Laptops — especially convertible laptops like Microsoft Corporation‘s ((NASDAQ:MSFT) Surface Pro and Surface Book– may be the hottest PC category, but when it comes to back to school shopping there’s still a strong case to be made for desktop computers.
Portability is a plus, but it’s not a must-have for all students. In many cases, power is more important and the best computers when you need muscle for demanding tasks are desktop computers.
There’s also a strong case for all-in-one desktop PCs in particular as a dorm room focal point: a big screen model like Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMac can be a computer, home entertainment center, stereo, video conferencing system and even a light duty gaming machine — all in a single device.
With students preparing to head back to the classroom, here’s our pick for five of the best desktop computers for students going back to school in 2016.
Best Desktop Computers for Students: Apple 21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K Display
While the ultimate iMac is the colossal 27-inch with 5K display, that’s a pretty pricey student option that can quickly top $2,000.
For most students, the 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Display is closer to the sweet spot. Even with an upgrade to a powerful Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) Core i7 CPU it’s under $1,600. Apple will also throw in a free pair of Beats wireless headphones as part of its 2016 back to school promotion.
This all-in-one offers Apple’s sharp eye for design, a durable aluminum enclosure, a razor-sharp 4096 x 2304 display and more than enough power to handle most software.
However, if your course requires Windows software or you’re a gamer, a Windows-based PC is probably the better option.
Best Desktop Computers for Students: Dell Inspiron 24 7000 All-in-One PC
Dell may be best known for laptops and desktop computers aimed at business, but it makes some snazzy PCs that appeal to students as well. Among these are the Inspiron 24 700 series of all-in-ones.
Starting at just $999, you get an adjustable Full HD 24-inch touchscreen display, 6th generation Intel Core CPU, Windows 10 and even an Intel RealSense camera for Windows Hello biometric login.
Want to play games or run demanding applications like 3D modelling software? The $1,400 top-of-the-line model includes a Core i7 CPU, 12GB of RAM and an Nvidia Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA) GeForce 940M video card with 4GB of RAM.
Best Desktop Computers for Students: HP Envy 860 Phoenix Gaming PC
HP sent me one of these for a review a few months back and it was one of the best computers I’ve had the opportunity to use this year. The current $1,300 starting price makes it especially attractive.
Even the base model features impressive specs, including a 6th generation quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU with 16GB of RAM. Also included are liquid cooling, a whopping 3TB of 7200 RPM hard drive storage and a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 video card.
Plus a cool brushed metal case with LED light show.
You can add options like a more powerful video card, an SSD (up to three drives total) and up to 32GB of RAM, but the one must-do upgrade for students is a better keyboard and mouse. The ones HP packs in with the Envy 860 Phoenix are pretty basic.
Best Desktop Computers for Students: Asus Zen AiO Pro
Students looking for a showcase desktop PC that can take on the iMac for looks should be pretty happy with the Asus Zen AiO Pro.
While the Zen AiO Pro is a match for Apple’s all-in-one in the visual design department — including a brushed gold-finish aluminum enclosure — Asus really cranks up the entertainment center credibility. That makes this one of the best computers to replace a TV in cramped quarters like a dorm room.
The 24-inch multi-touch display is available in 4K resolution, there are six speakers packed inside and they’re powered by a 16-watt amplifier. An Intel RealSense 3D camera is also included for Windows 10 Hello facial recognition and high resolution Skyping.
Best Desktop Computers for Students: Acer Aspire AT3
The final choice for best computers for students this year is an inexpensive option with some nice features.
The Acer Aspire AT3 offers all the advantages of desktop computers in an affordable package that starts at just $699.
For the entry-level price, you get a quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 745 video card with 4GB of RAM and a 2TB hard drive.
Acer also throws in a unique capability that will appeal to owners of smartphones like those from Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF): The top cover is a wireless charging surface! Set a compatible smartphone on the PC and it charges automatically.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.