Opinion

By Ben Hart,

Desktop computers: The case for a Windows machine

In the most recent article in our working from home series, we delved into the realm of the desktop computer, and in particular, Apple’s Mac option. In this article we’ll be focusing our attention on the Mac’s arch-rival – the Windows PC – and the advantages that Windows machines have over their Apple counterparts.

Compared with Macs, Windows is inherently a much more open platform; any manufacturer is free to sell a PC on the Windows platform, while any manufacturer attempting to sell a third-party Mac would find themselves up against Apple’s army of lawyers in about five seconds flat. There are YouTube channels dedicated to the building of so-called “hackintoshes” – PCs that have been modified and rigged to run on the Mac operating system – but it wouldn’t be possible to actually market one of these machines due to Apple’s tight control over their platform, and this is not to mention the fact that Apple are regularly releasing updates containing patches designed to lock out any such machines not authorised by Cupertino to be running Mac OS.

The people behind these “hackintosh” builds seem to be motivated by the challenge, seeing breaking through Apple’s rigid protections as something of a hobby, rather than any particular advantage that running Mac OS on a non-Mac machine brings. If anything, by running Mac OS on a non-Apple PC, you lose one of the very advantages that Macs have over PCs; the closed nature of the Mac platform means that Apple have total control over both the hardware and software, and are therefore able to build both from the ground up with each other in mind, to create a more unified solution; an (in theory at least) perfect marriage of hardware and software without the need for the countless drivers necessary to fill the gap between Microsoft’s code and the endless components, peripherals and accessories that a Windows user may end up using. But there lies Mac’s inherent disadvantage too; its closed nature limits its users to Apple’s set of approved offerings, at Apple’s prices. Much has been said (and done) about Microsoft’s monopolistic behaviour, but Apple has a total monopoly over the Mac platform. Windows users get to choose from innumerable components with which to build their machine, they have a far greater range of software to choose from, and these days most accessories are in practice plug-and-play, rivalling Macs with their convenience, with the latest Windows iteration, Windows 10, usually polite enough to download said driver without you even having to ask.

Whilst Macs are admittedly more convenient in a lot of ways, Apple’s monopoly over the platform (and their delusions of being a luxury brand – they’re not, they’re a consumer electronics brand) means that they can get away with charging prices approaching extortion. Although it’s unlikely we’ll see federal prosecutors in the US building a RICO case against Apple anytime soon, funny that. We touched on this in the last article, but some things need repeating for emphasis.

If you’re not willing to spend near double the amount of money you would spend on a similarly performing Windows machine, in aid of some extra convenience and “clean lines”; and have decided to choose Seattle over Silicon Valley, Redmond over Cupertino, function over form etc then we have compiled some unbiased (apart from our own) advice for you.

Windows is the most established operating system; it has by far the widest range of compatible software and hardware. Windows is pretty fairly simple to get to grips with, although it’s arguably not quite as user friendly as Mac OS, and does need a bit of knowledge to get the most out of it, but there’s a wealth of advice available both online and off. Also, most applications and games are designed with Windows in mind, then “ported” over to other operating systems should the developer so choose, so applications are often more optimised for Windows. Mac OS and Windows aren’t the only two operating systems available; Google’s Chrome OS offers a very basic option, which is limited and relies on cloud storage almost exclusively and is next to useless without an internet connection, although this shouldn’t be too much of a problem in this day and age. Linux is another option, although it is more of an enthusiast option, with some technical knowledge required to use it. For these reasons we have focused only on the Mac and Windows options.

When planning to buy a desktop Windows machine, you’ll need to think about what it is that you’ll be using it for. For basic tasks such as checking and replying to emails, word processing and using spreadsheets, shopping online and streaming media (which will rely on the quality of your internet connection more than anything else) then you can buy a relatively inexpensive desktop machine. You’ll probably see Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 in the specs which are entry-level processors; for prices as low as £500 or less. For these kinds of tasks, a laptop may indeed be the better option. When combined with a discrete monitor to bring the screen to eye-level, a standalone keyboard (have a look at our previous article on keyboards) and mouse, a laptop can function as the hub of a desktop setup so long as you’re not using it for resource hungry applications, with the ability to also take it with you wherever you go.

Laptops can of course be used for more CPU intensive tasks, but pound for pound, a similarly performing desktop PC could end up costing you half as much and give you a far greater degree of flexibility to upgrade as technology marches ever forward. The fact that the laptop / monitor, keyboard and mouse setup described above can do all the basic tasks means that there is often little point in buying a lower end desktop PC, although there is the one advantage that if your computer is sat at home then you’re somewhat less likely to leave it on the train. If you have no desire for portability, then a low-spec desktop could suit your needs, and just like higher-end models, a desktop will give you more bang for your buck than a similarly priced laptop, owing to the extra engineering required to fit all the components into a small space while keeping those thermals and acoustics in check.

Whereas Apple have the Mac Mini, there are also a surprisingly large variety of small footprint Windows options to choose from. Intel seem to be on some kind of mission to prove how small a PC can be, producing models barely larger than a Roku or Amazon streaming stick and plugging directly into your monitor’s HDMI input in the same manner as said devices. This novelty – and let’s face it, such a device is basically just a novelty and a publicity stunt by Intel – comes at a cost though, as, just like laptops, even more so in fact, compromises need to be made to fit everything into such a tight space. The Intel made device pictured here, available on Amazon for just £120.78, contains Intel’s very low-end Atom processor and contains just 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, similar specs to those you might find on a lower-end smartphone, although a lower-end smart-phone can do an awful lot these days, if your needs are limited to web-browsing, emailing, word-processing, etc, and if you don’t mind storing the majority of your files on a cloud service like Microsoft’s OneDrive, this could actually provide a half-decent solution for your computing needs. Just how Intel have managed to get Windows to run on just 2GB of RAM is remains a mystery, although you can be sure it’s a version of Windows at its most basic level. Plug it into a monitor such as the excellent, budget AOC E2270SWHN 21.5-inch 1080p resolution monitor available on Amazon at the time of writing for £73.60, and add a keyboard and mouse and you have the most basic Windows desktop setup for little over the £200 mark.

Where desktop Windows based machines really come into their own is in the mid to high-end sector, suitable for the aforementioned power-hungry tasks like software development, video editing and 3D rendering. If you have a fairly decent budget of around £1500 then a gaming PC can often be the best option; this may seem a bit strange, but for heavy workloads, the common solutions of either a Mac Pro or a professional Windows workstation are often very expensive as they are aimed at the professional market. Gaming PCs on the other hand, have to compete in price with the likes of PlayStation and Nintendo Switch – both of which come in at £400 or under – and are aimed at consumers rather than professionals and organisations, and are therefore priced accordingly. Again, it’s a case of the price to performance ratio (and in Twitter speak, the professional options get ‘ratioed’). For £2000 you can buy (or build yourself) a gaming rig that could go toe to toe with a Mac Pro or professional Windows-based workstation costing more than double the price, plus you get to play games if that’s your thing. And while Macs are catching up of late, with more and more gaming titles being released on Mac OS and the likes of the Steam now making their gaming platform available to Mac users, Macs still have nowhere near the extensive games library available to PC owners, and it’s likely they never will.

