Best home computers 2021: Desktop PCs and Macs

Best home computers 2021: Desktop PCs and Macs

Boot up our best home computers guide and find the perfect desktop computer for your home. Whether you’re looking for a gaming PC, a powerful desktop computer for working from home, or just a cheap home computer to browse the web and watch videos, we’ve got you covered. Buying a new computer can be tricky though – there are a lot of technical specs and jargon terms, and it’s easy to feel lost. We’ve broken our guide down to help you find the best home computer for your specific needs.

So, what do you need to think about when shopping for the best home computers? Operating system should be your first port of call – do you want a Windows PC or an Apple Mac? Windows computers tend to be great all rounders, and are definitely the best choice for gamers, while Macs are super stylish and have a ton of great software options for creatives. See our article for a full breakdown of the differences between them.

Once you’ve made that decision, you then need to consider how much you want to spend, and what you’ll be using your home computer for. If you just need something for browsing the web, online shopping, social media, and watching movies then a cheap PC or Mac will be perfect for you. If you’re going to be gaming, or doing resource intensive tasks like video editing though, you’ll want a more powerful, and more expensive computer. If you decide you need something lightweight and portable, check out our guide.

If you don’t need cutting edge technology, you can also find great deals on computers that are a year or two old. These devices will offer great performance, but without the just launched price tag. Keep an eye out for computers on sale, especially during events like Black Friday, which is fast approaching.

Finally, don’t forget all the extra stuff you’ll need to go with your computer. Unless you’re buying an all in one computer like an iMac, you’ll need to buy a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to go with it.

Home computer explainer

Here we explain what the various parts of your computer actually do, to help you make an informed decision when buying a new computer.

CPU stands for central processing unit, and this is basically the brain of a computer. It interprets and executes the instructions that your operating system and programs send it. A faster CPU will let you do more demanding tasks, and also lets your computer handle more tasks at one time.

There are two main CPU manufacturers – Intel and AMD. Intel chips are more common, but both make good hardware. Intel chips go up in number depending on power – I3, I5, I7, and I9. I3 is the weakest, and I9 is the strongest. Intel has recently released its 11th generation of processors, which are the fastest and most efficient CPUs so far.

RAM stands for random access memory. RAM is basically the channel between your CPU/GPU and your programs, letting data flow between them. Think of it like a highway that needs to handle traffic. If you don’t have enough RAM, you get a traffic jam and everything grinds to a halt. More RAM means you can run more programs at once, and more intensive programs like games.

GPU stands for graphics processing unit, though they’re often referred to as graphics cards. These are responsible for creating and rendering computer graphics, which means you absolutely need one if you’re going to be gaming or video editing. Some PCs come with on-board graphics (aka integrated graphics), which is a cheap, no-frills version of a GPU that can handle basic tasks. Onboard graphics are fine for casual users, but if your PC will be doing intensive graphics work, you need a good GPU.

These are the two different types of storage for your computer. SSD stands for solid state drive, while HDD stands for Hard Disc Drive. SSDs are faster than HDDs, but they’re also more expensive too. Storage is measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB). We’d recommend an SSD as your main drive to run your programs on, and then a secondary HDD storage drive to store things like photos, videos, and music.

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 

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

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 , 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 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 , 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 

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

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 , 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 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 

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

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 , 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 . 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. 

4. Alienware Aurora R12: Best gaming home computer 

Alienware R12 gaming desktop

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

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 , 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 . 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

Mac Mini (2021)

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

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

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

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 , 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 . 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. Origin PC – Best custom home computers 

Origin PC

Why buy a pre-made PC, when Origin PC can custom build one to your exact specification?

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

And now for something completely different. While most home computers come pre-built, and maybe have a few customization options, Origin PC is a website that lets you custom build your own desktop computer from scratch.

Origin PC has a broad range of components from loads of different manufacturers, so you should be able to build the perfect desktop PC, whatever your needs. The website’s primary focus is on building gaming PCs, but you can also build workstations that are ideal for professionals working from home.

What sets websites like Origin PC apart from the competition is the level of customization on offer. You can choose whether you want an Intel or AMD CPU, or how much RAM you need, or whether you want an Nvidia or AMD graphics card, or even if you want fancier options like water cooling.

With choice comes a certain requirement of knowledge though. You need to know a bit about computers if you’re going to be choosing your own spec to this level, and Origin doesn’t really do low end components – the cheapest PCs it sells are still over $1000, so these will be overkill for casual users.

8. Alienware Ryzen Edition R10: Best budget gaming computer 

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

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 , 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 . 

You can go all the way up to a Ryzen 9 build, with an Nvidia 3080 graphics card, … 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.  

9. Microsoft Surface Studio 2 – Best Windows all in one computer

Microsoft Surface Studio 2

If you want an all in one computer, but don’t want a Mac then the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is the way to go.

OS: Windows | Build to order?: No | Upgradeable: No (other than RAM and SSD) | Built-in screen?: Yes

The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is a few years old now, but it still has one of the best displays on the market – bask in the glory of this 28-inch 4,500 x 3,000 pixel screen. If you’re a creative person who is regularly doing digital design work who prefers Windows devices, then this is the best option out there for you.

The machine itself looks stunning too – you certainly won’t be embarrassed to have this beauty sat on your desk. The stand has a double hinge, letting you adjust between upright and shallow angles depending on what you’re doing

As we said though, the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is a few years old now and it shows in the components. The CPU is still a decent model, but you can easily get cheaper and faster options these days. It’s the same story with the GPUs that are available – they’re perfectly suited to running creative software, but they’re not top of the line anymore. With prices starting at $3,499, you’re paying a lot of money for that fancy screen, but what a screen it is.

10. HP Pavilion: A great looking alternative 

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, , 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 , 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? 

Now that’s the million dollar question. These days, it’s mainly a matter of personal preference. Both Windows 10 and MacOS are great operating systems. In terms of pure power, customization, and value for money, Windows PCs are generally better than Macs. Likewise, if you want a gaming PC you should really get a Windows PC as many games and platforms like Steam just work better on PC.

On the flip side of things, Macs are far generally more aesthetically pleasing and better optimized than Windows PCs. The MacOS is slick and looks great, and while Macs cost more than PCs for equivalent specs, they tend to get more out of their hardware than PCs because Macs are tailor made by Apple, rather than a collection of parts that a PC manufacturer threw together.

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.

Should I wait for Windows 11?  

Now everything is a bit up in the air at the moment when it comes to Windows, as Microsoft has just announced that Windows 11 is coming later this year. It will bring an overhauled design and a bunch of new features. Fortunately, Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for all Windows 10 owners, so there is no reason to hold off on buying a Windows 10 PC now.

Do keep in mind that not all PCs will be able to run Windows 11. Microsoft , along with a that will let you test whether your current PC can run Windows 11. If you’re buying a new PC in 2021, it will almost certainly blast past these minimum specs, so you’ve got nothing to worry about there.

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.

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. 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.

Printer – This isn’t a necessity, but a printer is a great addition to your home office set up. A good all in one printer will let you print, scan, and copy documents from the comfort of your own home – ideal when you’re working from home. If you’re short on space, you could get a compact printer, while photography buffs can benefit from a photo printer to make the most of your camera work.