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Buy Desktop Tower

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A desktop computer is generally going to come in the form of either a tower or an all-in-one (with an integrated screen), though there are smaller designs (sometimes called "small form factor PCs") like the Mac Mini for tighter spaces.

Though laptops still occupy the majority of our editors' time and effort with CNET's hands-on reviews, we've rounded up recent products to bring you our top desktop computer options, listed below. This list starts with models we've tested, and then moves on to more general configuration suggestions that we haven't specifically tested, but the specs listed should deliver considerable value for the price, based on our experience with similarly configured PCs.

Unless otherwise indicated, the products listed below don't include a monitor, keyboard, mouse or webcam. You'll need to bring your own or buy them separately. We'll update this best desktop computer list periodically.

Now available in a new, more powerful version, the Mac Mini desktop is one of Apple's longest-standing product lines, dating back to 2005 (in a pre-Intel version), a year before the first MacBook. All these years later, it retains the same basic shape and appeals to much of the same audience. Unlike Apple's MacBook Pro and Air laptops, or the iMac desktop, the Mini is designed to work behind the scenes, fitting into small spaces and pairing with your choice of display and input devices.

While we like all-in-ones for their convenience, they're not easy to upgrade, if they can be at all. Dell's XPS Desktop is compact and quiet enough for a small workspace but can be loaded with a 12th-gen Core i9 processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti graphics card, up to 64GB of memory and 4TB of storage -- and there's still room inside for more. And if you have modest needs now, but want the room to add in components down the road, the base XPS starts at under $800. However, if you do plan to upgrade down the road, spend a little extra for its 750- or 1,000-watt power supply. Want to spend a bit less? Check out the more affordable desktop computer options recommended further down the page.

Both Apple and Microsoft have discontinued their bigger-screen all-in-one desktops, so as one of the sole remaining premium big-screen options (as far as I can tell), the HP Envy 34 AIO is almost the best choice in that class by default.

If you're dissatisfied with the lack of configuration options available for prebuilt gaming desktops, going with a custom builder is the best way to sate your appetite. The $5,000-plus price of this custom-configured system fully decked out is too rich for, well, most people's blood. And many people don't need everything maxed out, even for gaming. But you can get reasonable configurations for about half the price of my evaluation unit.

Compact all-in-one desktops make good centralized family computers. The HP Chromebase takes it a step further by pairing one with the simple and secure Chrome OS -- the same operating system found on the Chromebooks your kids are probably using at school. With a 21.5-inch touchscreen attached to a gray fabric-covered base, the desktop looks like a supersized version of Google's own Nest Hub smart display (and with Google Assistant baked in, you can use it like one, too). Inside, though, is up to an Intel Core i3-10110U processor, up to 16GB of memory and up to a 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD. The full-HD display even rotates vertically, perfect for viewing vertical videos, following recipes or scrolling your favorite sites.

With those specs in mind, you should be able to find a good PC tower from brands like Dell, Acer, Asus or HP for between $500 and $600. Here are some that fit the bill, offering a great bang for the buck if you don't need a laptop:

An "all-in-one PC" (also known as AIO PC) is basically a Windows version of an iMac. That means the PC "guts" are essentially built into a monitor or its base. Unlike the PC towers listed above, all-in-ones generally offer no ability to upgrade the graphics card, and maybe not even the storage or RAM. The advantage is having fewer cables, however, since everything is integrated into the body.

Recommended specs for an all-in-one are mostly similar to the basic tower above, albeit with compromises because of space considerations. Don't expect an optical drive, for instance, and know that performance is often a step down from "real" desktop models because some all-in-ones use laptop components to better maximize available space. You'll want a large screen with good resolution. The sweet spots we'd suggest are:

Need even more power? While Apple has a Mac Pro living at the top of its desktop line, the current model is an aging Intel design, which the company has already pledged to replace with an Apple Silicon version. If the Mac Studio can't handle your high-end Apple needs, we'd strongly recommend steering clear of the Mac Pro until that new version hits.

When it comes to desktop PCs, towers and all-in-ones represent the vast majority of the market. There are alternatives, but in the 2020s, they generally represent increasingly narrow slices of that market.

Chromeboxes: If you're looking for very basic computing -- browsing the web, email, social media, YouTube and the like -- the Chrome operating system is the most affordable route for home computing. This Google operating system effectively is little more than the Chrome web browser. That makes it easy for multiple users (only a Gmail address is needed to log in), and -- because there's no heavy operating system beyond the browser -- viruses aren't really an issue. Colloquially known as "Chromeboxes" (versus a "Chromebook" laptop), these systems don't have beefy CPUs, RAM or storage requirements. That said, if you need any software beyond browser-based web apps, or if you don't have excellent broadband, you'll want to stick with Windows or Mac options above. Now, before you spend any money, you should check out the free version of the operating system known as ChromeOS Flex, which you can install on most old PCs (including running it from an attached USB drive). But if that's not an option and you want to buy new, expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a Chrome-based desktop. However, the closer you get to that $500 price point, the more you should consider stepping up to a Chromebook laptop or a basic Windows tower (see above) for just a bit more. See Chromebox options at Newegg.

The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computer-like devices consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our expert reviewers. This includes evaluating a device's aesthetics, ergonomics and features. A final review verdict is a combination of both those objective and subjective judgments.

A desktop PC houses all its components within its case, or tower, including an independent CPU, GPU, RAM, motherboard, fans/cooling, disc drive(s) and PSU. Users typically place it either on top of or underneath their workspaces.

The monitor, or display, is separate from the tower and can be connected to it via HDMI and USB-C (for newer desktops), and VGA and DisplayPort (for older desktops). You may need to purchase your PC peripherals including the mouse, keyboard, external speakers, and monitors separately.

An all-in-one computer, or AiO, combines the separate tower and monitor of a typical desktop PC setup into a single piece of hardware. It is no different from a desktop PC in terms of basic functionality. There are several advantages AiOs have over desktops.

The math gets a little trickier on the Windows side, where pricing can be all over the place. Still, you can generally find decent desktops in the $500 range (one example), whereas the quality of laptops in that price range can be iffy in terms of keyboard, trackpad, and build quality.

To add more storage to a desktop PC, you merely need to throw in an extra internal hard drive or plug in an externa one. That means you can keep costs down on the initial purchase and expand as you go.

If you prefer using a trackpad, Magic Trackpad gives you the full range of Multi-Touch gestures and Force Touch technology on the desktop. Sensors underneath the trackpad surface detect subtle differences in the amount of pressure you apply, bringing more functionality to your fingertips and enabling a deeper connection to your content. The design also features a low profile, making it extremely comfortable to use.

Logic Pro is an advanced music production application that gives you everything you need to create amazing music. Built around a modern interface, Logic Pro includes a massive library of instruments, effects, loops, and samples, with a collection of features that make it easy to compose, record, edit, and mix professional-quality tracks. Use innovative creative tools like Live Loops, Step Sequencer, Drum Machine Designer, Flex Time, and Flex Pitch to elevate your music. And Logic Pro is optimized for macOS and the latest Mac hardware, so you can enjoy incredible performance on portable and desktop systems.

If you can give up the portability of a laptop and have a spot that you can devote to work, school, or just browsing online, you should consider a desktop PC. Desktops typically last longer, and are easier to repair and upgrade, than laptops. A standard tower is also cheaper and easier to upgrade than a mini PC or an all-in-one computer. You need a monitor and a webcam (and in some cases, a keyboard and a mouse) to go with your desktop, but those separate accessories will be better than what you can get from most all-in-ones. 041b061a72

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