Though you can find budget AIOs with basic feature sets, lower resolutions, and non-touch screens, many new models offer touch-enabled screens, and some AIO panels have exceptionally high native resolutions of 4K 3, by 2, pixels or even 5K 5, by 2, pixels. Touch displays make them excellent choices for watching movies or serving as a multimedia hub in the kitchen or other public area of your home, though the very highest resolutions target content creators rather than consumers. With a few exceptions for business-oriented models, you will give up a lot of room for expansion in an AIO versus traditional desktop tower.
Cracking open an AIO for an upgrade or fix, while not impossible, is a bigger deal than opening the side of a desktop tower. Apple's late-model iMacs are particularly difficult to open. One of the main benefits of a desktop tower is that it will use a desktop-grade CPU. That may sound obvious, but it's a key distinction.
AMD and Intel, the two biggest makers of processors for PCs, offer desktop-class chips and laptop-class chips to system manufacturers, but often the CPU model names are similar and tricky to tell apart. For example, you will see Intel's Core i7 in both laptops and desktops, but having a "true" desktop CPU versus one made for a mobile device makes a big performance difference.
A desktop CPU gives you more power for complex content-creation work, PC gaming, or math and scientific projects. Faster processors with four, six, eight, or even as many as 18 cores will benefit software written to take advantage of the extra cores.
The desktop version of a given CPU will consume more power and generate more heat than versions designed for laptops, which must be incorporated into environments that have less thermal and power-delivery leeway. A desktop CPU also has greater wiggle room to incorporate a key feature, multithreading, that allows each of the CPU's cores to address two processing threads at a time instead of just one.
Multithreading which Intel calls "Hyper-Threading" can deliver a major performance boost when engaged with suitably equipped software. The very highest-end desktop chips may require liquid cooling systems, which limits their use to high-end towers with lots of interior space. These are not casual purchases. Intel typically labels these mobile-first chip designs with a CPU name containing "U," "Y," or "H" and now in , "P" for some new Core chips ; most desktop chips instead have a "T" or a "K," or just a zero at the end.
A mobile CPU might have the same number of processor cores as its desktop counterpart four- and six-core chips are common in both , but its maximum power consumption will often be far lower. Also, the typical base and boost clock speeds may be lower, and the chip may not support multithreading. That said, many desktop PC buyers will be fine with these lower-powered CPUs for everyday work, and a little more.
If CPU power is critically important, though, these should suffice. The Core i9, Ryzen 9, Ryzen Threadripper, and Core X-Series are worthwhile only if you know your workflow is being held back by too few cores or threads, or you have extreme needs in terms of internal storage for which the Threadripper and Core X can help with internal resources. Again, see our deep-dive on desktop CPUs to understand the nuances of these higher-end choices.
All computers have a CPU, but most laptops and many cheaper desktops don't have a dedicated graphics processor, or GPU. Instead, their display output comes from a portion of the CPU, a slice of silicon known as an integrated graphics processor IGP. An IGP is fine for basic tasks, such as checking your email, browsing the web, or even streaming videos.
Doing productivity work on an IGP is completely within bounds. Indeed, most business desktops rely on IGPs. That said, an IGP is not the answer for anyone who wants to run intensive 3D games, render architectural simulations, or perhaps train an artificial intelligence algorithm. These situations—especially games, but often pro-grade apps, too—can benefit from more muscular graphics.
Times like these call for a graphics card , which will bring its own GPU to the game, and the most powerful of these are found in desktop PCs. Choosing a graphics card is a complex affair. Gamers should consider the capabilities of their monitor first. A 4K monitor or one with a high refresh rate Hz or greater will require a very powerful GPU or occasionally even two GPUs to display games at the monitor's maximum potential. If you're just looking to do some middle-of-the-road gaming on a p monitor and not looking to win any professional esports crowns , a mainstream card like those in Nvidia's GeForce GTX series will do just fine.
Meanwhile, creative professionals and other power users should consider the graphics-acceleration recommendations of the apps they plan to run, using the software maker's system requirements as a guide.
Check out our deep-dive guide to graphics cards for much, much more on the nuances of today's video cards. While powerful CPUs and GPUs are mostly relegated to desktop towers, nearly every desktop form factor can handle copious amounts of storage and memory. This is thanks to the advent of higher-capacity memory modules and especially solid-state drives SSDs. The latter take up vastly less space than the spinning hard drives of old. It's still possible to find desktops with only spinning hard drives, but we recommend avoiding these and choosing an SSD as the main boot drive whenever possible.
