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Desktop PCs Speed and Power

The performance of even the best low-cost PCs lags that of mid- and high-end desktops, especially when it comes to games or other programs that place heavy demands on the hardware. Still, desktop computer reviews indicate that experts and consumers expect good performance when it comes to the basics: web browsing, emailing, photo editing, listening to music, watching YouTube videos, and so on.

For the most part, the entry-level desktop computers we researched meet those expectations -- some better than others.

Indeed, many users actually seem impressed with how well certain inexpensive desktop PCs perform, according to their online comments. We narrowed the field to systems that have undergone expert scrutiny and emerged with positive appraisals, although slight differences in the specifications of a given model are sometimes reflected in slightly different ratings. Computer experts devote much of their attention to pricey models with the latest and greatest hardware, which limits the pool of desktop computer reviews focused on the computers in our price range.

Overall Performance.

Budget desktop PCs aren't going to blaze through 3D games and other intensive programs, but any low-cost desktop should have enough heft to handle everyday computing tasks with ease. All the systems we researched are certainly capable in these areas, with some delivering more of a performance pop than others. Performance is largely determined by the CPU, although the amount of memory plays a role as well.

The Gateway DX4870 (starting at $430) is the most powerful among our picks, thanks to its Intel Core i3 CPU and 6GB of RAM. It shines in benchmark tests by PC Mag, which bestows its Editor's Choice award on this system. Several users rave about the speed and performance in desktop computer reviews at Best Buy, where one writes that the Gateway DX4870 is far, far faster than the system it replaced although it falters slightly on the gaming front. The only systems that perform faster cost more than $500 and include better hardware.

The Lenovo H520 (starting at $360) isn't quite as peppy with its Intel Pentium CPU and 4GB of RAM, but still has snap. A review in PC Mag of a slightly different model lauds its multimedia abilities and reports that it excelled in all the benchmark tests. That slimmer version has different specs, though, so we turned to comments posted at outlets such as Staples, where users commend the speed and overall value of the H520.

Both Dell PCs we researched are solid performers, although not blazing fast; in their most basic configurations both contain Intel Celeron CPUs and 4GB of RAM. Users expressed mixed opinions about the Dell Inspiron 660S (starting at $300), which may reflect the particular specs on the units they purchased. Several desktop computer reviews at Amazon, for example, report crashes and complete breakdowns while posts at Walmart and Best Buy are more supportive, asserting that the Inspiron 660s is fast, efficient, and sufficient for everyday needs, including media functions like watching videos and playing basic online games. Users who reviewed the Dell Inspiron One 20 (starting at $400) at Best Buy like this all-in-one. One user appreciates how quick the system is given its space-saving footprint, and while compliments about speed are sparse, so, too, are complaints about lack of power. By and large, users conclude that the Inspiron One 20 is fast enough for general computing purposes and meets their expectations.

Review continues below

Both the HP Pavilion 20-b010z (starting at $454) and Asus CM1735 (starting at $397) are too slow for the tastes of most budget shoppers, according to desktop computer reviews. The Pavilion 20-b010z uses an inexpensive AMD CPU and 2GB of memory in the base configuration tested by PC Mag, which may account for what the review terms its "middling" performance. Another expert at Computer Shopper is likewise critical of the 20-b010z's performance, or lack thereof; testing by this reviewer of the same configuration also turned in sub-par numbers. The Asus CM1735 uses a budget AMD CPU, as well, but includes a generous 6GB of RAM. An About.com desktop computer review asserts the processor can't compete with those from Intel, although the writer concedes that it provides sufficient power for basic PC uses such as web browsing and playing videos. A few users' reviews grumble about poor reliability due to system failures, like crashing and freezing.

If you crave a powerful desktop PC, you'll have to open your wallet a little (or perhaps a lot) wider. The Velocity Micro Vector Z25 (starting at $799) boasts an Intel Core i5 CPU, which is much faster than the budget Intel and AMD processors found in cheaper PC desktops. Of course, the faster CPU isn't the only reason why the Vector Z25 costs over $300 more than a budget system -- the 8GB of RAM also helps -- but it's a big factor.

All-in-One Displays.

Two of the systems we researched, the Dell Inspiron One 20 and HP Pavilion 20-b010z, are all-in-one desktop PCs with the operational guts built into the display (good-bye tower). The Pavilion's display looks good, according to expert reviews, with vivid colors and a wide viewing angle. A reviewer at Computer Shopper says the Pavilion's 20-inch display is one of the better panels in its class and the model's best feature. The screen is non-touch, however, and the review cautions this makes navigating Windows 8 a bit, um, "touchy." Screen quality on the Dell Inspiron One 20 impresses users as well, who say the non-touch 20-inch display is perfect for their needs. The fact that it's an all-in-one PC makes for a very fast and easy setup, which users consider an added bonus.

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