The 8 Best Budget PCs in 2021

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

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

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."
"An entry-level PC intended for students and first-time users."
"Tiny, powerful, and affordable, Lenovo delivers a lot of value with the ThinkCentre."
"Leaning into AMD's lineup means some great hardware at a bargain price."
Best All-In-One:
HP 20-C434 AIO at Best Buy
"A great, cheap option for anyone starting from scratch."
"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 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 Gaming: CUK DeskMini A300W

What We Like
  • Tons of power

  • Plenty of RAM, plus expandability

  • Really small form factor

What We Don't Like
  • No operating system

  • Some features require additional add-ons

  • Limited I/O options

Most desktop PCs that bill themselves as gaming machines go the way of excess—giving you crazy RGB lighting, over-the-top design, and massive chassis. The CUK AsRock DeskMini A300W takes a more minimal route (except for that cumbersome naming scheme, of course). This is squarely a gaming PC as it’s powered by an AMD Ryzen 3 3200G and the Radeon RX Vega 8. It’s what AMD calls an APU (rather than a CPU), which allows for the whole unit to be a bit smaller, because it combines the normally distinct CPU and graphics processor onto the same board. You aren’t sacrificing power with that configuration though, because the Ryzen and Vega 8 pair are certainly enough oomph for most gaming you throw at this thing. To harness all that power, you’ll get 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 RAM, which is expandable up to 32GB if you want to run higher-spec games. And the 512GB SSD is a good amount of storage that won’t slow the machine down—though because it’s a gaming-focused PC, it would have been nicer to see a bit more headroom for all the games you’re likely going to load onto it.

The form factor itself, as mentioned, is surprisingly minimal, measuring only 6 inches tall and 6 inches deep. It actually looks like any other tower desktop unit, only shrunken down a bit. And, with an all-black design, and no crazy colors here, you could totally put this thing into an office setup. Of course, this is definitely a “project PC”, which is why you’ll find it for well under $500 on Amazon. What we mean by that is that there is no operating system loaded on, so you’ll have to find your own copy, and things like the Wi-Fi card and the expandable storage options will have to be user-added. But, overall, this is a nice option for people who want to dip their toes in the “build-your-own-PC” market, but don’t want to start from scratch.

Best All-In-One: HP 20-C434 19-inch All-In-One

What We Like
  • Reliable screen and design

  • Reasonable processing power

  • Plenty of on-board storage

What We Don't Like
  • Slower HDD tech

  • Somewhat limited I/O

Unlike most other desktops on this list, the HP 20 C434 has an additional spec category to consider—the display—and because it’s the differentiating factor, we’ll start there. HP calls it an HD+ LED screen, and at 1600 x 900 it is technically a bit more than 1080p. However, at 19.5 inches, it won’t be as crisp as the resolution you’re likely used to on your phone or tablet. Overall, HP does a decent job with color profiles on their LEDs, so you should get some good, vibrant response from this. Of course, the reason you’re going for an all-in-one is because it packs the screen in with your computer, so for convenience’s sake, this system is pretty solid. HP has also managed to fit in a DVD R/RW reader and burner and a 1TB HDD for tons of storage—although a solid-state drive would have been faster and more reliable.

The AMD A4 process (part of their APU series) that pairs with the AMD Radeon graphics card will actually drive some solid performance on this computer, though not quite as fast as you’d get with a modern Intel chip or a faster Ryzen processor (the base speed here is only 2.3 GHz). Another sacrifice—though there are a few USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI for adding a second monitor—is the lack of input and output options. It’s all part of the trade-off of an all-in-one machine needing to fit all the components into a reasonably small package. But, for our money, with a pretty sleek design and a sub-$400 price tag, this is a great option for an all-in-one unit.

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 (our Runner-Up) 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.

How We Tested

Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate PCs based on design, performance, specs, functionality, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases, from productivity/office workloads to more intensive scenarios like gaming at ultra and video and audio rendering/editing. Our testers also consider each desktop as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how much of a tax you're paying an OEM compared to constructing a similar machine yourself. All of the models we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.

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.


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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