•  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

When it comes to Windows desktop PC recommendations, it can seem like you’re walking a minefield when you navigate the market. With so many set-ups on offer each tailored towards very different uses, it is complicated from the get-go. Add to that the fact that most parts are interchangeable and the majority of PC users like to tweak their systems to their needs and crowning the best becomes much trickier. In fact, as far as gaming PC’s are concerned, the best on the market are generally premium, boutique, custom-builds. Perfect for the task sure, and the user experience is second to none but for many, they aren’t exactly an attainable gaming set-up goal. Given the infinite permutations narrowing down PC choice can be ridiculous.

The other thing to consider is that with many of us switching over to work from home as the result of curbing the curve of the pandemic our priorities and needs for our PC may have shifted. Chances are your budget may have also shrunk, from lack of work as well. 

As Lori Grunin mentions in her article over at cnet, these are essentially honorable mentions as consumer needs have changed this past year. She also recommends trying a cloud-gaming service (like Stadia or GeForce Now) if your budget has plummetted. Or maybe a desktop-as-a-service like Shadow if you have a good network connection.

With these things in mind, the PCs we have rounded-up are not heavenly set-ups for hardcore gamers but more of a selection of realistic workhorses that will let you both work and play.

So full disclosure you won’t be seeing any glorious custom builds from the likes of Origin PC, Digital Storm, or Maingear but rather some ballpark configurations that have enough of the latest tech to guarantee their specs will get the job done. That said, we will take a good look at their features and give you a good reason as to why we included them in our write-up.

What are your options?

Before we showcase our 6 selections for you it is worth going over a few things to consider. If you are a real power-player you might want to consider building something yourself. If you aren’t DIY shy then you can save a little money over a pre-built system and have the bells and whistles you specifically want whilst doing away with anything unnecessary. It can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start but if motherboard, graphics cards, and cooling systems are in your vocabulary and you have dabbled with adding components to your original pre-built tower then it might be a better option for you.

It is certainly cheaper than buying a premium custom-built model from some of the companies we mentioned in our intro. But then again you are paying for somebody else to have gotten the math down to a T. If you opt for DIY you are left to think about the overclocking iterations and stability testing. The User Benchmark site is pretty invaluable for helping you work out the features, and performance of different components and set-ups. 

If building your own gaming-haven is out of the question, then your only real decision boils down to ‘laptop or PC?’. This used to be a question that required very little thought. But gaming laptops with desktop-class CPUs and GPUs are starting to compete with their non-portable counterparts. Laptops like the Acer Predator Helios 700, Alienware Area-51m, and Gigabyte Aorus 17X are matching desktop-level performance and have decent-sized 17-inch screens. But, they bring extra conveniences with them. So a laptop is worth considering.

Other Consideration

Sometimes in the interest of a better gaming experience for your money, you are inevitably forced to make one or two trade-offs. The key components for a gaming PC being the processor (CPU), graphics processor (GPU), memory (RAM), and storage because these are the arts your gameplay will tax. The resource usage is not consistent either each game demands in a different way. The optimization on a first-person shooter versus that of a platformer is very different and can fluctuate throughout gameplay. Within the consumer electronics world, they are pretty unpredictable and as Lori put it in her article they are like angry toddlers “Just when you think they’re under control, they veer off into crazy-town.”

So to narrow your configuration options down there are a few things you need to think about:

  • The GPU is a key ingredient for a dedicated gaming system. So where possible it shouldn’t be scrimped upon. At present, some of the best on the market for you are an AMD Radeon or Nvidia GeForce graphics card. This is a trade-off you should try to steer clear of. Avoid dirt-cheap configurations. Some PCs are being fitted with iGPUs but an integrated GPU is not the best. However in a pinch, if you can find one with sufficient slot space that also has a power supply for a GPU upgrade then you could sacrifice now and improve it later.  You might be wondering about hooking up an external GPU to an inadequate pre-build. But the reality is not many desktops are sporting a Thunderbolt 3 port yet so an eGPU is probably not a viable option either. That said Intel recently announced its 11th-gen desktop chips will have support for Thunderbolt 4 so it may become more tangible, Who knows?
  • When it comes to the CPU buy the most current you can get your hands on. This may sound like an over-simplified cop-out or a ploy to get your hard-earned cash but it isn’t. The newest gen CPUs are always better, even if the speeds aren’t a huge step-up on paper each new iteration benefits from efficiency upgrades. The performance will always have improved. Take the latest generation of Intel processors, they have the hyperthreading that Intel previously gutted from their ninth-gen parts. This allows them to sustain higher speeds for a longer duration they also incorporate better heat dissipation to assist with it. You can work out which generation you have by consulting the first digit of the CPU model name. In this case, that means the 10th generation for Intel Core i7-10700K is the 7th gen and so on. If money is tight you can go down a class but make sure you are still looking at 4-core options. It is better to have the newest gen of a lower class model than an older gen higher-class model.
  • Google individual game performance affects your processor and GPU cycles isn’t the best way to decide things. Instead, ask whether they utilize 4K resolution effectively or do you just get a dropped frame rate and graphics that match HD quality.  Are the frame-rate penalties offset by better world complexity and higher-core-count processing? Make sure the rewards outweigh the caveats.
  • But on the subject of frame rates; Don’t get too caught up with benchmark numbers and game genre data. You want at least 60fps to 240fps for smooth gameplay, sure higher would be better but don’t sweat over it if your budget is tight. 
  • The jury is still out on dual GPUs, unless you are playing games that genuinely take advantage of the higher fps then again you can afford to trade-off. If you are building your own rig then by all means go for it if the budget allows.
  • At the end of the day, you don’t get a lot of choice on comparable configurations. Unless you build it yourself you can’t mix and match Intel and AMD parts. Both, fortunately, make great CPUs so it’s best to pick your preferred graphics card first and then look at CPU options based on your remaining budget. For the record, AMDs are a little slower overall with higher base clocks and lower boost clocks but their multicore performance better if you compare it to a similarly priced Intel option. They also all (well almost all) support overclocking whereas only Intel’s K series does.
  • Think about how much tech support you require. Are you happy to find a solution browsing online or do you need humans on demand for chat support? Usually, big manufacturers encourage the user-to-user forums where people can get some troubleshooting help and research the knowledge-bases. Yet, with boutique builders it’s different. Because you’re paying a premium for more personal human help and because the configurations are highly customized you will most likely get personalized support.
  • If you are interested in streaming gameplay, a Corsair or Origin PC could be the right choice for you. Corsair actually owns both companies now in addition to Elgato. Almost all of their set-ups come with an Elgato capture card making streaming in an instant an absolute doddle.
  • As far as the power supply is concerned, you should only be concerned with the space in the case and the cooling system. If you have any intentions of upgrading the graphics card in the future then it is significant. The majority of starter style systems have a 500-watt power supply unit. High-end cards usually need a lot more juice. Likewise, a smaller case will unlikely fit future cooling systems and longer cards. So it is important to think about future-proofing too.

