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Best home computers 2021: Desktop PCs and Macs

Best home computers 2021: Desktop PCs and Macs
(Image credit: Dell)

Welcome to our new and improved best home computers guide for 2021, which has all the information you need to help choose the perfect desktop PC for your home. There is a lot of technical jargon and specifications to sift through when you’re looking for a new home computer, and it can be hard to know what is important. 

So, what should you be looking for in the best home computers? Well that depends on what you’re going to be using it for, and how regularly you’ll be using it. If you’re just looking for something to browse social media, and do a little online shopping with, then a budget home computer will suit your needs perfectly. But if you’re wanting to play high-end video games, edit photos and movies, or learn to code then you’ll want something more powerful. 

You should also consider whether you want a Windows PC or an Apple Mac. Macs are usually the more stylish and fashionable options, but they’re also typically more expensive than equivalent PCs. They’re also exclusively made by Apple, whereas Windows PCs are made by a range of companies, so there is more choice and customization available with a PC. Some people tend to stick with the same ecosystem with all their technology, so if you have an iPhone it can make sense to get an Apple computer too. But you don’t have to do that: iPhones work just fine with Windows PCs, and Android smartphones pair up perfectly with Macs too. 

Once you decide on a budget, our best home computers guide will help you find the right computer for you. We’ve reviewed high-end gaming rigs, cheap desktop PCs, space-saving compact computers and everything in between. And don’t forget to pick up the extras that you’ll need to go with your computer. Unless you buy an all in one device like an iMac, you’re going to need a monitor, keyboard, and mouse at a minimum. Beyond that, you might want extras like a pair of speakers or an all in one printer. And if you need something portable, you can also check out our best laptops guide. 

Home computer explainer

Before we dive into the best home computer options, we wanted to give you more information on what each part of the PC actually is, and what it does, to keep you informed.

CPU
This stands for Central Processing Unit, and it’s essentially the brain of your PC. The better the processor, the quicker your PC operates, and the more demanding apps it can run. Right now there are two manufacturers that make CPUs - Intel and AMD - but the majority of PCs you’ll see use Intel. While we could go into loads of detail here, all you need to know is that Intel i3 chips are the slowest and cheapest, with i5, i7, and i9 increasing the power. Intel is currently on the 11th generation of its chips, and these are the newest and most efficient processors.

SSD and HDD
These are the methods of storage on a computer. SSD stands for Solid State Drive, and these are newer, faster drives for storing all your apps, documents, and for Windows / MacOS itself. HDDs (or Hard Disk Drives) are older, slower drives that perform the exact same function. They’re far cheaper, so you get more storage for your money. Storage is measured in GB (Gigabytes) and TB (Terabytes). 

RAM
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. All you really need to know about RAM is that it acts as the channel by which data flows between your apps and your computer’s processing chips (CPUs and graphics cards). So, the more RAM you have, the more capable your PC or Mac is at running multiple programs, and larger apps.

GPU
The GPU is your graphics processing unit, more commonly known as a graphics card. These are most commonly found in gaming PCs, or PCs designed to handle video and photo apps, and they are often the most expensive component inside a PC. If you plan to game, you really need one, and we’ll explain more at the bottom of this guide, as there’s a whole bunch to know. Just be aware that if your home computer doesn’t have a ‘dedicated graphics card’ it usually has on-board graphics, which use your CPU to power graphics needs, and this allows very basic gaming and video/photo editing.

That’s all you need to know for now. We’ll discuss the specifics of what you need for your usage in both the home computer text below, and at the end of this guide. You can jump right there if you need to, using the nav on this screen.

Best home computers 2021

1. Dell XPS desktop: Best home computer overall 

Best Home Computers: Dell XPS desktop PC

(Image credit: Dell)

Dell XPS desktops

These Windows powered premium PCs are good value, well supported, and powerful

OS: Windows | Build to order: Yes | Upgradable: Yes | Built-in screen: No

Powerful premium PCs
Excellent customer support
Whisper quiet running
Relatively expensive

We chose the Dell XPS desktop range as our best home computers for 2021 because the quality of what you get in each PC here is unbeatable. The XPS is Dell’s premium range of PCs, and all the components used inside each unit is top quality. These PCs are well built, stylish, very user-friendly, and they run whisper quiet almost all the time. What’s more, Dell’s customer support is first-class, and you get a year’s worth of free support, antivirus coverage, and a lifetime use of Windows 10. You can choose and configure your XPS desktop as you desire, and the price of each PC is fair for what you get. Not the cheapest, but great value considering the quality.

