The 7 Best Budget PCs in 2021

Need a new desktop computer but you're on a budget? We can help.

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The Rundown
"A 10th Gen chip from Intel and lots of speedy SSD storage make the Aspire the best budget choice."
"The latest generation of the Inspiron Desktop is a true standout for those who want a great PC for well under $500."
"The M1-powered Mac Mini can provide you with plenty of computing power without breaking the bank."
"An entry-level PC intended for students and first-time users."
"Tiny, powerful, and affordable, Lenovo delivers a lot of value with the ThinkCentre."
"Perfectly at home sitting in your living room as an entertainment system."
"The OptiPlex series gives you more specialized uses that won’t limit your output."

Getting your hands on one of the best budget PCs can be the perfect solution to a ton of different problems. Are you looking for a dedicated media center to stream TV, movies, and Youtube videos directly to your TV (maybe as a way to finally cut the cable cord)? Or maybe you need an in expensive backup to your laptop, and want as much power as you can get for as little money as possible.

Budget PCs don't just offer a savings via their lowered price tags, either. They can actually consolidate the roles of a number of different devices for a single price: the best gaming consoles, tablets, smart home hubs/digital assistants, even your stereo system can be replaced by a single system with the right desktop PC. And these days, with the price of prebuilts getting consistently more reasonable, you can get a lot of horsepower at a very attractive price.

If you have a little more room in your budget and want an even more powerful machine, bop on over to our list of the best desktop PCs overall, or read on for the best budget PCs currently available.

Best Overall: Acer Aspire TC-895-UA91

What We Like
  • Plenty of processing power

  • Unique, modern design

  • Snappy 512GB SSD

What We Don't Like
  • A tad big

  • Only 8GB of RAM in this configuration

The Acer Aspire series of desktops all aim to give you serious bang for your buck, and the TC895 here is no exception. It is almost as big as the classic tower desktops you’re used to but brings a really interesting design language with it. The upward angle it sits at, paired with the bronzed down arrow at the top, gives it a look that sits somewhere between a gaming computer and a premium speaker. That’s a good thing because it is more than a foot tall, so you will certainly notice it in your office setup—and it will look pretty striking in this case.

Under the hood, the Aspire balances power with affordability really nicely (the main reason we’re giving it the Best Overall nod). The 10th-gen Intel Core i3, quad-core processor hums with a max speed over 4GHz, offering plenty of primary power. Bolstering that power is the 2666MHz DDR4 memory, but in this particular configuration, you’re only getting 8GB. If you do lots of video work or need to have several programs running at once, we’d recommend considering a higher RAM count of at least 16GB. You are getting a 512GB solid-state hard drive, which will do well at calling up programs and booting up the device. There’s 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 on-board for modern speeds and Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless peripherals. There’s 1 USB type-C port for your higher-speed needs, several full-sized USB ports for expandability, audio ins and outs, an Ethernet port capable of 1000Mbps of transfer speeds, plus an SD card slot on the front. The whole unit runs on Windows 10 home and even supports surround-sound functionality. This makes it a great, family-friendly, consumer-centric PC that will give you the ability to step up to some professional use-cases as well

Best Dell: Dell Inspiron Desktop

Dell Inspiron
What We Like
  • Plenty of processing power

  • Snappy solid-state drive

  • Tons of inputs and outputs

What We Don't Like
  • Only 8GB of RAM

  • A tad bulky

  • Could use more storage

The Dell Inspiron series—both for laptops and desktops—is the brand’s mid-level, meat-and-potatoes offering, and the latest generation of the Inspiron Desktop is a true standout for those who want a great PC for well under $500. Dell claims the new Inspirons are 16% smaller than the previous gen, and they now feature a 10th-generation Intel Core processor (specifically the Core i3-10100 with speeds up to 4.3GHz). This fact alone is a huge selling point if performance is a concern for you at this price point. The 8GB of DDR4 2666MHz RAM is more than enough for average or business-focused work, but will show its limitation in video and production work. There's also a spacious terabyte of HDD storage, and for $49 more you can step up to a model that includes a snappy 256GB SSD as well.

To fill out the rest of the physical package, you’ll get 4 USB-3 ports, 4 USB-2 ports, an audio jack, as well as an HDMI and a VGA port for video versatility. And, while visually this PC isn’t the flashiest option out there, Dell has brought in a carbon fiber-esque pattern on the front that gives the desktop a bit of noteable look, rather than going for an all-business design.

"Dell’s Inspiron series takes a no-nonsense approach—you’ll love the price-to-processing ratio, but might find some of the specs a tad limiting." Jason Schneider, Freelance tech writer

Best Apple: Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020)

Mac mini
What We Like
  • Excellent performance

  • Intel apps run well with Rosetta 2

  • Native M1 apps run even better

  • Decent price

What We Don't Like
  • Fewer ports than previous model

  • Memory and storage upgrades expensive

  • Can't upgrade memory later on

For Mac users, finding a budget desktop might be difficult, but you're not entirely without options. The base configuration of the Mac mini comes with 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD storage, and it's powered by the M1 chip with its octa-core CPU, octa-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. That's plenty of power for most people when it comes to browsing, productivity, and multimedia. Performance is impressive, with our reviewer showing solid benchmark tests not just for productivity tasks, but also gaming. With Rosetta 2, the Mac mini can play any game designed to run in macOS on an Intel machine.

