The Ultimate Oculus ‘Holiday Rift’ Guide

 

Jumping into high-end VR isn’t as easy as picking up an Oculus Rift. Check out the games and accessories you’ll need to truly embrace virtual reality.

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At its developer conference this year, Oculus gave its Rift VR headset a permanent price cut; get it and a Touch controller for $399.

Jumping into high-end VR isn’t as easy as picking up an Oculus Rift, though. You’ll need a compatible PC, a few accessories, and—of course—games that can take advantage of its powerful features.

If the Oculus Rift is on the holiday wishlist of someone you care about this year, be sure they’re ready for virtual reality on day one. Below, check out our list of Oculus-ready PCs, accessories, and games the VR fan in your life will love.

 

Asus Zen AiO Review & Rating

 

Since you probably already own a smartphone and a laptop, and maybe even a tablet, is there still room for a desktop in your life? Perhaps, if you’re a dedicated PC gamer. But the average American office worker probably doesn’t want to come home from a long day of sitting at a desk to, well, sit at a desk. So consumer-level desktops have transformed into digital bulletin boards, all-in-one PCs that can sit in the kitchen and let you video chat with grandma, find a chicken parmesan recipe, watch video clips, or play some music. Buying an Apple iMac, the best-known all-in-one, is going to cost you, but there are a handful of capable Windows alternatives that seek to replicate the iMac experience as much as possible for less than $1,000, including the Asus Zen AiO ($999). Be prepared to compromise on computing prowess, however: This system is fine for a kitchen PC, but power users will want to spend a bit more for the Editors’ Choice 21.5-inch iMac.

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Sleek Design

The design is decidedly iMac-like, but the black, sleek bezel that surrounds the display is even narrower than the one on Apple’s AIO, especially at the bottom. It’s marred only by an Asus logo at the bottom center and a rather cringe-worthy “SonicMaster Premium” moniker at the bottom right. It’s supposed to indicate the prowess of the AiO’s speakers, but it’s an odd thing to highlight since the two stereo speakers delivering a total of six watts of sound are hardly anything to get excited over. They’re loud enough for playing videos or music in a large room, but they’re nowhere near as notable as the incredible speaker array on the Dell XPS 27 all-in-one, which sounds better than many home theater setups.

The display itself is an LED panel with in-plane switching (IPS) technology, which means that the colors and contrast don’t wash out when you view it from an angle. It’s a touch screen, which is perhaps its signature advantage over the non-touch iMac. An all-in-one installed in a central location in your house just begs to be touched, since family members will most likely use it for quick tasks like pausing music or swiping through a photo album. The full HD (1,920 by 1,080) resolution, however, leaves something to be desired. It somehow appears grainier than laptop screens with equivalent resolutions, and is certainly inferior to the gorgeous Retina display on the iMac. The graininess problem is akin to what we’ve experienced while using the Acer Aspire Z3—if you look closely, you’ll see the individual square pixels, which makes text look jagged and images less brilliant.

Standard Port Complement

The keyboard and mouse that come with the Zen AiO are basic wireless models, which connect using a tiny receiver that you plug into one of the USB 2.0 ports at the rear of the unit. They’re fine in a pinch as a backup input method for tasks that can’t be accomplished with the touch screen. The mouse is ambidextrous but on the small side, and it’s not sculpted to fit your hand. The keyboard’s chiclet-style keys are satisfyingly stable, but the board itself is flimsy and you can hear it rattle as you type. If you plan to use the AiO for longer typing sessions, you’ll certainly want to invest in a higher-quality keyboard.

With the receiver for the keyboard and mouse taking up one of the USB ports, that leaves one more USB 2.0 port and a total of four speedier USB 3.1 ports available. It’s a relatively standard complement for an all-in-one, although USB-C ports—now standard on most laptops and desktops—are conspicuously absent, as they are on the Asire Z3. The iMac’s superior I/O complement includes two USB-C ports and four USB 3.0 ports, and although it lacks the two USB 2.0 connectors, its keyboard and mouse connect via Bluetooth, so there’s no dongle to take up an extra port.

The AiO also features an HDMI-out port for connecting to an external monitor (which you probably won’t need to do), a gigabit Ethernet jack, a single audio-out jack, a Kensington-style lock slot, a power button, and an SD card reader. They’re all easily accessible at the rear of the computer, and while the power button and Ethernet port are somewhat hidden by the stand, they’re nowhere near as hard to reach as the ones on the XPS 27. Measuring 18.9 by 25.6 by 2.4 inches (HWD), the unit is relatively light—it only weighs 16 pounds, compared with the 38-pound XPS 27—and the stand design makes it fairly easy to rotate the AiO to access the ports if you need to plug something in. The stand offers fairly limited tilt options, however, which means you’ll want to install it on an elevated surface so you’re not touching your chin to your neck to look at the screen. I prefer the XPS 27’s stand, which supports a completely horizontal orientation that lets you interact with the PC as if it were a large tablet lying on a table.

Adequate for Skype and Streaming Video

One of the most appropriate tasks for a kitchen PC is video conferencing, whether via Skype, Facebook Messenger, or another platform. The Zen AiO’s front-facing camera and built-in microphone is adequate for casual video sessions, although you’ll want to skip taking still photos with its measly 1-megapixel sensor. As an added bonus, there are infrared sensors so that you can log in to your computer using Windows Hello Face Sign-In. That’s a nifty feature for a PC shared among family members, since you can train Windows Hello to recognize a different face for each user account.

Wireless connection options include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1, and Asus supports the system with a one-year warranty that includes return shipping. If you need to send your AiO in for service, you’ll have to pay for outbound shipping yourself, which is a far more costly proposition than sending a laptop.

Midrange Processor

Asus offers a few different Zen AiO versions, but they’re not configurable—you’ve got to be satisfied with the components that Asus pre-installs. My configuration of the Zen AiO is decidedly midrange, as its price suggests. In my testing, the Intel Core i5-7200 CPU running at 2.5GHz and the 8GB of memory helped videos stream smoothly and web pages load quickly, which is the bulk of what you’ll likely use this AIO for. Likewise, the storage configuration—a 128GB SSD and a 1TB HDD—results in quick startup times while still providing ample room for your photos and videos. It’s a much better setup than the single 2TB hard drive in the Aspire Z3, which takes an eternity to boot up since it lacks an SSD.

Asus Zen AiO Performance Chart

Confirmation of the AiO’s suitability for everyday computing tasks comes in the form of its result on our PCMark 8 benchmark test (3,124), which measures web browsing, video conferencing, word processing, and many other activities that PC users are likely to do every day. Anything higher than 3,000 on this test indicates snappy performance, although the Aspire Z3 scored a bit higher (3,341) thanks to its Core i7, and workstation-class PCs typically score a few hundred points higher.

Asus Zen AiO Graphics Performance Chart

Unfortunately, you could be disappointed if you plan to use the Zen AiO for anything other than multimedia consumption or web browsing. The Aspire Z3 can edit photos and video much faster, finishing our collection of Photoshop image-manipulation tasks in 3 minutes and 3 seconds, nearly a minute quicker than the Zen AiO. Likewise, the AiO was slower at completing our Handbrake video-editing task (2:14) than both the Aspire Z3 (1:08) and the iMac (1:04). However, the AiO was quicker at both of these tasks than the Lenovo ThinkCentre X1, a business-oriented all-in-one with an older sixth-generation Intel Core i5.

