Slice

Need a new desktop PC for home theater, home office, or small office use, but don't know where to start? No problem - you've come to the right place! This guide profiles ten of the very best off-the-shelf PCs on the market, and we're positive you'll find a system in this guide that will work for you! For the Spring 2017 edition of this guide, our picks start at under $400 and go all the way up to $2,000, and include basic family and home office PCs, ultra-compact small office and home theater PCs, and seriously-powerful gaming PCs.

Now, a few words on the components that really make a difference to the average user. First, you have the CPU, which most consumers are at least a little familiar with by now. Intel has five main processor lines: Celeron, Pentium, Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7, from slowest to fastest. We recommend at least the Core i3 for most users, which means you'll be getting two processing cores plus Hyperthreading, which provides virtual cores for multi-tasking. With the Core i5 you step up to four real cores, which is a much more future-proof design, and the Core i7 features four real cores plus an equal number of virtual cores for extreme multi-tasking. There are a few Intel Pentium processors that we think pass muster, but the ones you'll find in pre-built PCs aren't the good ones, so we suggest you skip them.

Secondly, we come to the solid-state drive. We think just about every user should have an SSD in their PC at this point to improve boot up speed and system responsiveness, but PC manufacturers have been very slow to embrace the technology, in part because consumers have been trained to look for big numbers. For example, a 500GB hard drive is better than a 250GB solid-state drive, right? Wrong! Until vendors start to trust that consumers actually know how to value solid-state drives, you have to do a lot of combing through component lists to pick out the winners. We've done that for you here, although there are still a few systems that depend on a hard drive where other factors, like price or storage capacity may trump the need for an SSD.

One last note: it's unfortunately become pretty clear that all the major manufacturers have pulled out of the low-cost, ultra-compact PC business. In past years, models like the Acer Revo, Asus VivoPC, and HP Stream Desktop offered excellent features in a tiny form factor, often for less than $400. All have been discontinued or languish on virtual store shelves years after release. Alas, we have a feeling the margins on these systems were just too thin, especially given the substantial increase in the prices of RAM and solid-state drives over the past year. We also have a hunch that Microsoft's discounted OEM Windows program for low-cost PCs has come to an end. Hopefully, Acer, Asus, HP, and the rest of the big OEMs will re-enter this market eventually, but for now, you'll only find ultra-compact PCs at $500 and up. One of the best examples is the HP Elite Slice shown above.

And just a plug here for our Do-It-Yourself PC Build Guides - if you have any technical inclination whatsoever, you should really consider building your own PC. It's very rewarding, and you'll get to choose exactly the components you want (starting with a big SSD, of course!). That being said, a few of the specialized pre-built systems in this guide would be impossible to put together on your own, given their innovative, custom-designed exteriors.

One last note: because Amazon no longer stocks all that many desktop PCs, we've switched the vendor for most of the PCs in this guide to B&H Photo Video, which offers great service and free shipping, just like Amazon.

Desktops - Spring 2017

    The Basic Office Desktop:

    Lenovo Ideacentre 300

    Equipped with Intel's Core i3-6100 dual-core processor, 8GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive, this is a great entry-level PC. It offers six USB ports (two in front, four in back), HDMI video out along with the older VGA analog standard, as well as a built-in DVD burner and memory card reader.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is about as cheap a PC as you'll find from a major manufacturer that includes an Intel Core processor.

    The Perfect Family PC:

    Acer Aspire Desktop TC-780-AMZKi5

    Equipped with a powerful Intel Core i5-7400 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 2TB hard drive, this PC is perfect for the whole family to use. It's even well-equipped for photo work, with its built-in DVD burner and SD memory card reader.

    The Guru's Tip:

    While we typically recommend solid-state drives due to their increased responsiveness, it can be difficult managing their smaller size when everyone in the house is loading them up with files, games, photos, etc. So we think the tradeoff offered by a traditional hard drive is reasonable here.

    The Home Office Desktop:

    Lenovo M700 Tiny

    Packing lots of productivity power into a tiny chassis, the appropriately named M700 Tiny from Lenovo will make any home office look good! It features a potent Intel Core i3-6100T dual-core CPU, 8GB of memory, and the all-important 128GB solid-state drive for fantastic responsiveness. It even has built-in 802.11ac networking and Bluetooth connectivity. Note that while it does not have HDMI ports, it has two DisplayPort outputs, which are the most capable digital video connection available, and a simple adapter cable will allow connection to HDMI-only monitors.

    The Guru's Tip:

    The system comes pre-loaded with Windows 7 but also includes a Windows 10 Pro license.