PC Recommendations

Best cheap

HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop

HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop
HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop. Image credit: bestbuy.com

One of the most budget-friendly models to consider is HP’s Pavilion Gaming Desktop. It has a neat, bare-bones design and a compact size that isn’t going to take up a lot of space. It provides just about the minimum requirements to play most games with your setting s tweaked. You can play at 1080p without hindrance. It has an Intel Core i5-10400, which is an older class but current-gen and efficient enough. The graphics card is a GeForce 1650 again a little dated but will suffice. There are 8GB of RAM as sta and a 256GB SSD. Those are the typical specs you’ll get for the money, but if you don’t mind spending more, bump up to 16GB RAM and a bigger SSD. 

SEE AT HP

Best compact

Corsair One Pro i200

Corsair One Pro i200
Corsair One Pro i200. Image credit: in.pcmag.com

The Pro i200  is another compact option. It is powered by the latest 10th gen Intel X-Series processors. but it is still pretty expensive. The graphics are handled by an Nvidia GeForce RTX card. If the price tag is too high you might consider the Corsair One i164, essentially the gaming analog of the i200. It has a k-series chip rather than an x-series one that makes it a little cheaper and a GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics card. Even the entry-level model has pretty impressive specs. They are particularly well suited for VR gaming with front-mounted HDMI and USB ports.

$4,500 AT CORSAIR

SEE CORSAIR ONE I145

Best design

Maingear Turbo

Maingear Turbo
Maingear Turbo. Image credit: windowscentral.com

If you spend a lot of time gaming and need efficient, high-res performance then Maingear’s Turbo set-up is pretty appealing. It is not a compact option, it is a little bigger than an X-box Series X console but still comes in smaller than a typical mid-tower desktop. It runs cool and quiet at 4K efficiently bolstered by its stunning Apex liquid-cooling system. It is equipped with one of AMD’s new flagship 5000 Series processors; and AMD Ryzen 5950X and has an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card to boot. However to get the flashier components and the high-speeds will set you back the entry-level version is just a middle of the road 1080p system.

$1,499 AT MAINGEAR

Best for customizing

Falcon Northwest Talon

Falcon Northwest Talon
Falcon Northwest Talon. Image credit: digitaltrends.com

If you are a flashy gamer who enjoys the aesthetics of your kit as much as the gameplay Falcon Northwest’s 2020 mid-tower is a great option. You get access to a tonne of configuration options and eye-catching paint-jobs. It gives you much more choice overall on what you want. The tower is a 38 liter and is the newest iteration of Falcon’s Talon case. You can choose a 16core Ryzen Zen CPU or a 64-core Threadripper among others and pick and choose your RAM and storage. Of course, configuring what you want is budget dependent but the quality is top-notch. Lori recently reviewed one had only praise for it saying; “The configuration I tested was fast and stable. It’s not cheap, but it should last you a long time.” 

SEE AT FNW

Best streamlined

MSI MEG Trident X

MSI MEG Trident X
MSI MEG Trident X. Image credit: ixbt.com

If space is a concern then you might be swayed by the slim-fit chassis of the Trident X.It has a powerful processor and an ‘I am a gamer’ design Lights and all. The graphics card has recently been bumped up and there’s plenty of internal storage. While the RTX 20-series models have been discontinued, the RTX 30-series are in preorder. The prices start at about $2,300 with a 10th-gen Core i7, 32GB RAM, an RTX 3070, and a 1TB SSD. 

SEE AT B&H

Best make-do model

HP Envy 32 All-in-One

HP Envy 32 All-in-One
HP Envy 32 All-in-One. Image credit: pcmag.com

Although it probably isn’t the best gaming-centric option we give the HP Envy series a special mention. They are an all-in-one integrated display option that is space-saving and for a smaller bedroom set-up that could be a huge factor. The biggest drawback is the display has a fixed refresh rate, far from ideal. That said they sport an RTX card and if you play less demanding games you will still be all set. The model that has been tested was the RTX 2060 configuration; and its pricing starts at about $1,700 with a GTX 1650.

$1,700 AT HP

$1,700 AT WALMART

$1,900 AT HP

0
0