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Without a discrete graphics card, the AiO is also unsuitable for playing graphics-intensive games, although at least it’s in good company. None of the comparable all-in-ones was able to generate adequate frame rates on our Heaven and Valley video game simulations at full resoulution and maximum quality settings. Even the iMac, with its superior AMD Radeon Pro 560 graphics card, failed to breach the 30fps threshold that’s commonly regarded as the minimum for enjoyable gameplay. If you plan to use your all-in-one as a gaming rig, you’ll have to significantly increase your budget to purchase a system with a more powerful GPU.

Ready for Your Kitchen

A midrange all-in-one like the Asus Zen AiO can be a useful addition to a busy household, even if every member of it also uses a smartphone. It’s better than an iMac in one very significant way: It has a touch screen, which makes it ideally suited to kitchen computing. Still, if you’re willing to stretch your budget by a few hundred dollars to buy an one of Apple’s AIOs, you’ll be rewarded with an immensely higher quality (if slightly smaller) 4K display, along with more computing power and a better selection of ports. Depending on how you and your family plan to use your new all-in-one, those advantages may outweigh the Apple’s lack of a touch screen.

HP Omen Desktop (880-025se) Review & Rating

 

Everything you can see and touch on the HP Omen Desktop (880-025se) (starts at $799; $1,399 as tested) is eminently satisfying, from the window that invites admiring, lustful gazes deep into the chassis to the etched plastic that covers the top and most of the front of the sculpted, appropriately aggressive-looking case. This is not a boring tower desktop into which HP stuffs a graphics card, lights, and logos. Since it won’t likely leave your den to strut its stuff, though, it’s the performance that matters more. That is going to depend on how you configure it; the gaming performance of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070-powered unit I tested is adequate, but some of its midrange gaming desktop competitors can do better, including the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition, which remains our Editors’ Choice for budget gaming desktops.

A Peek Inside

Unlike the radical design of the HP Omen X, a grey cube that balances on one of its edges and strives to be a piece of modern art, the Omen is simply a regular desktop case with two notches cut out of the top and bottom of the front edge. The top notch is much bigger than the bottom, and it houses the front I/O panel along with access doors for two of the four hard drive bays. To access the bays, you flip open the doors, unlock the drive sleds beneath, and pull them out using the included fabric tabs, which are embossed with the Omen logo. It’s an impressive bit of engineering, even if it is ostentatious. The whole thing measures 16.4 by 17.4 by 7.6 inches (HWD).

The front ports include an SD card reader, two USB-C ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, and an audio input jack. They’re all on the right-hand side of the notch, and balancing them out on the left-hand side are silver letters arranged vertically that spell out the Omen name. Below the ports, on the vertical section of the case’s front, is the door for the DVD-RW drive. You apply pressure to the top of the drawer to release the drive tray.

At the top front of the case, there’s a convenient built-in carrying handle (although there’s no holder for a gaming headset). At the rear, you’ll find the locking mechanism for the case cover, which requires no tools to open. While the cover includes a transparent window and the interior of the Omen is lit with red LEDs while it’s powered on, the window is tinted, which means you don’t get a good glimpse of the components until you open the case.

 

 

The ability to peer into your gaming PC through a transparent case is a matter of personal preference, of course, although I find the Omen’s design to be an intriguing compromise between the completely transparent cases of high-end gaming machines like the Origin Neuron and the ordinary opaque, grey plastic of the XPS Tower Special Edition, which is first and foremost a general-purpose PC.

Once you open the cover, you’ll find plenty of space between the components for easy access. The most important bits are front and center on the motherboard: the GTX 1070, along with four memory slots (two of which are filled with 8GB modules on my test unit) and a 256GB M.2 SSD. To the right of the motherboard are the two 3.5-inch externally accessible drive slots mentioned earlier, and there are two more at the bottom of the case, one of which is occupied by a 2TB 7,200RPM hard drive. This storage arrangement is an ideal setup for a gaming PC, since you can store most of your collection on the larger spinning drive and move a few titles that you’re currently playing to the SSD.

 

 

Around back, you’ll find four USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports for connecting mice, keyboards, or other peripherals that don’t require fast data transfers. On the GTX 1070 itself there are plenty of display outputs for single or multiple monitor setups, including three DisplayPort connectors, an HDMI port, and a DVI output. Rounding out the port selection are audio line out and in jacks, a headphone jack, and a gigabit Ethernet port.

Wired, Wireless, or Both?

You’ll certainly want to use a wired network connection for gaming, but it’s nice that the Omen also includes 802.11ac and Bluetooth wireless radios in addition to the Ethernet ports. If you connect to the internet via Wi-Fi and Ethernet simultaneously, you can use HP’s Omen Command Center software utility to send gaming traffic over the faster of the two connections (likely the wired one), and relegate everything else to the slower one (likely Wi-Fi). The resulting decrease in latency could make online gameplay much more enjoyable if you’re one of the many people who have a finicky router or an unreliable internet service provider. The utility is informative and easy to use, offering stats on each app’s network prioritization and data usage and how much total bandwidth you’re consuming.

The Omen is eminently customizable, with a wide range of processor, storage, and memory combinations. Although the unit I tested includes a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, you can also choose one of the latest eighth-generation Intel CPUs or AMD’s new Ryzen processors. The graphics card menu is equally diverse, ranging from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 to dual GTX 1080s. AMD’s Radeon cards are also available. Some of the processor options are overclockable, although the 3.6GHz Core i7-7700 in my test unit is not. If you choose one that is, you can manage the clock speed using the Omen Command Center. The upshot of all these options is that if the Omen’s case design catches your eye, HP will sell it to you as a budget tower, a midrange gaming rig good for games with less-demanding graphics, or a performance powerhouse.

 

 

HP includes a basic USB optical mouse and keyboard with the Omen, neither of which are suited for gaming. You’d do much better to configure the system with HP’s own Omen-branded mouse and mechanical keyboard for a $100 premium, or plug in your own gaming mouse and keyboard. The Omen comes with a one-year hardware warranty and 90 days of phone support.

A Good Performer for the Price

Although the HP Omen seeks to be all things to all gamers, the version I tested is quite clearly aimed at gamers on a budget who still want a machine capable of playing the latest AAA titles, so I pitted it against three of its closest competitors priced at about $1,500. In addition to the XPS Tower Special Edition, the lineup includes the iBuyPower Snowblind Pro and the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y710 Cube. Each of these PCs sport a GTX 1070 with 8GB of dedicated memory and Core i7 processors from Intel’s seventh generation, except for the sixth-gen Core i7 found in the IdeaCentre.

 

HP Omen Desktop Graphics Performance Chart

 

On the Fire Strike Extreme benchmark, a test that truly taxes the graphics subsystem, the Omen achieved a respectable score of 7,706. That’s quite a bit lower than the Snowblind Pro’s 8,333, but at least it’s not the lowest score of 7,582, which belongs to the Lenovo. Fire Strike Extreme serves up theoretical, proprietary benchmark scores, so for a more real-world look at how the Omen renders actual games I ran the Heaven and Valley gaming simulations. Each of the desktops performed admirably, with frame rates hovering around 100 frames per second (fps) on both simulations running at Ultra quality and 1080p resolution. The Snowblind Pro took top honors again here, however, and the difference between its average score of 114fps on the Heaven test and the Omen’s 102fps could be a deal-breaker for some gamers.

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Note that none of the systems are capable of immersive 4K gaming, since each scored 30fps or lower on the Heaven and Valley tests at 4K resolution.

