Lenovo H520 Review

From $360 Best

The H520 from Lenovo packs in plenty of features, including a 1TB hard drive and, in its base configuration, a pretty fast Intel Pentium CPU. Experts like its general-purpose and low-intensity multimedia capabilities and users like the value.

Lenovo H520 reviews consider this a solid budget desktop, especially for anyone interested in a PC wrapped in a smaller case. In a review of a Lenovo H520 configuration with richer specs than the base configuration (i.e., more memory and an upgraded CPU), PC Mag calls attention to the slim profile -- about half the size of the usual tower, according to the manufacturer -- and commends the performance given the budget pricing. The Lenovo H520 (starting at $360, Amazon) ranked highly in testing, especially multimedia, and put on a respectable graphics show. Other positives cited in the Lenovo H520 review include wireless support and the minimal presence of unnecessary extra software. Users also comment on the lack of bloatware in posts at Best Buy and praise the system's performance, with many saying it surpasses their expectations for speed and handling of multimedia content and smoothly tackles run-of-the-mill computing tasks. A different configuration sold at a significantly higher price point likewise draws praise in posts at Staples for speed and quiet efficiency, although one reviewer wishes the included keyboard were sturdier.

The cheapest configuration of the Lenovo H520 includes 4GB of memory and an Intel Pentium CPU; the next level up offers 6GB of RAM and runs on a faster Intel Core i3 CPU. (The configuration tested by PC Mag included an even faster Core i5.) All versions are fitted with a 1TB hard drive and use the Windows 8 operating system. The Lenovo H520 also features a DVD/RW drive, 7-in-1 media reader, and built-in wireless and Ethernet support. Connections include six USB 2.0 ports.

The Lenovo H520 is just right for budget shoppers seeking a solid performer with a compact footprint. This desktop is more than fast enough for daily PC tasks, and its feature set is quite good for this price range. The entry-level specifications don't quite match up with the Gateway system we researched, but you can't quibble with its performance or price.

Gateway DX4870 Review

From $430 Best

Gateway's DX4870 offers the best combination of features among all the desktop PCs we found for less than $500. It sports 6GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive, runs on the speedy Intel Core i3 CPU, and offers Bluetooth. Experts and users laud its performance.

The combination of performance, features, and price place this model at the top of the budget desktop PC class, according to Gateway DX4870 reviews. PC Mag chose this model to be an Editor's Choice recipient. The expert review says the Gateway DX4870 really delivers at a value price, and in particular notes the 6GB of RAM (more than the 4GB often found in cheap desktops), wireless support, and HDMI port. Testing of a slightly different configuration by PC World also resulted in solid performance numbers, and this Gateway DX4870 review recommends it for the types of jobs initiated by students and small businesses. Consumers give the Gateway DX4870 (starting at $430, Amazon) a thumbs-up in reviews at Best Buy, where they talk up its speed, price, and copious storage. They also say it's user-friendly -- easy to set up and boot up -- and reliable. Many are less enthusiastic about the Windows 8 operating system, an assessment that we found pervasive in the entry-level PC category.

The base configuration of the DX4870 includes an Intel Core i3 CPU, which is slightly more powerful than the Intel Celeron or Pentium CPUs often included in cheap PCs. The 6GB of RAM is also more generous than the amount of memory included in most low-priced systems, and there's enough space to add even more. This model also includes a 1TB hard drive, 6-in-1 memory card reader, and a DVD/RW drive. It boasts built-in 802.11n wireless networking, supports Bluetooth, and also features a 10/100/1000 Ethernet connection. There is an HDMI port on this PC, as well as two speedy USB 3.0 ports and six USB 2.0 ports.

Gateway's DX4870 is the best value we found in the budget desktop PC category. It's faster and more powerful than the competition and sports nice extras, such as wireless support and two USB 3.0 ports. Although this system is plenty speedy for everyday tasks and light casual gaming, it's not built for more intense games; the integrated graphics technology just isn't powerful enough for the demands of 3D gaming. Aside from that, this computer can handle anything you throw at it.

Where to buy

Dell Inspiron 660s Review

From $300 Good

Like so many budget Dell PCs we've seen in the past, the Inspiron 660s is a solid journeyman system. It's a bit on the slow side, but is a very good value, especially at its starting price. The cheapest configuration includes 500GB of memory and an Intel Celeron CPU.

