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Our collection of the best budget desktops is here to make sure you have a rocksteady workstation even if money is tight. Budget, for the purposes of this roundup, means keeping the total package under $500, and while none of these machines will have the muscle necessary for gaming or heavy-duty creative applications, their specs are more than sufficient for any workstation or media center.
When determining which desktop is best for you, form factor can be just as important as what's under the hood. If desk real estate is at a premium it's difficult to beat the venerable Mac Mini with its modest form factor and creative clout, however, if you're looking for a more typical workaday desktop, the versatility of the Lenovo ThinkCentre line of workstations. Whether you need a fleet of workstations or just a modest desktop that doesn't take up much space our list of the best budget PCs under $500 has got you covered.
Originally pioneered by IBM and now managed by Lenovo, the ThinkCentre series is (and always has been) the preferred choice of numerous businesses around the globe. If you want an affordable yet secure desktop computer for your office, get the ThinkCentre M720.
Although Lenovo offers extensive hardware customization for the M720, our recommended configuration includes an eighth-generation Intel Core i3 CPU, paired with 8GB of DDR4 RAM. The 500GB HDD, while not the biggest, is sufficient for all your documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. The Lenovo ThinkCentre M720 also comes with a handful of hardware-level features for ensuring the safety of confidential data. These include ‘Smart USB Protection’ (which enables you to restrict the number of USB devices that can access the PC) and ‘Trusted Platform Module’ (an international standard for data encryption). For I/O, the M720 features USB Type-A (eight in total, with four 2.0 and four 3.1), USB Type-C, DisplayPort, VGA, Ethernet, and much more. Having multiple expansion slots, Lenovo ThinkCentre M720 runs 64-bit Windows 10.
If you’re in the market for an affordable PC that you only intend to use for basic tasks like web browsing and streaming music/videos, a Windows 10-based computer is most likely going to be overkill for your needs. As an alternative, we recommend Acer’s Chromebox CXI3.
An entry-level PC intended for students and first-time users, the Acer Chromebox CXI3 runs Chrome OS, Google’s browser-based operating system. This means you can access a diverse array of web apps, as well as the entire suite of Google’s services (e.g. Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube). The CXI3 also enjoys all other benefits of Chrome OS including increased security, background updates, and the ability to run (some) Android apps. In terms of hardware, our recommended configuration includes an Intel Core i3-8130U processor, paired with 8GB of RAM and 64GB of SSD storage. While this hardware may seem basic, it’s more than capable of handling the cloud-based Chrome OS. Acer Chromebox CXI3 comes with all modern I/O ports, including USB Type-A, USB Type-C, HDMI, Ethernet, and Line Out. There’s also integrated support for high-speed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
When it comes to bang-for-your-buck computing products, Acer is one of the first names that comes to mind. The Taiwanese company is famous for its affordable and high-quality PCs, and the Aspire TC-885 is just that.
The Acer Aspire TC-885 is powered by Intel’s eighth-generation Core i3 processor and 8GB of DDR4 RAM, a combination that makes it ideal for light computing tasks like web browsing and multimedia consumption. With a 1TB HDD, you don’t have to worry about running out of disk space. For connecting external peripherals, the Aspire TC-885 features USB Type-A, USB Type-C, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, and more. There’s also high-speed Wi-Fi 802.11ac, the latest Bluetooth 5.0, a multi-format DVD/CD burner, and a card reader. The computer runs Windows 10 with a pre-installed ‘Acer Care Center’ utility, which can be used to run diagnostics, update system software, and more. To top it all off, the Acer Aspire TC-885 comes bundled with a wired keyboard and mouse, which make this PC an even better value.
Apple just dropped a new line of Mac Minis, which has paved the way for the older models to be more affordable. You can pick up this refurbished unit at a massive discount, and it gives you a lot of premium Mac specs for that amount. There’s a dual-core Intel i5 processor with standard speeds of 2.5GHz and a turbo boost up to 3.1GHz. There’s 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM, which is pretty on-par with many PCs at this price point. And the 500GB SATA-style hard drive provides passable storage, but not the most impressive out there. What’s great about these specs is that the Mac Mini is and always has been a great platform for upgrading — it’s reasonably easy to open up compared with other Macs, and there is space for storage and RAM upgrades. They’ve even put in an Intel HD Graphics 5000 card to help with the visual capabilities, too. There’s a mini DisplayPort, four USB ports, an ethernet port and even a Firewire port (refreshing to see, considering so many PCs, Mac or otherwise, have done away with Firewire). And all of these specs are housed in a three-pound, 1.4-inch-thick box of unibody aluminum, which makes it really hard to beat in the compact PC space.
All-in-one - Most budget PCs that clock in under the $500 mark don’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.