The XPS range uses Intel 10th and 11th-gen processors, and while you can get an i3 PC for cheap - the range starts at $649 - we recommend getting an i5 or i7 XPS, depending on your needs. If you want your PC for web browsing and running more basic applications, then an i5 is fine - we’d suggest this build, which has an i5 processor, 16GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD with a 1TB HDD, and an Nvidia 1650 GPU. This covers all bases, and you’ll usually get it for less than $1000.

If you want something more powerful, for video editing, gaming, and other more demanding tasks, this i7 model is perfect. You get an 11th-gen i7 chip, 16GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD and 1TB HDD, and an Nvidia 1660Ti graphics card for around $1400. If you’re working with 4K video, we suggest this model, with 32GB of RAM and an i9 processor.

All the Dell XPS PCs have a great range of fast connections, and come with WiFi6 built-in, so you can connect to a wireless router and get a strong signal. They’re excellent PCs.


2. Apple iMac (2021): Best Apple home computer 

Best Home Computers: Apple iMac 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple iMac (2021)

Much improved, more powerful, and more colorful - the new iMac is a beauty

OS: MacOS (Windows optional) | Build to order: No | Upgradable: No (although you choose colors) | Built-in screen: Yes

Absolutely beautiful, thin computer
Colourful and efficient
Not as expensive as older iMacs
But still expensive
Poor storage

The new Apple iMac is a bold step forward for Apple’s home computer range, which hasn’t been properly updated for years. Until now. What we love about the iMac is how stylish and compact it is - this is a thin all-in-one computer, and it’ll happily slot into any desk or home office space as it’s essentially the same size as a regular monitor. It’s only 11.5mm in depth. The downside is that you pay a lot for it, and you don’t get the same raw power as you would with a Windows PC. Macs are more efficient than PCs, but you’d still need to spend a lot to get an iMac capable of heavy video editing. Generally speaking, Macs are not gaming PCs either.

However, as a working computer, this is an exceptional machine. The new range is available at the end of May, and all these iMacs feature 24-inch screens and Apple’s new M1 processor. You’re looking at $1299 for the cheapest machine, with a 256GB SSD and regular keyboard and mouse thrown in, all the way up to $1699 for the top of the range iMac, which comes with 512GB of storage. You’ll find all three options here, and they’re available in a range of colors. 

In terms of style, you simply can’t beat the new iMacs. And while they’re not as powerful as many PCs, they do their work quietly and efficiently. Each one has wireless tech built-in, and a range of ports to plug in various devices. The screens themselves are 4.5K retinas, and look incredible, even if they’re a little smaller than some monitors. Our only real concern is the lack of storage space on the iMac itself - even 512GB isn’t that much, and you’ll quickly find yourself using iCloud and external hard drives to add more files and apps. 

Please note that the 2021 models are extremely new, so may be on preorder or backorder.


3. Dell Inspiron desktop: Best budget home computer 

Best Home Computers: Dell Inspiron 3880 desktop home computer

(Image credit: Dell)

Dell Inspiron desktop

Quality PC units and first-class tech support, on a budget

OS: Windows | Built to order: Yes | Upgradeable: Yes | Built-in screen: No

Affordable Dell quality
Easy to upgrade or modify
Great customer care
Not as cheap as some

Sometimes you just don’t want to spend $1000s on a new computer. That’s where Dell’s Inspiron range comes in - you still get the quality and customer service of a Dell product, but you’re paying less for a non-premium machine that will still do an excellent job at everyday tasks. Unlike the XPS desktops that top our guide, the Inspirons are better for simple internet browsing, word processing, and smaller apps that help you organize your everyday life. 

The Dell Inspiron range starts around $470, although deals are frequent, and for this you get an i3 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB HDD. For low-power users, this is all you really need, and while your PC won’t load Windows super fast, or run a load of apps at once, you’ll have a cheap, solid machine for basic tasks - all backed up with a year of Dell support and a free copy of Windows 10. 