Some desktops feature a single-drive combination of an SSD and a hard drive. A "true" SSD is really the only way to go as a boot drive today, though, considering how far prices have dropped in the last couple of years. Anyone with large media and game collections will want to consider several terabytes of storage across multiple drives. Consider choosing a fast SSD as the boot drive, and one or more large-capacity but slower hard drives for bulk storage of capacity-sapping video or games.
A combination of two or more 2. You'll also want to ensure your desktop has at least one M. In most new systems, the boot drive will come as an M. These drives are very small, the size and thickness of a stick of gum. Memory capacities of 8GB or 16GB are fine for most users, and these are the most common configurations on entry-level or midrange desktops of all forms and sizes.
Few people will see much benefit from memory amounts above 16GB, but there are exceptions. Gaming PCs above the budget level should have at least 16GB of RAM, and 32GB is a prudent upgrade for esports hounds who want to play and simultaneously edit and stream in-game footage. Finally, assuming your professional software can address higher memory amounts, professional workstations should have at least 32GB of memory with error-correcting code ECC capabilities to keep everything running smoothly.
You'll want to follow the guidance of the software maker, in that case. You might be able to excuse a relative lack of input and output ports on a sleek AIO. The screen and speakers are built in, and you'll likely use a wireless keyboard and mouse, anyway. But mini PCs and desktop towers need the right selection of ports. At a minimum, they'll have to connect to a display, speakers or headphones, and a power source.
Make sure the machine's video outputs are compatible with your display and its cabling. Larger tower PCs will have many more ports, offering support for pretty much any peripheral you need to connect. Expect six or more USB ports, for starters.
Note that a tower with a graphics card may also have video outputs that stem from the motherboard, but you should only use the video outputs on the GPU. Many towers will also have multiple audio ports, including possibly an optical output and ports for individual speaker channels in a surround-sound setup.
Make sure that these match up with any gear you may have; the number of surround-sound jacks can vary depending on the PC and its motherboard. Note that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, while reliably present on even the cheapest laptops and many smaller desktops, is not a given on larger towers. The throwback-style ports are there for people who still need to use them with older, specialized hardware such as point-of-sale scanners or industrial equipment. Of course, you can buy dongles and adapters for these special port needs, but the possibility of having them built in is a key benefit of choosing a desktop over a laptop.
When evaluating a desktop, beyond looking at what ports are present, also evaluate where they are. Are they easily accessible? Towers tend to have a few commonly used ports on the top or front usually a headphone jack and few USB ports. Some AIOs, in contrast, have some of their key ports hidden behind the stand, in hard-to-reach places.
Some buying concerns, no less crucial than the ones above, apply only to certain types of desktops. Deciding on a screen size and type is critical for AIO shoppers, for instance. A touch-enabled display with support for in-plane switching IPS to widen viewing angles is nice to have for an AIO that serves as the family's calendar or photo album, but know that touch support is not currently available on Apple's iMacs.
Give some deep thought to the screen resolution, whatever the panel size. A 4K or even 5K resolution makes for a breathtaking screen, especially one that's 27 inches or larger, but such resolutions often add significantly to the price. As a result, you may want to settle for a screen with a full HD or p 1,by-1,pixel native resolution and spend money to upgrade other components instead. Some AIOs, like the Microsoft Surface Studio line, have extraordinarily adjustable stands; in the case of the Studio, you can recline it nearly flat on the tabletop, for work with fingertip touch input or a stylus pen.
Also look for multiple cameras, one facing the rear, that could make an AIO a good choice, say, for an ID-card printing station. Fan noise is also a consideration with AIOs, since their computing components will be on your desk instead of hidden underneath it.
Desktop towers have many of their own idiosyncrasies. Enthusiasts who like to tinker with components but aren't interested in building their own PCs from scratch will need to pay special attention to the number and type of expansion bays and how easy it is to access power and data cables. They should also check the maximum wattage rating of the power supply unit PSU and whether or not the case has the clearance for bigger coolers or the mounting points for liquid cooling gear , if they might plan to add a more powerful CPU later on.