 

HP Omen Desktop Performance Chart

 

The Omen will work fine as a general purpose PC. It’s not as quick on our multimedia editing tests as the XPS Tower Special Edition is, but it completed our Handbrake video-encoding task in 52 seconds, which means it’s hardly pokey. On the all-encompassing PCMark 8 Work Conventional benchmark, which measures web browsing, video conferencing, and other common PC tasks, the Omen’s score of 3,750 is near the bottom of a narrow range, which tops out with the XPS’s score of 3,977.

It’s Mostly About the Looks

The HP Omen’s main strengths are its looks—sure to seduce people who love well-organized and well-equipped PC innards—as well as its exhaustive array of configurable options. In the configuration of my test unit, a budget gaming machine that can moonlight as a powerful content creation tool, the Omen gets the job done even if it does drop a few frames compared with its similarly priced competitiors. Buying one, then, really comes down to a matter of taste. If the sleek case wins you over, ostentatious flair and all, then there’s little reason not to buy it, since pretty much everything else is customizable. On the other hand, if you know your gaming PC budget down to the last cent and you don’t care much about looks, there are better-value desktops out there, including the iBuyPower Snowblind Pro and the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition.

Dell Inspiron 27 7000 All-in-One Review & Rating

 

Few all-in-one PCs rival the impeccable styling of the Apple iMac, but the Dell Inspiron 27 7000 All-in-One (starts at $999; $1,799 as tested) comes close. Its star attraction is a 27-inch InfinityEdge 4K display, with bezels that are so thin that the pixels seem to drip off the edge of the computer and extend forever, as the name suggests. Beneath the hood, this is one of Dell’s first high-end consumer PCs available exclusively with AMD’s new Ryzen processors and Radeon graphics cards. Their performance is comparable to their Intel counterparts in the 27-inch iMac. That performance, along with a gorgeous display, make the Dell an excellent—even superior—alternative to the iMac, although it’s not quite as impressive as the XPS 27, our Editors’ Choice for high-end all-in-ones.

A Very Attractive All-In-One

Dell has been making good looking all-in-ones for several years, and has recently upped its game with the XPS 27 and its workstation equivalent, the Precision 5720. These machines each have an array of 10 speakers and glossy 4K touch-enabled displays that make them stand out among their handful of high-end all-in-one competitors, from the Microsoft Surface Studio to the 27-inch Apple iMac. The Inspiron 27 7000’s appearance is comparatively more staid, though. In fact, it’s most notable for what it lacks: a large bezel.

The 4K (3,840-by-2,160) display on our review unit has enough pixels to comfortably accommodate two app windows with room to spare, but it’s not a touch panel, nor does it have a glossy finish that makes blacks deeper and colors more vivid. The silver lining is that the matte finish significantly reduces glare from ambient light in the room, and thanks to the wide viewing angles afforded by in-plane switching (IPS) technology, the Inspiron 27 7000 makes a great kitchen computer. Its 350 nits of brightness are plenty for a matte screen; turned up to 100 percent, it appears similar in a casual comparison via naked eye with the glossy screen of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which sports 500 nits of brightness.

There are two very large caveats to the Inspiron 27 7000’s suitability as a kitchen computer, however. At $1,800, it is extraordinarily expensive for a machine that will mostly display the family calendar and occasionally serve as a Skype platform, and the immense power needs of the Radeon RX 580 graphics card necessitate a giant, awkward 330-watt AC adapter. The adapter is truly enormous—it’s what you might expect from a gaming laptop with a top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, for instance. You’ll need to find a place to hide the square black plastic monstrosity, since you certainly won’t want it taking up counter space in a public area of your house.

The power-thirstiness of the RX 580 is one of its main drawbacks compared with the equivalent card from Nvidia, a GTX 1060. Fulfilling those requirements is necessary if you plan to use the Inspiron 27 7000 for gaming, but if you don’t and space is scarce where you plan to install it, you can configure the PC with a less-powerful and less-power-hungry RX 560, which comes with a more manageable 180-watt AC adapter. (The RX 580 alone requires up to 185 watts of power).

 

 

The reason that AC adapters are needed at all is because the Inspiron 27 7000 itself has no internal power supply, making it extraordinarily thin and light for a 27-inch all-in-one PC. It measures just 15.5 by 24.2 by 2.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 22 pounds. The 27-inch iMac, in comparison, is a full 5 inches taller and more than an inch wider, although it weighs about the same (21 pounds). Both are mere feathers compared with the 37-pound XPS 27, which is weighed down by both an internal power supply and its generous speaker complement. Speaking of which, the stereo speakers and 5W subwoofer on the Inspiron 27 7000 deliver remarkable power at full volume, certainly enough to fill the entire first floor of an average-sized house, although they cannot compare with the exquisite highs and earth-shattering bass of the XPS 27’s 10 speakers.

Since the Inspiron 27 7000 has no touch screen, it comes with a fixed-height base that allows only tilt adjustments—you can’t raise or lower the PC, nor can you orient it completely horizontally. The unsophisticated stand is less of a drawback in itself than it is a reflection of the fact that the Inspiron 27 7000 is not touch-enabled, another downside compared with the XPS 27. That means you’ll be interacting with Windows 10 using a plain old keyboard and mouse. The wireless models on my review unit are stylish and comfortable—I particularly admire the mouse’s boomerang design.

Like most high-end PCs released in 2017, the Inspiron 27 7000’s webcam has built-in IR sensors that let you use it to log in to Windows via face recognition. It’s an especially useful feature for a family PC that’s likely to have multiple user accounts, and the process works well on my review unit despite the awkward placement of the camera below—instead of above—the screen. The thin bezels of the InfinityEdge display leave no room for a traditionally placed camera, so be prepared to crouch down slightly when you’re Skyping with your relatives. At least the camera’s centered; Dell laptops with InfinityEdge displays, like the XPS 13, have webcams in the lower left-hand corner, which means they mainly get a view of your left knuckles typing on the keyboard.

Configuration Options

Since this is a Dell, there’s a wide range of component options. Memory starts at 8GB and tops out at 32GB. Hard drive options include 1TB spinning drives (at either 5,400RPM or 7,200RPM) or dual configurations with either 128GB or 256GB of solid-state storage along with the 1TB spinning drive. My review unit is handsomely equipped with 16GB of memory and the 256GB dual-drive configuration. It’s definitely worth springing for this storage configuration if you want to future-proof your PC, since it is the only one that includes the faster NVMe SSD interface, resulting in noticeably faster app loading and system startup times. You don’t have to worry about future-proofing this system as much as you would with a comparable iMac, however, since Dell has thoughtfully included a back cover that is user-removable, allowing you to access the drives and memory. The iMac can’t be opened—you’ve got to stick with the components it came with.

 

 

The input/output ports are located in three spots on the Inspiron 27 7000. At the easily accessible lower left edge, you’ll find an SD card reader, a USB 3.1 port, and a headphone jack. Around back, but equally accessible, are HDMI input and output connectors in case you want to connect a laptop to the gorgeous display, as well as three more USB 3.1 ports, a USB 3.1 Type C port, and two USB 2.0 ports, one of which will be occupied by the dongle for the wireless keyboard and mouse. Tucked away in a hard-to-reach spot behind the stand are an audio out port, a gigabit Ethernet connector, and the power port. These cables are designed to pass through a hole cut into the stand, since you won’t be plugging them in or unplugging them frequently.

You probably won’t be plugging in an Ethernet cord at all, actually, thanks to dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1. The system also comes with a basic one-year warranty, and Dell offers several tiers of optional premium support plans.

