Cheap PCs are now so powerful that unless you’re an avid gamer or edit videos in your spare time, they’re easily powerful enough for anything you can do with them.
With this in mind, you won’t go wrong if you just buy the Acer Aspire TC-895-UA91. You have to add a screen and any apps you might want to use, but otherwise it’s a solid deal that won’t break the bank.
Best Overall: Acer Aspire TC-895-UA91
Acer Aspire is not considered a powerful computer compared too many computers. But if you’re looking for a basic machine with enough power for everyday tasks and away from the couch, this is perfect.
This tower computer comes with everything except the screen. A few features stood out and put it high: it has an SSD (Solid State Drive, so it’s more like a giant USB stick with silicon memory and no spinning disk) than the old hard drive, so the system should be more responsive, and a DVD player/burner and plenty of ports for anything you want to hook up. It’s simple, straight forward, and affordable and gets the job done.
Best Dell: Dell Inspiron Desktop 3880
This Inspiron tower comes from one of Dell’s budget ranges and comes in a variety of configurations, so you can buy as long as your budget allows and then upgrade.
The basic configuration has a 1TB hard drive and is a traditional drive rather than the more modern (and much faster) SSD that uses silicon storage, much like a giant USB stick. You can add an SSD for a small price increase, but if you want to upgrade your computer, we recommend upgrading the processor first.
This tower also has many doors. You get eight USB-A ports, but sadly no USB-C ports, which most new peripherals use. This is definitely a major omission, but you also get an SD card reader, HDMI and VGA outputs, Ethernet and two audio outputs. All in all, it seems like a slightly outdated option.
Best Apple: Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020)
The technology world got pretty excited when Apple dumped Intel for its internal chips. Then the tech world got pretty excited when these chips, the M1, outperformed several available Intel chips.
If you’re not ready to use Windows yet, this Mac certainly won’t disappoint. Our reviewer Jeremy said the device handled all office tasks without overheating or running a fan. In fact, we are so excited about this machine that we will only tell you about the negatives.
You can’t upgrade it after purchase, it doesn’t have many ports, and it doesn’t come with a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. If you have these components from your old setup, this is a great machine at a great price. If you haven’t already bought those other parts, it will be more expensive (it’s a cheap car from Apple’s point of view, probably not yours). Again, this Mac mini handled everything that was launched, despite being in a rather modest box.
Best Chrome OS: Acer Chromebox CXI3
This computer is a bit hard to explain. It doesn’t run on Windows, macros, or even Linux. Instead, it uses Chromes, Google’s browser-based operating system. If you mainly live online (which, to be fair, most of us do), this machine will probably fit your needs. Chromes is also used by many schools, so this can be a good option if you have kids (also because they can show you how it works)
One spec we didn’t like was only 64GB of offline storage, so you should be comfortable storing all your data online rather than on a computer. However, Chromes makes this process almost invisible to the user, so you don’t have to worry about it.
At the top of our list are two options: the Acer Aspire if you’re in the Windows camp, and the new M1-based Mac mini (see on Best Buy) if you’re in the Mac camp. . Aspire has it all. You need to get started, but remember it’s not a gaming PC. The Mac mini is one of the fastest Macs we’ve used, but you’ll need to bring a keyboard, mouse, and monitor (which can add to the cost).
Learn about our trusted experts
Alan Bradley is Dot dash’s Senior Technical Editor and Dot dash’s Commercial Director. He joined the company in September 2019 and is a skilled technical and cultural writer / editor with a background in journalism and reportage.
Jason Schneider holds a bachelor’s degree in music and communication technology from Northeastern University. He has been writing for tech websites for nearly 10 years and brings more years of consumer electronics experience to the table.
Jeremy Laukkonen has been involved in consumer technology and gadgets for since 2019. He previously worked for an automotive blog, wrote for major trade publications, and co-founded a video game company.
How do you choose a desktop computer?
Budget is always an important consideration, but to get the most out of your spending when choosing the best desktop computer, you need to consider how you will primarily use it. In a home office, a competent CPU and sufficient storage should be a priority, while a gaming console needs a powerful discrete GPU and SSD storage to reduce the time it takes to load screens.
How often should you update your computer?
Unless new components are replaced regularly, most users believe a new desktop computer should last about five years before the hardware becomes obsolete. If you push this limit too far, you will find that your machine begins to struggle with increasingly demanding software, especially applications that tend to put more stress on computers, such as games.
How do desktop computers compare to laptops?
The main difference between desktop and laptop is the trade-off between performance and portability. A desktop almost always gives you better performance per dollar, while a laptop trades power for a compact body that you can easily take with you. While there are certainly laptops built around great hardware that can rival all but the most advanced desktops, they tend to be insanely expensive (and often approach the “muscle book” category, which undermines the portability of more powerful components).
What to look for in a cheap desktop computer under $ 500
Most PCs under $ 500 budget don’t come with a display, and adding even a small one can stretch the budget. All-in-one computers are an exception, as they are literally screens that contain all the necessary hardware.
Ports and connections
Manufacturers always choose cheap computers to save money. You might have a hard time finding a PC under $ 500 with USB-C ports, but there are plenty of options with multiple USB 3.1 ports, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and more.
The great thing about buying a cheap desktop is that you can upgrade most components later. If you want to install a graphics card, SSD, additional USB ports, or something else, look for a PC built into an ATX tower case. If you choose an all-in-one PC or mini PC, you will have more problems with the update.