The design is sleek and attractive machined aluminum and the back panel features a Ethernet port, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI port, two USB type A ports, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. That's enough connectivity options for you to connect one or two monitors, a keyboard, mouse, speakers, and a dock if you need it. For the operating system, power, and versatility, the M1-powered Mac mini is one of the best budget desktops on the market.

"The M1 CPU features eight cores, including four performance cores and four efficiency cores, and the same chip also includes an eight-core GPU." Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best Chrome OS: Acer Chromebox CXI3

Acer Chromebox CXI3
What We Like
  • Sleek and compact

  • Plenty of power

  • Great I/O options

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly older processor

  • Only 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage

  • No Bluetooth 5.0

Chrome OS has long been pigeon-holed into the budget laptop space, but you might not realize how much bang for your buck you can get for a desktop version of Google’s light OS. This Acer Chromebox provides a nice balance between higher-end specs and the sub-$500 price point you’d expect from a non-Windows device. The unit itself is intentionally tiny, measuring just about 6 x 6 inches, meaning it won’t take up much more space than an Apple TV. This means that it’s great for sitting on your desk (flat or stood up), but can also be mounted to the back of a large monitor or TV and used to run your entertainment setup. While the size is tiny, Acer hasn’t skimped on the I/O. You’ll get a whopping five USB 3 (type-A sized) ports for connecting devices, one USB type-C for modern hookups, an HDMI as your main monitor out, and even a micro SD card slot. It’s really quite impressive what Acer has managed to include in such a small footprint.

The size also doesn’t speak to a lack of processing power. At its core is an 8th-gen Intel Core i3 processor with average speeds of 2.2 GHz (boostable to 3.4GHz) as well as 8GB of DDR4 memory. This isn’t the most recent generation of Intel’s chipset, and 8GB of RAM can be limiting for heavier work—though it is important to note that Chrome OS’s lighter software footprint doesn’t hog nearly as much RAM as Windows 10. There’s a 64GB SSD, which is pretty small for a desktop device, though it’s nice to see the high-speed memory at play here. Connectivity comes through an 802.11ac Wi-Fi card, a standard Gigabit Ethernet port, and Bluetooth 4.2. Again, the more modern Bluetooth 5.0 would have been better, but these are the trade-offs you’ll make for the price. And that price of just over $400 is really compelling because with all that power running Chrome OS, you’ll really have to throw a lot at this thing to choke it up.

Best Compact: Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n

What We Like
  • Super-slim design

  • Excellent processing power

  • Super-fast 512GB solid-state drive

  • Windows 10 Pro (64) included

What We Don't Like
  • Limited I/O options

  • No HDMI port

The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n is a total beast of a desktop PC in an almost astonishingly thin package. That package is about 7 inches measured horizontally (not opting for the pocket size of some other PCs), but because it’s less than an inch thick, it’s possibly one of the thinnest, non-laptop PCs out there. That thickness does end up being pretty limiting for inputs and outputs, as expected, giving you two USB-A ports and one USB-C port on the front (plus the headphones jack) and a matching trio on the back, alongside the Ethernet port and a DisplayPort. Oddly, HDMI is missing here, meaning you’ll most likely need an adapter for your monitor.

However, the power and performance offered here will likely make up for the middle-of-the-road I/Os. You’re getting an Intel Core i5 processor with boosted speeds up to 3.9 GHz (impressive for this sub-$500 price point) as well as 8GB of DDR4 2666MHz RAM. The graphics are handled by an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 card, and all of your data is stored on a super-fast 512GB NVMe solid-state drive. This is an impressive lineup for something that is no thicker than the average journal. Windows 10 Pro (64 bits) is running the show here, and that’s also a big plus at this price point, as it will let you more efficiently run pro apps (whether you’re a creative or a business professional). This particular package comes with some accessories bundled, and will only run you about $499 at the time of this writing.

Best Mini: Intel NUC 8 Mainstream Kit

What We Like
  • Tons of processing power

  • Super-tiny footprint

  • Customizable kit-style PC

  • Thunderbolt port on-board

What We Don't Like
  • No hard drive or RAM included

  • Very limited I/O options

  • No OS included out of the box

The Intel NUC 8 Mainstream Kit NUC8i7BEH is a project PC kit aimed at the entertainment-minded. Why is that? Well because its size better resembles an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, it would be perfectly at home sitting in your living room as an entertainment system. That’s also true because this thing doesn’t have any memory built in. Instead of including a hard drive or RAM, Intel has kept the price of this unit down, so you can insert your own, building the file system yourself, using the OS you want, and outfitting it with only the RAM you need. There are specs to consider here. There’s an M.2 22x42/80 slot for NVMe or SATA SSD—the most standard port, but one that gives you flexibility on the physical connection. There are dual-channel DDR4 2400 RAM slots which will accommodate up to 32GB of RAM. So, if you want to use this unit for gaming on your TV, then you’ll be fine.