Ryzen Inside

Because the Inspiron 27 7000 is powered by an AMD Ryzen 7 1700 processor, its performance is told in two very different parts. We’ll start with the first, which is how the system measures up on our theoretical benchmark tests. The Ryzen series of processors are new this year, intended to get AMD back into the mainstream processor market, perhaps on an equal footing with Intel, which has been the provider of choice for consumer PCs for the better part of the last decade. The particular Ryzen CPU in the Inspiron 27 7000 has eight cores and runs at 3GHz—impressive, especially when you compare it with its chief competition, the four-core Intel Core i7-7700K. All those cores result in markedly faster performance when it comes to specialized tasks like video transcoding and 3D rendering.

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Dell Inspiron 27 7000 Performance Chart

 

The Inspiron 27 7000 finished our Handbrake video-transcoding test in just 40 seconds, lightning-quick compared with similar machines like the iMac and the HP Envy 34 Curved All-in-One, each of which took more than a minute to complete the same task. The same is true of the Cinebench 3D rendering simulation, on which the Inspiron 27 7000 scored 1,396, nearly twice the score of the next-highest HP Envy (714). But the general-purpose PCMark 8 test, which measures web browsing, word processing, and other common tasks, tells a different tale. The Inspiron 27 7000 scored lower on this test (2,948) than both the Dell Optiplex 7450 All-in-One (3,059, with a Core i5) and the HP Envy (3,415, with a Core i7). In other words, the Ryzen is great for multimedia content creators, but merely average when it comes to everyday performance. For an in-depth look at this CPU’s strength’s and weaknesses, check out the AMD Ryzen 7 1700 review at our sister site, Computer Shopper.

 

Dell Inspiron 27 7000 Graphics Performance Chart

 

The second part of the Inspiron 27 7000’s performance story is how it performs under real-world conditions. Over the course of a full workday, with a dozen or more browser tabs open, frequently streaming videos or music while typing in Google Docs or Microsoft Office at the same time, I never once noticed the system freeze or hesitate. Of course, you should expect this kind of flawless performance on common tasks from a $1,800 computer. The upshot is that the Ryzen processor gives the Inspiron 27 7000 a clear advantage when it comes to multimedia content creation, but most consumers who buy this system won’t notice a difference in performance compared with the iMac, the HP Envy, or the XPS 27.

Since this is not a gaming PC, I’ll simply add a footnote to the performance story to say that its Radeon RX 580 graphics card makes it a great choice for casual gamers who aren’t interested in an ostentatious gaming rig. It aced all of our gaming benchmarks, posting frame rates around 60 frames per second on our Heaven and Valley game simulations at maximum quality and full HD (1080p resolution), markedly better than the results posted by its competition, which sport lesser Radeon cards. One caveat: frame rates around 15fps at 4K resolution indicate that it’s not great for 4K gaming—you’ll need an Nvidia GTX 1080 or Radeon RX Vega 64 for that.

An Excellent AIO

The Dell Inspiron 27 7000 is not as flashy or as feature-rich as its big brother, the XPS 27, but it nevertheless offers a compelling set of features at a much lower price. Through no coincidence, that price happens to be the same one at which Apple is offering the 27-inch iMac. As a general-purpose PC, the Inspiron meets or exceeds the iMac’s computing performance, and it is much better at gaming, as long as you stay away from 4K. If you’re willing to spend $1,800 on a kitchen computer, or you can make use of the Ryzen processor’s multimedia editing chops, the Inspiron 27 7000 is a clear winner over the iMac.

Zotac Launches Ultra-Slim MEK1 Gaming PC

 

An Intel Core i7-7700, 16GB DDR4 RAM, and GeForce GTX 1070Ti form a TV and VR-friendly desktop.

 

It used to be the case that high-performance desktop PCs required a big case and lots of cooling fans, but processors that sip a lot less power, more powerful graphics chips, and advanced cooling solutions means performance can be housed in a small case. Zotac’s new MEK1 gaming PC is the latest example of that.

The MEK1 case measures 414mm-by-118mm-by-393mm (16.30in-by-4.65in-by-15.50in) making it not that much bigger than a games console and thin enough to slide next to or under a HD or 4K TV. And yet, inside you’ll find a quad core Intel Core i7-7700 (3.6GHz up to 4.2GHz) coupled with 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a GeForce GTX 1070 Ti 8GB graphics card, 240GB M.2 PCIe SSD, and a 1TB 2.5-inch hard drive. Windows 10 Home 64-bit comes pre-installed.

 

Zotac MEK1 Ultra-Slim Gaming PC

 

With that spec, and as Zotac claims, the MEK1 will run just about any game you throw at it and is more than powerful enough to hook a VR headset up to. And if you like a light show, the case includes Zotac’s SPECTRA lighting system with customizable color schemes as well as the ability to turn it off completely if you prefer. As for the case design, Zotac describes it as “themed after future robotics and mechanical anatomy.”

Unfortunately, pricing has not been revealed yet, but we do know there will be black and white case options. The white MEK1 will be the cheaper of the two as the spec is downgraded to a Core i5-7400 and GeForce GTX 1060 6GB graphics solution. That’s still more than capable enough to run most games.

Zotac is well know for offering performance in small packages. As well as its range of tiny Zbox PCs and Mini graphics cards, back in May the company developed the world’s smallest GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Card, which is only 21cm long.

 

The Best Desktop Computers of 2018

 

Desktop PCs Are All About the Power

Why on Earth would you want to buy a desktop PC or Mac in 2017? Simply put, there are computing needs that mobile devices like laptops and tablets can’t fulfill as well as the stalwart desktop. Here’s what to consider when deciding on your next desktop PC.

Desktop-class CPUs and graphics processors are simply more powerful than their mobile counterparts for the same money. They give you the power to finish whatever task you’re working on in less time. Desktop components are less expensive in general, so instead of buying a $500 laptop with a competent Intel Core m3 processor, you can buy a $500 desktop with a powerful Intel Core i5 desktop CPU in it.

You can get desktops with screens that are already built in, or they can be connected externally to a monitor. In either case, you’re almost guaranteed to have a bigger display than even the largest desktop-replacement laptop, which tops out at about 18 inches in size. Another plus is that expandable desktops can accommodate multiple graphics cards to support more than two simultaneous displays.

For some sensitive situations, buying a desktop gives you physical control of the computer and its use. Limiting access to desktop PCs lets you control who sees confidential business data, and the combination of a desktop PC and a large screen means that parents can monitor what their children are doing online via a quick glance across the room.

Which OS? Windows? Mac? Other?

You probably already know the answer to this question, but here’s a quick rundown of your choices:

Windows 10 is the latest iteration of Microsoft’s operating system. Desktops that use it and previous versions of the OS are what most people typically use, so you’ll be assured of the best compatibility and widest selection of third-party software. This also applies to browser plug-ins, since some only work with Windows.

The current version of Apple’s operating system is macOS High Sierra. It’s an excellent choice if you’re already in an Apple-centric household, since it interfaces seamlessly with devices like iPads and iPhones, and with all your iTunes purchases and subscriptions.

Although it’s much less prevalent than Windows or macOS, Google also has its own PC operating system, called Chrome OS. Many apps designed for Windows and macOS also have Chrome OS versions now, including the popular Microsoft Office suite. And earlier this year, many Chrome OS-powered PCs gained the ability to run any Android-based app available for download from the Google Play store, which means the OS can now run millions of smartphone apps. Unfortunately, while chromebooks are easy to come by, desktops running Chrome OS are few and far between. They’re mostly limited to tiny, inexpensive PCs with small amounts of memory and storage.

