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Best computers in 2021

Best computers
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Despite the constant promise from tablet and laptop manufacturers that the days of needing your own desktop PC are done, most of us still find good reasons to keep a full PC close to hand. 

Whether you need one for work or play, the best computers offer power and affordability right on your desktop, with systems suited to everything from remote work and school to photo and video editing, and even gaming and VR. 

Whether you want the uncluttered design of an all-in-one computer, the compact size of a mini PC or a gaming PC that can handle the latest titles with ease, we've got you covered. Be it PC to Mac, these are the best desktop computers we've reviewed.

To help you choose the right PC that meets your unique needs we've got recommendations for systems that will meet your budget, whether you need lots of power for content creation or a more affordable system for projects and education.

StraplineThese are the best computers in every size, shape and price ranged the best computer for you.

What are the best computers?

The best all-in-one computer we've tested is the 2020 Apple iMac with 5K Retina Display (27-inch). It's still the best all-in-one computer for photo and video editing, and a fantastic system all around, thanks to the classic iMac design and new hardware that bumps up the CPU and GPU to deliver excellent power for all of your tasks. It's especially well-suited to photo and video editing, but the Apple iMac will fit just as well in any home or office.

For an affordable basic desktop PC, we recommend the Acer Aspire TC, which boasts plenty of capability and lots of features, all for a very reasonable price. If you need a basic machine for daily productivity and streaming, or even a low-end gaming machine, this is a great option if you're on a budget.

If you want something a little more powerful, the best gaming PC right now is the Alienware Aurora R11, thanks to its sleek, stylish design and blistering gaming performance. Looking past the distinctive chassis, you'll find a potent system for both gaming and productivity.

The best computers in 2021

Best computers: Apple iMac 27-inch (2020)

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Best desktop overall: Apple iMac 27-inch (2020)

An impressive all-in-one desktop

Type: All-in-One | CPU: 10th-gen Intel Core i5 / i7 / i9 | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT | RAM: Up to 128GB of RAM | Storage: Up to 4TB SSD | Display: 27-inch, 5120 x 2880 | Special Features: 1080p FaceTime camera, Nano-texture glass (optional) | Accessories: Magic Mouse / Magic Trackpad (optional), Magic Keyboard (optional)

Great display
Rich-sounding speakers
Powerful graphics and processor
Thick bezels
Ports all on back

The Apple iMac 27-inch (2020) is the latest iMac and may be the last Intel-powered all-in-one from Apple, but it couldn't have come at a better time. The new iMac boasts Intel 10th-generation processors, AMD Radeon Pro 5000 series graphics, and perhaps most importantly, a 1080p webcam – a big step up from the 720p cameras used in older iMacs. Other highlights of the 2020 iMac included enhanced speakers and optional nano-texture display that reduces glare.

The iMac design remains unchanged, complete with thick bezels around the screen and a prominent aluminum chin below the display, but the screen in question is a Retina 5K display, which has 5120 x 2880 pixels of colorful detail, as well as P3 wide color gamut support. It also has TrueTone color temperature adjustment, which automatically shifts the color on screen to look best for the ambient light in the room.

Read our full Apple iMac 27-inch (2020) review

Best computers: Acer Aspire TC

(Image credit: Acer)

2. Best tower PC: Acer Aspire TC

An affordable, capable desktop

Type: Desktop tower | CPU: Intel Core i3 / i5 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 630 / Nvidia GeForce GT | RAM: Up to 32GB | Storage: Up to 512GB SSD | Display: N/A | Special Features: N/A | Accessories: N/A

Great performance for the price
Compact design
Optical drive comes standard
Compact size will limit future upgrades

The Acer Aspire TC is a line of affordable desktops from Acer that put budget-friendly power into a compact desktop tower that doesn't look like the boring grey boxes of the past. The case features a stylized design with a smaller-than-average footprint that won't limit your capabilities or prevent future upgrades.

The Aspire TC is available with your choice of Intel Core i3 and Core i5 processors, with up to 32GB of RAM, as much as 512GB of SSD storage and an optical drive. Optional features include speedy Intel Optane memory and your choice of Intel UHD Graphics 630 or Nvidia GeForce GT graphics solutions. It even offers support for 5.1 Surround Sound through speakers or high-end headsets. For a not-so-standard looking PC tower that provides plenty of power and features for less, check out the Acer Aspire TC.