If we were buying Inspiron, we think this build is incredible value. What you get here is an all-in-one PC, so no need to spend extra on a monitor or keyboard. It has an 11th-gen i5 processor, which is pretty damn quick, 8GB of RAM, and a combo storage drive with a 256GB SSD and a 1TB HDD, and a 27-inch Full HD screen. All for less than $930. That may not seem very budget, but you get all you need here for less than $1000, discounts are frequent, and your PC is actually pretty fast and versatile. 


5. Alienware Aurora R12: Best gaming home computer 

Best Home Computers: Alienware R12

(Image credit: Alienware)

Alienware R12 gaming desktop

For gaming, Alienware offers quality components, and powerful, stylish builds

OS: Windows | Built to order: Yes | Upgradeable: Yes | Built-in screen: No

Powerful gaming PCs
Very stylish
Uses good quality components
Just so expensive
Not as good as building your own

So you want a serious gaming machine? The Alienware series aren’t the cheapest and - if you know what you’re doing - they aren’t as good value as building a gaming PC yourself. However, If you want a powerful, stylish pre-built gaming PC, with premium components inside, the Alienware series is the best out there. While the quality of things like RAM and SSDs in regular home computers doesn’t matter all that much, the quality of a graphics card and all the extra components you need inside a gaming PC to keep it running efficiently very much do - and this is what you pay for with Alienware. Cheaper gaming PCs exist, but you lose out on the quality of what’s inside.

The Aurora R12 series starts with the rather pointless i5 / 8GB RAM / 1TB HDD / Nvidia 1650 Super build for $1100. That, frankly, isn’t a proper gaming PC. For solid Full HD gaming, you need to start with the R12 at $1929, which has 16GB RAM, an i7 K-series chip, and a proper 3060 Ti graphics card. You can dabble in 4K gaming with this, but the most demanding games will ask for even more power.

If you’re going Alienware, and you want a proper gaming spec, the R12 with an i9 processor, 32GB of 3200MHz RAM, a 1TB SSD and 1TB HDD, and an Nvidia 3080 graphics card is enough to crush any game at 4K. Boy do you pay for it, though, with a base cost of $3100. That’s before you add a gaming grade keyboard and mouse, which will add another $200, and a proper 4K gaming monitor that will likely be another $700+. Not much change out of $4000 here, then, but you are getting one of the most capable gaming devices around. Millionaire playboys can opt for the $5129 mega-machine, with an i9 KF-series processor, an Nvidia 3090 and a whopping 128GB of RAM, but that feels excessive. 


5. Mac Mini 2021: Best compact home computer

Best Home Computers: Mac mini

(Image credit: Apple)

Mac Mini (2021)

The power of an iMac in a pint-sized package

OS: MacOS (Windows optional) | Build to order: Yes | Upgradable: RAM only | Built-in screen: No

Tiny form factor
High spec possible
Poor graphics performance
Limited upgrade potential

Recently upgraded to include the new Apple M1 chip, 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 the new M1 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.


6. Acer Aspire TC: Another superb budget option

Best Home Computers: Acer Aspire TC desktop PC

(Image credit: Acer)

Acer Aspire TC desktop

If you want a cheap home computer, this is a superb option

OS: Windows | Build to order: No | Upgradable: No | Built-in screen: No

Well priced
Got everything you need
Older components
Limited range

We’re actually seriously impressed with how much computer you get for your money with Acer. While the support and customer care options can’t match Dell, and you’re getting older and lower quality components inside, you actually get more power for your buck than at any other home computer manufacturer. The Aspire TC series is at the heart of Acer’s value range, and we think you could do loads worse than one of these basic, but solid, desktops.

The range starts with the Intel i5 build, which comes with 8GB RAM and a 1TB HDD - more than enough for everyday use - and it starts at $479, which is a great price. If you’d rather have a super fast SSD inside your PC instead of a hard drive (and we’d recommend that, no matter what kind of user you are) then you can get the same spec but with a 512GB SSD for a few bucks more at $549. These desktops are often on sale too, so don’t be surprised if you buy it for less than $500. This is superb value for what you’re getting.

Acer has other desktop ranges, including the PS4-looking Veriton computers, but you’re paying more for the compact design here, and you’re getting less powerful PCs for your money. Stick with the Aspire sub-brand you’ll get a neat PC for less.