While it has its fans, Linux is more of a do-it-yourself operating system, where you’ll have to rely on your own faculties for installation, sourcing programs, and support. Chrome OS, macOS, and Windows are certainly easier choices if you simply want to buy a desktop and use it right away.

 

 

How Much Desktop Do You Need?

If all you need to do is surf the Internet, write Word documents, or make simple spreadsheets, then an entry-level desktop is the way to go. You will have to make some compromises in terms of graphics, power, RAM, and storage compared with higher-end systems, but then again, you won’t be paying as much, as entry-level PCs typically cost less than $600.

You’ll find a wide selection of Intel and AMD processors in this category, from the budget AMD Athlon X4 and Sempron, as well as Intel Celeron up to the slightly more expensive (and much more powerful) Intel Core i3 and i5 processors. You should look for a minimum of 4GB of RAM, while 2GB is acceptable for sub-$300 machines. Only 16GB of eMMC flash storage is found on the least expensive desktop, but 64GB of flash storage or a 1TB hard drive is a better option for most users.

Midrange desktops will stay functional longer, thanks to more CPU power and speed, memory for multitasking, storage, or a larger built-in screen. You will have to make some sacrifices, but even demanding users will be able to find a midrange system that will last them at least five or six years. Look for a capable AMD Ryzen 5 processor, or an Intel Core i5 CPU in this category, along with 8GB to 16GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive or 256GB solid-state-drive (SSD) storage.

High-end desktops offer top-of-the-line components, like the latest CPUs that will give you all the power you need for multimedia projects, loads of storage (a 512GB SSD or 1TB hard drive, but typically 2TB or more), 3D graphics capability for gaming, or a combination of all three. These high-performance machines typically start at $1,500, and can go up to $5,000 and beyond for workstations or gaming rigs with customized paint jobs and multiple GPUs.

While sticking to one of the three price ranges, we recommend that you buy just a little more than you need for the tasks you do now if you can. That way, you future-proof your purchase and won’t have to shop for a replacement for a while.

Related Story See How We Test Desktops

What Do You Need to Do?

General-purpose desktops, which are the kind you typically see in retail stores, are well suited to general office tasks, surfing the Internet, video conferencing, and the like. They’re designed to be jacks-of-all-trades: good at most tasks, but rarely great at specialized functions like multimedia creation or gaming.

Performance PCs, which include multimedia machines and workstations, will give you more power for complex creative or math and scientific projects. Faster processors with four, six, or even 18 cores make quick work of your tasks. More memory (8GB to 32GB) is installed, so you can keep larger images on screen while editing a video, rendering a 3D model, or processing a humongous spreadsheet full of numbers you have to graph. You’ll also find extra storage in the form of large hard drives and SSDs that will let you hold a multitude of work documents and program library files.

Workstations are specialized machines made to do the heavy lifting of high-end media creation, scientific calculations, and strenuous work tasks that have razor-thin deadlines. You’ll find multicore Intel Xeon processors and ISV-certified graphics solutions from AMD and Nvidia in this category.

Business PCs are typically utilitarian in appearance, but offer work-friendly features like easy serviceability and upgradability, extra security in the form of biometric sensors and Trusted Platform Module (TPM), software/hardware certification programs like Intel vPro, and software support. Some come with on-site tech support.

Gaming PCs have even faster versions of the multicore processors found in the performance PCs. Plus, they have specialized 3D graphics cards, so you can smoothly view and interact with the virtual worlds that the game developers create. Flashy design elements like automotive paint, multiple graphics cards viewable through Plexiglas (or sometimes real glass) case doors, and elaborate liquid cooling setups are available, for a price. Upgradability is almost (but not quite) a must-have. The most expensive gaming systems can cost upward of $10,000, but are capable of giving you a better-than-real-life experience with multiple 1080p HD, 4K, or 5K displays, or when using a VR headset like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.

 

Corsair One Pro

 

Size Does Matter

Desktops are no longer the uniform metal boxes they used to be. Even the tiniest PCs have enough built-in components to rival high-performance PCs of the past. Choosing one these days is a matter of space constraints, and purpose.

If you live or work in truly cramped quarters, then an ultra-small-form-factor (USFF) or small-form-factor (SFF) desktop is what you need. USFF (or mini) PCs take up the least amount of room, but don’t have much expandability, if any at all. Even so, they contain a processor, memory, storage, and ports to hook up displays, keyboards, and mice. They are usually the most economical to buy and run, since they use power-saving components and processors. The total volume of one of these systems is rarely larger than that of a small jewelry box.

Lately, we’ve seen PCs that are the size of USB flash drives, like the Intel Compute Stick. These have the benefit of disappearing behind an HDMI-equipped monitor or HDTV. You may be limited to one or two configurations and will have to give up expandability and I/O port selection, but stick PCs and similarly sized mini desktops are the most flexible way to play Internet streaming media and access cloud computing in your living room or conference room.

SFF desktops have more internal space, allowing you to attach additional hard drives and possibly even a gaming-grade graphics card. You’ll also find more powerful CPUs here, with their more strenuous cooling requirements.

Traditional tower desktops, including mini, midsize, and full-size towers, have the most internal space, so you can install multiple hard drives, more RAM, or multiple graphics cards, depending on your needs. They are the most flexible, but also the bulkiest.

 

HP Envy Curved All-in-One (34-b001xx)

 

An all-in-one (AIO) desktop will save you some space, since the display is built in. Some even come with battery power for added portability (although we would not recommend you haul one with you on your daily commute). But in most cases you will give up expandability, compared with the traditional desktop. Screens come in sizes from 18 to 34 inches, and support up to 5K (5,120-by-2,880) resolution.

Which Desktop Is Best for You?

At PCMag.com, we review hundreds of PCs every year, evaluating their features and testing their performance against peers in their respective categories. That way you’ll know which is best for gaming, which is our favorite general-purpose all-in-one, and which is the best if all you need is a small, powerful system you can get up and running quickly. We pull from our full range of desktops reviews for the list below, and include top-rated models from as many categories as possible. We also update the list monthly so it changes quite frequently. For the very latest reviews, check out our Desktops product guide.

The Best Keyboards of 2018

 

Finding the Right Fit

Maybe your old keyboard has typed its last letter. Perhaps your gaming ambitions have left you dissatisfied with the mediocre model that came with your desktop PC. Or maybe the one you have still works fine for what it is, but isn’t as comfortable and sturdy as you’d prefer. Whatever the reason, anyone can benefit from a better keyboard. After all, is there any part of your computer more hands-on than your keyboard? For these reasons, and more, it pays to know what makes a one a good fit.

Keyboards come in a variety of types, from those optimized for efficiency to sculpted ergonomic designs that cradle your hands and relieve stress on the joints. When shopping for a keyboard, here are a few specific features to look for.

Connectivity Options

The simplest way to connect a keyboard to your PC is via a standard USB port. Keyboards are usually plug-and-play devices, with no additional software to install (with the exception of driver packages for some gaming models), meaning that plugging in the keyboard is all the setup you’ll need. Unlike wireless keyboards, a wired model will draw its power over USB, so there are no batteries to worry about. Wired connections are also preferred for gaming use, as they are free from the lag and interference issues that wireless alternatives are prone to. Some motherboards still come with an older-style PS/2 port for plugging in a keyboard without needing USB; if you go this route, which many gamers prefer for performance reasons, you’ll probably need a USB-to-PS/2 adapter. (Some gaming keyboards come with these.)