Where desktop Windows based machines really come into their own is in the mid to high-end sector, suitable for the aforementioned power-hungry tasks like software development, video editing and 3D rendering. If you have a fairly decent budget of around £1500 then a gaming PC can often be the best option; this may seem a bit strange, but for heavy workloads, the common solutions of either a Mac Pro or a professional Windows workstation are often very expensive as they are aimed at the professional market. Gaming PCs on the other hand, have to compete in price with the likes of PlayStation and Nintendo Switch – both of which come in at £400 or under – and are aimed at consumers rather than professionals and organisations, and are therefore priced accordingly. Again, it’s a case of the price to performance ratio (and in Twitter speak, the professional options get ‘ratioed’). For £2000 you can buy (or build yourself) a gaming rig that could go toe to toe with a Mac Pro or professional Windows-based workstation costing more than double the price, plus you get to play games if that’s your thing. And while Macs are catching up of late, with more and more gaming titles being released on Mac OS and the likes of the Steam now making their gaming platform available to Mac users, Macs still have nowhere near the extensive games library available to PC owners, and it’s likely they never will.

You have a few options in terms of how to buy a new Windows PC; you can get a prebuilt machine from a well-known brand such as HP or Dell, or a lesser well-known brand like Corsair, or you could get a PC built to your own specification by a system integrator like Cyberpower UK or PC Specialist (who confusingly also sell prebuilt options on sites like Amazon, Currys or John Lewis) or you could build your own PC by sourcing components from stores online such as Amazon or Overclockers.

You have a few options in terms of how to buy a new Windows PC; you can get a prebuilt machine from a well-known brand such as HP or Dell, or a lesser well-known brand like Corsair, or you could get a PC built to your own specification by a system integrator like Cyberpower UK or PC Specialist (who confusingly also sell prebuilt options on sites like Amazon, Currys or John Lewis) or you could build your own PC by sourcing components from stores online such as Amazon or Overclockers.

The prebuilt options

The first option, buying an off the shelf machine by a larger company like Dell or Corsair is fairly simple to accomplish; you can choose a machine, either from the manufacturer’s own website or a third party site like Amazon or Currys PC World, pay for it and then receive it, often as soon as the very next day. These type of computers often are made up of a lot of the brand’s own proprietary components which they combine with an Intel or AMD processor and, if the processor doesn’t have onboard integrated graphics capabilities, or those onboard graphics aren’t powerful enough for the tasks the computer is intended for, then a graphics card made by either AMD or Nvidia will be added. This option is one that is very reliable, and with well-known brands you have that extra peace of mind knowing that you’re dealing with a larger company with a reputation to uphold, and they often offer extended warranties. A word of warning here; the 2 or 3 year warranties included in the purchase price are fine and dandy, but don’t be tempted to extend to 5 years at an additional cost. This is rarely a good deal!

One downside of the prebuilt option is that, due to a large amount of the components being proprietary, they will not have the degree of upgradeability as a more custom-built option. However, the upside of this is that a machine built from the ground up by a single manufacturer from largely proprietary parts is that they will be more finely tuned and tested, with parts chosen for optimal compatibility.

The system integrator options

The option to buy from a company like Cyberpower UK or PC Specialist, who build PCs from third-party components allows you a greater degree of customisation options and the benefit of specifying your own machine without having to build it yourself. Pick your own parts using an online configurator; picking your graphics card, processor, motherboard, power supply unit, memory etc, from the likes of Nvidia, AMD, Intel, Corsair, Logitech, Asus, MSI, Seagate and so on. Cyberpower’s range starts at around £400 including VAT, with prices going steadily up the more advanced your build gets. These companies, while smaller than the likes of Currys, still offer decent warranties and their technical support can be superior due to the specialised nature of their business model.

The D.I.Y. option

There exists a subculture of PC enthusiasts who swear by the self-build option, sourcing their own components. This is not as hard as it sounds, and there are a ton of YouTube channels dedicated to tinkering with PC hardware, many offering step-by-step tutorials on how to build a PC, including Linus Tech Tips and Paul’s Hardware. However, purchasing your PC from a company prebuilt will give you a single point of contact, and warranty, should things go wrong.

Youtube: the place to go for tips and tutorials should you decide to build your own PC

In the next article we’ll be looking at the more customisable options, but here we’ll be looking at buying an off-the shelf PC. This is the way to go if you want to make things as easy and simple as possible and there are some excellent prebuilt desktop machines available from the big-name stores like Currys and John Lewis, not to mention prebuilt offerings from the more specialised ‘system integrators’ like CyberPower UK and PC Specialist. These come pre-built and ready to ship out the next day, as if you were buying from a more recognisable outlet like Currys or Argos. Even if you plan on taking this ‘off-the-shelf’ route it’s still worth doing a bit of research into what kind of specs you should be looking for, for your specific needs. As mentioned above, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the different components on offer in our next article on desktop PCs where we’ll be looking into both the option of buying a built-to-order PC from the aforementioned system integrators, and the option of building your own machine.

When buying a prebuilt machine, check that it has either an AMD Ryzen or Intel Core series processor – anything else, unless you’re looking at a high-end workstation with the likes of an AMD Threadripper processor, will be an older processor and likely underpowered for today’s applications. Look out for the version of Windows too; if a PC is running a version older than Windows 10 this is a warning sign that you’re looking at a dated model. Bear in mind that the Intel Core i3 and AMD Ryzen 3 series are at the low end of the range; if you can afford to, go for an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 and above. Also we’d recommend at least 8GB of memory (RAM) – even your smartphone probably has 4GB, – and we would recommend even a small solid-state drive, preferably an M.2 NVMe type; in combination with a larger traditional hard-disk drive; which will still have enough space to store the operating system; this will mean your computer boots (starts up) quicker and will run faster in general, due to solid-state drive’s inherently faster read and write speeds. Here’s a quick guide on which specs to look for in a new system.

Specs to look out for

Processor

The processor, or CPU, is the main ‘brain’ of any computer. As mentioned above, the Intel Core and AMD Ryzen are the latest consumer grade ranges of processors, and conveniently for the consumer they both use the numbers 3, 5, 7 and 9 to denote the different levels of performance; so, you have the basic Intel Core i3 and AMD Ryzen 3, the lower-mid range but very capable Intel Core i5 or Ryzen 5, the upper-mid range Intel Core i7 and Ryzen 7, and the top-tier Intel Core i9 (as pictured here) and AMD Ryzen 9 processors. For basic use case scenarios, an Intel Core i3 or its AMD equivalent will suffice, but for more intensive workloads, a minimum of a Core i5 or Ryzen 5 will be necessary, with each subsequent higher level providing better performance. If you’re planning on doing seriously intensive tasks or playing modern AAA games, you’ll probably want at least a Ryzen 7 or Core i7 CPU, if not a Ryzen 9 or Intel Core i9. Look out for the model number; Intel’s’ latest tenth generation CPU range starts with a 10 – so a tenth generation Core i9 will have a model number 109xxx; likewise, AMD, whose Ryzen CPU line-up is now into its third generation (with new upgraded “XT” versions having recently been released) will have their third-generation line-up with model numbers 39xxx for their Ryzen 9 range, for example. Core-count is another thing to look out for. Don’t buy less than four cores unless you plan on using your computer for the most basic of tasks – eight cores and above are ideal. All Intel Core and AMD Ryzen series processors come with four or more cores.

