics processor, and adds two extra USB ports and an Ethernet socket to the back of the screen, plus a fingerprint scanner on the keyboard. You get a mouse too – it’s the complete package.
While there are a few Intel-powered iMacs still available, with 27in screens, the M1 is the way of the future and should be embraced for its low power demands, silent cooling, and availability in purple and yellow. The 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD storage can be upgraded to 16GB and 2TB, respectively, but the base spec is perfectly respectable for office work, web browsing or development, and things like photo editing or a little light video work.
The screen is the iMac’s crowning glory, and the 4.5K resolution means it’s sharp and perfect for viewing movies or photos. It’s colourful too, able to display a wide colour gamut and with a great anti-reflective coating. The front-facing webcam has been upgraded to 1080p too, with beamforming microphones for better quality video calls.
Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition
Best for: cutting edge gaming
A desktop PC aimed at gamers who are prepared to pay for the privilege of being able to play at high resolutions and framerates that even the latest consoles can’t match. Alienware is Dell’s gaming brand, and we’ve chosen an AMD-powered model with the Ryzen 9 5900X at its heart.
This 12-core chip, which can boost as high as 4.8GHz, should be good enough to drive games (and anything else you want to run on it) for years to come. The best thing about gaming PCs is that they usually come with plenty of RAM and fast storage to complement their powerful processors, making them useful for things such as video editing and even CAD or 3D work along with the gaming.
A graphics processor is essential for high-speed, high resolution gaming, and while the GPUs built into CPUs have come a long way, nothing beats a separate board. The Aurora comes with an AMD RX 6800 XT as standard, but an Nvidia RTX 3080Ti is available as a £530 upgrade, which brings the advantages of extra speed, hardware-accelerated ray-tracing, and the DLSS deep-learning tools that can upgrade your games to 4K.
PC gaming, with the release of Elden Ring, Deathloop, Halo Infinite and many other titles, is in something of a golden age, and it’s PCs like this that push their quality past anything even the new generation of consoles can manage.
HP Envy 34
Best for: creative professionals (who don’t like the iMac)
Not actually available yet, but worth a look just to plan your purchase. That gorgeous screen is a 34in 21:9 display with a 5K resolution which, driven by an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU and eight-core Intel Core i9 CPU at max spec means this PC is ready for anything.
The beauty of an ultrawide, high resolution screen like this is in being able to use two applications side-by-side comfortably, or edit a 4K video in the centre with plenty of room around the edges for the editing application’s interface.
In fact, anyone who uses a screen all day will find a way to make an ultrawide work, whether it’s simply making existing applications larger or finding a way to use Windows 11’s excellent screen tiling to spread them across the extra space.
The Envy 34 also comes with an excellent selection of ports, with headphones, USB Type-A and C (Thunderbolt 4), HDMI and gigabit Ethernet at the back of the screen, plus an SD card reader and more USB ports on the stand where they’re easier to get to. There’s also a neat webcam that can be placed anywhere on the edge of the screen – whether at the top or on the side, so you never appear to be looking at it from an uncomfortable position.
Corsair One i300
Best for: gamers without a lot of space
Compact, powerful and eye-wateringly expensive, this is the gaming PC you get if you want to show it off as much as your own skills.
We’ve chosen the top-of-the-range i300 model here, but there are cheaper models that still net you that gorgeous case, which lights up when it’s switched on like it’s come from the future. Inside, there’s a 12th-generation Intel Core i9 processor with 16 cores – eight performance cores that use a lot of energy but are extremely fast, and eight efficiency cores that are slower, but sip the power more gently. There’s also 32GB of fast DDR5 RAM (an upgrade to 64GB is available), 2TB of SSD storage, and a liquid-cooled Nvidia RTX 3080Ti graphics processor. It should keep playing games for years, and will certainly give an exceptional experience in games like Elden Ring or Destiny 2.
On the back are two USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3, and one USB Type-C Thunderbolt, along with Ethernet, sound outputs, and four video outputs. Three more USB ports and a headphone socket lurk on the front of the case, and while it’s not a great showing for connectivity, there’s enough here to connect the controllers and headphones favoured by gamers.
Huawei MateStation X
Best for: iMac lovers on a budget
A nice-looking all-in-one PC, the MateStation X takes one of Huawei’s best monitors, the MateView, and fills it with computer parts for the closest thing you’ll find to an iMac that runs Windows 11.
It’s a 28.2in IPS panel with a 3:2 aspect ratio, so it’s taller than a 16:9 panel. The resolution is 3,840 x 2,560, which is basically 4K with a bit extra at the top and bottom. And it’s a touchscreen – something unusual in a desktop PC. You get a choice of AMD processors, the six-core Ryzen 5 5600H, which will be fine for everyday use, or the more expensive eight-core Ryzen 7 5800H, which will make a nice upgrade for creative pros.
There’s 16GB of RAM as standard, which is great to see, and 512GB of SSD storage, which is plenty unless you want to fill it with photos or video files, in which case the four USB ports (two Type-A, two Type-C, hidden in the side of the stand) will come in handy. You get a keyboard (with fingerprint scanner) and mouse in the box.
The only weak point is the integrated Radeon graphics processor, which certainly isn’t bad, but will disappoint gamers hoping to use it for 4K gaming. It’s just not that type of PC.
