Although it's not nearly the behemoth it once was, the desktop PC still has its place in an ever-expanding landscape of devices. Unlike laptops, tablets or even smartphones, you'll never have to worry about the battery dying or replacing the whole system when individual components stop working. What's more, you may be shocked to learn that the best PCs come in a wealth of different shapes and sizes.
The beautiful, compact simplicity of the all-in-one computer is undeniably attractive while small form-factor PCs and inexpensive micro media machines are a popular choice as well, designed for the living room as a quick way to access services like Netflix and Plex. Even the traditional desktop tower keeps trucking on, providing ample horsepower while maintaining a relatively low cost of entry.
With the exception of our Apple examples that naturally ship with OS X 10.11 El Capitan (soon to be replaced by macOS Sierra) and the Chromebase which beautifully packages Chrome OS, you can expect any of the PCs on this list to come with Windows 10 as standard.
Here we've listed 10 of the best PCs, ordered by price and spec starting first with only the most expensive and powerful machines money can buy. Note that our list is subject to subject to change as the next Mac and Microsoft's rumored Surface PC will undoubtedly make a dent.
- Also check out: What does the future hold for the PC?
1. Apple iMac with 5K Retina display
A stylish all-in-one with a stunning screen
CPU: Intel Core i5-4260U | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 5100 | RAM: 4GB 16GB | Storage: 500GB HDD | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 196 x 196 x 36mm
The unique selling point of the iMac is its simplicity. Easy to use hardware combined with the famed accessibility of macOS makes for a nigh-perfect experience. A built-in screen, speakers and 802.11ac wireless networking are only complemented by the fantastic Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. All you need is a power cable to get it up and running.
There's quite a range of iMacs, starting at £899 (around $1,365 or AUS$1,943) for an entry-level 21.9-inch model with a dual-core processor that's okay for basic tasks, up to 27-inch iMacs with quad-core processors and even a 5K display. And if you want a faster, quieter and more reliable storage option, you can opt for a hybrid solid state drive as well.
Even on the low-end model, the IPS display is bright and vivid, with a clever design where the edges of the aluminum chassis are thinner than many standalone monitors. And as standard, the iMac runs macOS, although it's very easy to install Windows alongside if you want to continue using your existing Windows software.
Read the full review: Apple iMac with 5K Retina display
2. Apple iMac with 4K Retina display (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
CPU: Intel Quad-Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz) | Graphics: Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200 | RAM: 8GB 1867MHz LPDDR3 | Storage: 1TB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400RPM | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 45cm x 52.8cm x 17.5cm
Featuring a vibrant Retina 4K display that's packed with color, Apple's new 21.5-inch iMac is a small bundle of aluminum joy. Its display's massive, 4,096 x 2,304 pixel-resolution is great for surfing the web in comfort with multiple windows side-by-side in El Capitan's Split View, image and video editing, watching 4K video content and just about everything else.
As expected from an Apple computer, it's a typically well-built machine that, in true iMac tradition, barely takes up more space on your desk than a large laptop. Apple is bundling the 4K iMac with a superb set of accessories, including the latest versions of its Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2 and its all-new Magic Keyboard.
Just make sure you upgrade the standard spinning hard drive to a 1TB Fusion Drive (or even better, the 256GB SSD) if you want to shell out a bit more cash to eliminate lengthy loading times.
Read the full review: Apple iMac with 4K Retina display (21.5-inch, Late 2015)
3. Dell Inspiron 3000
A slim mini-tower which is a decent performer
CPU: Intel Core i3-4170 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 1TB hard disk | Communication: Dell Wireless-N 1705, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 178 x 388 x 431mm
Dell's Inspiron desktop computers aren't quite as small as a PC like the Acer Revo One, but they still come in a mini-tower, and therefore won't take up too much space either on a desk or underneath it. With a black design and a silver trim, Dell has gone to some length to make this standard PC chassis look quite sleek and a bit more exciting than a mere black box.