7. Alienware Ryzen Edition R10: Best budget gaming computer 

Best Home Computers: Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition R10

(Image credit: Dell)

Alienware Ryzen Edition R10

Want gaming power at a slightly lower price? Try the Ryzen Alienware range

OS: Windows | Build to order: Yes | Upgradable: Yes | Built-in screen: No

Hugely powerful
Multipurpose machine
Handsome design
Still expensive

Saving money on a gaming rig is, frankly, a challenge. You really do get what you pay for, so the more cash you sink into a gaming computer, the more power you get. However, if you’re willing to buy into the AMD brand of processors, which are actually equal to and better than Intel’s chips in some respects, you can shave a few hundred dollars off the price of your gaming PC. 

Ok, so as we’ve flagged this as our budget option, we’ll link you to the lowest spec of the AMD Aurora PC, which has a Ryzen 5 processor, an AMD Radeon RX5300 GPU, and 8GB RAM - that’s more power than the same Intel-based Alienware PC, and a slight saving at $1080, but it’s marginal. For what you get, it’s good value, but you’ll struggle to run 1080p games at higher settings. We’d recommend the mid-range Ryzen 7 5800 build, however, which has the 16GB of RAM you’ll need, a 512GB SSD for faster gaming loading, and a neat Nvidia 3060 Ti graphics card. That’s a powerful machine for $1820

You can go all the way up to a Ryzen 9 build, with an Nvidia 3080 graphics card, for $2769… which is good value, certainly. If you do decide to spend the extra, we thoroughly recommend adding an extra 16GB of RAM to future-proof your machine, and perhaps getting a second storage drive too, for mass storage, as the 1TB SSD it comes with will fill quickly if you’re running Windows, apps, and games from it.  


8. HP Pavilion: A great looking alternative 

Best Home Computers: HP Pavilion

(Image credit: HP Pavilion)

HP Pavilion desktop

A solid, if unremarkable desktop PC, which will still do a good job

OS: Windows | Build to order: No | Upgradeable: No | Built-in screen: No

Sometimes you just want a good PC, that looks ok, and does a job. While the HP Pavilion series doesn’t do any one thing better than any of its competitors, you’re still getting an excellent everyday work PC here, from a highly reputable manufacturer. If that sounds like faint praise, well, it is. However, we’ve assessed the HP Pavilion PCs and they are really good machines, so if you see a top deal on a Pavilion we’d absolutely recommend considering buying one. 

It has all the ports and connections you could possibly need, it looks good, and it runs relatively quietly too. You don’t get the same quality, new components as the Dell XPS series, but this keeps the cost down a little, for anyone who wants a decent spec workhorse PC but doesn’t want to pay Dell’s prices. The cheapest Pavilion is fantastic value, at $549, and you get a decent AMD processor, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB HDD / 256GB SSD PLUS a DVD writer thrown in. 

HP Pavilion has some decent all-in-ones across the range, but if you’re buying one of these we recommend buying above the basic spec, so you have room for your PC to age more gracefully. This i5 model, with a 24-inch screen, is pretty good value at $799, and is often on sale. You can get better specs, but we find stock really varies at HP itself, so you may struggle to find them. 

Home computer advice

Are the best home computers Windows or Mac? 

Well, there’s a question. As we mentioned above, it all comes down to personal preference. However, in terms of raw power and value for money, Windows PCs are the best. If you want to play games then, again, you definitely need a Windows PC. In terms of how much power you get for your money, then Windows PCs get you more grunt for your dollar.

If you’re more concerned about aesthetics and efficiency, then a Mac comes out on top. While iMacs and other Mac desktops don’t have the same raw power, they use their components more efficiently, which means apps that run on Macs have lower system requirements, generally. Macs look great, and they integrate well with other Apple devices like iPhones and iPads.

It used to be that Windows was a less stable, and more complicated operating system, but the playing field is now even between Mac and PC, with Windows 10 being the most elegant and easy Windows OS in several iterations. So, if you’re looking for simplicity and versatility, then it’s a tie here.

What about things like video editing and photo editing? Well, traditionally Apple has the edge here, as creative apps like the Adobe suite are designed to perform efficiently on Macs. That has, again, changed with Windows 10, but you need a better PC to run creative apps than the equivalent Mac. We’d say that the playing field is pretty even here, when you factor in cost. However, we’d also add that if you’re spending more money to run creative apps like the Adobe suite, you’ll actually get a more versatile Windows computer for the money, which means - for us - PCs just edge this battle.