Graphics

A computer needs a processor to handle graphics. This can be in the form of a discrete graphics or video card, which massively increases your computer’s graphical performance, or can be in the form of an integrated solution, with graphics processing built into the main processor.

If you only plan on doing general office work, browsing the internet, etc, a processor with onboard graphics will do fine. However, if you plan on more graphically demanding tasks, such as video editing, gaming, 3D rendering or photo editing, you’ll definitely want a discrete graphics card. Although there are professional options designed with video or photo editing in mind, a consumer graphics card advertised with gamers in mind will do the same job, often at a far lower price.

Dedicated graphics cards can be expensive – anything from a couple of hundred pounds to over a thousand. The last few years has seen a spike in graphics card pricing due to demand from cryptocurrency miners, who value a graphics card’s excellent number crunching abilities.

At the lower-end of the market, you’ll find PCs with graphics processing built into the main processor (CPU), with lower-end processors such as the AMD Ryzen 5 3550H, containing AMD’s onboard Radeon Vega 8 graphics solution, which is featured in the all-in-one HP Pavilion system below. Intel also manufacture CPUs with integrated graphics, such as the Core i5 9400 as featured in the Acer model below. If you plan on doing anything that requires a higher degree of graphical performance, you’ll need a discrete graphics card from one of the two players in the market for discrete graphics solutions; Nvidia and AMD; Intel are said to be working on their own discrete graphics unit but at present their only graphics solutions are those integrated into their main processors. Nvidia and AMD both produce GPUs, or Graphics Processing Units, with third-party manufacturers such as MSI or Asus usually selling the complete graphics cards, although Nvidia and AMD will usually release an initial ‘reference’ card, followed by the third-party manufacturers releasing their own cards often with added cooling in the form of multiple fan arrays, and often with the GPU’s clock speed set to a higher rate.

Nvidia’s latest range is the RTX 2000 series, although their RTX 3000 series is launching sometime in the months ahead, while AMD’s latest range is the Radeon RX 5000 series (pictured above is AMD’s Radeon 5700XT card). You should probably choose a graphics card from one of these current line-ups rather than an older model, to ensure you get the best performance and longevity. Nvidia’s RTX 2060 Super or AMD’s Radeon 5700XT are both good mid-range cards. Currently Nvidia have complete dominance over the higher-end of the market, with its RTX 2070 Super, RTX 2080, 2080 Super and 2080Ti models. They also produce the astonishingly powerful Titan RTX card, which is generally considered a “prosumer” card, i.e. sitting somewhere between the consumer and professional markets. AMD are also soon releasing new models; the RDNA2 or “Big Navi” range, which will challenge Nvidia’s current chokehold over the high-end graphics market, adding ray-tracing capabilities, something we’ll talk more about below, and which have until now only been available on NVidia GPUs. Both companies also produce professional grade cards such as Nvidia’s Quadro RTX range, although as we’re focusing on working from home, and these cards cost upwards of £2000, we won’t be looking at those in these articles.

Pictured: Nvidia’s top-tier RTX 2080 Super graphics card

Memory and storage

‘Memory’ refers to a system’s “short-term memory”, also known as RAM (Random Access Memory) while ‘storage’ refers to “long-term memory” – for example a hard-disk drive or a newer solid-state drive, for storing your programs and saved files. Pictured above are two 8GB sticks of such “short-term memory” or RAM.

Generally speaking, 8GB is the bare minimum you would want for any decently performing desktop machine, with 16GB or even 32GB recommended for the best performance.

torage-wise, try to get a machine with at least a small solid-state drive, of at least 128GB, preferably an M.2 NVMe type such as Intel example pictured here, as we mentioned above, to function as your main boot drive; holding your operating system, which you can then pair with a larger, traditional hard-disk drive of 1TB or above for your documents and other files and programs. Ideally, with solid-state drive prices at an all-time low, you would want all your storage to be of the solid-state variety, with space of 1TB and above recommended.

Other components

One of the main advantages of buying a prebuilt machine is that the system will contain the necessary cooling systems, power supply units and motherboards for the main components to function. We would keep an eye on the motherboard though if you plan on upgrading your CPU at some time in the future; for an AMD processor a B550 or X570 based motherboard will be compatible with AMD’s next generation of processors, while an X470 motherboard will ensure compatibility with Intel’s recently released tenth-generation Core series processors.

Pictured: a particularly feature-packed X570 motherboard from gaming brand Aorus – for AMD processors, a motherboard with an X570 or B550 chipset will ensure compatibility with AMD’s next generation of processors.

A few choice options

To keep things simple, we’re going to recommend a few different prebuilt machines based on your individual needs and budget. Whether you’re looking for something basic to check your emails, stream some videos on Netflix or YouTube, do some online shopping or word-processing; or are planning on playing the latest games and streaming to Twitch while having thirty tabs open on Microsoft Edge, with Spotify on in the background and rendering a few dozen 4K HDR videos in Adobe Premiere at the same time (okay maybe that’s taking it a bit far) we have some recommendations at various price points and specifications to choose from.

The Mac Mini rival, well-equipped for general office work

HP EliteDesk 705 G5 Pro Desktop Mini PC £429.99 from ebuyer.com

This small form factor machine from computing giants HP will fit unobtrusively on any desk, measuring just 17.7cm by 17.5cm, with a height of just 3.4cm and weighing only 1.26KG, it gives Apple’s Mac Mini a run for its money. It does not unfortunately share the Mac Mini’s stunning aesthetics, although it’s certainly not an ugly device, and can easily be hidden away from view given its diminutive proportions anyway. Where this device excels is in providing a decently powerful office PC at a great price, with its mid-range four-core, eight-thread AMD Ryzen 5 PRO 3400G processor with integrated Radeon Vega 11 graphics processing, a sufficient 8GB of DDR4 memory (upgradable to 64GB) and an ultra-fast 256GB NVMe solid-state drive. 256GB of total system storage is quite low, however if all you’ll be using the machine for is general office work, you won’t have any problems as office files take up very little space. In theory, you probably could swapout the 256GB NVMe drive for something larger – 1TB maybe, but this would likely void the three-year warranty that HP offer with this device. Being an HP device, it also features HP’s proprietary security suite, including HP’s Sure Recover Gen2 backup system. Coming pre-installed with Windows 10 Pro, this is a machine intended for professional users, and while it may not have the power for video or photo editing, this PC will perform all your general office applications with ease. The fact that the PC also comes with the three-year warranty provides you with that extra peace of mind should something go wrong. At just £429.99, add a low-cost monitor, keyboard and mouse and you can have yourself a complete desktop system for little more than £500.

