We run through the best desktop PCs you can buy right now, including buying advice for boutique system builders, compact desktops and all-in-ones.
How much should I spend on a desktop PC?
If all you need a basic PC, £350 is enough to buy a Intel Core i3 PC with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB mechanical hard drive. This will be more than sufficient for basic office and web tasks, but don’t expect to play games at high resolutions with loads of detail.
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You’ll need to spend around £500 to £800 to get a more powerful desktop, with a Core i5 processor, 8GB or 16GB of RAM and an SSD – a faster type of drive that improves performance – plus traditional mechanical hard disk for storing your photos and videos. You can expect a GTX 1050 graphics card, which will be good enough to play most games, even at Full HD resolution gaming.
If you want a proper gaming PC, you need to spend £1000 upwards. This kind of money will get you a Core i7 processor, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 or GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card. These PCs will cope with all tasks, and will easily play games at 1440p resolution, with more expensive models even managing 4K resolutions – check online benchmarks to make sure your chosen model can handle the games you want.
For all desktop PCs, you can expect to pay an extra £100 plus for a Full HD monitor, and more for higher-resolution models.
Head to our entry on boutique PC builders below to find out where to buy a custom PC.
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For an all-in-one, you’re looking at a starting price of around £600 for a 24-inch model with a Full HD screen. Powered by efficient dual-core or quad-core Core i5 or Core i7 processors, these machines are suitable for light photo and video work.
If you want premium design, a larger screen and more resolution (up to 4K), expect to pay at least £1000, but up to £2000.
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If you want to play games, look for ‘discrete’ or ‘dedicated’ graphics from AMD or Nvidia, and check out our benchmarking figures to see how well your favourite games will play.
Desktop PC vs All-in-One: Which should you buy?
Generally speaking, traditional desktop PCs are cheaper, more powerful, have room for upgrades and are a little more flexible, letting you connect to any monitor, for example. The downside is that they’re often a little uglier and take up more room.
All-in-ones are neater, with everything contained inside a single box that also houses the monitor. Upgrading (aside from RAM, in some cases) is usually out of the question. You tend to pay more for an all-in-one and, as low-power components are used, performance is more in line with that of a laptop. However, all-in-one computers are neater than desktops.
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The world of all-in-one PCs just got massively spiced up by Apple, which announced a completely overhauled range of iMacs and the brand-new iMac Pro. This pro-level beast of a machine can squeeze in up to 18 Intel Xeon CPU cores and the latest AMD Vega graphics hardware, along with a monstrous 27-inch 5K panel. Reserved entirely for professionals, this is likely to be the new standard for all-in-one PCs when it launches in December.
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Boutique gaming PC builders
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Best value for gaming
Why buy? The PC industry in the UK started with independent boutique manufacturers, and they’re still a big part. Typically, these manufacturers only sell a specific PC model for a short period, replacing and updating as new components become available. As a result, it’s hard to include specific models in this round-up.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy a computer from one of these manufacturers. In fact, in many cases, you may well be better off doing so.
Boutique manufacturers typically build a PC carefully, choosing components from well-known brands to give the best performance at each price point. This can range from a high-performance budget PC to an amazing, super-powered gaming PC capable of 4K gaming at high frame rates. In addition, these PC manufacturers tune components, particularly at the high end, so you can buy a PC that’s pre-overclocked; you won’t get the same kind of performance from a big-name PC manufacturer.
Of course, it’s hard to pick a PC if you don’t know what specs to look for. Take a look at our Best Gaming PC build guide, which has a selection of PC specs at various budgets. This will give you a ballpark figure of what you should spend on a PC for the games you want to play.
Next, boutique PC manufacturers can build and customise a PC to your specification. Want a specific SSD, graphics card or monitor? Just give them a call, and you can usually get what you want, without having to pay through the nose.
And why not? The downside is that you may have to wait longer to get a specific PC, especially during busy periods such as Christmas time. You’re dealing with a smaller company, so you can’t always get a quick swap out on a broken PC. This partially why you pay a premium for big-brand PC makers; they can ship a PC to you for the next day because they have pre-built systems ready and waiting to go.
Michael says: “I get asked what PC to buy probably as much as I get asked about laptops. I always recommend boutique builders; big brands can’t compete on price and service in my experience.”