As standard, it has a dual-core Intel Core i3 processor rather than a Celeron, and 8GB of memory – so it's a lot more powerful than the Revo One.
For an extra bit of cash, you can upgrade the processor to a quad-core Intel Core i5-4460 and the graphics card to a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT705, for a decent all-round performance boost. Dell also sells complete packages with a bundled 23-inch S2340L display.
4. Apple Mac mini
The cheapest way you can go Mac
CPU: Intel Core i5-4260U | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 5100 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 500GB hard disk | Communication: Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 196 x 196 x 36mm
The Mac mini exhibits the luxury of an Apple desktop without the price tag to match. Starting at a mere $499 (£399, AU$779), the Mac mini is barebones yet affordable. Though it ships without the otherwise expected Magic Mouse and Keyboard peripherals, getting to choose your own accessories is liberating (plus you can buy used and save a trunkload of cash if you're so inclined).
And, while it hasn't been updated in quite some time on the hardware front, the Mac Mini's Haswell-based i5 processor still chugs along nicely. Plus, with Iris Graphics onboard, you'll get a bit more juice than expected. Combined with 500GB of storage space and 4GB of RAM, the Mac mini is arguably the best starting point for OS X newcomers even if a contemporary makeover is long past due.
With an aluminum shell and simplistic industrial design, the Mac mini represents Apple at its very core. Where it mainly lacks, however, is in performance. Luckily the option for a Fusion Drive, which marries the power of both HDD and SSD technology, somewhat makes up for this inadequacy. A configuration sporting 8GB of RAM is an option too, but if you don't want to shell out the extra cash, the base model will do just fine.
Read the full review: Apple Mac mini
5. Asus K31ADE
A compact desktop machine for everyday computing
CPU: Intel Core i3-4170 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 1TB hard disk | Communication: 802.11ac | Dimensions (W x D x H): 180 x 350 x 390mm
See more Asus K31ADE deals
Asus is a unique PC maker in that it offers a wide range of computers for a variety of different types of users. The K31 desktop towers in particular the company describes as "all you need for daily computing."
So, you shouldn't expect them to run Crysis with the Intel Core i3 processor paired with 4GB of RAM. However, you can get a Core i5 or Core i7 processor instead for an added cost. Other configurations include discrete graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD, along with USB-C for increased data transfer rates.
6. Acer Revo One RL85
A compact media PC with plenty of storage
CPU: Intel Celeron 2957 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 2TB hard disk | Communication: 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 107 x 107 x 220mm
If you're looking to share your PC with an entire household rather than locking it behind a desk in your home office, Acer's Revo One accomplishes just that. Though it doesn't have the most powerful processor on the market, don't underestimate its versatility.
The Revo One packs in not only two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and DisplayPort, but it also comes with a 2TB hard drive in case you're worried about running out of space for your massive movie collection. Plus, thankfully, it has a built-in wireless card meaning there's no need to reconfigure your entire house's network wiring just to keep it underneath the TV.
Read the full review: Acer Revo One RL85
7. HP Pavilion Mini
The Windows-toting answer to a Mac Mini
CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i3-40255U | RAM: 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM | Storage: 1TB 5,400rpm HDD | Communication: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 | Dimensions (W x D x H): 144mm x 144mm x 52mm
If you'd rather prevent a computer from occupying your entire desk space, the Mac Mini is worth your consideration. However, if Apple's OS just doesn't do it for you, HP offers a stunning Windows alternative. The Pavilion Mini as it's called won't blow your mind in terms of specs, but it will get the job done if you're not planning on doing any intensive gaming or video editing.
Plus, it's still faster than a lot of mini computers on the market, and with plenty of storage space to boot. And, if you don't need a mouse and keyboard, most retailers are selling it for downwards of $300. Not a bad deal if you just need a compact computer to get you through the day to day.