For

  • Excellent value for money
  • AMD Ryzen 5 quad-core processor will provide more than enough power for office applications
  • Ultra-fast NVMe solid-state drive
  • HP’s integrated security solutions included with the device
  • Small, unobtrusive form factor

Against

  • 256GB total system storage is a bit lacking
  • Lack of a discrete graphics card limits graphical performance
  • Small form design and proprietary parts hinder future upgradability

The low-cost option for basic home computing and office work

ACER TC-885 Intel® Core™ i5 Desktop PC £599 from Currys PC World

This wallet-friendly option from established brand Acer, pictured below, offers some decent specs for the price. It’s an excellent choice for students, with a mid-range six-core Intel Core i5 processor with onboard graphics capabilities which will manage some less-demanding games at medium quality presets and at 1080p resolution, and will easily manage all your general internet browsing and office type applications. It also has a 128GB solid-state drive combined with a 1TB hard-drive. The solid-state drive will not have room for much more than the Windows 10 operating system, but by storing the operating system on a solid-state drive the computer will boot up far quicker and will run faster in general. Being a desktop PC, you have the ability to upgrade, for example by installing a discrete graphics card from the Nvidia or AMD, and the 8GB of RAM preinstalled, while more than enough for basic computing, can be added to, up to a maximum of 32GB which is plenty for non-power users. It also comes with a mouse and keyboard, although the price doesn’t include a monitor so you’ll have to keep some change aside to buy one yourself, although it’s fair to say the price of new monitors has come down significantly in the last few years, with decent basic monitors now on sale for less than £100, including the superb Viewsonic VA2419 24-inch 1080p resolution monitor with a 50 to 75Hz variable refresh-rate powered with AMD’s Freesync technology available at Currys for £99.02.

For

  • Great value system with more than enough oomph for basic computing needs
  • Intel Core i5 9400 six-core processor
  • Solid-state drive for quick boot-up times
  • 1TB hard-disk drive plenty of space for your files and programs
  • Keyboard and mouse included in the box
  • Options to upgrade at a later time

Against

  • No discrete graphics card
  • Not much else to complain about at this price point

The lower-mid range all-in-one option for general home computing and office work

HP Pavilion 24-xaa1007 all-in-one PC £678.97 from Currys PC World

This iMac-style all-in-one machine comes similarly well-specced as the previous ACER machine, though this time with an AMD Ryzen 5 3550H processor, and onboard Radeon Vega 8 graphics handling, and a 128GB solid-state drive in combination with a 1TB hard-disk drive for storage. The built-in screen is a 23.8-inch panel with a 1080p resolution, and the computer will handle your everyday computing needs with ease, while the integrated Radeon Vega graphics processing will manage some less-demanding games at medium settings and some very basic video editing, and perform better at these tasks than the above Acer model due to AMD’s superior Radeon Vega integrated graphics solution. This machine comes with 8GB of memory like the ACER model, however, unlike the ACER model, installing more memory is unlikely to be possible due to the all-in-one nature and design of this machine.

For

  • All-in-one design saves space on your desk and offers great convenience
  • Being built by HP from the ground up means the PC will perform optimally out of the box
  • Integrated 23.8-inch, 1080p resolution display
  • Solid-state drive installed for faster boot times, with 1TB hard drive for your files and programs
  • Excellent mid-range AMD Ryzen 5 processor with onboard Radeon Vega 9 graphics

Against

  • No discrete graphics card
  • All-in-one design means upgradability takes a hit

The lower-mid range option with discrete graphics card

The wallet friendly Asus ROG Strix GL10CS (ROG stands for republic of gamers – as for Strix, your guess is as good as mine) prebuilt desktop machine, pictured here, looks absolutely stunning, depending on your tastes of course, and is a capable PC on a budget powered by the formidable ninth generation Intel Core i5 9400 six-core processor and is the first of our recommendations to come with a discrete graphics card installed, in the form of the Nvidia GTX 1650, which sits at the bottom of Nvidia’s current line-up of GPUs released in 2019 alongside the higher-end RTX 2000 series, with the aim of catering to a more budget conscious buyer. The GTX 1650 is by no means a powerful card, with just 4GB of dedicated VRAM when 8GB has become the norm, but it will allow you to play the latest games at 1080p resolution, albeit at medium to low quality presets and with lower frame-rates than a more expensive option such as an RTX 2000 series GPU, or a GPU from Nvidia’s arch rival AMD’s 5000 series.

Also, the discrete graphics card will allow for more graphically intensive applications – like video-editing and 3D rendering – than a system with graphics integrated into the main processing unit, albeit at the most basic level. The machine comes with 8GB of DDR4 RAM which is pretty much standard fare at this price point, and combines a 256GB solid-state drive for you operating system and a few of your most used apps or games, with a 1TB hard-disk drive for general storage, enough to keep you going for a while. Whilst this is the type of big brand machine full of proprietary components, including a bespoke cooling system, Acer have made an effort to allow a decent degree of upgradability. The inclusion of built-in wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and four USB 3.1 ports increase the appeal of this machine, while the included mouse and keyboard add to the overall great value this option offers, at just £749.99.

For

  • Discrete graphics card for greatly improved graphics capabilities
  • Excellent mid-range Intel Core i5 six-core processor
  • Impressive storage provision with a 256GB solid-state drive plus a 1TB hard-disk drive
  • Better upgrade options thanks to a more traditional case design than an all-in-one system such as the above HP Pavilion model (although still limited compared with a PC built by a system integrator from third-party components)
  • Guaranteed out of the box compatibility

Against

  • Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card somewhat underpowered in this day and age, and lacking in hardware accelerated ray-tracing capabilities.
  • 8GB of RAM on the stingy side (although the discrete graphics card does add 4GB of dedicated graphics RAM)
  • Looks might not be to everyone’s taste

A highly-capable mid-range small footprint looker

 

MSI Infinite 9SC-202 Gaming PC £999.00 at Currys PC World

Like the previous machine, the Asus ROG, this handsome looking system from renowned Taiwanese manufacturer MSI comes with a discrete graphics card; this time the RTX 2060 Super, which is part of Nvidia’s top-tier RTX 2000 series of GPUs, and although it sits at the lower-end of the range it packs a mightier punch than the GTX 1650 card found in the Asus machine. This mid-range graphics card, in combination with the installed Intel Core i5 9400F processor, will tear through the latest games at high settings and at 1080p resolution with ease, and whilst not as powerful as higher-end cards, will be able to handle far more graphically demanding applications like 3D rendering or video editing than a PC with either a less powerful GPU or with graphics processing integrated into the main processor unit, not to mention providing you with high frame rates during gaming for a smooth, low-latency experience, and featuring the latest hardware enabled ray-tracing capabilities, allowing for realistic depictions of light hitting objects – if you’ve seen ray-tracing in action (see below) you’ll know what a huge difference it makes to the realism and immersive feel of a game, producing truly stunning visuals. Console gamers will have to wait until the end of the year for the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X to experience this technology, but with an Nvidia RTX card you can experience it right now.