If you want more freedom and less cable clutter on your desk, however, it’s hard to beat a wireless keyboard. Instead of a wired connection, wireless keyboards transmit data to your PC through one of two primary means: an RF connection to a USB receiver, or Bluetooth. Both have their pros and cons, but if you want to reduce the number of cables on your desk and gain the flexibility to use your keyboard at a distance—whether it on your lap at your desk, or from across the room—wireless is the way to go.

Most wireless keyboards connect to a PC via the same 2.4GHz wireless frequencies used for cordless phones and Wi-Fi Internet. A dime-size USB dongle—small enough to plug in and forget about—provides the link to your PC. Companies use proprietary connections like these because they allow for optimal battery life. These USB dongles also provide connectivity to more than one device, meaning you can use the single adapter for your wireless keyboard—or keyboards, if you have one at work and one at home—as well as one or more computer mice, assuming that all are the same brand.

Bluetooth options are regaining popularity of late, largely because they don’t monopolize a USB port and because Bluetooth connections are stable, easy to manage, and offer compatibility with more mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets. In regular use, a Bluetooth connection gives you roughly 30 feet of wireless range, but may not match the battery life offered by devices with a USB dongle. New innovations, including hand-proximity sensors tied to power and connection management, improve the battery life over older Bluetooth devices, which maintained an always-on link, draining battery quickly.

Layout and Ergonomics

Not all keyboards are created equal. In fact, not all keyboards are even laid out the same beyond the standard QWERTY keys. Roughly half of the keyboards available offer a 10-key numeric pad, even though it’s an ideal tool for anyone who frequently needs to tally numbers or enter data into a spreadsheet. Smaller distinctions include placement of the arrow, Page Up and Down, and Home and End keys. Additionally, most current keyboards have basic media features such as playback controls and volume up and down.

In order to help users stave off carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress injury, many keyboards are available with designs that put your hands into a neutral position as you type. The result is not only greater comfort, but reduced stress to the joints and tendons, ultimately helping you to avoid painful inflammation and expensive surgery. Ergonomic features can range from the simple—like padded wrist rests—to the elaborate, with keyboards that curve and slope.

 

 

Keys and Switches

One aspect of keyboard design that you’ll see mentioned in reviews—but that most people don’t give a second thought—is the type of switches used for individual keys. You may not care about the specific mechanisms that reside beneath the keys, but you will certainly feel the difference. The three primary types of switches are silicone dome switches, scissor switches, and mechanical switches.

Budget keyboards, such as those that come bundled with new desktop PCs, generally use silicone-dome switches, which use two dimpled layers of silicone membrane that form a grid of rubber bubbles or domes as the switch for each key. The springiness of the silicone rubber makes for a soft, mushy feel as you press each key. The switch type also requires you to “bottom out” with each keystroke, pressing the key to the bottom of the key well to type a letter. And because repeated flexing of the rubber membrane causes it to break down, silicone dome switches lose their springiness and responsiveness over time.

Some newer keyboards mimic the low-profile, chiclet-style keyboards found on full-size laptops and ultraportables. While a few of these use plain silicone dome switches, many use a scissor switch, which adds a mechanical stabilizer to each key for a uniform feel, and an attached plunger under each keycap allows for shorter key travel. As a result, scissor-switch keyboards have a shallow typing feel, but are generally more durable than rubber dome switches alone.

Mechanical Keyboards

Most keyboard enthusiasts, however, won’t have much to say for either style—instead, they’ll be singing the praises of mechanical keyboards. The switches used in these are a bit more intricate, with a spring-loaded sliding keypost under every key. There are several variations available, each tweaked to provide a slightly different feel or sound, but generally, mechanical switches provide better tactile feedback and have more of the “clickety-clack” sound that many associate with typing. The sturdy switch mechanisms and springs are significantly longer lasting, and can be more easily repaired. These switches also register each keystroke with a much shorter amount of travel, making them ideal for touch typists.

 

Nixeus Moda Pro

 

Gaming Keyboards

While all keyboards offer the necessary keys for typing, sometimes typing isn’t your main concern. Gaming keyboards are designed for competitive use, equipped for maximum specialization and control, optimized for specific styles of gameplay, and built to exacting standards of responsiveness and durability. They also appeal to the gamer aesthetic, with designs that impress and intimidate with pulsing backlighting and dramatic color schemes.

Premium gaming models almost exclusively use high-grade mechanical key switches and sculpted keycaps, and offer numerous customizable features, like programmable macro keys, textured WASD keys, and swappable keycaps. There are others that let you tweak the color and intensity of the backlighting to make finding certain keys faster and to personalize the look of your keyboard. Anti-ghosting is an essential feature, allowing multiple keystrokes to be registered simultaneously—something standard keyboards can’t do. Other extras include pass-through USB ports or audio connections on the keyboard, which simplifies the process of connecting peripherals to a desktop PC that may not be easily accessed.

Finally, gaming keyboards are often outfitted with software and extra keys for macro commands, letting you prearrange complex strings of commands and activate them with a single press of a button. The number of macro commands that you can save, and the ease with which they can be created, vary from one model to the next, but it’s a valuable tool. These aren’t the sorts of bells and whistles everyone will use from day to day, but for players that invest time and money into gaming, these keyboards offer a competitive edge.

There are certainly a lot of choices out there, so start your search with our roundup below of the best keyboards available. In the market for a mouse as well? Then check out our top picks, as well as our favorites for gaming.

Origin PC Chronos (2017) Review & Rating

 

Origin PC’s Chronos desktop has come in a variety of forms over the years, but the appeal of the 2017 model (starts at $1,224; $3,038 as tested) is very straightforward. It’s small, professionally built, and packed with high-end power. You can configure your PC when ordering with a wide array of options that either scale up the power in just about every way or dial it down to maintain affordability. Our unit’s eighth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti card provide more than enough juice for smooth gaming and speedy multimedia work, making it an all-around powerhouse packed into a space-saving design. Alas, the Corsair One Pro remains our top pick for small-form-factor gaming desktops for its optimal combination of small build, components, and price. Still, the Chronos’ is a very tempting choice if its traditional design and plentiful configuration options are more appealing to you.

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Bearing a relatively basic design but with a striking white paint job (other colors are available), our Chronos test PC treads a nice middle ground between plain and ostentatious. A side window on the left panel provides a view in to the GTX 1080 Ti, lit by changing multicolor LEDs for a splash of color. That’s about as flashy as the Chronos gets, an otherwise unspectacular rectangle whose main strength is its size and the components within. The steel frame measures 11.75 by 4 by 13.75 inches (HWD), short and relatively slim for a desktop of this power. It is deceptively heavy at about 5 pounds, which isn’t a lot objectively, but its heft surprised me the first time I lifted the case.

Similar in size to the Corsair One Pro (14.96 by 6.9 by 7.87 inches), but shorter and slightly wider, it takes up more desk depth than the pillar-style PC. The Chronos is also versatile: It’s built to stand on either end, or lay down on either side. In fact, the rubber feet are magnetic, so they can be removed from the bottom and placed on one of the side panels when you want to lay it horizontally. It’s a useful solution for tight spaces, though in practice, the feet kept sliding out of position or onto the side of the case over time as I shifted or moved the desktop.