Best computers: Alienware Aurora R11 review

(Image credit: Alienware)

3. Best gaming PC: Alienware Aurora R11

A seriously powerful pre-built gaming PC

Type: Gaming desktop | CPU: Up to Intel Core i9-10900F | Graphics: Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 | RAM: Up to 128 GB | Storage: Up to 2 TB SSD + 2 TB HDD | Display: N/A | Special Features: customizable RGB lighting | Accessories: Dell Multimedia Keyboard, Dell Optical Mouse MS116AW

Powerful hardware
Distinctive design
Plentiful customization options
Runs hot and loud
Software needs work

The Alienware Aurora R11 is currently one of the best gaming PCs you can buy, whether you go for a modest model that costs $1,000, or a mighty behemoth that costs $5,000. This gorgeous, highly customizable device features a slick chassis with a striking oval faceplate, as well as hardware up to an Intel Core i9-10900F CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 GPU.

The system can get pretty pricey, and the built-in Alienware software can be tetchy at times. But generally speaking, the Aurora R11 is built from the ground-up to run the latest and greatest games at peak settings, with frame rates exceeding 60 fps at 4K resolution, and 300 fps at 1080p resolution. It's also relatively easy to upgrade, thanks to a tool-free back plate and a fair amount of space inside for additional RAM and storage.

Read our full Alienware Aurora R11 review. 

Best computers: Apple Mac mini 2018

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4. The best mini PC: Apple Mac mini

Small size, big power

Type: Mini PC | CPU: Intel Core i3 / i5 / i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 630 | RAM: Up to 64GB | Storage: Up to 2TB SSD | Display: N/A | Special Features: Compact size, 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports | Accessories: Magic Mouse / Magic Trackpad (optional), Magic Keyboard (optional)

New look and updated design
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports and 4K support
Impressive performance
Improved Mac OS Mojave
Limited upgradability

Apple took its sweet time updating the smallest of Macs, but the Mac mini (2018) was well worth the wait. The latest Mac mini has a slick new look with it's darker space grey anodized finish, despite retaining the same dimensions and unibody design as the previous model. It also picks up some improvements, like a speedy collection of ports, including four Thunderbolt 3 ports for connecting displays, storage and anything else. It even offers (a bit) of upgradability, with traditional SO-DIMM slots for adding memory, though other hardware and storage are not user-serviceable.

Despite rocking an older 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, the littlest Mac managed to put up numbers that bested better-equipped systems, and offers a surprising amount of power in a pleasantly compact design. Based on our testing, it's the best mini PC overall, delivering excellent power and value in a compact package.

Since our initial review, Apple has doubled the amount of storage offered in basic configurations, for the same price. Because other hardware remains the same, we expect performance to be relatively unchanged, and our recommendation stands.

Read our full Apple Mac mini (2018) review.

Best computers: Dell G5 Gaming Desktop 5090

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5. Best affordable gaming PC: Dell G5 Gaming Desktop 5090

Entry-level and easy to upgrade

Type: Gaming desktop | CPU: 9th-Gen Intel Core i3 / i5 / i7 | Graphics: Up to Nvidia RTX 2080 | RAM: Up to 64GB | Storage: Up to 1TB SSD + 2TB hard drive | Display: N/A | Special Features: Blue LED accent, clear side panel | Accessories: Dell optical mouse and multimedia keyboard

Good productivity and gaming performance
Reasonably priced
Great chassis
Preinstalled software can be a pain
Not ideal for QHD/UHD gaming

The Dell G5 5090 is one of the best gaming PCs for folks who want a solid entry-level machine that's very easy to upgrade. This fairy affordable desktop starts with a modest Core i3 processor and Nvidia GTX 1650 card, but can be outfitted with up to a Core i7 CPU and RTX 2080 GPU for more intensive gaming.

One of the G5's biggest selling points is its sleek, foolproof chassis, which is incredibly easy to open up should you want to swap out components over time. We found Dell's desktop to be reliable for playing AAA games at 1080p and 60 frames per second, and like that the machine comes mostly free of bloatware. Overall, if you need a good, affordable desktop that you can make more powerful over time, the Dell G5 5090 is a great choice.

Read our full Dell G5 5090 review.

Best computers: Azulle Access3

(Image credit: Azulle)

6. Best stick PC: Azulle Access3

This little computer is a small wonder

Type: Mini PC | CPU: Intel Celeron N4100 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600 | RAM: 2GB / 4GB / 6GB | Storage: Up to 64GB | Display: N/A | Special Features: Stick form factor, direct HDMI connection | Accessories: Lynk Windows Multifunctional Remote Control (optional)

Elegant design combines fanless cooling with stylish looks
Improved port selection boasts USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet
Zippy performance with 4K video support
Slow data transfer speeds
Optional bundled keyboard is clunky

The Azulle Access3 takes our favorite tiny stick PC and makes it even better. With a compact design that's almost small enough to put on a keychain, and flexible enough to be used with any monitor or TV, the Access3 gets a faster processor, speedier USB 3.0 ports and adds Gigabit Ethernet for better performance and connectivity than any other stick PC we've reviewed. The zippy performance even supports 4K video output, making it great for streaming.

