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The Best Cheap Desktop Computers of 2017


The Best Cheap Desktop Computers of 2017

You'll find more budget laptops these days, but if you need a desktop, you can get a surprisingly powerful one for less than $500. In fact, many of our favorites ring up for less that half that.

Budget Isn't a Dirty Word

Budget desktop PCs used to have a bad reputation: You would have to resign yourself to buying a new one in a year or at most three. Thankfully, today's inexpensive systems will last at least twice that if your needs are as modest as your bottom line. These PCs are certainly able to surf the web, stream videos to a TV, or work on Office documents and other everyday productivity tasks. Heck, you can even play games on some of them.

It's What's Inside That Counts

As usual, you'll find low-power processors among the low-cost desktops. But systems built on ARM processors running Chrome OS and systems with AMD and Intel processors running Windows 10 aren't the sloth-like performers you may have bought into when nettops were all the rage not that many years ago. All of them will have at least dual-core CPUs (and some have quad-core chips), and most just take a few seconds to boot up. Web browsing and viewing online videos are a snap, though you'll still want a more powerful (and more expensive) chip if you're planning on editing video or holding Web conferences for business with multiple participants.

Intel Compute Stick (Core m3)

You'll still find systems with 2GB of memory at the lowest end ($100 to $200), though most of today's entry-level desktops will come with 4GB or more. Storage will either be a 16GB to 64GB solid-state drive (SSD) or a standard hard drive with capacity up to about 1TB. Look for higher-capacity storage if you're a serial downloader, but note that even 16GB is sufficient for a chromebox that is on the Internet 24/7. SSDs trade capacity for speed, especially in day-to-day tasks. If you ever need more storage space, USB 3.0 and USB-C ports will let you attach a speedy external hard drive or SSD.

Not All Business

Gaming used to be a pipe dream at these prices, but desktops with lower-end processors from AMD and Intel, combined with relatively beefy discrete AMD and Nvidia GPUs, will give you a decent gaming experience. Better yet, a cheap PC is a great way to download or stream video to a TV. Streaming services and websites that aren't supported by your media streaming device will play back fine using a PC-based solution.

Related Story See How We Test Desktops

One caveat: You'll need to budget a hundred bucks or more for a monitor, unless your desktop of choice is an all-in-one or you're planning on using a display you already own from a previous system. Using a TV as a monitor is an option for a system with an HDMI-out port, something that just about all PCs have today (and something current stick PC designs capitalize on). Most budget PCs include a keyboard and mouse; they'll work fine, though they are likely to be a little cheap feeling compared with third-party keyboards and mice. (We have you covered if you want to shop for a keyboard or mouse, too, by the way.)

Intel NUC Kit NUC6CAYS - Back Panel

Upgrading: The Sky Is the Limit

The good news, though, is that even your modest investment may be compounded in the long run. Just because these computers are small and inexpensive doesn't mean that most of them aren't also upgradable. So if it turns out the storage, RAM, or other components aren't what you need, you may be able to perform the key tweaks yourself with a minimum of fuss. And if you want something even cheaper—just $26!—the Raspberry Pi gives you a bare circuit-board canvas to create one of the simplest but most extensible computers you can imagine.

Although not upgradable after purchase, the Apple Mac Mini is still one of our favorite inexpensive small-form-factor desktops. Apple hasn't refreshed this line since 2014, but as the only Mac you can get for less than $500, it's a relative bargain.

If you're replacing a dual-core or middle-of-the-road quad-core system that has gotten to be a bit too slow or worn out, then a budget desktop may be in your future. Check out our roundup below for some of our favorites. Also check out our overall top desktop picks and, if you're so inclined, our favorite cheap laptops, laptops for students, and chromebooks.

  • Apple Mac mini Review

    $499.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Apple's latest tiny desktop computer, the Mac mini, is in top form thanks to its excellent build quality, scads of connectivity options, good selection of preloaded software, and a really ni…

    Read Full Review

  • InFocus Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Review

    $99.00 MSRP

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    Bottom Line: The InFocus Kangaroo Mobile Desktop is a unique device that turns a monitor, an HDTV, or even an iPad into a Windows 10 PC. It's less than $100 and packs a built-in battery; just don't expec…

    Read Full Review

  • Intel Compute Stick (Core m3) Review

    $129.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Powered by a Core m3 processor, the Intel Compute Stick excels as a fully functional PC that fits in your pocket and can use a TV as a display.

    Read Full Review

  • Intel NUC Kit NUC6CAYS Review

    $215.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: The NUC6CAYS model of the Intel NUC Kit is a small, versatile, upgradable, and highly affordable desktop PC with the same basic feature set as that of a much larger machine.

    Read Full Review

  • Shuttle XPC Nano Review

    $279.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: The Shuttle XPC Nano ultra-small-form-factor (USFF) desktop PC is an inexpensive and highly appealing choice if you want to connect a PC to an HDTV, have a desire to tinker, or both.

    Read Full Review

  • Raspberry Pi Zero W Review

    $10.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Add some accessories, and the Raspberry Pi Zero W is a full PC for pocket change, but its potential for DIY electronic projects is its real draw.

    Read Full Review

  • Asus VivoStick PC (TS10) Review

    $129.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: The Asus VivoStick is a full 64-bit Windows 10 computer that's a lot smaller than a hip flask, or even a cigar tube. It's short on memory and storage, but can instantly turn a display or TV …

    Read Full Review

  • HP 20-c010 Review

    $299.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: The HP 20-c010 isn't the most powerful all-in-one desktop out there, but for $350, it's entirely capable of handling the basics.

    Read Full Review

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