Read the full review: HP Pavilion Mini
8. HP 260 G1
The tiny computer that can
CPU: Intel Celeron 2957U | RAM: 2GB to 16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM | Storage: 32GB M.2 SSD | Communication: HP 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi | Dimensions (W x D x H): 17.5 x 17.7 x 3.4 cm
For the money, the HP 260 G1 is a surprisingly speedy performer. Sure, the Celeron chip isn't exactly hardy, but it boasts specs more comparable to an Intel Core i3-4020Y than what you'd normally expect from the Celeron moniker. And, of course, as a mini computer focused on business, the HP 260 G1 entitles you to special treatment when it comes to customer support. Run into a hardware problem? You can expect attentive care within the next business day. Need phone support? It's available 24 hours a day.
Sure, the HP 260 G1 is a year old now, but it still runs like a charm, especially if you're on a budget. However, if the included 2GB of RAM isn't enough, HP was generous enough to allow for memory expansion up to 16GB using a pair of 8GB twin modules. Keep in mind, though, that this is still a budget PC, so don't be surprised when you find out that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities aren't built into the device.
Read the full review: HP 260 G1
9. Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190
A micro PC which you can mount on the back of your display
CPU: Intel Celeron 1017U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 500GB hard disk | Communication: 802.11n Wi-Fi | Dimensions (W x D x H): 22 x 192 x 155mm
Let's face it: most of us don't need a tricked out desktop rig with the fastest processor and the flashiest case. If you're looking for a computer that can pull off the basic necessities like web browsing, email, social media, watching videos and word processing, the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190 kicks tail.
As one of the lowest-cost offerings on this list, Lenovo's offering doesn't impress specs-wise, only bolstering a mere 1.6GHz dual-core Celeron 1017U processor and 4GB of RAM but it shouldn't matter for the price. Bang for buck is Lenovo's game with the IdeaCentre Q190, and it unabashedly succeeds in our book.
Plus, if you appreciate the design of the Q190, but your day-to-day demands something a bit more powerful, upgrades with faster Pentium and Core i3 processors are also available.
Read the full review: Lenovo IdeaCentre Q190
10. LG Chromebase
An easy to use and excellent value all-in-one
CPU: Intel Celeron 2955U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB flash | Wireless: 802.11n Wi-Fi | Dimensions (W x D x H): 528 x 43 x 320mm
Chrome OS is a decent alternative to Windows on laptops, but there's no reason why it can't be used in a desktop computer in the same way. LG has had that very idea when making the Chromebase, an all-in-one PC that runs Google's desktop OS.
Being an all-in-one, it carries the same benefits as Apple's far more expensive iMac – no need for cables everywhere, the speakers are built into the display, and it's all very straightforward. And actually, some of the hardware is really quite smart. You get an IPS screen, which looks really good.
Chrome OS is intentionally designed to work with files stored in the cloud rather than locally, and has equivalents of Microsoft's software which run in a browser rather than from the computer. It takes some getting used to, but it does work, and works well.
Read the full review: LG Chromebase
- Now, what about the best Chromebooks?
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
Anonymous browsing software
Online privacy is a hot topic, with even world leaders weighing in on the subject. Many of the big-name websites and companies will track your activities to deliver targeted advertising, and can build up an astonishingly detailed profile including your interests, spending habits, age, location and more.
If you would prefer to keep your personal details private, a VPN or proxy tool will help. See our guide to setting up and maintaining a VPN.
As well as preventing third parties building up a profile of you, these privacy tools can open up the web, granting you access to sites blocked in your country, to access region-locked content when you're travelling away from home, and to add a layer of protection when you use a public Wi-Fi network.
1. Tor Browser
A whole browser dedicated to your privacy online
Tor Browser is probably the best-known anonymous browsing tool out there, and it is described as a 'censorship circumvention tool'.
Tor is available for Windows, OS X and Linux, and has a large following in the privacy and security communities. It works by bouncing your communication through numerous encrypted node on the internet, making it impossible to determine your location or other identifying information.