Many computer users have long relied on Dell to deliver good, low-cost PCs. The Inspiron 660s (starting at $300, Amazon) is the latest budget model, and users' reviews say it hits all the right notes. Dell Inspiron 660s reviews at Best Buy indicate that buyers like the tower's streamlined size and consider it well-suited for basic PC tasks like word processing, search, email, and social media. Reviewers also report that it's reliable and easy to set up, and say the wireless support is a welcome feature and the low price is a big draw. Although most Dell Inspiron 660s reviewers at Amazon express satisfaction with its performance, a minority cite operational snafus, from lagged response to system crashes. A pricier configuration with a speedier processor generally garners positive appraisals. What doesn't is the Windows 8 operating system, which is the butt of complaints in many Dell Inspiron 660s reviews.

The cheapest configuration of the Inspiron 660s runs on an Intel Celeron CPU, although versions with a higher grade CPU are available with higher price tags. It runs Windows 8 and comes with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive; a 1TB drive in combination with an Intel Core i3 CPU is also offered. The Inspiron 660s features integrated graphics and audio, support for wireless and Ethernet connections, an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 and six USB 2.0 ports.

Dell is a tried-and-true maker of budget PCs. For the most part, the Inspiron 660s is true to type despite a few reported hiccups. It is modestly priced and modestly fitted out, although the wireless support is unusual at this price point. In all, this system is one of the better values around, especially for routine (i.e., not graphics-intense) needs.

Where to buy

Dell.com
$799.99   $879.99
Dell.com
$799.99   $889.99
Dell.com
$1,399.99   $1,509.99
bizrate.com

Dell Inspiron One 20 Review

From $400 Good

All-in-one desktop PCs are becoming more popular, and Dell's Inspiron One 20 is a worthy buy. The cheapest configuration lacks a touch display (the monitor has good picture quality) and the Intel Celeron CPU and 500 GB of memory adequately handle users' everyday needs.

More and more budget PCs are appearing in an "all-in-one" form, and Dell Inspiron One 20 reviews reveal that users are nuts about the space-saving design (the operational system is in the back of the monitor) as well as the performance. In particular, reviews of the Dell Inspiron One 20 posted at Best Buy laud the speed and easy set up, and features like the built-in webcam. Some posts at Amazon report the system manages simple video applications without any snags although graphics-intense gaming lags a bit. Dell Inspiron One 20 reviews also commend the quality of the display and say the model is appropriate for students, youngsters, seniors, and anyone with run-of-the-mill computing needs.

The Inspiron One 20 (starting at $400, Amazon) uses an Intel Celeron CPU in its cheapest configuration, which also includes a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM. A step up in price by about $100 nets an Intel Pentium processor, and, depending on vendor, another 500GB in the hard drive for a total of 1TB. The lower-priced systems feature a non-touch 20-inch screen with a 1600x900 LED display; several buyers expressed regret in their reviews at not having opted for the pricier touch screen given that this machine runs on Windows 8. There is also an integrated webcam, support for wireless connections as well as Bluetooth, and five USB 2.0 ports.

For consumers short on space and in need a low-cost desktop, the Inspiron One 20 is a good way to go. It offers enough power to handle typical PC tasks without effort despite its diminutive footprint. The absence of USB 3.0 ports is a bit of a letdown, but the speedy hard drive, wireless/Bluetooth capability, and built-in webcam are strong lures.

Where to buy

Dell.com
$38.99   $49.99
bizrate.com

Asus CM1735 Review

From $397 Think Twice

The CM1735 from Asus contains a budget AMD CPU, which slows down this entry-level desktop PC. Some users complain that the computer is prone to freezing and shut downs.

The Asus CM1735 (starting at $397, Amazon) sports a few nice features but suffers from occasional technical problems and corner-cutting in places that prompt critical reviews. An expert Asus CM1735 review posted at About.com likes the 6GB of RAM and 1TB hard drive, specs that exceed those of most budget desktop PCs. But the system has no USB 3.0 ports or built-in wireless support, and its low-end AMD CPU isn't as powerful as Intel processors. The reviewer notes that the Asus CM1735 can still handle the usual mundane tasks, but it definitely doesn't have as much punch as Intel-based machines. A few comments found at Amazon and Newegg contain reports about freeze-ups and problems booting up. Other Asus CM1735 reviews are more positive but do note that the system seems a tad slow.