Looks can be deceiving, and the Chronos’ small shape and relatively unassuming design bely the high-end parts and features inside. Though it’s not the first small desktop at roughly these dimensions and shape (there’s a strong resemblance to the Falcon Northwest Tiki in particular), it is among the most powerful we’ve tested. The Origin Chronos VR is similarly sized, but the components are significantly ramped up here. Our unit is packed to the gills with premium parts, including the Intel Core i7-8700K processor, GTX 1080 Ti, 16GB of 2,666MHz memory, Frostbyte liquid cooling system, 600W Silverstone power supply, a 4TB 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar Black HDD, and a 500GB Samsung 960 Evo M.2 SSD. There are no free DIMM slots, and in this price range you may very well want 32GB, so you’ll have to order two 16GB sticks instead, or upgrade later to add more RAM.

 

 

Customization Is King

Our build is a blistering system, though there are myriad configuration options if you’d like to make changes for the sake of performance or price. It can be outfitted with an AMD Ryzen chip instead of Intel options when ordering, and you can choose as many as six SSDs and four HDDs (with many capacity options). The 4TB storage drive and 500GB boot drive in our system is quite a lot for most uses, unless you’re storing a boat load of high res video in addition to a big gaming library. You can also take the graphics up another notch to a Titan XP or Titan V (a casual $3,051 jump from a 1080 Ti). To say it’s highly configurable is an understatement, and one of the perks of ordering from a specialty manufacturer like Origin is professional assembly.

Some shoppers take pleasure in building their own systems and yes, it is cheaper, but ordering a build saves you the effort, results in an immaculately assembled machine, and nets you lifetime 24/7 support with a one-year part replacement warranty. Whether you want the build we’ve tested here, would like to make your own budget version, or want to kick performance up even further, the Chronos can handle it in the same chassis.

 

Origin PC Chronos (2017)

 

Getting inside the case for upgrades or maintenance is easy. The rear panel includes hand screws (you may need to loosen them with a screwdriver, but only if they’re done very tightly) that, when removed, allow the side panel to lift away. However, the liquid cooling radiator and fan are attached to the inside of the door, connected with tubing to the motherboard. It can startle you if you pull the door fully away without looking, so it helps to be aware. The door can get in the way as a result since the tubing isn’t very long, but you can swing it out to the side for mostly free access to the other components. In such a small case, there isn’t much room to work or make changes, another reason it’s helpful to have the system assembled beforehand. The components are all installed snugly, but cleanly. It does get hot when gaming or running straining applications, but that’s to be expected at this level, and the fans are reasonably quiet.

The port offerings are fairly standard, but everything you should need is included. Between the front and rear panels, the Chronos includes five USB 3.1 ports, six USB 2.0 ports, and a USB-C port. There are two HDMI ports and four DisplayPort connections for video output, rear audio lines, front headphone and mic jacks, and an Ethernet connection. The Chronos also includes Bluetooth and dual-band 802.11ac wireless.

Concentrated Power

With its six-core Core i7-8700K processor at a 3.7GHz base speed, the Chronos blazes through most tasks without a sweat. Its PCMark 8 score is high, though the benefit of the eighth-gen processor’s added cores aren’t demonstrated on this test, so other CPUs with higher clock speeds edge it out. Where the 8700K did excel is the multimedia tests, which made use of its extra cores. It outpaced the One Pro across the board, and was especially proficient on Cinebench. It even beat its larger stablemate, the excellent Origin Neuron, on these tests. As such, the Chronos is more than a fast gaming machine, but a proficient multimedia workhorse.

 

Origin PC Chronos (2017)

 

Related Story See How We Test Desktops

The Chronos also excelled at 3D tests, which isn’t exactly a surprise with the graphics card it’s packing. 1080p gaming is a breeze, as shown on the Heaven and Valley gaming tests, with frame rates closer to 200fps (frames per second) than 100fps. Aside from those chasing extreme frame rates on very high refresh rate monitors, though, you don’t likely buy a GTX 1080 Ti to only play HD. 1440p is optimal for this card, the sweet spot of visual fidelity and performance. The GPU’s raw 3D capability was driven home by its strong 3DMark tests, and you can see the GTX 1080 Ti’s improvement over the GTX 1080 in that regard by comparing the Chronos’ scores with the Corsair Pro and Tiki’s numbers. Dual-card systems, of course, scored much higher, but come in noticeably larger cases.

 

Origin PC Chronos (2017)

 

4K gaming is a somewhat different story: The Chronos was capable of better-than-30fps performance on maximum settings, which is solid, but reaching (nevermind maintaining) 60fps is a bridge too far. Two cards are needed for effective 60fps 4K gaming, and this small system simply isn’t built to accommodate that. 30fps is perfectly playable, however, if you are married to the idea of 4K gaming or already have the monitor. VR gaming is well within the Chronos’ means, as the GTX 1080 Ti easily clears the recommended floor.

Configure, Plug, and Play

Our Chronos test PC is undoubtedly expensive as configured, but you get what you pay for. The premium parts are bolstered by professional assembly and support, and building something so powerful in such a small case is a difficult (or impossible) task for the average buyer. Your build certainly doesn’t have to be this pricey, either, and if you’d like to significantly take the cost down, you can. From a pure component-to-price perspective, setting aside some of the intangibles, the Editors’ Choice Corsair One Pro delivers more bang for your buck and offers similar performance in a slick design. Its unique layout comes with some caveats, however, so the Chronos may be the better bet for you in terms of future upgrades and maintenance, even if its size is somewhat restrictive. The $2,299.99 Corsair One Pro matches many of the Chronos’ positives for less, but if you want a more traditional design and plenty of configuration options, the Chronos is a worthy pick.

Windows 10 Users Can Now Stream Netflix in HDR

 

The video-streaming service on Wednesday announced it now supports HDR on Windows 10 for both the Edge browser and the Netflix app that’s available from the Windows store.

 

Good news, Windows 10 users: with the correct hardware, you can now stream Netflix in HDR.

The video-streaming service on Wednesday announced it now supports HDR on Windows 10 for both the Edge browser and the Netflix app that’s available from the Windows App Store.

“With HDR enabled, fans can immerse themselves in the delicious colors of Chef’s Table, the terrifying depths of the Upside Down in Stranger Things 2, and enjoy the upcoming Netflix film Bright starring Will Smith,” Netflix wrote in a blog post. The service currently offers more than 200 hours of HDR content.

In order to stream HDR content on your Windows PC, you’ll need a Premium Netflix plan and certain hardware, namely an Intel 7th-generation or higher processor and a supported graphics card that is capable of 10 bits per channel color. For the full system requirements, head here.

“With this new hardware available in consumer PCs, Netflix and Microsoft partnered together to put the software pieces in place,” Netflix wrote. “Microsoft added the necessary OS and browser changes in their Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and our engineers integrated against those APIs to complete the video player work.”

Keep in mind that you’ll also need an HDR-compatible monitor to display this content, and those are pretty hard to come by and costly at the moment. Samsung’s huge CHG90 monitor supports HDR, but will set you back $1,000.

“In the PC world, it is still early days for premium video features like 4K and HDR,” Netflix acknowledged. “As engineers, we look forward to bringing these features and more to additional browser platforms.”

