Top 5 desktop computers for back to school

Laptops are a popular choice for students, thanks largely to their portability. That portability comes at a cost, though: screen size and processing power are a challenge in something small enough to be carried, and many current laptops are essentially sealed units with limited upgrade options. That’s why desktop PCs are still in high demand among students. They can be much more powerful, and even an all-in-one PC will have a display far larger than any laptop. Desktop computers almost always offer more ports for peripherals and accessories. Most are also relatively easy to upgrade should you decide later on that more RAM, additional storage or a new video card are in order. If there’s a new PC on your back to school shopping list, this list of top 5 desktop computers should make it easier to make the right choice.

HP Pavilion PC — Silver

This new HP Pavilion is a prime example of a classic desktop PC form factor, that’s been updated for a modern appearance (just look at that brushed silver finish), while packing all the latest technology.

Top 5 desktop computers for back to schoolThe tower form factor means a wealth of ports, old and new. You’ll find four each of USB 2.0 and USB 3.1, plus a USB Type-C port. There is also HDMI, VGA, an SD card reader and even an optical DVD-writer. For students who need to use accessories and peripherals like external drives, trackpads, microphones and cameras, there is a port for everything—new or old. 

Power is provided by a 9th generation Intel Core i5 CPU with six cores. 8GB of RAM comes installed, but there’s room for up to 32GB. Storage is another strong point. A massive and fast, 2TB 7200 rpm hard drive has the capacity for multimedia projects, movies and music, while a 128GB SSD offers lightning fast access for the operating system and commonly used files.

Top 5 desktop computers for back to schoolHP Pavilion Gaming PC

The HP Pavilion Gaming PC looks an awful lot like the first PC on the list, and it shares many specs with that Pavilion. But HP has upgraded this version in all the right places, giving it more muscle for gaming and a radical shadow black finish with green accents.

Key upgrades are a 400W power supply, 256GB of SSD storage and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card with 6GB of dedicated video RAM. Multiplayer gaming action will never hiccup whether your internet connection is hardwired or wireless, with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2×2) Wi-Fi and a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port. There’s even a matching black wired keyboard and mouse in the box so all you need is a nice computer monitor for a killer gaming setup. And powerhouse computer for school, of course …

Top 5 desktop computers for back to schoolASUS ROG Strix Gaming PC

The ROG (Republic of Gamers) brand from ASUS is well known for its compelling gaming PCs. This ASUS ROG Strix gaming PC won’t just look cool on a dorm room desk (and with that sculpted front panel and Aura Sync RBG LED lighting it certainly will look cool), it’s also VR-ready.

The 9th generation 2.9GHz Intel Core i5-9400processor can be overclocked as high as 4.1GHz for an extra performance boost, and there’s an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card with 4GB of video RAM. The dual-drive approach of 1TB HDD and a 128GB SSD offer the best of both worlds: mass storage, plus speed for the files that count.

Naturally it has all the ports you could want, and to make video games and movies even more immersive, its sound card supports 7.1 Virtual Surround audio with DTS:HeadphoneX.

HP Pavilion 23.8-inch Touchscreen All-in-One PC

All-in-one computers are great when space is limited, like small student bedrooms and dorm rooms. With a big display and built-in speakers, these systems are great at pulling double duty as entertainment centres. When you think all-in-one PC there’s a good chance you’re picturing an Apple iMac, but there are compelling models from other PC vendors as well. And they offer advantages like native Windows 10 support and touchscreen displays.

Top 5 desktop computers for back to schoolThe HP Pavilion 23.8-inch Touchscreen All-in-One PC is a great example. Powered by a six-core, 8th generation Intel Core i5 CPU with 8GB of RAM and an unusual high performance  extra—16GB of Intel Optane memory for incredibly fast data transfer between RAM and storage (and faster overall performance). The built-in display is a big, beautiful, Full HD touch-enabled panel that has plenty of room to work. It looks pretty nice playing streaming video as well, supplemented by audio from the computer’s B&O Play sound card. The 2TB HDD has the space for a sizeable movie collection, and years worth of school assignments.

This is also a perfect desktop computer for video collaboration or Skype calls home, with its integrated HP TrueVision FHD Camera.

Acer Aspire TC Desktop PC

The final computer on my list is a stealthy workhorse from Acer, the Aspire TD desktop PC. The Aspire TC doesn’t stand out by being flashy or aggressively styled. In fact, it’s quite compact and discrete for a tower.

Top 5 desktop computers for back to schoolInside, there is all the hardware needed for school use, plus room for expansion. A six-core Intel Core Ci5-8400 processor at 2.80GHz with 8GB of fast DDR4 RAM and integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 make for snappy performance. There’s plenty of storage with a 2TB, 7200rpm drive and a DVD+/-RW optical drive. All the ports you’d expect to see are there, as well as Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Anything you’d want to connect, you can connect to this computer, whether it’s wired or wireless.

There are slots available for future expansion as well, including one available PCle x16 and a pair of M.2 slots.

Of course there are plenty of desktop PCs to choose from and the definition of “best” is going to vary from person to person. If you didn’t see a model you are interested in here, Best Buy has hundreds more desktop computers to choose from. And if a laptop would be a better choice for you, be sure to check out my list of the top 10 laptops for back to school.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. I have been writing about technology for several decades for a wide range of outlets including Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, MSN,, Kiplinger, and GeekDad. I’m in my 10th year as a senior contributor for Forbes with a focus on reviewing music-related tech, Apple gear, battery power stations and other consumer electronics. My day job is with the Malware Research Center at AI-native cybersecurity pioneer CrowdStrike.