Desktop PC manufacturers offer a tremendously wide range of options for all kinds of users, from budget-conscious consumers up to the most demanding creative and STEM professionals. Choosing from among this range can be a daunting task, and it helps to break down the various desktop PC categories to get an idea of where to start shopping.
That’s what we’ll do here, identifying those categories and providing some idea of what to expect. There’s a great deal of overlap in the product lines of some manufacturers, and so these categories aren’t necessarily set in concrete.
As with laptops, you’ll likely find that today’s budget desktop PCs are equivalent to premium machines from just a few years ago. Technology that was once limited to the most expensive machines has made its way downward, and so your purchasing options are greater than they once were.
Probably the most significant limitation with budget desktop PCs lies in their expandability. You’ll likely find smaller cases, fewer expansion slots, lower maximum RAM, and fewer bays for installing additional hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). In addition, the power supply will likely provide less power, meaning that you’ll be limited in the kind of CPU and GPU you can upgrade to – if any.
Specifications will also likely be lower. You might find older CPUs, such as 10th-gen Intel Core processors rather than 11th-gen, and you’ll be offered less RAM out of the box. You might be limited to an HDD rather than an SSD, and if an SSD is included it will be smaller and a slower model. If a budget PC has a discrete GPU rather than just the integrated graphics included with the CPU, then it will be older and slower. Finally, you might find yesterday’s wireless protocol, Wi-Fi 5, rather than the latest Wi-Fi 6.
Again, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Some manufacturers might offer higher-end “budget” desktop PCs that scrape up against the premium category in price. But generally speaking, budget PCs will limit both where you start out and where you can end up.
Note that there are tower desktops that include the CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, and other components and that connect to external displays. There are also all-in-one (AiO) desktops PCs where the display is integrated along with the rest of the components. In budget AiOs, you’ll usually find smaller displays of lesser quality to go along with the other limits outlined above.
As with budget laptops, you might find more “bloatware” installed on budget desktops. Manufacturers are sometimes paid by developers to install these apps, which commonly include casual games and antivirus utility trials. Bloatware can sometimes slow down a PC and take up unnecessary space, meaning that many users delete it at the first opportunity.
Aesthetically, budget desktops tend to be very simple, with no embellishments. Case construction tends to be a step below premium desktops, with more plastic and less metal.
Recommended Budget Desktops
- Helix WorkPlex 1030 ($459 msrp – Intel Core i3, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Dell Inspiron ($662 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- HP Pavilion ($599 msrp – AMD Ryzen 5, 12 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- HP Pavilion AiO ($559 msrp – AMD Athlon Silver 3050U, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- Lenovo IdeaCentre ($594 msrp – AMD Athlon Silver 3050U, 32 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Acer Aspire ($679 msrp – Intel Core i5, 12 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- ASUS M Series AiO (Check for stock)
You can make your budget go even further with Refurbished Desktops
Premium desktop PCs tend to offer larger cases and more expandability. You’ll find motherboards that offer more expansion slots (sometimes including those needed to add dual GPUs), higher maximum RAM, and more storage bays. The power supply will be larger and allow for more powerful components to be added later, and more fans and better overall thermal designs will keep operation cooler and quieter.
You’ll also find the most modern components, such as 11th-gen Intel Core CPUs, the latest AMD Ryzen processors, and Nvidia GeForce RTXa GPUs. SSDs will be larger and faster, and you might have a combination of an SSD for the system drive and an HDD for data storage. Wireless connectivity will be the latest available as well.
If you’re looking at an AiO, it will likely have a larger and higher quality display, and it may include extras like a pop-up webcam. The components will be up to date and more powerful, you’ll have more RAM and storage, and there might even be some limited expandability.
Some premium desktops have very distinctive designs that set them apart from budget machines. That’s not always true, however, with some premium desktops sporting the same basic designs as budget desktops but with higher quality construction and cases that are easier to open with better access to internal components.
Recommended Premium Desktops
- Dell XPS ($1,269 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD)
- HP Envy ($1,729 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 2 TB HDD)
- Lenovo Yoga AiO ($3,287 msrp – Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, 2TB HD + 526 GB SSD)
- Lenovo A Series AiO ($839 msrp – Intel Core i3, 32 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD)
- MSI Modern AiO ($1,199 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Acer Aspire AiO ($832 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- ASUS S Series ($899 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- ASUS Zen AiO ($1,124 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
We also offer premium Laptops and Notebooks
Business desktop PCs can range from lower-cost machines to the very high end, with all the same limitations and capabilities found in budget and premium consumer desktops. You’ll also find business desktops in very small form factors, including thin cases that take up minimal desk space.
