The average user doesn't need to spend thousands of dollars on a top-performing desktop computer. Computers costing less than $1,000 provide plenty of performance for surfing the web, sending emails, composing office documents and even gaming (as long as you keep your expectations in line with their cost). Cheaper computers -- $500 and less -- cut some corners, but still satisfy users with basic demands.
However, power users such as top-gun gamers -- as well those who need serious power for work, such as video editors and other creative professionals -- will benefit from the extra oomph under the hood of a more powerful desktop. These desktop computers have top-of-the-line processors, lots of memory, huge hard drives and advanced discrete graphics. You'll pay more for this type of computer, up to $3,000 and more for high-performance systems that will leave most gamers and professional users smiling. Yes, some hard-core gaming models go for more than $7,000, though very, very few need the firepower such systems can deliver.
In the past, all-in-one desktop computers that combine the computer and monitor into one unit weren't a good choice for intensive tasks. That's no longer true, and all-in-one PC desktops with high-resolution touch-screen displays take the best advantage of all of the features in Windows 8. The Apple iMac all-in-one lacks a touch screen, but the Mac OS X does not have touch features, so that's a minimal deal.
One complication in buying a desktop computer is that most vendors -- and particularly online sellers -- offer a multitude of options, and any changes from the system as reviewed can help or hurt performance. These modifications also greatly impact the bottom line. For those who build custom configurations at PC-maker websites, it's easy to increase price substantially -- sometimes by thousands of dollars -- as you add performance and other upgrades.
To make our recommendations, we scour professional and user reviews to find the best desktop computers. These include PCMag.com, CNET, PC World, Computer Shopper and other technology sites that conduct thorough testing and provide comparative results. Then we supplement the professional computer reviews with feedback from desktop computer owners who post at sites such as Amazon.com and BestBuy.com.
Analyzing that information, we separate the best computers from the ones that are nearly as good by considering a number of factors. Performance, of course, is key. Reliability and how well the maker backs its desktop computers should something go wrong are also considered. Finally, we look at which desktop computers offer the best bang for the buck.