What’s the best desktop / budget PC for you?
Not fussed about portability and want the best desktop PC currently available for your budget or requirements?
The following list of six is a ranking based on the PCs we’ve tested in the office and represents a full range of uses and budgets for most people.
We’d like to emphasise that all the PCs below have been fully reviewed and performance tested, and we link to each full review after each summary, should you want to read more of the detail. Or scroll down for our full list.
- Best all-in-one PC: Apple iMac 2019
- Best on a budget: HP Pavilion Wave
- Best for creatives: Surface Studio 2
- Best for games: MSI Trident X, Corsair One Elite
- Best budget for games: Zotac MEK1
- Best mid-range for games: Alienware Aurora
So – what’s top? Our current recommended best overall desktop PC is the Apple iMac 2019, which offers the best all-round performance and design, although it’s obviously non-Windows and therefore not for everyone.
If you’re after something a little cheaper and Windows-based, the HP Pavilion Wave is one of the best-value desktop PCs of recent years to come in at around £500, for those who are more budget minded and who already have a monitor. And it’s different looking too, for a bit of an added wow factor.
1. Apple iMac 2019
The best all-in-one desktop PC you can buy right now
- CPU and GPU refreshes offer decent performance boost
- Screen is superb for designers and creatives
- Varied configuration options
- Monitor’s bezel looks outdated
Apple didn’t need to do much to retain its titles as the king of all-in-one desktops computers, refreshing the components inside the Apple iMac 2019 to bring it up to speed with modern competitors,
The new 8th and 9th gen Intel Core CPU options mean the iMac is now capable of some of the fastest speeds around – it topped our benchmark results for desktop computers. The GPU has also seen an upgrade, with the top-line Radeon Pro Vega 48 GPU graphics card easily powerful enough for animation and 3D rendering.
Sadly the display and design miss out on upgrades, but they both still offer top-notch quality. You’ve the option of a 21.5-inch 4K or 27-inch 5K screen, both of which offer fantastic coverage of colour gamuts which will no doubt please creative professionals.
But while the design is still very much premium, we do wish the bezel was trimmed a little to adhere to 2020 fashion standards.
Read our full Apple iMac 2019 review
2. HP Pavilion Wave
A swish-looking and powerful budget desktop PC
- Stylish design
- Powerful integrated audio
- Decent processor and SSD performance
- Good price
- Very basic mouse
Few PC manufacturers design desktops to look different, which is why it’s so refreshing to see the HP Pavilion Wave. With its spherical body and B&O branding on the front, it looks a little like a high-end wireless speaker. Actually, it is.
A single driver at the top fires upwards into a parabolic reflector that shoots audio out at 360 degrees. The result is powerful audio with very little need to plug in external speakers.
There’s always a danger of form overtaking function, but that’s not the case here. A low-power quad-core Core i5 processor is only a little slower than a full-fat desktop version. With a fast 128GB SSD and 1TB hard disk, there’s a great combination of performance and disk space. And the PC remains quiet in use.
If you want a stylish PC that you connect your own peripherals and display to, there’s very little choice; it’s lucky, then, that the Pavilion Wave is so good.
The price is pretty competitive too, and while the bundled mouse is very basic, this is still a great machine.
Read our full HP Pavilion Wave review
3. Surface Studio 2
The ultimate Windows 10 all-in-one PC for creatives
- Great display
- Excellent screen
- Great to draw on
- Uses a fairly old CPU
The Surface Studio 2 is a unique desktop computer indeed, boasting the specs to power through most creative tasks but, importantly, also the versatile touchscreen that artists can scribble and sketch on.
The 28-inch screen can be flipped and moved into all sorts of positions making it easier to draw on with the Surface Pen. What’s more, the 4500 x 3000 pixel resolution ensures a gorgeous display that just as good – if not better – than the panel you get with the iMac.
There is one area that the Surface Studio 2 just can’t compete with Apple though, and that’s the processor. You’re limited to an 7th Generation Intel Core CPU here, with very little configuration options to chop and change. This means the Studio 2 lags quite a bit behind leading competitors for raw performance speeds, leaving that incredible touchscreen as the main incentive to invest.
The Surface Studio is undoubtedly a fantastic device, it just has a somewhat specialised appeal.
Read our full Surface Studio 2 review
4. MSI Trident X
A powerful and compact desktop gaming PC
- Stunning, compact design
- Fast Turing GPU
- Small, good-looking enclosure
- 32GB of RAM
- Underwhelming motherboard
- No easy upgrade paths
The MSI Trident X is one of the most powerful compact gaming PCs we’ve seen. With Intel 9th Gen processors and Nvidia’s new RTX 2080 GPU (with 8GB of GDDR6 memory) and 32GB of RAM sitting at the heart of the Trident X, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that the MSI delivers staggeringly good performance in games and applications.
Everything’s packed so tightly inside, so that the Trident X won’t take up a ton of space on or under your desk. The flipside to that super-tight design is that there’s not a great deal of room for any upgrades here.