It really is down to you, though. Apple is extremely popular, and you may love the elegance of the iMac and the fact that it is - undoubtedly - the best all-in-one computer you can buy. It’s easier to integrate other Apple devices and iCloud on a Mac too. For us, though, you can’t beat a well chosen Windows PC in terms of power and value. And if you pick carefully, you can get a great aesthetic too, and the ability to integrate far more easily with other devices.

:Best Home Computers: Apple iMac

(Image credit: Apple)

What spec of home computer do you need? 

Light user - So you just want to browse the internet, type out some emails, and maybe use a word processor? Heck, go wild, you fancy a spreadsheet or two. In this case, we recommend you save yourself some money and get either an Intel i3 or i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. That’s all you need. Given that you want simplicity, you could get an all-in-one PC, to save money on peripherals like a monitor and keyboard.

Work user - If you use your PC for work, and want to run several programs at once, and more demanding apps, then you need a beefier machine. We would strongly recommend an Intel i5 or i7 processor (11th-gen), with 16GB of RAM, and either a pure SSD or a combo SSD/HDD storage system. Why? Having an SSD means Windows will load much, much quicker (as will all your other apps), and your processor and RAM will allow you to switch quickly between multiple apps, as you do your work. It’s a very efficient solution, and shouldn’t break the bank too much.

Creative user - This all really depends on what you’re creating, but if you’re running Adobe Suite or equivalent… you need either an i7 Windows PC, with 16GB/32GB of RAM and a large SSD (512GB-1TB), or a newer iMac. You’ll be processing larger files, and using power-hungry apps, so your machine needs to be able to keep up. Don’t forget that you’ll probably need to add a 4K monitor to your cost too, and these start around $300.

Gamer - Sure, you can get by with a basic gaming spec, but because gaming machines are so expensive, and tend to age quicker than other types of computers, here’s what we suggest. Start with an i7 processor (11th-gen) or above, and get yourself an Nvidia 3060 Ti or above. You’ll need 16GB of RAM as a minimum, and we suggest at least a 1TB SSD. Sure, you can run games off an HDD, but having an SSD shaves a significant amount of time off loading.

Best Home Computers: Dell XPS desktop PC

(Image credit: Dell)

What extras do you need to buy?

If you get an All-in-One computer, like an iMac, you don't need any extras to get started, unless you're adding a compact printer to your home office set-up. However, if you're buying a desktop tower - like most of the PCs on our list - then you'll need extra equipment.

Monitor - Unless you plug your PC into the TV, which we don't recommend as a full time solution for anything other than it being a media center, you'll need a monitor. Most PC monitors start around 24-inches, and can go well past 32-inches. We think the sweet spot is a 27-inch monitor, for most home offices. Almost all monitors are Full HD ready now, so will display up to 1080p, which is fine for anything except higher demand tasks like video and photo editing, and high-end gaming. For these you may need either a higher-refresh monitor, or a 4K screen. Monitors start at just over $100, and run to... well, over $2000 for the mega gaming screens.

Keyboard - Yeah, you'll need a keyboard for your desktop too. Happily, you can get a wired keyboard and mouse combo for around $25, which is only a little extra on top of your PC purchase. Most manufacturers offer the chance to bundle a keyboard and mouse when you buy a desktop, so we suggest you just do that.

Mouse - As mentioned above, you'll also need a mouse, but they can be easily bundled with a keyboard at little extra expense when you buy. While you'll probably be fine with a wired keyboard, we do think it's worth paying a little extra for a wireless mouse, to eliminate the tangle of wires.

Cables - While most PCs come with all the cables you need, it's worth considering whether or not you need to plug anything else in. Some monitors include an HDMI, for example, but not all do. If you want to plug into your router for a wired connection you'll need an ethernet cable to do that.

Router - While almost all households have a router nowadays, it should be mentioned that you can't access the internet without one, so make sure you have a router when you buy your PC. We have a list of the best wireless routers if you need it, although most internet providers will bundle one with their subscription plans.

Webcam - While some All-in-One computers come with built-in webcams, and some monitors have them, you'll likely need a separate camera if you want to take part in video calls, or record yourself. Again, we have a guide to the best webcams, and they really aren't all that expensive.