According to Curry’s this machine will produce average frame-rates at a resolution of 1080p of 102fps for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, 89fps for Battlefield V with ray-tracing enabled or 124fps without, and 180fps for GTA 5, and Nvidia’s G-Sync variable refresh rate technology means that when paired with a compatible monitor you can enjoy gaming free of lagging and stutter caused by a lack of synchronisation between computer and monitor. The Intel Core i5 9400F processor is a competent mid-range unit, more than capable of running more demanding modern software, and has excellent multi-tasking capabilities thanks to its six-core architecture. Storage-wise, the MSI features a high-speed 256GB solid-state drive as the main boot drive allowing for quick start-ups, and has space for a few of your favourite applications, while a 1TB hard-disk drive has plenty of space for your future needs. The 8GB of memory (RAM) is a little stingy, but can’t be complained about at the price, and the graphics card does have its own 8GB of dedicated VRAM (memory reserved for graphics duties), and the small case does have space for more memory to be added, up to a maximum of 32GB. Despite its many proprietary components, MSI have made an effort to make the Infinite easy to upgrade, although not infinitely so, contrary to the device’s name. Built-in wi-fi and both onboard 7.1 channel audio processing with both analogue and digital optical outputs add to the appeal of this diminutive and good-looking computer, which at £999 is a steal.

For

  • Superior Nvidia RTX 2000 series graphics card with 8GB dedicated graphics RAM and ray-tracing capabilities
  • 256GB high-speed solid-state drive in combination with a 1TB hard drive provide an excellent storage solution
  • Excellent performance for under a grand

Against

  • 8GB of RAM a bit lacking by today’s standards
  • Small form-factor design could make upgrading a pain

Ray-tracing – worth the hype?

This image is a from a Star Wars themed ray-tracing demonstration by games developer Epic Games. The results are indeed impressive, but big budget AAA games will look pretty damn good even with ray-tracing turned off, and AMD’s current line-up of Radeon graphics cards don’t support hardware accelerated ray-tracing, while many Nvidia RTX series GPU owners end up turning off ray-tracing due to the heavy toll the extra compute power needed takes on overall performance, resulting in far lower frame-rates. This is not to mention that ray-tracing is only supported by a relatively small number of games at the moment, although with the PS5 and Xbox Series X – both of which support ray-tracing, ironically via AMD’s new RDNA2 technology rather than ray-tracing pioneers Nvidia – coming out towards Christmas, that looks set to change, with more and more developers seeking to cash in on the hype surrounding the admittedly impressive technology. AMD’s current range of consumer GPUs are aimed squarely at the mid-range market, lacking the hardware accelerated ray-tracing capabilities (although as mentioned above, AMD’s next generation Big Navi / RDNA2 GPUs will support the technology), and are often cheaper than an Nvidia equivalent. For example, the Radeon 5700XT, which is roughly as powerful as the Nvidia RTX 2070 Super, albeit lacking ray-tracing capabilities, can be bought for as low as £359.99 on Amazon, while the Nvidia 2070 Super commonly goes for prices of £500 and upwards, including the ASUS example here for £539.99 on Amazon. 

The mid-range handsome workhorse

Featuring the same elegant casing as its more expensive, higher-end sibling featured below, and coming with many of the same features too, this HP prebuilt machine has a very impressive specification for the price; a tenth-generation, eight-core Intel Core i7 10700F processor and an Nvidia 2060 graphics card, with 16GB of DDR4 memory and a combination of a 256 GB NVMe M.2 solid-state drive and 2TB hard-disk drive. It also comes packed with the same extensive connectivity options as its higher-end brother, with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, ethernet and USB C ports, and DisplayPort and HDMI outputs to connect to a monitor. As this is an HP prebuilt PC, you get HP’s three-year warranty and HP’s suite of security software pre-installed.

For

  • Powerful upper-mid range eight-core Intel i7 processor
  • Ray-tracing capable Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU
  • 256GB solid-state drive for fast boot-up times
  • Healthy 16GB of DDR4 memory
  • Many of the same features as its higher-end brother which retails for £1999 – at just £1300 this prebuilt from HP is a bargain
  • HP’s three-year warranty and exclusive software suite
  • Buying from an established industry giant like HP gives you an extra degree of confidence in the quality of the product

Against

  • The Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics card is beginning to show its age – the upgraded version, the RTX 2060 Super would have made a welcome addition
  • A larger NVMe solid-state drive wouldn’t have gone amiss
  • Not much else at this price if we’re being honest

An upper mid-range option with plenty of power under the hood

PC SPECIALIST Vortex ST-S Gaming PC from Currys PC World for £1399

Many system integrators who sell build to order PCs directly to customers, also keep a selection of prebuilt options that are often found for sale on third-party sites like Currys, such is the case with this brand-new model, which comes packing the latest tenth generation Intel Core i7 10700 eight-core processor and a healthy 16GB of RAM at a relatively decent speed of 2400MHz, by no means the fastest around but solid nonetheless. Graphics are handled by the acclaimed Nvidia RTX 2070 Super graphics card, more than capable of consumer level video editing and able to handle even the most demanding new games at 1080p or 1440p resolution, or even 4K (2160p) albeit at lower frame-rates, and with hardware accelerated ray-tracing onboard the card to boot, as is the case with Nvidia’s entire RTX 2000 series range of GPUs.

In terms of storage, a 2TB hard-disk drive provides an abundance of storage for all of your applications, projects, photos and videos, etc, with a 512GB high-speed solid-state drive acting as your boot drive for lightning fast start ups, with storage left over for quicker access to some of your favourite and most used applications. At £1399, we can’t rate this machine highly enough, although bear in mind that like most PCs at this price point and above, a monitor, keyboard and mouse are not included so you’ll have to purchase them separately, although with a bit of shopping around it’s possible to buy all three for little more than £100.

For

  • Highly capable eight-core Intel i7 processor
  • High-end Nvidia RTX 2070 Super graphics card
  • 512GB solid-state drive for quick boot-ups and fast access to your most used programs, with a 1TB hard drive providing general storage
  • Decent amount of RAM at 16GB
  • System integrator type PCs built from third-party, non-proprietary components allow for extensive upgradability

Against

  • RAM speed only 2400MHz when 3200MHz has become the norm
  • RAM upgradable only up to 32GB
  • Computers built from third-party components by system integrators can be more prone to minor compatibility and driver issues than a system such as one of MSI or Corsair’s mostly in-house builds

Level up: the mid-range option with top-tier AMD CPU

AlphaSync Ryzen 9 2070 Gaming PC from ebuyer.com for £1499.99

AlphaSync are a smaller company with twenty years’ experience building PCs, with their business model being more in line with the ‘system integrator’ approach; sourcing parts entirely from other manufacturers and not making their own proprietary technology. This allows for greater flexibility to upgrade at a later date, whilst still giving you the peace of mind of a single point of contact and single warranty should anything go wrong. Where AlphaSync differ in their approach from other system integrators is that they only sell a defined selection of models, available to buy from Yorkshire based online electronics retailer ebuyer.com, and don’t offer the option for the customer to customise. their purchase using an online configurator.