The 6GB of RAM and large 1TB hard drive are this model's strong points -- most entry-level systems feature 4GB of memory and a 500GB drive. That said, the lack of other features outweigh the extra RAM and hard drive space. The low-end AMD CPU helps to keep the Asus CM1735 in the sub-$400 range, but at the expense of oomph. There are also no USB 3.0 ports, which are increasingly common even in budget desktops. The CM1735 has a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a 6-in-1 card reader, and six USB 2.0 ports.

Performance of the Asus CM1735 is undermined by the AMD processor, and we'd prefer to pay a little extra for an Intel-based PC. Generous hard drive space and a little extra memory aren't enough, in our opinion, to compensate for the slow CPU and absence of USB 3.0 ports. Reports of this system's tendency to freeze are also a bit disconcerting.

Where to buy

HP Pavilion 20-b010z Review

From $454 Think Twice

The HP Pavilion 20-b010z all-in-one desktop PC has most of the features you'd expect to find, but it's held back by a slow, budget AMD CPU. The lack of power at this price (even for an all-in-one) just isn't very attractive.

The biggest knock against this budget all-in-one desktop, according to HP Pavilion 20-b010z reviews by experts and consumers, is lack of pep. To be sure, entry-level PCs are not designed to be high performance machines, but even they must meet performance expectations. PC Mag likes the non-touch 20-inch LED display, saying in its HP Pavilion 20-b010z review that the 1600x900 resolution nicely handles 720p content, with sharp lines and colors that pop. Testing with 2GB of RAM and a low-end AMD processor, however, showed power deficits even though the review notes that this modestly-priced all-in-one is adequate for basic computing jobs, like web surfing and playing videos. Pokey performance is the major complaint lodged by users against this system. At Amazon, which has been selling machines with 4GB of memory, users' HP Pavilion 20-b010z reviews report irritating waits before a program opens and a general lack of responsiveness. On the other hand, many users assert this all-in-one is a decent value, easy to set up, and compact.

The towerless HP Pavilion 20-b010z (starting at $454, Amazon) all-in-one runs on an AMD CPU and comes equipped with 2GB or 4GB of RAM (varies by vendor), a 500GB hard drive, a multi-format card reader, and a webcam. The Pavilion 20-b010z includes two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, and an Ethernet 10/100 port; some versions are configured for Wi-Fi.

Like the Dell Inspiron One IO2020, the HP Pavilion 20-b010z is designed for small spaces. However, HP cut a significant corner with the budget AMD CPU. This decision should have held down the cost to buyers, but the Pavilion 20-b010z is priced on par with the Dell all-in-one, which uses a faster Intel processor. We don't expect a budget PC to be a powerhouse, but there are better, faster all-in-ones to be found at this price.

Where to buy

ServerSupply
$70.00
ServerSupply
$30.00
ServerSupply
$45.00
bizrate.com

Buying Guide

When purchasing a cheap desktop computer it's important to understand what you're getting. Entry-level computers are simple systems designed to carry out everyday PC tasks. They're not ideal for more intensive, graphics-heavy activities such as video editing or 3D gaming. Still, the best cheap PCs can do much more than handle email and surf the web. We sought out sub-$500 systems with the hardware for multitasking and multimedia. We found contenders from major manufacturers including Dell, Gateway, Lenovo, Asus, and HP.

Desktop PCs Buying Guide

Our top picks are the Gateway DX4870 (starting at $430) and Lenovo H520 (starting at $360). The Gateway offers the best combination of features below $500 that we've seen, and it's speedy, to boot. The Lenovo H520 boasts slightly different specs and is a tad slower but costs about $70 less. We found a pair of good cheap desktop computers from Dell: The Inspiron 660s (starting at $300) comes with two USB 3.0 ports and support for 802.11b/g/n wireless connections yet manages to keep the price well within budget range; the Dell Inspiron One 20 (starting at $400) is an inexpensive all-in-one (no tower) system, an unusual package in the budget market, but Dell delivers without sacrificing too many features or display quality. HP also has a sub-$500 all-in-one, the Pavilion 20-b010z (starting at $454), which presents a nice display but is undone by the slow AMD CPU. The Asus CM1735 (starting at $397) also relies on a relatively pokey AMD CPU, which overshadows the appeal of 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive; red flags also include complaints about this system's tendency to freeze and shut down.