Then again, the MSI Trident X isn’t the kind of gaming PC you buy with the intent of heavily modifying, so that’s perhaps just as well.
It’s also pretty expensive, which is one of the other reasons why we felt that we couldn’t award this a full 10/10 score. Otherwise, the MSI Trident X is one of best compact gaming PCs out there, if not the best, and as and when ray-tracing and DLSS updates arrive, it stands to get even better.
Read our full MSI Trident X review
5. Corsair One Elite
Another compact gaming desktop PC that’s ready to go out of the box
- Stunning, compact design
- Upgraded application performance
- Fast in games
- Whisper-quiet in all scenarios
- Difficult to access and upgrade
- More expensive than conventional computers
If you’re a gamer looking for a small form factor tower PC that doesn’t scrimp on specs, then the Corsair One Elite is a great option.
It uses the same case as 2018’s Corsair One, but features upgraded specs. Highlights include a a 3.7GHz Intel Core i7-8700K processor, upgraded Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU and super fast 32GB of 2666Hz DDR4 RAM. The combo is a potent mix and mean the tiny, lounge friendly PC will play pretty much any game you throw at it.
If that’s not enough to entice you, it’s VR-ready and, thanks to its custom cooling system, runs near silently.
The only downside is that its compact nature makes it close to impossible to upgrade. With pricing for the top specced model capping out at a mighty £2999 it’s also a seriously expensive bit of kit.
Read our full Corsair One Elite review
6. Zotac MEK1
A cheaper gaming PC option if the MSI and Corsair are too heavy on your wallet
- Small, sturdy design
- Rapid gaming performance
- Quiet operation
- Reasonable price
- No real expansion potential
- Middling Core i7 CPU
If the Corsair One Elite is a little expensive for your liking then the Zotac MEK1 is an excellent option. This mini-ITX rig is a little larger than many past Zotac mini-gaming PCs, but it’s still more than small enough to neatly slot into most lounges.
It’s specs are also not to be sniffed at. Within it’s dinky frame you’ll find a 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-7700 processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU and 16GB of 2400Hz DDR4 RAM. The CPU may not me the latest generation, but the specs are still more than powerful enough to play most triple-A games at 1440p.
The only downside is that, like the Corsair One, it’s compact dimensions make it tricky to upgrade.
Read our full Zotac MEK1 review
7. Alienware Aurora
Dell’s mid-range gaming PC is another great value for money choice
- Review spec is decent value
- Good-looking case
- High-end graphics and processing performance
- Generous warranty
- Upgrades are very expensive
- Case should be smaller
The Alienware Aurora is the company’s mid-range gaming PC, but don’t expect mid-range performance, as the PC comes high-end components.
Every time we update this round-up, Dell seems to change the specifications available. Right now, our choice for best-value is the second-tier model that comes in at £979. That comes with a quad-core Core i5-6400 processor and a GTX 1070. However, using Dell’s online customisation options, we switched out the slow hard disk for a much faster, 256GB SSD and dropped the HDD to the secondary slot for an extra £140.
As a result, the spec listed above, is the best value. It’s still a fast computer, too. The GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card is very fast and the word when it comes to 1440p gaming; it will even handle some titles in 4K.
If you fancy something faster, the £1499 model (at the time of writing) nets you a quad-core Core i7 6700, a GTX 1080 and a 512GB SSD.
With the model reviewed, the Aurora is a great value PC that’s fast in games and on the desktop, and it looks great, too.
Read our full Dell Alienware Aurora review
8. Corsair One
An expensive, but powerful, gaming desktop PC
- Dinky dimensions
- Great performance
- Luxury pricetag
- No M.2 SSD option
- Difficult to upgrade
Corsair has stormed into the lounge PC market with the Corsair One. It’s rare for a first product in a new line to succeed as well as the Corsair One has, which is worth commending. It’s an ultra-powerful, super-quiet lounge PC that’s probably the classiest piece of PC design we’ve ever seen.
With a top-end Core i7 processor on-board along with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics, this will handle the latest games at ‘High’ settings for years to come. It is expensive, but the design, build and technology that’s gone into it just about justifies it.
Read our full Corsair One review
How to buy a new Desktop PC
How we test desktop PCs
Every desktop we test is put through a series of synthetic benchmarks to gauge its CPU, graphics, SSD and overall performance. While testing we also measure for heat and noise. From there we check how it handles key tasks based on its target market. If it has a GPU tests include gaming, photo and video editing and 3D modelling. If it’s an all-in-one we use a colorimeter to check its screen’s performance.
After that we crack open the case and see how easy it is to upgrade. After all that we use it for at least a week as our main work PC before giving it a final score.
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.
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.
Related: The best CPUs for gaming, tested
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.
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.
Desktop vs laptop – what to get?
If you’re weighing up whether to get a laptop instead, check out our guide to the best laptops – we’ve listed ten that are the pick of the ones we’ve tested.