Readers' Choice 2021: Desktop PCs for Home and Gaming

 Readers' Choice 2021: Desktop PCs for Home and Gaming

PC manufacturers have done a terrific job building superfast laptop computers with gorgeous displays. However, if you don’t need the untethered portability that laptops provide, you might be better off with a desktop PC.

Desktops are not one-size-fits-all. You can get a mini PC, which tend to be about the size of an average hardcover novel; a basic tower PC with easy maintenance and expandability; an all-in-one PC for simplicity of design; or a gaming PC built for ultimate expansion, upgrades, and performance. Here are the desktop PC brands most recommended by PCMag readers.

Readers' Choice Desktop PCs for 2021

Apple is in a transition period, moving its computers from Intel-based chips to its own M1 processor. It’s hard to say how the switch will affect customer satisfaction since, as of this writing, the Mac mini is the only M1-based desktop available (the new M1-based iMac starts shipping in the second half of May). Initial feedback, however, seems positive based on our survey respondents’ comments. Once again, Apple users rate satisfaction with their desktop computers higher than users of any other brand of desktop PC.

Of course, a macOS-based computer isn’t practical in every work environment. If you need or feel more comfortable with a Windows desktop, our readers recommend Acer this year in a very tight home PC desktop race. For gamers, Alienware, a subsidiary of tech giant Dell, is again the brand of choice.

Apple received the highest overall satisfaction rating in the survey with a score of 9.0 on a scale from 0 (extremely dissatisfied) to 10 (extremely satisfied). Many of Apple’s ratings are down slightly from last year, but the company still received the highest satisfaction ratings among all brands on every measure except satisfaction with cost and value. There it earned a 7.8, the lowest score in this category, tied with Alienware. That's because, while beloved, neither brand comes cheap. Acer, on the other hand, had the highest rating for cost and value at 9.0.


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Apple’s highest ratings came in the areas of satisfaction with reliability and satisfaction with setup, both of which scored a 9.3. Asus (9.1) was the only other brand that had a rating of 9.0 or better on satisfaction with reliability. Lenovo (9.1), Dell (9.0), and HP (9.0) also received high marks for satisfaction with setup.

Apple had the greatest differentiation from its competitors in satisfaction with technical support, where its rating of 8.9 was a full point better than its closest competitor, Alienware (7.9). HP brought up the rear on this measure with a satisfaction with technical support rating of only 7.2.

Acer and Alienware both earned overall satisfaction ratings of 8.7—the best among Windows PC brands—but there’s a lot of parity among this group. No one scored below 8.4 on overall satisfaction. Acer, Asus, and Lenovo earned an 8.6 on likelihood to recommend, a very important measure of customer satisfaction.

Surprisingly, Alienware had the lowest recommendation rating in the category (8.3), which hopefully doesn’t portend a downward turn for the brand in the future. Last year, Alienware rated 8.8 for likelihood to recommend, tied with Asus and trailing only Apple.

Things may be looking up for Lenovo moving forward. The company’s ratings were competitive with Acer, and when we look only at PCs less than a year old, Lenovo tied Apple for the highest overall satisfaction rating (9.0).

Also, let us celebrate the real best desktop PC brand by looking at that last line of data: PCMag readers who build their own desktop PCs are the most satisfied customers. Several scores for self-built PCs were well ahead of even Apple's desktops, including those for overall satisfaction, cost, and repairs. It's almost comical to see tech support for self-built PCs at 8.1—which is better than every vendor except Apple. And self-built desktop PCs scored a 9.3 on reliability, equal to Apple's score.

The one area self-built PCs have a lower score are recommendations to friends, but that's because builder-types probably know the tech limitations of their friends and family. The moral of the story is: Learn to build a desktop PC, and you'll tend to be a pretty happy user.

For more, read The Best Desktop Computers of 2021.

Full Results

The PCMag Readers' Choice survey for Desktop PCs was in the field from April 12, 2021, to May 3, 2021. For more information on how our surveys are conducted, read the survey methodology.

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About Ben Gottesman
Ben Gottesman
Ben Gottesman is a former executive editor of PC Magazine.

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