Tor browser employs complex technology, but is refreshingly accessible. It's based on the same code as Firefox, and guides you through the process of getting online.
It uses different connection methods depending on what you're trying to achieve, but there's no need to understand the details because it's all taken care of for you.
However, Tor isn't without its drawbacks - chiefly that it slows down your internet connection, which is worth bearing in mind for downloading large files or streaming media.
Read on to discover four more of the best proxy and VPN tools for anonymous browsing. Have we missed one of your favorites, or do you have any more tips for staying anonymous online? Let us know in the comments below.
Total control of your privacy, but the options might be overwhelming
Privoxy is a web proxy tool that's available not only for Mac, Windows and Linux, but also Android and iOS. It is a tremendously powerful tool, but you'll need to invest a little time and effort to get it up and running.
Privoxy can be used in conjunction with just about any web browser, which is a big bonus; simply set the browser to run its traffic through the tool.
However, one of Privoxy's key features could also be a drawback for new users: it gives you very granular control over privacy settings, and configuring them is very much a manual process. There's a helpful quick start guide available, but it has the potential to be off-putting.
That said, if you're happy to persevere, you can set up advanced filters that will not only ensure you remain anonymous online, but also protect you against unwanted ads.
3. Hotspot Shield
An easy way to hide your IP address from prying eyes
Hotspot Shield is available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Windows Phone, meaning you can use it on just about any device you own.
It's a VPN tool that's available in two flavors – a free, ad-supported one, and a paid-for version that offer unlimited bandwidth. Hotspot Shield hides your IP address and provides encrypted traffic tunnelling (ideal for use on public Wi-Fi networks) to improve security and ensure privacy.
You may not want to use Hotspot Shield at all time. For instance, you may only be interested in using it to access certain sites that are blocked in your country. In this case you can create shortcuts to individual sites in the Hotspot Shield window which will enable protection before launching the sites. Protection can also be toggled on an off with a single click.
The paid-for version, Hotspot Elite, only costs a few pounds or dollars a month, but it's worth trying the free edition first before opening your wallet. Its additional features, including ad-free browsing and dedicated customer support, make it a tempting proposition.
VPN made easy, but keep an eye on the data limit
In addition to anonymous browsing, VPN tool TunnelBear can also be used to bypass traffic-shaping and throttling put in place by ISPs.
The free version of TunnelBear gives you up to 500MB of data each month, but if this isn't enough, unlimited data is available for a subscription fee, with prices starting at US$4.16 per month (about £2.86, AU$5.75).
Configuration is incredibly simple, and TunnelBear can be used with any browser – this is probably the most accessible VPN tool there is. It's just about impossible not to recommend.
A great VPN tool, but free users have to wait their turn
Another multi-platform VPN tool, CyberGhost is available as a free ad-supported app, as well as a paid-for edition offering better performance and more features.
For day-to-day or occasional use, the free version should be perfectly adequate. Configuration is very simple, with the only potential stumbling block being the installation of a virtual network adaptor.
With a single click, CyberGhost will activate, giving the impression that you're browsing from another country. You can also keep an eye on how much traffic you've transferred through the service using a handy graph.
The downside of using the free version is that there's a limited numbers of spaces on the servers, so you may have to wait to gain access (although you're unlikely to be kept hanging for long).
Earlier this week, Microsoft rolled out a new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app for OneDrive that works on PCs. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you should, because it fills a gap in Windows 10’s native OneDrive integration. Specifically, there’s no way to see files that are in OneDrive but not on your PC.
In fact, once you get the hang of using the Windows Store app, you can choose to leave some larger files in OneDrive to create more space on your PC.
Once you download and install OneDrive from the Windows Store, sign-in to the app with your Microsoft account, and wait for your OneDrive files to populate. Once that’s done you are ready to offload some of your files to OneDrive, while still being able to see them easily on your PC.