Having one of the best home computers is essential in 2021. Whether you're a Windows or Mac user, home computers form the backbone of any personal office set-up, and they can be used for both work and play (although not at the same time, we hope). Desktop PCs offer the best value for money when it comes to home computers, and you can get a competent work machine for less than $500, especially if you shop around. Macs are more expensive, but offer an operating system that's easier to use and more efficient.
So, what's the best home computer for you? If you want something for working from home, we recommend a Windows desktop PC from any of the major manufacturers like Dell, Lenovo, Acer, or HP. You'll get good build quality at affordable prices, and these makers have regular sales too. If you work with creative apps like video and photo editors, many of these are optimized for Macs, so we'd recommend going Apple here. You also get the added bonus of easier iPhone and iPad integration with a Mac.
A good home computer should offer you a quick new CPU (we'd recommend Intel i5 upwards, 9th-gen or later), 8GB RAM as a minimum, and - ideally - an SSD to help you load Windows or Mac OS quickly. If you want to game on your PC, get something with a dedicated graphics card, with an Nvidia 1650 as the minimum. For desktop PCs we'd suggest 512GB total storage as a bare minimum too, although you can get hybrid devices with a small SSD and a large-capacity HDD if you want to save money.
If you'd rather have an all-in-one portable PC, go for one of the best laptops and be prepared to spend a little more. If you need accessories, we also have a guide to the best keyboards for home working too, to get you all set-up.
1. Dell XPS 8930 Desktop: Best home computer (Windows)
Dell’s Inspiron range covers iMac-alike all-in-one machines as well as traditional desktop tower computers like the Dell XPS 8930. While only the tower PCs offer build-to-order options suitable for gaming or other heavy graphics work, the all-in-one machines have fast 10th-generation Intel processors and solid-state flash storage.
We’re big fans of the Dell XPS 8930 thanks to its highly customizable, powerful hardware options and compact form factor (as for as tower PCs go anyway). While the tower PC aesthetic isn’t for everyone, the Dell XPS 8930 has a sleek and professional appearance with a gloss black finish and very little in the way of garish bling that you might find on a gaming PC.
There are a few downsides to a tower PC over an all-in-one though, namely that you’ll need to buy a monitor separately, along with a mouse and keyboard. They also take up more space than all-in-one PCs, but the trade-off comes in their flexibility and upgradability. You can easily add more RAM or replace the graphics card on a tower PC and that’s where the Dell XPS 8930 excels. If you need a PC that can do it all, this is the one for you.
- Read our Dell XPS 8930 review
2. Apple iMac (2019): Best home computer (Mac)
You’ll have seen the Apple iMac, in various forms since its launch in 1998, on innumerable TV shows and on the desks of everyone from CEOs to hairdressers. Essentially a screen with a computer attached to its back, its current incarnation, with screens up to 27in and with a slender, graceful design that culminates in a single aluminium foot, is unmistakable and much imitated.
In order to keep its thin profile, but still maintain desktop levels of performance, the iMac makes use of some portable computer parts, such as low-profile RAM modules. These don’t have any effect on the computer’s processing power (especially true of the iMac’s professional cousin, the iMac Pro) and the large screen allows for decent cooling to be installed behind it.
Apple has always been one of the first companies to adopt new connection technology, and the two Thunderbolt 3 ports found on the back of an iMac are some of the fastest out there, capable of connecting both to fast external storage, or to an external monitor for even more screen space.
At the time of writing iMacs are available with 7th- and 8th-generation Intel processors, and start at $1,099 for a 21.5in model.
- Read our Apple iMac (2019) review
3. Mac Mini 2020: Best compact home computer
Recently upgraded to double its internal flash storage, the Mac Mini starts at just $800. You’ll need to add a monitor, keyboard and mouse to that to actually be able to use it, of course, and by adding options through the build-to-order website it’s possible to spec yourself a decently powerful computer, as long as you don’t need graphics processing performance - the mini is never going to be a games machine.
As with the iMac, the Mac Mini comes with Apple’s MacOS operating system rather than Windows, although you can install Microsoft’s OS if you want to. Choosing between the two is largely a matter of taste, with no single big feature one can do that the other can’t.
The Mac Mini is at the bottom of Apple’s range, and despite the build to order options it’s never going to be the computer you want if your interests include 3D rendering or anything that needs a GPU. With an Intel 8th-gen eight-core i7 CPU, however, it will blitz its way through photo editing and any other CPU-intensive tasks with ease. It’s the perfect home office machine, and also excels as a media center, connecting to a TV directly or storing your media on its large, fast SSD and serving it via a system such as Plex. And it’s so small, you can easily keep it in a cupboard.