For this price though, it’s hard to imagine what you would want to change as the specs are quite impressive, with a top-tier AMD Ryzen 9 3900 processor able to run multiple power-hungry programs without the worry of lag – the Ryzen 9 range sits at the top of AMD’s consumer CPU line with their Ryzen 3, 5 and 7 ranges of processors filling the space in the market below – partnered with an Nvidia RTX 2070 graphics card; with the ray-tracing capabilities that Nvidia’s RTX series provide; and 16GB of high-speed 3200MHz memory. Storage comes in the form of an ultrafast NVMe type 240GB solid-state drive from Corsair in combination with a large capacity 2GB traditional HDD from hard-drive experts Seagate, and the Asus ATX form-factor motherboard, being based around the X570 chipset, allows an upgrade to AMD’s forthcoming new line of CPUs if you were to upgrade at some point down the road, and the Corsair 650 watt power supply unit also provides enough extra headroom for such future upgrades. Wi-fi is included, and AlphaSync offer a three-year warranty. The picture above shows the inside of the case with the Nvidia RTX series graphics card and a CoolerMaster cooling system drawing heat away from the powerful Ryzen 9 processor. This feature packed monster of a system is worth every penny of the £1499.99 that AlphaSync are charging.

For

  • Highly capable 12-core AMD Ryzen 9 processor, superb multi-tasking abilities
  • High-end Nvidia RTX 2070 graphics card
  • 16GB high-speed Corsair Vengeance 3200MHz RAM, upgradable to a maximum of 128GB
  • Ultra-fast 256GB Corsair Force MP510 NVMe type solid-state drive combined with large capacity 2TB Seagate hard-disk drive
  • Asus Prime X570 type motherboard with dual M.2 slots allowing the addition of a second ultra-fast NVMe drive
  • Regular ATX-type mid-tower build by system integrators PC Specialist allows for a greater degree of upgradability

Against

  • 256GB solid-state drive on the small side; 512GB would have been nice
  • Again, computers built by system integrators can be more prone to minor compatibility and driver issues than a more integrated build from the likes of HP or MSI
  • At this price, not much else

The upper-mid range all-in-one PC

HP EliteOne 800 G5 23.8″ FHD Touchscreen All-in-One with pop-up webcam – £1590

This machine from PC heavyweights HP offers decent specs in a convenient all-in-one configuration, even featuring a touch screen display. Packing a ninth-generation Intel Core i7 9700 eight-core CPU and 32GB of DDR4 memory, with a full 1TB ultra-fast NVMe solid-state drive, and the ability to add more storage, but not memory as the two 16GB sticks of DDR4 RAM take up the only two available slots, although theoretically you could swap these for two 32GB modules for a total system memory of 64GB, although 32GB is plenty if we’re being fair. Where this HP model falls short is its lack of a discrete graphics card, with graphics processing handled by the main Intel processor. Windows 10 comes pre-installed, alongside an array of proprietary HP software including

HP Sure Start and Sure Sense security software, which HP describe as “world-class comprehensive security solutions HP Sure Start Gen5 and HP Manageability Integration Kit are hardware enforced, self-healing, and simple to manage help protect your device, identity, and data on the HP EliteOne 800 AiO”

As we’ve mentioned previously, the loss in upgradability that comes from buying a more integrated system from a big-name brand like HP is often mitigated by the advantages that a proprietary solution offers.

  • Powerful eight-core Intel processor
  • A generous 32GB of memory
  • HP’s from-the-ground-up design offers several advantages including great compatibility and proprietary security solutions.
  • Touch-screen display adds an extra dimension of control alongside the included mouse and keyboard

Against

  • The lack of a discrete graphics card limits the system’s performance, certain graphically demanding applications will be off-limits
  • Again, being of a proprietary nature, the system lacks options for upgrading

The mid / top-tier “Team Red” Option

PC Specialist Official Fnatic Gaming PC from Currys PC World for £1599

This extravagant looking prebuilt system from PC Specialist is the first among our recommendations to feature a graphics card made by “team red” – AMD – with the “team red” moniker alluding to AMD’s Radeon branding, in contrast to “team green” Nvidia’s branding, both pictured above.

As with their processors, AMD’s Radeon graphics cards are generally better value for money, but occasionally at the cost of some stability issues. When the Radeon 5700XT graphics card, featured in this system, first came out last year, there were some issues with drivers, but AMD have since ironed out most of the initial problems.

While this system’s 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 processor is beaten in raw power by AMD’s Ryzen 9 series CPU featured in the previous system, it is still a powerful CPU that comes highly recommended.

For

  • Powerful AMD Ryzen 7 processor
  • Excellent mid-range AMD Radeon 5700XT graphics card
  • Decent 16GB system memory, upgradable to 64GB
  • Fast 500GB solid-state drive combined with a huge 2TB hard-disk drive

Against

  • Looks may not appeal to everyone
  • As we’ve mentioned, systems such as this one, built by system integrators can be more prone to minor issues with drivers and compatibility issues, although the off-the shelf nature of this system should mitigate this risk

PS This machine claims to be the ‘Official Fnatic Gaming PC’. We will check with Fnatic on this one – they are a client of ours.

The high-end option

AlphaSync Ryzen 9 2080 Super Gaming PC from ebuyer.com for £1899.92

This is another system from AlphaSync, featuring the same meaty 12-core AMD Ryzen 9 3900 processor, with its superior multi-tasking capabilities, and this time paired with the higher-end Nvidia RTX 2080 Super graphics card, which sits near to the top of Nvidia’s consumer GPU line-up, behind only the omnipotent RTX 2080Ti, and the obscenely powerful Nvidia Titan RTX card, which is arguably more of a professional graphics solution than a consumer card, or at the very least a “prosumer” card. The processor’s thermals are kept in check by AMD’s excellent stock Wraith Prism cooling system with RGB lighting effects, complementing the case fans’ RGB lighting, while storage is taken care of by data storage experts Seagate with their BarraCuda brand of drives; with a large capacity 2TB hard-disk drive in addition to a 500GB ultra-fast NVMe drive. This PC comes with 32GB of total system memory installed, by way of two sticks of 16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX 3000MHz DDR4 RAM in dual-channel configuration, increasing the memory’s bandwidth.

The 750 watt Corsair power supply unit has plenty of headroom, although the MSI B450 Tomahawk Max motherboard is among best in its class, the B450 chipset was not intended to be compatible with the new, soon to be released Zen3 range of AMD CPUs, and while AMD have responded to a backlash from the enthusiast community by adding support via an update to the BIOS (the basic, high-level firmware that runs the system, above the operating system), compromises have had to be made, including locking out support for older generations of AMD processors, and if you are seriously planning on upgrading to one of AMD’s next generation processors at some time in the future, you’d be better off looking for a system with either a B550 or an X570 motherboard to guarantee a smooth transition.

The motherboard also lacks a second M.2 slot so you’re stuck with the single stick of NVMe storage that comes preinstalled; you could potentially switch it out for a higher capacity NVMe drive like the excellent 2TB Sabrent Rocket Q 2280 available on Amazon for £219.99, but as the existing NVMe drive included in the system is the boot drive and contains your operating system and other important system files, copying all the essential files across can be a real pain, and if you make a mistake you could end up losing all your important system files.