 

The Best Gaming Desktops of 2018

 

Get a Desktop for the Most Gaming Power

Despite the enticing lure of game consoles and handheld devices, PC gaming is still alive and kicking. Enthusiasts know that nothing beats the quality of gameplay you can get with a desktop built for gaming. But what kind of PC can make major 3D games look and run better than they do on the Sony PS4 Pro or the Microsoft Xbox One S? If you have deep pockets, your answer could be a custom-built hot rod from an elite boutique PC manufacturer such as Alienware, Falcon Northwest, Maingear, or MSI. But a couple of well-informed choices will go a long way toward helping you get the right gaming desktop from a standard PC manufacturer, even if you’re not made of money. Here’s how to buy your best gaming desktop, regardless of your budget, and our top 10 picks in the category.

This is admittedly simplifying a complex argument, but high-powered graphics, processors, and memory improve the graphics detail (cloth, reflections, hair), physical interactions (smoke, thousands of particles colliding), and the general animation of scenes in your favorite games. Throwing more resources, like a more powerful graphics cards or a faster CPU, at the problem will help, to an extent.

Consider Graphics First

Most gaming systems will come preinstalled with a single midrange or high-end graphics card; higher-priced systems will naturally have better cards, since purchase price typically correlates with animation performance and visual quality. Our gaming desktop reviews will let you know if there is room in the system’s case for adding more graphics cards, in case you want to improve your gaming performance in the future. Most boutique manufacturers, however, will sell systems equipped with multiple-card arrays if you want to run the best-looking and best-performing games right away. (Nvidia has deemphasized, if not discouraged, using more than two of its current-generation cards at the same time, though it’s still possible to have three or four AMD cards in your computer at once provided you have the proper power and heat management. AMD calls its multicard system CrossFireX and Nvidia calls its solution Scalable Link Interface, or SLI, but in practice both work the same.)

 

 

The most pivotal decision you’ll make when purchasing a gaming desktop is which 3D graphics subsystem to use. Integrated graphics are fine for casual 2D games, but to really bring out the beast on 3D AAA titles, you’ll want one or more discrete graphics cards. These cards, powered by technologies from longtime rivals AMD or Nvidia, make more advanced graphical details and improved performance possible. And although both companies’ cards boast exclusive features to help smooth on-screen animation or deliver improved visual effects of various kinds (and some games are optimized for one type of card or another), for the most part, you should choose the card that best fits within your budget.

Equipping your system with any high-end GPU will unavoidably boost your total bill by a few hundred dollars per card. Still, beyond adding extra power to your gaming experience, multiple graphics cards can also enable multiple-monitor setups so you can run up to six displays. Higher-level graphics will also pay off in the long run for 4K and virtual reality (VR) gaming. Panels with 4K resolution (3,840 by 2,160) and the displays built into VR headsets have exponentially higher pixel counts than a simple 1080p HD monitor. You’ll need at least a single high-end graphics card, or two lower-end cards, to drive a 4K display at top quality settings, with similar requirements for smooth gameplay on VR headsets. (See “Make VR a Reality” below for more information.)

You can still get a rich gaming experience for thousands less by choosing a desktop with a single but robust middle-tier video card. If you’re less concerned about VR or turning up all the eye candy found in games—anti-aliasing and esoteric lighting effects, for example—then today’s less-powerful graphics cards and GPUs will still give you plenty of oomph for a lot less money.

For more, check out our graphics card buying guide, which details what to look for when making a purchase, and rounds up the best cards available now.

 

Origin Neuron

 

Perfect Processor Power

The heart of any system is its processor. While the GPU specializes in graphics quality and some physics calculations, the CPU takes care of everything else, including making sure the soundtrack syncs up with gameplay, managing the game’s load screens, and determining if you hit your targets.

AMD and Intel are in a race to see who can provide the most power to gamers. AMD started the competition for the top spot earlier this year with their Ryzen Threadripper CPUs, which feature up to 16 cores and the ability to process 32 threads simultaneously. Intel recently countered with a new line of Core X-Series Extreme Edition processors, with 18 cores and 36 threads. Prices for these processors are astronomical, with the Intel Core i9-7980XE expected to be $2,000, or the price of a midrange gaming PC. You’ll have to buy a new motherboard to support either of these platforms, but these CPU advancements have made it an exciting time to be a gamer.

Lesser, but still high-powered, CPUs, such as the AMD Ryzen 7, and unlocked quad-core Intel Core i7 K-series processors, can also provide the computing muscle needed for a satisfying gaming experience. Budget gamers should look to lower-priced (but still speedy) quad-core processors, such as the AMD Ryzen 5 or the Intel Core i5, which will knock hundreds of dollars off the bottom line. And Intel’s recently released Core i3-7350K is its first unlocked dual-core processor, which could save you even more money while giving you plenty of overclocking potential, too.

Related StorySee How We Test Desktops

When given the choice between paying for a higher-level GPU or a higher-level CPU, however, go with the graphics in most cases. In other words, a system with a higher-power Nvidia GeForce GTX GPU and a Core i5 processor is a much better choice for 3D-intense FPS gaming than one with a low-end card and a zippy Core i7 CPU. But you may want to choose the latter if you’re into games that involve a lot of background math calculations, such as strategy titles like those in the Civilization series.

Don’t Forget the Memory

One thing that’s often overlooked on gaming systems is RAM; it can be severely taxed by modern games. Try to outfit your PC with at least 8GB of RAM, and budget for 32GB if you’re truly serious about freeing up this potential performance bottleneck. Faster memory also improves overall performance and lets you keep your CPU more stable if you decide to overclock it. For example, DDR4-3200 SDRAM (aka 3,200MHz) will be more stable than DDR4-2133 if you overclock your Core i7 processor. That said, installing expensive, higher-clocked memory won’t necessarily help a CPU that’s running at stock speeds, so make sure you budget wisely.

Storage: Speed and Space

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have become more popular since the prices began dropping dramatically a few years ago. They speed up boot time, wake-from-sleep time, and the time it takes to launch a game and load a new level. Although you can get an SSD of any size (with the larger capacities still being relatively expensive), the pairing of a small one (such as 128GB) with a larger spinning hard drive (1TB or more) is a good, affordable setup for gamers who also download the occasional video from the Internet.

Virtual Reality

With the release of the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift headsets, real VR gaming is possible in the home for the first time. If you want to be able to use them to their fullest, your PC will need to meet their system requirements.

 

Corsair One Pro

 

The most important is the video card—you are pushing a 1,080-by-1,200 display to each eye, after all—so go with one of the most powerful cards from either the current or previous generation. For the Vive, this means an AMD RX 480 or an Nvidia GTX 1060. For Oculus headsets, a processing technique called asynchronous spacewarp promises full performance with lower-end video cards: specifically an RX 470 or a GTX 960.

You’ll also want a newer AMD or Intel CPU with a minimum of four processing cores; both HTC and Oculus recommend a Core i5-4590 or its equivalent. And the 8GB of RAM we recommended should be enough to ensure the fluid gameplay you want.

The Perfect Accessories

Don’t stop at internal components. Once you have your ideal gaming desktop, a couple of extras can really enhance your gaming experience. We recommend that you trick out your machine with a top-notch gaming monitor with a fast response rate and a solid gaming headset so you can trash talk your opponents. Comfortable keyboards, mice, and specialized controllers round out your options at checkout.

Which Gaming Desktop Is Right For You?

Below are the best gaming desktops we’ve recently tested (we update the list monthly). Many are configured-to-order PCs from boutique manufacturers, but some come from bigger brands normally associated with consumer-grade desktops. Note: The prices listed are for starting configurations; click through to the reviews to see prices as tested.

For more, read our top desktop picks overall, and our favorite gaming laptops.