    The Ultra-Slim Business PC:

    HP Elite Slice

    HP's new ultra-compact Elite Slice is the ultimate streamlined business PC solution. Simply put, if you are equipping a next-gen workstation, whether at home or in an office, skip the clunky towers and go for the Slice! Equipped with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-6500T 35W quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a big 256GB solid-state drive, along with HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, this is all you'll ever need from a workstation for many years to come. It also includes two USB 3.0 and two USB 3.1 Type-C connectors, along with "Slice" add-on components like an optical drive, an audio drive, and a wireless charging cover, making it truly future-proof!

    The Guru's Tip:

    We believe that this form factor will become the norm in business desktop computing within the next 2-3 years. There's simply no reason for offices to be outfitting their workstations with desktop towers given the state of today's PC technology.

    The Touchscreen All-in-One:

    Lenovo 23" Ideacentre 510S

    This sleek model from Lenovo could seriously be the last home PC you ever buy. It features a high-quality 23" 1920 x 1080 touchscreen for an amazingly-interactive computing experience, and is powered by a fast and efficient Intel Core i7-6500U 2.5GHz dual-core laptop processor with TurboBoost to 3.1GHz to make short work of just about any project. Also onboard are 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive with 8GB of solid-state cache, and an external DVD burner. It even has built-in 802.11ac wireless networking.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Lenovo even includes a wireless keyboard and mouse set with this AIO!

    The Small Business Desktop:

    HP EliteDesk 800 G2 Micro PC

    If you need a lot of processing power for serious business applications along with a compact design, the EliteDesk 800 G2 from HP is the system for you. It features an Intel Core i7-6700 quad-core processor with Hyperthreading, which boosts speed tremendously in applications like spreadsheets and photo/video processing. The system also includes 8GB of RAM (expandable to 64GB!), a 256GB solid-state drive for great responsiveness, and Windows 10 Pro pre-installed.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Packing in a total of 10 USB ports, along with dual DisplayPort outputs for high-resolution monitors, this has plenty of connectivity options.

    The Home Theater Gaming PC:

    MSI Trident 3 VR7RC-018US

    While MSI is marketing this as a gaming PC, given its small size, we think its ideal use is as a high-powered slimline home theater PC! Equipped with a Core i7-7700 quad-core processor with Hyperthreading, a GTX 1060 3GB video card, a 128GB solid-state drive and a 1TB hard drive, it's the perfect machine to use as a media player, game console replacement, or even a standard desktop PC.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This is as small as any PC could possibly be and still use desktop-class components. MSI has done some serious engineering work here!

    The Ultra-Compact Gamer:

    Zotac ZBOX-EN1070

    This model from Zotac is a high-powered gaming machine packed into a mind-blowingly small case. At just 8" by 8" by 2.5", this system is simply tiny! And yet you still get a fast Intel Core i5-6400T quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive plus 120GB solid-state drive, along with the potent Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 video card. It even has ultra-fast 802.11ac wireless networking built in. Note that some ZBOX models are "barebones" and don't include RAM, a hard drive, or Windows, but this version is ready to go out of the box!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Zotac is marketing this system for virtual reality, and with a GTX 1070 inside, it's more than powerful enough to run both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive VR headsets! Note that this system uses the mobile version of the GTX 1070, which is how Zotac was able to make this system so small, but it's nearly as powerful as the regular desktop version.

    The High-End Gaming PC:

    CyberpowerPC Gamer Supreme SLC8420

    The SLC8420 from CyberpowerPC packs in all the latest components, including an Intel Core i7-7700K 4.2GHz quad-core processor (with liquid cooling!), an ultra-fast GeForce GTX 1070 8GB video card, 16GB of RAM, a 128GB solid-state drive, and a 2TB hard drive. This thing is the real deal!

    The Guru's Tip:

    This system is similar to our $1,500 High-End Gaming PC Build, but it's ready out of the box, and you even get a 1-year warranty.

    The Premium Gaming PC:

    CyberpowerPC Gamer Supreme SLC9920

    Goodness gracious, great balls of fire! This is a monstrous gaming PC! You get a liquid-cooled Intel Core i7-7700K quad-core CPU, 16GB of memory, and a 240GB SSD along with a 2TB hard drive. Oh, and did we mention the seriously-high-end GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB video card, the fastest GPU ever?!?

    The Guru's Tip:

    With a 1-year warranty and free lifetime tech support, this system is perfect for anyone who wants the ultimate gaming experience but isn't quite ready to build their own PC!