In terms of features, some of the cheap desktop PCs we researched come in various configurations at various price points depending on the vendor. That said, they all contain processors from Intel or AMD, both makers of good components, although Intel CPUs tend to be more powerful than budget AMD processors. A worthy entry-level computer should have at least four gigabytes of RAM, as do all those discussed here; still, the more the merrier. Even cheap desktops generally have sizeable hard drives, and our picks feature drives with at least 500GB; a couple even come with a 1TB (terabyte) drive -- the equivalent of about 1,000 GB -- which is quite generous for home users. And remember, the days of Windows 7 are now past; Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system is standard on all new budget PCs.

What most cheap desktop computers lack is a monitor included at the base price. If you want a PC with a monitor for less than $500, consider an all-in-one, which has the guts of the PC built in behind the display. The Dell Inspiron One 20 and HP Pavilion 20-b010z are two examples of budget all-in-ones.

Low-cost desktops showcase nearly the same hardware, so we leaned on expert and user reviews to choose the best among them. In general, reviews indicate that our picks easily handle most everyday tasks, including web surfing, email, word processing, and playing video clips. Cheap computers are not designed for intense 3D games, but users can certainly play simpler games, such as Bookworm and Bejeweled. What separates cheap desktop computers from the big boys? Pricier PCs boast faster and more powerful processors, more gigabytes of memory, and massive hard drives; some also include a Blu-ray drive. Consumers can drop a couple thousand dollars on a high-end PC without much difficulty.

Many computer users may be tempted to choose a sleek, sexy laptop PC over a boxy, mundane desktop, but it's worth taking some time to weigh the pros and cons of each. The simple fact is you get more bang for your limited buck from a cheap desktop than from a low-cost laptop. A desktop might seem so last decade, but it's easier to repair and upgrade and delivers more power per dollar. With a laptop, the manufacturer must fit the same hardware into a smaller package and add a hefty battery, both of which increase the cost of the end product. If you're looking for value and portability isn't a priority, a cheap desktop is the better deal.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

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.

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.

Desktop PC Components

Entry-level desktop systems all contain a minimum amount of memory, storage, and USB ports but a side-by-side comparison suggests that more of these features may better suit users' needs.

Memory.

If a PC has too little random access memory, or RAM, its performance will be sluggish. Fortunately, memory is a fairly inexpensive feature, so manufacturers can bump up a desktop's RAM without increasing the overall cost of the system too much. A good budget computer should have at least 4GB of RAM. Two of the budget systems we checked out, the Gateway DX4870 and the Asus CM1735, boast 6GB of RAM while the others feature 4GB. (The Lenovo H520 carried by certain vendors comes with 6GB and the HP Pavilion 20-b010z is available at retail with 4GB although experts tested it with 2GB.) The mid-tier Velocity Micro Vector Z25 comes with 8GB of RAM, as do most PCs in that higher price range.

Storage.

Even low-cost computers have sizeable hard drives. The desktops we researched offer either 500GB or 1TB (or about 1,000 GB) of storage, which should be plenty for home users. Like system memory, hard disk drives are fairly cheap, which is why manufacturers can afford to offer copious storage without driving up the retail price.

Three of our picks in the base configuration feature a 500GB hard drive: the Dell Inspiron 660s and Inspiron One 20, and the HP Pavilion 20-b010z. The Gateway DX4870, Lenovo H520, and Asus CM1735 come with 1TB hard drives.

Graphics.

Don't expect too much from a cheap desktop on the graphics front. Entry-level machines almost always use integrated video chips rather than separate and more powerful video cards that add to the price. The built-in video processors on low-cost desktops correspond to the CPU brand inside the system and can handle many basic tasks, such as photo editing and casual games like Candy Crush. Try running more graphics-intensive programs like the latest 3D video shooter, however, and it'll be a dud -- budget systems simply lack the horsepower. Even the Gateway DX4870, the most powerful desktop on our list, is short of gaming chops, according to users and experts at PC World. Indeed, virtually every expert review we read includes the caveat that low-end desktops simply aren't made for PC gaming.

If you're not a gamer, don't worry about finding a system with discrete graphics capabilities. Even the Velocity Micro Vector Z25, which wins kudos from PC Mag for its impressive graphics capabilities, uses an integrated graphics chip in its base configuration. Serious gamers should upgrade to a separate graphics card and, likely, a stronger power supply -- or just buy a beefier, pricier gaming computer. Shoppers with a bent for gaming who are interested in the Vector Z25 can upgrade to a discrete video card for as little as $90. (Velocity Micro is primarily an online vendor that offers numerous customization options.)