Whether it's for use in your home theater, powering digital signage or just giving you a way to watch Netflix on your hotel TV, the Access3 presses forward in a form-factor that larger manufacturers have largely forgotten. The Azulle Access3 is our new favorite stick PC, and the best mini PC you can slip into your pocket.

Read our full Azulle Access3 review.

Best computers: Apple iMac Pro

(Image credit: Future)

7. Best Mac: Apple iMac Pro

The top all-in-one computer for video and animation

Type: All-in-One | CPU: Intel Xeon W processor (8, 10, 14, 18 core options) | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 | RAM: Up to 128GB | Storage: Up to 4TB SSD | Display: 27-inch, 5120 x 2880 | Special Features: 1080p FaceTime camera, 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports | Accessories: Magic Mouse / Magic Trackpad (optional), Magic Keyboard (optional)

Professional-grade processing and graphics power
Enormous amounts of memory
Excellent display
Not user-upgradable
No height adjustment

When it comes to all-in-one computers, they just don’t come more powerful than this. The Apple iMac Pro reclaims the Pro title with way more processing and graphics power than any consumer will ever need, making it the perfect addition to the professional video studio, the audio engineering booth or the architect’s office.

Equipped with a 10-core Intel Xeon processor, workstation-grade graphics and a mind-bending 128GB of RAM, this machine is pure power. Plus, the iMac design gets a stylish upgrade with the iMac Pro's cool space gray anodized finish. You can even get the Apple Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse or Touchpad to match. It's the best all-in-one computer for anyone that wants to keep the sleek iMac design, but needs serious power in a workstation.

Read our full Apple iMac Pro review.

Best computers: Microsoft Surface Studio 2

(Image credit: Future)

8. Best PC for content creators: Microsoft Surface Studio 2

The best PC for artists and photographers

Type: All-in-One | CPU: Intel Core i7-7820HQ | Graphics: Nvidia GTX 1060 / GTX 1070 | RAM: Up to 32GB | Storage: Up to 2TB SSD | Display: 28-inch, 4500 x 3000 touchscreen | Special Features: Pulls down display for drawing, Surface Dial support | Accessories: Surface Keyboard, Surface Mouse, Surface Pen (included), Surface Dial (optional)

Excellent design lets you use as a desktop or drawing board
Superb display quality
Best-in-class pen support
Inconvenient port placement
Hardware is dated from the start

The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is the best thing around for anyone who does digital art, thanks to a gorgeous touchscreen that drops down low for comfortable touch and pen use. The better-than-4K display looks amazing, the touch screen supports both the Surface Pen and Surface Dial and the design is top-notch. The design alone would make this the best touchscreen all-in-one for drawing, but the addition of best-in-class pen support takes it up another level.

The updated Surface Studio 2 gets beefier processing and graphics hardware, switches to all-solid-state drives for storage, and gets an even better version of the PixelSense display that offers enhanced brightness and contrast. It's one of the best all-in-one computers we've seen, and our top pick for media creators and artists.

Read our full Microsoft Surface Studio 2 review.

Best computers: MSI MEG Trident X

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

9. Best high-end gaming PC: MSI MEG Trident X

Gorgeous design and powerful performance

Type: Gaming desktop | CPU: Up to Intel Core i9-10900K | Graphics: Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti | RAM: Up to 64 GB | Storage: Up to 1 TB SSD + 1 TB HDD | Display: N/A | Special Features: RGB lighting | Accessories: MSI Clutch GM11 Mouse, MSI Vigor GK30 Keyboard

Powerful performance
Quiet cooling
Smart, compact design
Subpar peripherals

The first thing you'll notice about the MSI MEG Trident X is that it's absolutely gorgeous. This small, angular machine fits easily into just about any gaming nook, and is ideal for either desktop or living room setups. The second thing you'll notice is that it runs games absolutely beautifully, whether you want to experience them at full HD, QHD or UHD settings. With a variety of processor, GPU and RAM options from which to choose, you'll be able to customize a machine that works for your games, and for your monitor.

Just be aware that no matter how you design the MEG Trident X, it's going to be expensive. Furthermore, the accessories it comes with — the MSI Clutch GM11 Mouse and MSI Vigor GK30 Keyboard — are mediocre at best, and disappointing at worst. Still, in terms of both physical design and raw performance, the MEG Trident X is one of the most gorgeous and functional gaming PCs on the market today.

Read our full MSI MEG Trident X review.

Best computers: Raspberry Pi 4 Model B

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10. Best single-board computer: Raspberry Pi 4 Model B

The best computer for projects and tinkering

Type: Single-board | CPU: ARM Cortex A72 | Graphics: VideoCore VI GPU | RAM: 1 GB / 2 GB / 4 GB | Storage: N/A | Display: N/A | Special Features: 4K 60 Hz video support | Accessories: Wide range of optional accessories

Significantly more powerful than past models
Supports dual 4K video output, USB 3.0 and USB Type-C for power
Not compatible with older Raspberry Pi cases
Software compatibility is hit or miss

The Raspberry Pi ushered in a new era of DIY tech, and the latest model, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, pushes that to new heights with a more powerful processor, 4K video output and an improved part selection. The latest model, the $35 Raspberry Pi 4 Model B offers enormous value for projects ranging from simple to complex, from its enhanced processing and graphics to offering broad compatibility with older accessories. 

If you want to do something different with your technology, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is the best mini PC for tinkering and experimenting. Whether you buy it alone or in a kit, the Raspberry Pi is hard to beat.

Since our review, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B has been updated with a new model that has 8GB of RAM, significantly improving on the 2GB memory of the base model.

Read our full Raspberry Pi 4 Model B review.

How to choose the best computer for you

Finding the right computer is mostly about form and function: What do you want it to look like, and what do you want it to do? In our roundup of the best desktop computers, we look at a free different styles of computer, each offering unique designs and tailored to specific use cases.

Standard PC towers are often the most affordable desktop option, as well as the most basic. With simple designs and plenty of configuration options, a basic desktop tower is still the best option for cost-effective computing power. And thanks to the flexibility of the design you can outfit these standard computers for everything from basic web browsing and media streaming to incredibly demanding uses such as gaming and animation.

All-in-one desktops, as the name suggests, provide a combination of PC and monitor in the same device. These all-in-one designs give you a powerful desktop without the bulk of a tower or the tangle of cables that come with a separate monitor. The best all-in-one computers range from budget-friendly systems to high-powered workstations, so check out our in-depth reviews of the best all-in-one computers.

Gaming desktops, by and large, use the traditional tower design, but are outfitted with powerful components optimized for high performance gaming. These high octane systems are built to accommodate the latest discrete graphics cards, potent processors, large volume storage, and all of the cooling necessary for a high performance machine. There are several options for gaming, whether it's your choice of hardware, or the stylized design that fits your taste. check out our in-depth reviews for all of the best gaming PCs.

Mini PCs take a very different approach, leveraging the tiny components used in laptops and tablets to provide a desktop experience that fits in the palm of your hand or into a pocket. These pint-sized or smaller desktop computers can be easily stashed out of sight or incorporated into less traditional arrangements, such as into a home theater system for streaming movies. Whether it's a small box on your desk or a stick PC in your pocket, our reviews layout the features and performance of the best mini PCs.

Once you know what type of computer you want to get, it's a question of what you want to do with it. While any of the systems on the list above can be used for web browsing and basic productivity uses like typing up documents or putting together a PowerPoint presentation, different use cases have slightly different demands.

The best desktop for gaming will feature graphics cards built for gaming performance, while systems for video editing or animation may use equally powerful GPUs, but with models that focus on reliable performance and certification for different applications. A great desktop for kids will keep things fairly basic, focusing on speedy web browsing and streaming capability, with less of an emphasis on raw horsepower.

How we test computers

As we evaluate and review all sorts of computers, we run a series of standardized tests to measure how each machine performs, what uses it's best suited to, and what sort of capability you get for the price.

These standard tests include generalized performance benchmark tests, like Geekbench 4 and 5 (for processor performance), 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra (for graphics), and a custom file transfer test to measure hard drive performance.

Gaming-oriented benchmarks test the performance of systems using current games, measuring the frame rates each desktop will produce in games like Tomb Raider, Far Cry: New Dawn, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War. We'll also run individual game tests and the SteamVR performance test to evaluate how well-suited they are to the unique demands of virtual reality.

Most importantly, we spend a ton of time simply using each desktop computer for everyday activities. We watch movies, do work, play games, and blast music on the speakers, all to get a better sense of which ones are worth your money.

Check out all of our desktop computer coverage:

Best all-in-one computers | Best gaming PCs | Best mini PCs