The 4 Best Budget PCs in 2022

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

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Lower cost PCs are now so powerful that unless you're an avid gamer or edit video in your spare time, they'll easily be powerful enough for anything you can throw at them.

With that in mind, you won’t go wrong if you just buy the Acer Aspire TC-895-UA91. You’ll need to add a monitor and any apps you might want to run, but other than that, it’s a solid deal that won't break the bank.

The Rundown
This is a basic machine with enough power for day-to-day tasks and doesn’t come close to breaking the bank.
It comes in a number of configurations, which means you can buy as high as your budget allows and upgrade down the road.
This Mac mini has handled everything we’ve thrown all while being in a pretty unassuming box.
If you live mostly on the web (which frankly most of us do), this machine can quite likely meet your needs.

Best Overall: Acer Aspire TC-895-UA91

Acer Aspire TC 895-UA91
What We Like
  • RAM and SSD are fast

  • The latest Wi-Fi 6 standard

  • Optical drive

  • Plenty of room for upgrades

What We Don't Like
  • Odd design

  • Relatively low powered processor

The Acer Aspire would not be counted as a powerhouse computer compared to many PCs. But if you are looking for a basic machine with enough power for day-to-day tasks and doesn’t come close to breaking the bank, this will fit the bill nicely.

This tower computer comes complete with everything except a monitor. A few features caught our attention and pushed it to the top: It’s got a SSD (Solid State Drive, so is rather like a giant USB stick with silicon memory rather than a spinning disc) rather than an old-fashioned Hard Disk, so the system should feel more responsive, along with a DVD player/burner, and plenty of ports for anything you might want to plug in. It's simple, straightforward, cheap, and gets the job done.

CPU: Intel Core-i310100 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 630 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 512GB SSD

Best Dell: Dell Inspiron Desktop 3880

Dell Inspiron
What We Like
  • Multiple configurations

  • Upgradable

  • Lots of I/O ports to plug in accessories

What We Don't Like
  • No SSD in base configuration

  • Lacks USB-C

This Inspiron tower comes from one of Dell's budget series and comes in a number of configurations, which means you can buy as high as your budget allows and then upgrade it down the road.

The base configuration comes with a 1TB hard drive, and it's a traditional drive rather than a more modern (and much faster) SSD, which uses silicon storage just like a giant USB stick. You can add an SSD for a small increase in price, but if you want to upgrade your computer, we recommend upgrading the processor first.

There's also a lot of ports on this tower. You get eight USB-A ports, but no USB-C unfortunately, which is used by most newer peripherals. That's a big oversight, for sure, but you also get an SD Card reader, HDMI and VGA outputs, Ethernet, and two audio out jacks. Overall, this feels like a slightly outdated option.

CPU: Intel Core i3-10100 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 630 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 1TB HDD

"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, Tech Writer

Best Apple: Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020)

Apple Mac mini M1
What We Like
  • Amazingly fast

  • ARM-compatible apps

  • Rosetta 2

What We Don't Like
  • Can't upgrade later

  • Limited I/O

  • Pricey

The tech world got pretty excited when Apple abandoned Intel for its own in-house chips. Then the tech world got pretty excited when these chips, in this case the M1, out-performed many of the Intel chips available.

If you are not set on using Windows, this Mac will not at all disappoint. Our reviewer Jeremy reported the unit handled every office task he threw at it without ever getting hot or having the fan spin up. In fact, we’re so enthusiastic about this machine we’re going to tell you only about the downsides.

You can’t upgrade it after you buy it, it doesn’t have a lot of ports, and it does not come with a keyboard, mouse or monitor. If you have those components from your old set up, this is a great machine at a good price. If you still have to buy those other pieces, it does get on the pricier side (it’s a budget machine from Apple’s point of view, likely not yours). Again, this Mac mini has handled everything we’ve thrown all while being in a pretty unassuming box.

CPU: Apple M1 | GPU: Integrated 8-core GPU | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB SSD

"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

Mac mini M1

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Chrome OS: Acer Chromebox CXI3

The Acer Chromebox CXI3 is a nice little ChromeOS computer.
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

This computer is a bit hard to explain. It doesn’t run Windows, macOS, or even Linux. Instead it runs ChromeOS, Google's browser-based operating system. If you live mostly on the web (which frankly most of us do), this machine can quite likely meet your needs. ChromeOs is also the system used by an awful lot of schools, so this could be a great option if you have kids (not least because they'll be able to show you how it works)

One spec we didn’t love was having just 64GB of offline storage - so you'll need to be comfortable storing all your data online rather than on your own machine. However, ChromeOs makes this process almost invisible to the user, so you don't really have to worry about it.

CPU: Intel Core i3-8130U | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 64GB Flash Solid State

"In benchmark testing, this particular model doesn’t score as well as the higher tier configurations with i5 or i7 chips, but the i3 chip still received respectable marks." — Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Acer ChromeBox CX13

Lifewire / Erika Rawes

Final Verdict

There are two picks that make the top of our list: Acer Aspire (view at Amazon) if you are in the Windows camp and the new M1-based Mac mini (view at Best Buy) if you are in the Mac camp. The Aspire has plenty of what you’ll need to get going, but keep in mind that it’s not a gaming PC. The Mac mini is one of the fastest Macs we’ve used, but you will need to bring along a keyboard, mouse, and monitor (which can really up your costs).

About Our Trusted Experts

Alan Bradley is a Senior Tech Editor for Dotdash and the head of commerce for Dotdash. He joined the company in September of 2019, and is an experienced culture and tech writer/editor, with a background in journalism and reporting.

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.

FAQ
  • How do you 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 you upgrade your 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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