- Read our Apple Mac Mini (2020) review
4. Lenovo Ideacentre: Best Windows all-in-one
Lenovo’s range of all-in-ones and desktop towers is broad, with some budget-friendly options mixed in with the more powerful offerings.
Design-wise, we’re big fans of the AIO A540, with its off-center supporting leg - a flourish that helps it stand out from the competition. If you need more processing horsepower, then the 720 tower is worth a look, offering plenty of RAM and storage, and a discrete GPU for gaming and video work.
If that’s not your thing, then Lenovo’s all-in-ones live up to their name. Screens measure in at up to 27-inch, and ninth-generation Intel processors mean Windows 10 performance is snappy.
There’s a shark circling at the bottom of this particular pond. The Lenovo Yoga A series. It’s an all-in-one like no other, with the option of i9 processors and up to 32GB of RAM, a 27-inch 4K touchscreen and large amounts of fast solid state storage. It’s expensive, but if you’re creating project-critical content from home, there’s little to touch it outside the iMac Pro.
- Read our Lenovo Ideacentre review
5. Alienware Aurora: Best gaming PC
Alienware is Dell’s gaming brand, but a gaming computer is just a well-specced machine that can do most things well. The PCs come as towers, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of a monitor, mouse, keyboard and speakers/headset as additional purchases.
What you get, however, will blow away the other machines on this list. There’s the option of a 16-core AMD CPU, for one thing, backed by up to 32GB of RAM and enough storage to amass a bulging game library. You can even specify dual graphics processors, but you’ll pay for the privilege.
The black Aurora towers aren’t much to look at, there are no see-through side panels so you can take a look at your components humming away, but you do get innovative tool-free access to the innards, which are upgradable, and cooling that’s so well thought out you might hardly notice the PC had been switched on.
Buying one of these is complete overkill for home office work, but for a genuine do-anything machine that will throw 4K video around and play the latest games as easily as it browses the web and fires up Word documents, then the Aurora range is hard to beat.
- Read our Alienware Aurora review
What to look for when buying a home computer
Speed & Power
If you think about a computer like a car, the processor is essentially the engine. They tend to have seemingly complicated names, so just keep in mind that generally a higher number means it's a faster and more powerful processor. The dominant manufacturers are Intel and AMD. Intel is better known but both make fine chips.
Another thing to look at is a computer’s RAM – random access memory – which is the internal space your computer uses to accomplish a task. Everything you open and every app you use requires your computer's RAM. Storage, on the other hand, is the measure of how much data can be saved on your computer. In short, Microsoft Word uses RAM but the document you save goes in your computer’s storage, whether hard drive or SSD. Having more RAM and storage is always a good thing but comes at a cost, so it’s important to make your purchase based on what you’re really going to use your computer for.
The old days of having a tower and monitor are slowly but surely coming to an end for most basic home computer desktops. For our comparison, we stuck to models that didn’t require an extra tower because we felt the average home user would rather have a compact unit. If you prefer, there are also a plethora of laptops that also work very well as a home computer, with the added bonus of portability. You can flip some laptops’ screens all the way around to turn your traditional L-shaped model into a flat tablet, which can be really fun for kids. Most of the computers we tested are lightweight and aesthetically modern with curved edges and a slim profile.
Your screen resolution is important because it’s what you’re going to spend your time looking at. While 1080p used to be the standard, now many computer companies are gravitating toward an even better 4K display. A computer with 1080p resolution has a horizontal resolution of 1,920 pixels, while 4K has a horizontal resolution of 4,096 pixels and 5K has a horizontal resolution of about 5,000 pixels. As usual, bigger numbers are better.
You can buy a computer for work or personal use and pay anywhere from $300 up to several thousand dollars, depending on the hardware and peripherals you want. However, most options cost between $500 and $1,400 and offer you flexibility in design.
Asking for Help
If you’re not a computer person, it’s best to simply ask for help. Whether you’re shopping at a big box store or a locally owned mom and pop place, the most expensive computer isn’t necessarily always the best. It’s important to let whoever you’re buying from know what you want out of your computer so they can give you the best buying advice. If being able to play online games is a priority, you’re going to want a different and probably more expensive computer than someone who just wants to use email and social media.
Once you select a home computer, you can start shopping for accessories. If you opt for a laptop but don't love the keyboard or audio package, you can always buy another and connect it. A desktop computer is even easier to connect to the keyboard and mouse you choose.
After you set up your computer, you might realize your WiFi signal isn’t as strong as it needs to be in some parts of your home. If you’re experiencing connectivity problems, consider getting a Wi-Fi booster. We've reviewed some of the best home computer accessories on the market. Check them out here: