How to Choose a Home Computer
The top performers in our review are HP ENVY 750, the Gold Award winner; Acer Aspire TC, the Silver Award winner; and Dell XPS 8900, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a home computer to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
All of the home computers we reviewed are desktop computers that cost less than $1,000 and come ready to use out of the box. These computers are the traditional image of a desktop computer for your home. They can handle a wide variety of tasks, including word processing and playing media, and usually last between three and five years without too much slowdown or any errors. Many computers require extra equipment, including a mouse, keyboard and monitor, although some computers come with those. You should also look into adding on speakers and a webcam to get the most out of the machine.
The best home computers have strong processors, large hard drives and plenty of RAM so you can perform most common tasks with your computer. You can surf the web, stream media or run office software. Some people like to buy home computers as an inexpensive entry point for a new high-end computer, and most of these PC computers are easy to upgrade simply by opening the case and installing new components on your own. However, if you want a computer that’s ready for your whole family to use right out of the box, the computers on our lineup have a great range of features and functionality.
If you’re unsure if a home computer is the right fit for your household, consider some of your other options. If you want to save space or simply bypass the hassle of buying and connecting extra peripherals, all-in-one PCs usually cost more but contain all of the components inside the monitor. Multimedia computers connect to your home’s main entertainment hub and store movies and music. Lastly, offices with stationary work spaces need business computers, which can network and handle a variety of professional tasks. We also have several articles about the best home computers to help you learn more.
Home Computers: What We Tested, What We Found
It is rare to find a proprietary computer component, so when evaluating computers, it’s easy to see which electronics the desktop uses and how well they perform. We looked to our sister site, Tom’s Hardware, to compare the best processors and graphics units. We also used average user-tested scores assembled by Passmark – an independent, third-party evaluation organization – to find specific benchmarking information on some of the mid- to high-level processors found in these computers.
Finally, we listed which manufacturers allow you to customize desktop PC or Mac components before purchasing online. Most computers are prebuilt, so you can walk into a retailer and buy the model we reviewed, but some PC manufacturers give you the option to upgrade parts like the processor, RAM or graphics card.
Performance: Good Components Improve the Life of a Computer
Despite their low prices, these new desktop computers typically use the latest generation of processor, and some include a dedicated graphics card. A dedicated card, also known as a discrete card, is a good option for computer gamers or those in industries like graphic design. Though dedicated GPUs don’t use your computer’s RAM, they can be costly, are more likely to heat up quickly and consume more power. Integrated cards are cheaper and use less power than dedicated units, but they use your system’s memory rather than their own RAM, which limits your ability to multitask.
When deciding between a computer with an Intel i3 or i5 processor, it’s important to consider your average computer habits. An i5 CPU is a quad-core processor ideal for multitasking, gaming and viewing content-heavy webpages, while an i3 is just a dual-core but comes with hyper-threading – a process of improving performance by sharing workloads between the processor’s dual cores. An i3 processor is great for light use, but anything more and you should consider an i5.
Ultimately, none of the computers we reviewed feature AMD processors, which, generally speaking, do not perform as well as Intel’s, though they are a good option if you don’t plan on using your computer heavily. Tom’s Hardware agrees with this assessment, placing AMD CPUs in the third and lowest tier on its lineup.
Memory & Storage: How Much is Necessary?
Since the best computers are meant to last for several years, it’s important they have enough storage space to hold your collection of documents, photos and media. The average computer on our lineup has 1 terabyte (TB) of storage, although you’ll also see a 2TB hard drive, as well as one with a 500-gigabyte (GB) capacity. A computer with a 500GB hard drive is fine for light storage of documents and photos, but if you plan on storing larger files, such as music and video, you need the extra space that a 1TB hard drive offers.
These hard drives are the standard SATA drives and have high speeds. Some computers come with solid state drives (SSD) as an upgrade, while others make it easy to install a secondary drive on your own. The advantage to an SSD is that it can access files much faster than a standard SATA drive, but they are much more expensive and come with less storage capacity overall.
Additionally, good desktop computers come with a standard 8GB of memory, but like hard drives, you can upgrade this before or after purchase to make your computer faster. Many people confuse RAM for speed, but RAM is closer to the spinal column of your computer, sending commands from the hard drive to the CPU and back. People who only use their computers for simple tasks don’t need more than 4GB of RAM, but if you plan on doing anything more than that on a regular basis, you need a minimum of 8GB. Those who plan on doing more intensive work, such as editing media or coding, need 16GB to keep up. Basically, the heavier the tasks you do, especially tasks that require huge file transfers between the CPU and hard drive, the more RAM you need. Doubling your RAM effectively halves the time required to accomplish a task.
Connectivity: Which Ports Do You Need?
Your answer to this question depends on your computer usage. Typically, more USB ports are better since many peripherals plug into them, including webcams, USB microphones, keyboards, mice, gamepads, drawing tablets and more. It’s also important to know what kind of monitor port the desktop uses: DVI, VGA or HDMI. Make sure to plan where you will set up the computer and what devices you want to plug in. As a general rule, the computer should have at least two more USB ports than you know you need.
Help & Support: How Will the Manufacturer Support Your PC?
To help you decide which PC brands give the best service, we looked to tech-support grades assigned by our colleagues at Laptop and updated every year. Beyond that, all of the computers we reviewed are backed by a one-year warranty, which covers parts and repairs. Since computers should last you more than one year, you should consider one that comes with an extended service warranty.
Unfortunately, phone support is usually tied to the warranty, meaning that as soon as your warranty expires, you can no longer call customer support. To balance this, most manufacturers offer a variety of other support methods, including free driver downloads, customer forums, email and live chat, but the scope of the support you receive depends on your warranty. For example, if you try to access live chat with an out-of-date warranty, you may be redirected to the forums or FAQs section.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison either on loan from the companies or through retail purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Driver Update Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Our top-rated home desktop computers are the HP ENVY 750, Acer Aspire TC and Dell XPS 8900, which rose above the rest because of their performance, memory and storage capacities, connectivity, and help or support options – the factors we considered to be the most important in our comparison and evaluation. The best home desktop computer on our lineup, the HP ENVY 750, is a powerful PC with a stylish look, 2TB of storage and more memory than any other unit we reviewed. The Acer Aspire TC has a next-gen quad-core processor and easy-to-access ports. The Dell XPS 8900 is a powerhouse unit that has a great capacity for multitasking and expandability.
While you can spend virtually whatever you want on a computer system, not everyone has the budget for such a purchase. If you are budget conscious, there are a few options, such as the Dell Inspiron 3650 and HP Pavilion Mini, you can indulge in that won’t break the bank. If you like the look of the traditional desktop tower computer, the Dell Inspiron 3650 has a powerful Intel i5 CPU and easily accessible ports. If you need more portability or just crave sleek modern devices, the Pavilion Mini, works well for basic tasks with its i3 processor and 4GB of memory. Both options are under $500.
As is often the case, manufacturers regularly update their series with new models and components. For that reason, our lineup changes as new models become available. We previously rated the Lenovo K450e as our Bronze Award winner, but because of model changes in the full lineup, many computers now offer a better base model this time around.