The biggest differentiator with business desktops is the inclusion of features meant to make them more secure and easier to manage. The primary component you’ll find are Intel CPUs with vPro support, Intel’s technology to make it easier to plug PCs into corporate information technology (IT) infrastructures. In addition, software may be installed that’s aimed at making the machines more accessible to IT personnel and, again, more secure.
Business AiOs will offer many of the same features and components and will also range from the low end to the high end.
Recommended Business Desktops
- Helix WorkPlex 1050 ($549 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Dell OptiPlex ($949 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- Dell Vostro ($875 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- HP Elite ($1,039 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD)
- HP Pro ($744 msrp – Intel Core i5, 32 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Lenovo M Series ($614 msrp – Intel Core i3, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- MSI Pro AiO ($679 msrp – Intel Core i3, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- MSI Cubi ($629 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- Acer Veriton ($871 msrp – Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD)
- Acer Veriton Z AiO ($769 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- ASUS ASUSPRO ($599 msrp – AMD Ryzen 5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
- ASUS V Series AiO ($958 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD)
Get custom PCs with top quality components for less money. Learn more about Helix.
Desktop workstations equip the most powerful components available, including Intel Xeon processors with massive core counts (up to 40 cores per CPU) and Nvidia Quadro GPUs that are intended to speed up and more reliably support high-end apps like scientific computing and creative tasks. Adobe’s suite of applications is a prime example of a set of software that workstations are intended to accelerate. The highest-end workstations can accept multiple CPUs for even more power.
Workstations also tend to offer the highest amounts of error-correcting RAM and ultra-fast storage. For example, while most motherboards have four RAM slots, workstation motherboards can have eight or more slots accepting terabytes of memory.
Workstation cases have highly optimized thermal designs to ensure that every component can run at its maximum performance without overheating. Monitor support is also maximized, with the ability to connect to many high-resolution displays at the highest possible quality.
Clearly, workstations are very specialized machines that only certain users are going to entertain. They also tend to be the most expensive PCs you can buy, with fully configured workstations running $5,000 and even more.
Recommended Workstation Desktops
- Helix WorkPlex 1070 ($749 msrp – Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Dell Precision ($900 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD)
- HP Z Workstations ($1,399 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Lenovo Creator ($859 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Lenovo P Series ($639 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD)
- MSI Prestige (Check for stock)
- MSI Creator (Check for stock)
- ASUS ExpertCenter ($599 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD)
Gaming desktops range from compact units meant to be easily carried from place to place for LAN parties to full height towers that take up significant amounts of space. They’re also usually very distinctively designed, with aesthetics that meet a gamer’s more extravagant and colorful ethos. RGB lighting is a favorite gaming PC feature and can often be extensively customized to create a specific look.
In terms of their components, gaming PCs come in various ranges from entry-level to extremely powerful, with the highest-end machines equipping the fastest consumer CPUs and GPUs available. They also feature extremely speedy RAM and storage to ensure that games load quickly and run at the highest frame rates possible. Gaming PCs also use the largest power supplies to ensure the ability to support the most power-hungry components.
Finally, gaming desktop PCs tend to be designed to move as much air through the case as possible and to keep the CPU and GPU – and often other components like RAM and storage devices – as cool as possible to maintain those high frame rates. Maintaining manageable temperatures helps keep every component running at top speed without the throttling that can slow down gaming performance, and so you’ll find more fans, cleaner wiring to reduce obstructions, and liquid CPU and GPU cooling.
Recommended Gaming Desktops
- Dell Alienware ($1,499 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD)
- HP OMEN ($1,359 msrp – Intel Core i5, 32 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD + 1 TB HDD)
- Lenovo Legion ($1,399 msrp – Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, 2 TB SSD + 1 TB HDD)
- MSI Aegis ($1,199 msrp – Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- MSI Infinite ($2,499 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD + 3 TB HDD)
- MSI Trident ($1,758 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD)
- MSI Codex ($1,249 msrp – Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- Acer Nitro ($1,175 msrp – Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD)
- ASUS ROG ($1,999 msrp – Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD + 1 TB HDD)
- ASUS ROG Strix ($1,769 msrp – AMD Ryzen 7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD)
The following is a list of major manufacturers and their lines for each category. Again, there can be overlap, and not every manufacturer is as explicit in breaking out their desktop PCs as listed in the table, but it’s a close enough approximation to be helpful in starting a search.
|Lenovo||IdeaCentre||Yoga AiO |
A Series AiO
|MSI||N/A||Modern AiO||Pro AiO|
|Acer||Aspire||Aspire AiO||Veriton |
Veriton Z AiO
|Asus||M Series AiO||S Series |
V Series AiO
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