For

  • Heavyweight AMD Ryzen 3900 12-core processor
  • High-end Nvidia RTX 2080 Super graphics card
  • Plentiful 32GB system memory
  • Ultra-fast 500GB solid-state drive combined with a 2TB hard-disk drive

Against

  • B450 motherboard may cause problems if you want to upgrade your processor at some point in the future
  • Again, a system like this built by a system integrator from third-party components can be more prone to minor issues with drivers and compatibility issues, although the non-customisable, off-the shelf type of system this is should mitigate this risk

A high-end option from an established brand

HP OMEN 30L Gaming PC available at Currys PC World for £1999

This feature-packed top-tier machine from computing behemoth HP combines an impressive spec sheet with the peace of mind that comes from buying from an established brand. Packing a brand-new tenth-generation, unlocked, eight-core Intel Core i7 10700K processor, an Nvidia 2080 Super graphics card, a healthy 16GB of fast 3200MHz memory and a cavernous 2TB hard-disk drive in combination with an ultra-fast 512GB NVMe M.2 solid-state drive. This feature-packed PC is no unsightly-looking machine either, with a brushed, textured finish and tempered glass side panels, with RGB lighting controllable via HP’s included OMEN Command Centre software. Connectivity is sorted too, with Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, an ethernet port, USB C ports and both HDMI and DisplayPort connections for connecting to a monitor.

The £1999 price-point is fair for the spec, and while an Intel Core i9 processor would have been welcomed, we can hardly complain; the eight-core tenth-generation Core i7 chip has no shortage of power, and this machine, with its high-end Nvidia 2080 Super GPU is more than capable of editing 4K videos or playing games at 4K / 2160p resolution, or any other graphically demanding application you throw at it. Being an HP device, it comes with HP’s security suite and HP’s three-year warranty for that much appreciated extra peace of mind.

For

  • Powerful tenth-generation Intel Core i7 eight-core processor
  • High-end Nvidia 2080 Super graphics card
  • Ultra-fast 512GB solid-state drive combined with a 2TB hard-disk drive
  • HP’s three-year warranty and exclusive security software
  • 16GB of fast 3200MHz DDR4 memory

Against

  • A top-tier ten-core Intel Core i9 CPU would have been nice, but we’re nit-picking really
  • A 1TB NVMe solid-state drive would also have been nice, but again, we’re splitting hairs at this point

The even higher-end option

PC SPECIALIST Tornado R9 Gaming PC from Currys PC World for £2399

This mighty prebuilt machine from aptly-named system integrators PC Specialist provides a similar spec and level of performance as the MSI Trident X Plus machine we’ve reviewed below, yet is on sale for a full £1000 less. In fact, its AMD Ryzen 9 3900X CPU is generally considered superior to Intel’s Core i9 9900KF processor, with its 12 compute cores versus the Intel’s octa-core solution. It also features the same top of the line Nvidia RTX 2080Ti graphics card with its 11GB of dedicated VRAM. Where the Trident X beats this model is with its 64GB of system RAM compared with this machine’s 32GB. However, 32GB is more than enough for all but the most intensive use-case scenarios, and the standard ATX form-factor design of this machine allows the user to easily add more memory in the rare case 32GB is not enough, potentially up to a maximum of 128GB by installing four 32GB RAM modules into the four memory slots on the motherboard.

Storage-wise, this heavy-duty machine combines a 1TB super-fast solid-state drive (although it’s not specified on the Currys PC World site whether this is the latest ultrafast NVMe type solid-state drive or the older SATA type) with a 2TB hard-disk drive, more than enough for even heavy users to get going with, and a next-gen compatible X570 motherboard, built-in wi-fi, Bluetooth 5.0 and ethernet connectivity, as well as four of the latest USB 3.1 ports on top of 2 USB 2.0 and one USB Type-C ports make this a versatile and flexible machine. If you can get past the somewhat garish appearance, you could save yourself a grand over the similarly specced MSI Trident X, which could be spent on some decent peripherals, perhaps a high-end 4K monitor, mechanical keyboard, wireless mouse and some Logitech speakers.

For

  • Immensely powerful AMD Ryzen 3900X 12-core processor
  • Top of the range Nvidia RTX 2080Ti with 11GB of dedicated graphics memory
  • 32GB RAM, upgradable to a maximum of 128GB
  • Super-fast 1TB solid-state drive combined with a 2TB hard-disk drive
  • X570 motherboard compatible with next-gen AMD processor line-up

Against

  • Distinctive and ostentatious looks may be a turn-off for some buyers
  • 3000MHz RAM at this price point seems a little on the slow side

The top-tier all-in-one iMac Pro rival

HP ENVY 32-a1001na All-in-One PC available for £2499 from Currys PC World

This aesthetically-pleasing iMac-style all-in-one from HP rivals the iMac Pro in substance as well as style, with its tenth-generation eight-core Intel Core i7 10700 processor and, unlike the previous all-in-one from HP we reviewed, a discrete Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card. The GTX 1650 is unfortunately a rather underpowered graphics card – sitting right at the bottom of Nvidia’s current line-up, and below their RTX 2000 range of ray-tracing enabled cards. It does however offer a much-needed graphical boost, enabling video editing and other graphically intensive workloads that a system with an integrated graphics solution would struggle with. Elsewhere the machine is decently specced, with an integrated 4K resolution display (although unfortunately not touchscreen), dual 40-watt inbuilt speakers tuned by Bang & Olufsen, and the same excellent connectivity we have come to expect with HP – Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, USB C, plus a three-in-one memory card reader – unusual to see included with modern PCs but very welcome nonetheless.

In terms of memory and storage, the machine has a healthy 16GB of DDR4 memory, with a 512GB solid-state drive combined with a 1TB traditional hard-disk drive.  HP includes a 1-year limited parts, labour, and pickup and return service warranty with the device, as well as their usual proprietary security software. Being an all-in-one type-PC, a webcam and microphone is integrated into the system, making this an excellent device for video conferencing and Zoom meetings. At the £2499 asking price, we would have liked to see a more powerful graphics card – an Nvidia 2060 Super would have been very much welcomed, although it’s worth remembering that the £2499 price does include a 4K / 2160p resolution 32-inch monitor, mouse and keyboard, and webcam and microphone.

If you spend a lot of time on conference calls, require that bit extra graphical power that a discrete graphics card provides, or are simply looking for a powerful, sleek-looking all-in-one system, then this machine from HP may fit your requirements rather nicely indeed.

For

  • Powerful tenth-generation eight-core Intel i7 10700 processor
  • HP’s proprietary design provides simplicity, guaranteed compatibility, and HP’s own suite of security software
  • 4K display offers excellent visual clarity and image definition
  • Nvidia discrete graphics card is a very welcome addition
  • All-in-one form-factor offers unrivalled convenience

Against

  • The underpowered Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU is better than an integrated graphics solution, but an Nvidia RTX 2060 Super or higher would have been much appreciated
  • For the hundredth time, this system’s proprietary nature may well hinder future upgrade options

The top-end small form-factor beast

MSI Trident X Plus 9SF-488EU Gaming PC available at Currys PC World for £3399

This absolute workhorse of a PC from MSI packs some seriously powerful components into its small dimensions, coming with Intel’s mighty Core i9 9900KF processor which sits right near the top of the chip-maker’s top tier Core i9 series of CPUs and is one of the most powerful processors on the market. With its 8 compute cores and 16 threads, it will handle some of the most resource hungry applications out there, and while AMD’s Ryzen 9 3900X and 3950X have more compute cores at 12 and 16 cores respectively, software companies are only just starting to make use of such large core counts, and Intel’s processors generally run slightly more stable than AMD’s chips, and while an enthusiast may find enjoyment diagnosing and fixing system malfunctions, the average user just wants stability, which is something Intel’s chips are renowned for.