What you do get here is a really impressive processor, that is ready for you to build whatever system you want. There’s an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 here and an integrated 655 Intel Graphics card. At its core, that’s all an entertainment-based PC will need, provided you give it enough storage and enough RAM. You are only getting four USB-A ports, an HDMI out, one thunderbolt port (a true plus for an entertainment PC) and a fast ethernet port here. Plus, with Bluetooth and WiFi included, you’re getting solid connectivity. And, because this is truly a project kit, the top of the chassis pops off easily, giving you access to the necessary ports.

"This is a kit-style PC, so it isn't for the beginner user. But if you have the wherewithal, you can make this an insanely powerful entertainment setup." — Jason Schneider, Freelance tech writer

Best for Business: Dell OptiPlex 7070 Micro

What We Like
  • Decent processor

  • Sleek, business-friendly design

  • Windows 10 Pro (64) included

What We Don't Like
  • No discrete GPU

If the Dell Inspiron series contains the best PCs for the average consumer, the OptiPlex series gives you more specialized uses that won’t limit your output. The OptiPlex 7070 Micro here has a few features that make it truly attractive to the professional user. First of all, featuring Windows 10 Pro in 64 bits, you won’t find a pro-level Windows app that won’t run on this, at least technically. The four-core Intel i5 processor offers average speeds of 3.1GHz, and boosts up to 3.7GHz—nothing mind-blowing, but totally adequate for the business professional. It also packs a surprising 16GB of RAM, rare at this price point, as well as a 256GB NVMe SSD.

Dell has managed to include a lot of inputs and outputs, like both a DisplayPort and an HDMI, six USB ports of varying generations, and an ethernet port. And because the design is ultra-slim (only 1.4 inches thick), it will mount nicely into Dell’s matching monitor system. This allows you to outfit an entire office with sleek devices that will look good and keep your space feeling minimal and modern. If the trade-offs on this configuration work for your business, then we think this is a really great value for the power.

"This sleek little powerhouse is meant to mount nicely on Dell’s matching monitors, but still manages to feature a solid processor, as well as room for customization."Jason Schneider, Freelance tech writer

Final Verdict

It’s not that surprising to see Acer and Dell gracing our top two slots, but the Acer Aspire edges out the Dell Inspiron for a few reasons. First of all, the design of the chassis is a truly impressive offering for a category that often operates in boring, blocky builds. You’re also getting slightly better speeds on the 10th-gen Intel processor (4.0 GHz vs. the 3.6GHz on the Dell) and a bigger hard drive. The Inspiron gives you a more traditional design, a mind-blowing array of inputs and outputs, and because it’s Dell, you can customize it with more options than the Acer unit would allow, sold as-is from Amazon. At the end of the day, it may come down to personal preference, but for under $500 on both machines, you really can’t go wrong.

About our Trusted Experts

Jason Schneider has a degree in music technology and communications from Northeastern University. He has been writing for tech websites for nearly 10 years and brings even more years’ of consumer electronics expertise to the table.

Jeremy Laukkonen has been covering consumer technology and gadgets for Lifewire since 2019. He previously worked for an automotive blog, wrote for major trade publications, and co-founded a video game startup.


How do I choose a desktop PC?
Budget will always be an important consideration, but to get the most out of your money when choosing the best desktop PC you need to take into account how you'll primarily be using it. For a home office, a competent CPU and plenty of storage should be a priority, while a gaming rig needs a powerful dedicated GPU and SSD storage to help shrink the time you spend staring at loading screens.

How often should I upgrade my PC?
Unless you're frequently swapping in new components, most users will find that a new desktop PC should last somewhere in the ballpark of five years before the hardware is obsolete. Push too far beyond that mark and you'll find your machine begins to struggle with increasingly demanding software, particularly for applications that generally stress PCs the most, like games.

How do desktop PCs compare to laptops?
The key difference between desktop computers and laptops is the compromise between performance and portability. You will almost universally get better performance per dollar from a desktop machine, while a laptop trades horsepower for a compact chassis that's easy to take on the go. While there certainly are laptops built around mighty hardware capable of rivaling all but the most high-end desktops, they tend to be absurdly expensive (and often approach the 'musclebook' category that sheds some portability for more powerful components).

What to Look for in a Budget Desktop PC Under $500

All-in-one - Most budget PCs that clock in under the $500 mark doesn’t come with a monitor, and adding even a small one can end up breaking your budget. All-in-one PCs are the exception because they’re literally monitors that have all of the necessary computer hardware built right in.

Ports and connections - Manufacturers invariably end up cutting corners on budget-priced PCs to save you money. You may have trouble finding a PC under $500 that comes with USB-C ports, but there are a lot of options that include multiple USB 3.1 connections, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and more.

Upgradability - The great thing about buying a budget desktop is that you have the ability to upgrade most of the components later on. If you want the option to install a video card, an SSD, additional USB ports, or anything else, look for a PC that’s built-in an ATX tower case. If you go with an all-in-one or a mini PC, you’ll have more difficulty upgrading.

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