A low-wattage PSU, such as a watt model used in a desktop with integrated graphics, might preclude adding a graphics card later on without upgrading the PSU, too. Note also, that some very inexpensive desktop PCs use low-wattage, custom-design PSUs that can't support a graphics card and also aren't easy to upgrade, due to their use of nonstandard connectors on the motherboard side.
Again, this is where a careful reading of reviews comes in. Desktop towers and mini PCs also require separate speakers or headphones to deliver audio. For people who don't care as much about audio quality and just want loud enough audio to hear family members on the other end of a Skype call, the built-in speakers of an AIO should work just fine.
For most people in the market for an inexpensive desktop tower, there's no single best time to buy. While traditional sale holidays such as Black Friday can net you the odd bargain, when you find a system whose features, price, and performance match what you're looking for, take it home.
That said, people who need copious amounts of CPU or GPU muscle and who have a clear idea of what hardware moves the performance needle with the apps they use should pay attention to PC-component release cycles. Traditionally, Intel has announced new desktop CPU generations once a year, with the new chips showing up in PCs in the fall or early in the holiday shopping period.
This has shown more variance in recent years. New graphics-card releases are less frequent and depend on the vagaries of technical advances—Nvidia's highly successful GeForce GTX series, for example, was the cutting edge for several years before the first GeForce RTX cards were announced. Keeping track of PC-component release cycles helps you become aware of what's new before you buy, and also what is going off-market.
For shoppers seeking maximum value or on a tight budget, getting a desktop based on a discounted last-generation but still powerful CPU or GPU can be the way to go. Shoppers looking for an all-in-one PC, meanwhile, should pay attention to announcements from Apple and Microsoft. Many other manufacturers end up copying—and, sometimes, improving upon—the field-leading designs of the Apple iMac and the Microsoft Surface Studio.
Still, if the desktop comes with peripherals included, it can be helpful to type a few lines and move the mouse around in the store. And setting eyes on an all-in-one desktop is more crucial than with a typical tower desktop or mini PC. In fact, some configurations can be exclusive to a single reseller, such as Best Buy, Costco, or Walmart. Other merchants, such as Micro Center, frequently have in-store-only deals that aren't available anywhere online.
This is where return policies come in handy. If you find a desktop with your ideal specifications online but can't audition it locally, a seller with a liberal return policy is your best friend. Just make sure you've got adequate time to return it, if it ends up not working out.
Most desktop makers offer one-year warranties on parts and labor, with extensions available for as many as five years at an additional charge. Before you pay to extend the warranty, though, check your credit-card account benefits guide—your issuer might cover mishaps for a short period of time after you buy a new product, and possibly extend the manufacturer's warranty, too. Many MasterCard accounts include a doubling of the standard warranty period, up to one year, for example.
They can be excellent values in certain circumstances. Large corporations lease fleets of desktops for a few years at a time, after which third parties refurbish them and offer them for resale on eBay, as well as via retailers such as Best Buy, Newegg, and TigerDirect. To find them, search or filter the product category pages for "off-lease" or refurbished systems. However, it doesn't have the longest battery life for a laptop, and the ScreenPad, which replaces the traditional touchpad below the keyboard with a touchscreen, takes a bit of getting used to, in our experience.
Read the full review: Asus VivoBook S There are certain things you can look out for when buying a new laptop in that can ensure you get the best laptop for your money. Make sure you take a look at the specifications of a laptop before buying. First of all is the processor. This is essentially the brain of the laptop, and a laptop will usually have a processor also known as a CPU made by either Intel or AMD.
As a general rule of thumb, Intel processors offer better performance, but AMD processors are better value. To make things more simple, both Intel and AMD have numbered their processors to give you a rough idea of what sort of tasks a laptop with that processor can perform. The best laptops for media creation, and more complex tasks, come with an Intel Core i7 or Core i9 processor, or an AMD Ryzen 7 processor. Laptops with these processors in them are top-of-the-range laptops that will provide brilliant performance no matter what you want to do — but be warned that they are often found in the most expensive laptops.
Finally, keep an eye on how new the processor is. Intel handily gives its processors generations, so the higher the generation, the newer it is. The latest generation is the 10th generation, though 9th generation Intel Core processors are also pretty recent. A newer processor performs better and is more power efficient — so battery life will last longer. They are more expensive, though. For example, Apple make brilliantly-designed slim and light laptops, while Dell does a great range of high-end ultrabooks, as well as affordable devices and Chromebooks as well.