Accompanying the Intel CPU is the equally impressive Nvidia RTX 2080Ti graphics card with 11GB of dedicated VRAM, and that’s on top of the 64GB of low-latency DDR4 system memory, which is frankly overkill for a consumer machine – but here lies a major advantage of buying a consumer gaming style PC over something more professional – you can get a gaming PC with specs to rival a professional workstation for a fraction of the price, purely on the basis of the PC being targeted at a different demographic and use-case scenario.

It also comes installed with both a 2TB high-speed solid-state drive and a 2TB hard-disk drive, allowing you the user to place files and applications reliant on fast access onto the solid-state drive and store less speed reliant files such as documents and photos on the slower hard-disk drive. Built in Bluetooth connectivity and the latest dual-band wi-fi add to the already appealing nature of this top-tier machine, which, despite its small size, is designed with the ability to upgrade in mind, and whilst it’s not by any means cheap at £3399, it is most definitely worth the extra outlay over a less powerful machine if you plan on using the system for power and resource intensive tasks.

For

  • Immensely powerful system with top of the range Nvidia RTX 2060Ti graphics card and Intel Core i9 processor
  • Elegant design and diminutive size mean this PC will look great on your desk
  • Excellent storage provision with both a 2TB solid-state drive and a 2TB hard-disk drive
  • 64GB of DDR4 RAM should be more than enough for demanding, multitasking applications
  • Being fully designed and built by MSI allows for optimal performance, right out of the box

Against

  • Rather pricy – a similarly specced PC such as the above PC Specialist Tornado R9 costs a lot less
  • The styling of this system may not be to everyone’s taste

The beast with TWO graphics cards

PC SPECIALIST Vortex XE Gaming PC available for £3999 from Currys PC World

This machine from PC Specialist contains not one but two graphics cards, and not just any graphics cards; the Nvidia RTX 2080Ti – Nvidia’s top-tier consumer GPU. On the CPU side, the PC runs a brand-new tenth-generation Intel Core i9 10900K processor, a multithreaded, ten-core powerhouse fit for the most demanding multitasking applications. Advertised as a gaming machine, this will run the latest AAA games in 4K (2160p) resolution at ultra quality presets with ease, but can just as easily be put to work editing videos or any other intensive workloads. Its 16GB of RAM is rather stingy at this price point, but there’s space to upgrade to a maximum of 64GB, more than enough for 99% of users, plus the graphics cards each pack 11GB of dedicated graphics RAM, so that effectively adds an extra 22GB of total system memory. In terms of storage, this feature-packed machine comes with both a 1TB solid-state drive and a 2TB hard-disk drive. With regards to connectivity, it has built-in wi-fi and Bluetooth to boot. At just under £4000, it’s not cheap by any means, but with its dual-GPU array and tenth-generation, top-tier processor, you get your money’s worth.

For

  • Dual RTX 2080Ti graphics card arrangement provides extreme graphical fidelity
  • Exemplary specification including a tenth-generation Intel Core i9 CPU
  • Non-proprietary ATX build makes upgrading components a breeze

Against

  • The price is again too high for many consumers
  • 16GB of system memory at this price point is disappointing

The Mac Pro slayer

CORSAIR ONE PRO i200 Compact Workstation-Grade PC available direct from Corsair for £4699.99

This machine, aimed squarely at professionals working in the creative industries, with a price to match, is a stunningly powerful PC with an impressive spec, even for the price, with the latest tenth generation, top of the range Intel Core i9 10940X processor with 14 compute cores, an Nvidia RTX 2080Ti graphics card, 4 x 16GB of DDR4 RAM totalling 64GB, on top of the 2080Ti’s 11GB of dedicated video RAM, a 2TB ultra-speed NVMe solid-state drive, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, all the usual inputs and outputs including 8 USB 3.1 connections, both an HDMI and 4 DisplayPort video outputs, a high-definition audio output and 2 ethernet connections.

This is a system built from the ground up for high-performance professional workloads, handling complex multitasking with video editing and 3D rendering handled with ease. The machine takes up a smaller footprint than most, weighing just 7.8kg and using the Mini-ITX platform, with Corsair having designed the system from the ground up with a customised liquid cooling system to keep both the CPU and GPU cool without making a racket in the background. For your peace of mind, the system comes with a two-year warranty.

At the price, this is obviously not for the average consumer, but for a professional looking for a machine powerful enough to handle anything they can throw at it, this makes a fantastic alternative to the Mac Pro which by the way has a starting price of £5000, whereas the money spent here includes everything you need to get started, minus the monitor and keyboard, but that’s a given at this point.

For

  • High-powered machine capable of intensive multi-threaded applications
  • Excellent specification including top-tier Nvidia RTX 2080Ti graphics card, as capable rapidly rendering 4K HDR video content as it is playing the latest AAA games at extreme frame-rates
  • Built from the ground up by Corsair for optimal compatibility
  • Fantastic proprietary cooling system allows for excellent, low-noise acoustic performance

Against

  • The sheer price of the thing places it out of the reach of many consumers
  • The proprietary nature of the system’s componentry is again a limiting factor when considering upgrading

Corsair do also sell a version of the Corsair One aimed more at the consumer market, pictured here, with similarly high specs and prices to match, starting from £2399.99 for the i45, which features an Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia 2080 Super graphics card, which is rather disappointing – at this price we would surely expect a truly top-tier CPU and graphics card – either an Intel Core i9 series or an AMD Ryzen 9 series processor, and an Nvidia 2080Ti (or even an RTX Titan if we were pushing our luck); for the same price you could buy a PC Specialist Tornado R9 gaming PC from Currys, pictured below, which does come with both a top-tier Ryzen 9 3900X processor and a similarly top-tier Nvidia RTX 2080Ti, which are both a step up from the Intel Core i7 and Nvidia RTX 2080 Super combination that the Corsair One i45 packs, although the PC Specialist machine is neither as diminutive or smart-looking as the Corsair One, but then if you wanted form over function, perhaps you should be looking at an Apple.

Pictured: the PC SPECIALIST Tornado R9 Gaming PC from Currys PC World for £2399, as we reviewed above, costs the same as the Corsair One i45, but packs a far heavier punch, with a much more powerful 12-core AMD Ryzen 9 3900X processor compared to the Corsair’s eight-core Intel Core i7; and a top-of-the-range Nvidia RTX 2080Ti graphics card over the Corsair model which comes with Nvidia’s next model down; the RTX 2080 Super, still a superb, powerful card but at these kinds of prices, you want to know you’re getting value for money.

Wrapping up

As we’ve mentioned previously, buying a pre-built machine from an established brand provides you with a complete system, ready to use, with the added peace of mind that you have a single point of contact, and warranty, should anything go wrong with your device. However, you are limited by the options offered by the brands; should you wish to choose exactly which components to spend your money on, depending on what you value most, and what tasks you will be using your PC for, the near infinite range of configurations that a customised option can offer you will ensure that you end up with a system specifically tailored to your most exacting needs. In the next article in our home working series, coming next week, we’ll be looking at these more customisable options; either by having a computer built to order by a system integrator, or building one yourself.

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