HP Chromebase 22
Best for: portrait screen lovers
The Chromebase is an evolution of the Chromebook, from laptop to all-in-one desktop. And like the Chromebook it runs Google’s ChromeOS, which is just the Chrome web browser.
This sounds like a huge limitation, but if you consider how many people use a PC, it’s really not. The browser allows complete access to the internet and the cloud, so you can browse, email, chat, watch movies and TV, listen to music and more. Then you’ve got things like Google Docs or Microsoft Office Online, so you can get work done. And with Google Drive cloud storage, all your files can be kept online, with the small amount of local storage acting as a cache in case the internet connection goes down.
As a result, ChromeOS devices need less powerful processors than equivalent PCs running Windows, so the two-core Intel Core i3 at work here is perfectly fine. You still get 8GB of RAM, because Chrome loves memory, and a 256GB SSD that wouldn’t be out of place in a much more expensive PC.
The 21.5in IPS screen has a 1080p resolution, and is a touchscreen. It can also be rotated through 90° into portrait orientation, which makes a lot of sense if you’re reading or writing a long document, or viewing a portrait photo. Google Assistant is built-in for voice control, there’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, plus four USB ports, and a keyboard and mouse are included.
Raspberry Pi 400
Best for: learners and extreme budgets
Does this belong here? It’s a computer alright, and you use it on a desktop, so why not? The Raspberry Pi is a cheap computer designed for tinkering, coding, and education, but its fourth incarnation upped the processing power to the point that it’s usable as an actual everyday computer, and the 400 model packed everything into a keyboard case, and gave it another speed boost, making it extremely convenient.
There are two mini HDMI outputs on the back of the Pi 400, allowing you to connect two screens. There are three USB ports, Ethernet, and it supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so you can use a wired or wireless mouse. There’s also a 40-pin GPIO array you can use to connect to electronic projects, sensors, robots, anything you can imagine. The main CPU is an Arm model, similar to those used in smartphones and tablets, with four cores and 4GB of RAM. Storage comes from a micro SD card slot, though you can also attach a faster SSD via USB.
The Pi’s official operating system, Raspberry Pi OS, is based on Debian Linux, but there are versions of Ubuntu, Armbian, RISC OS and even Windows that will run on it (with a bit of effort, in the case of Windows), alongside other more specialist systems that turn it into a retro games machine or media centre, among other uses.
It may be slow sometimes, depending on what you’re doing, but it’s perfectly possible to use a Raspberry Pi 400 as your everyday computer, especially if you are interested in learning about computing, just want to type documents or send email, or simply don’t want to spend very much.
Apple Mac Pro
Best for: Apple fans
You don’t need this computer. Not unless you’re into heavy 3D rendering, full-time music production, making CGI movies or anything else similarly computationally intensive. If you do need it, or maybe just want it, however, you’ll have to be prepared to pay the price, which can get very high indeed once you begin adding components and optional upgrades. Even adding wheels to the tower case costs £400.
One of the few Apple computers still available that uses Intel processors, the chips in this are server-grade, and you can buy the Mac Pro in a rack-mount case if you intend stacking several of them up in a cabinet.
The extremely classy case opens up easily to reveal the components inside. And what components they are. Even the basic spec nets you an Intel Xeon W processor with 32GB of RAM and a Radeon Pro graphics processor with 8GB. From there, you can go as high as a 28-core Xeon with 1.5TB of RAM and a pair of workstation-class Radeon Pro graphics boards with 64GB of memory each. You can put in 8TB of SSD storage, and an Apple Afterburner card for accelerating video editing.
Do all this, and add a mouse and keyboard, and you’ll be looking at more than £51,000. And you still need to buy a monitor. You don’t need this computer. But it might be fun convincing your boss to buy one for you.
The desktop computer is in vibrant health, it’s just that the beige boxes of yesteryear have been indefinitely consigned to the attic. From throbbing gaming towers and sleek all-in-ones, to an actual fully fledged computer for less than £100, there’s literally something to appeal to everyone.
Which one you should pick depends on your needs. We’d take the Mac Mini in a heartbeat, as it’s such a fun computer to use. You plug it in and off it goes with Apple’s new M1 chip living up to its reputation as a giant-killer. If you want to kill actual giants, then you’ll need a gaming machine, and these are always larger, more power-hungry, and more expensive. There are two particularly good ones on this list, one in a slimline case that is a rather beautiful thing just on its own. The prices can be bewildering, but nothing can currently beat a PC when it comes to playing games at high resolution and high frame-rates.
The Mac Mini’s bigger brother, the iMac, is a statement piece that deserves to be admired – its colourful lines a compliment to any desk or workspace. All-in-one computers, and there are several worth looking at here, are well worth it for the convenience of everything coming in one box, guaranteed to work together.
The opposite of this is the Raspberry Pi, a computer frequently sold as a bare board with nothing else, leaving it completely up to the user to add what they need. The Pi 400 takes a step toward all-in-one convenience by bundling the electronics into a keyboard, but you still need to add a mouse and screen. It’s a fun little computer that deserves its popularity, especially as the operating system and software selection just keeps getting better and better. At less than £100, you can get one just to play with.
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