That will ensure that the laptop runs well for years to come. This is likely to be one of the most important considerations you have when choosing what laptop to buy. The best laptops need to be able to let you work - and play - for hours on end without you having to scramble for a power adapter.
Modern laptops are getting ever more power-efficient, which has led to longer battery lives. For a laptop to be included in our best laptops list, it needs to offer a battery life of five hours or more. Bear in mind that the battery life that the laptop makers claim their device has could be quite different to what you actually experience. This is because many laptop makers test their batteries in very controlled environments, with the laptop used in ways that you might not necessarily use.
So, while a laptop might have a claimed battery life of 10 hours, you may find that when using it for certain tasks — like streaming high definition content — your battery life could run out faster. General laptops: Where the best cheap laptops are found, devices that focus more on practicality than style, portability or power.
The Surface Book 2 might be a ways off , but many of the best 2-in-1 laptops are available right now. Outfitted with both detachable and degree rotating hinges, these hybrids are the most versatile way to experience Windows 10 or Chrome OS on a touchscreen.
These do much of what Windows and macOS can in the browser, focused on cloud storage over local, while recently getting Android app support for touchscreen models. Gaming laptops: Need a laptop to play games almost just like a shiny desktop PC can? If you're really on a budget, then you can check out the best cheap gaming laptop deals. Laptop-tablet hybrids: Designed from the tablet-first approach to laptop-tablet hybrids, the best Windows tablets pack beyond-HD touchscreens, sometimes with kickstands in their frames or provided via keyboard covers.
These generally shine with a stylus, and range from the budget to the premium price ranges. We know that buying a new laptop can be a huge investment, so every laptop in this list has been extensively tested by us. When we test laptops, we use them in our day-to-day lives to see who they perform.
We look at their design, including how stylish they are, or if they are thin and light enough to carry around with, and how comfortable they are to work on. When it comes to performance, we use a mix of real-world tests and synthetic benchmarks to see how powerful or not these laptops are. These days, the webcam and microphone in a laptop is also incredibly important, so we take time to test out these as well. We also run our own battery life benchmark that plays a looped p movie until the battery dies.
We also run the PC Mark 10 battery life benchmark, which replicates real-world usage, such as web browsing and document creation. These tests give us an excellent idea of how long the batteries in these laptops last.
If you're encountering a problem or need some advice with your PC or Mac, drop him a line on Twitter. North America. Included in this guide:. Image 1 of 3. Image 2 of 3. Image 3 of 3. Apple MacBook Air M1, Screen: Dimensions: Reasons to avoid - No new design. Image 1 of 4. Image 2 of 4. Image 3 of 4. Image 4 of 4. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4. Reasons to avoid - Not enough ports.
MacBook Pro inch Graphics: Integrated core — core GPU. Storage: Up to 8TB. Reasons to avoid - inch screen may be a bit small. HP Spectre x Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics. Reasons to avoid - Fans can get noisy. Image 1 of 5. Image 2 of 5.
Image 3 of 5. Image 4 of 5. Image 5 of 5. Dell XPS 13 Late Storage: Up to 2TB M. Reasons to avoid - Sound quality is just OK. Razer Blade Reasons to avoid - Very expensive despite its performance. LG Gram 17 Reasons to avoid - You're paying a premium for the design. Acer Swift 3. Reasons to avoid - Looks a little plain. Asus ZenBook 13 Reasons to avoid - No headphone jack. Screen: Up to Reasons to avoid - No webcam.
Screen: inch, x p, IPS touchscreen. Reasons to avoid - Expensive compared to other 2-in-1 laptops. HP Envy x 13 Graphics: Integrated Radeon Graphics. Reasons to avoid - USB port cover hinges feel weak and awkward. Google Pixelbook Go. Reasons to avoid - Iffy pricing at mid- to- high-end. Image 1 of 6. Image 2 of 6. Image 3 of 6.
Image 4 of 6. Image 5 of 6. Image 6 of 6. Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook. Reasons to avoid - Tiny keyboard and finicky trackpad. Asus VivoBook S Reasons to avoid - Average battery life.
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