Operating Systems.

Windows 7 had been nearly ubiquitous on budget computers until Microsoft introduced Windows 8, which the company terms a "reimagining" of its operating system. Early reviews of the new OS have been positive, with both CNET and PC Mag rating it above average. Both caution that the learning curve may be steep for some users -- the new design doesn't include the familiar "start" menu, for example.

Frugal desktop purchasers have little choice, however. All the models we researched come with Windows 8 already installed, although shoppers gunning for the Velocity Micro Vector Z25 can choose Windows 7 instead. Why pick Windows 7 instead of Windows 8? Turns out a lot of users aren't very fond of the new OS. Windows 8 has a completely different look and feel than Windows 7, so users are in for a shock when first encountering Win8. We read complaint after complaint about the new operating system in the majority of reviews. Users simply don't like it. Microsoft will soon release an 8.1 version that should make the transition to Win8 easier for many. For an informative overview of Windows 8.1, check Tech Radar.

Optical Drives.

An optical drive is usually standard equipment on an inexpensive desktop computer. All the desktops on our list include a CD/DVD burner, which can read CDs and DVDs and burn data onto recordable CDs and DVDs. Some more expensive PCs include Blu-ray drives, which are still too expensive to make it onto budget systems. If you buy through a manufacturer that lets you customize and buy a PC online, you may be able to add a Blu-ray drive for an extra fee.

Additional Features.

Computer manufacturers may not add lots of frills to budget computers but there are some basic extras that most low-cost PCs include, such as a keyboard and mouse. Also look for a generous number of USB ports (for connecting everything from a printer to a digital camera), and keep an eye out for USB 3.0 ports, which transfer data faster than 2.0 ports. All the budget PCs we researched come with at least four USB 2.0 ports in their base configurations, but only the Gateway DX4870, Dell Inspiron 660s, and HP Pavilion 20-b010z boast USB 3.0 ports (two in each case).

Card readers are another popular feature found in budget PCs. These devices can read a variety of memory cards from digital cameras and other devices. All of our picks include a media card reader that can handle SD and MMC cards, among others.

Built-in wireless support is ubiquitous in laptops but not quite so in desktop PCs. The Asus CM1735 and Velocity Micro Vector Z25 require wired connections. The Lenovo H520, HP Pavilion 20-b010z, Dell Inspiron 660s and Inspiron One 20, and Gateway DX4870 support wireless, as well. The latter two models also cozy up to Bluetooth-enabled devices.

HDMI ports, also very common in laptops, are starting to appear more often in the budget desktop segment. The Gateway DX4870 and Dell Inspiron 660s feature an HDMI port.

Additional Products We Considered

Velocity Micro Vector Z25 Review

From $799

If you're willing to spend more than $500 on a desktop PC, an expert Velocity Micro Vector Z25 review suggests this desktop is worth the investment. The system is easy to customize -- Velocity Micro being primarily an agile online vendor -- and after testing by PC Mag with an upgraded (Nvidia) graphics card, the Vector Z25 review concludes that its graphics performance is impressive. This model earns the review site's Editor's Choice award for mid-priced desktops on the strength of its prowess on day-to-day tasks, photo editing, and 3D gaming. The Velocity Micro Vector Z25 earns additional points for eschewing extra bloatware, a scourge on many entry-level PCs.

The Vector Z25 (starting at $799) is based on a speedy Intel Core i5 CPU and runs Windows 8 (a free upgrade to Windows 8.1 is now available), although it can be ordered with Windows 7. The base configuration features integrated graphics, but buyers can kick it up a notch or so by opting for a dedicated video card for as little as $90. This mid-level desktop includes a fast, 1TB hard drive and 8GB of RAM, with space to expand both. For connections, the Vector Z25 boasts four USB 3.0 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, and a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port. Unlike many entry-level desktops, this higher-priced model does not come with a mouse and keyboard.

Budget desktops certainly fulfill an important need in many homes, but not everyone wants to use a bare-bones system as their primary computer. Consumers who prefer a desktop with significant power won't find what they're looking for in the budget category, and that's where midrange systems like the Velocity Micro Vector Z25 step in. These PCs are pricier than those on our list, but that doesn't mean there aren't good values to be found. The Vector Z25 is one of the better deals around -- a powerful PC that can be configured to suit individual requirements without costing a small fortune.

Where to buy