Looking for the best desktop computer for photo editing? This guide is here to help you to decide what is right for your photography – and find you the best prices.
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While the best photo-editing laptops offer the ability to edit photos while maintaining on-the-go portability, a good-old desktop computer is still the preferred option for many who work in a home office. Picking the best desktop computer will give you the ability to add your own monitor; with typical sizes ranging from around 21 inches to well over 30 inches means, if you've got the desk space, you can work from home far more comfortably than if you were squinting at a laptop screen. Adding a full-size keyboard and comfy mouse further ups the ergonomic benefits over a laptop keyboard and trackpad.
Many of the best desktop computers on this page offer a level of power and performance that laptops can't match, and if you don't mind opening them up and tinkering with them, they can be upgraded down the line with more powerful components, which makes them far more future-proof than standard laptops.
If you're not too keen on the idea of upgrading a PC yourself, many of the best desktop computers for photo editing can be easily customized when you buy them, so you can pick a level of performance (and price) that best suits your needs.
The best desktop computers: What to look for
The size of a desktop computer also means manufacturers can fit in more powerful components than you’d usually find in a laptop. That means if you want to, you can get a desktop computer with a discrete graphics card (rather than one integrated into the central processor), which is useful if you’re doing very intensive editing – including video editing.
Desktop computers with lots of RAM and a multi-core processor are great for multitasking. If you like to have multiple apps open at once, then keep an eye out for 4, 6 or 8 core processors.
Of course, you can always build your own desktop PC tower, but while that offers you more flexibility when it comes to power and price (as you source the components yourself), if you don’t have the inclination or know-how to build your own PC, then buying one of the pre-built desktop computers on this list is the way to go.
Many desktop computer manufacturers offer a range of customization options anyway, which means you can tweak things such as processor power, graphics cards and storage space at the point of purchase to suit your needs.
Should I pick an all-in-one computer?
As well as traditional tower desktop computers, there are also all-in-one computers available. These have all the components built into a screen – the Apple iMac being a great example - and there are a number of advantages to this. First of all, they are stylish and space saving, as you do not need to have a big box sitting on your desk – just the screen, a mouse and a keyboard.
As the computer is built into the screen, it means you don’t need to buy a monitor separately either, which can save money. Plus, with computer components getting thinner and more powerful than ever, all-in-one computers can be just as accomplished at photo editing as traditional computers.
The new 24-inch M1 powered 2021 iMac could prove a very strong contender indeed – we will add this in just as soon as we've had one in for testing.
There are a few downsides you need to consider with all-in-ones, however. First, all-in-one computers can’t be easily upgraded like traditional PCs, as the components are usually specially designed to be fitted behind the screen – much like a laptop. They can also be more expensive, and you'll have to consider the screen quality as part of your purchase, rather than being able to take your pick from the best monitors for photographers. Still, they are worth considering, so we’ve included a few all-in-ones in this list.
The Mac Mini isn't an all-in-one computer like an iMac - you'll still need to add your own monitor, but the computer itself is tiny at 197 x 197 x 36mm, so should fit on any desk. This latest Mac Mini M1 differs from previous Minis by using Apple's own processor designed for computers. It's a similar construction to an iPhone/iPad processor, but beefed up for desktop computing. And boy, has Apple done a good job. The ultra-efficient M1 processor can outperform many current high-end Intel Core-series processors, while 16GB RAM is enough for serious image editing - just avoid the base 8GB model, as it's not really enough memory to ensure you're future-proofed. The only drawback compared to older Intel-powered Mac Mini's is you can't spec any more memory than 16GB, so ultra-intensive image or video editing may run into slowdowns.
If you’re looking for a cheap desktop PC for working on your photographs, then the Acer TC is a great budget pick. It's available in several spec configurations, and all are very well priced, though that does mean you'll have to make do with only 8GB of RAM, which is really the bare minimum for photo editing these days. The Aspire TC comes in a slimline case that won't dominate your desk space. You can still open it up and upgrade it when needed (it supports up to 32GB of RAM, for example), and it even features a built-in SD memory card reader. However, there’s only integrated graphics and storage is limited to either a 1TB hard drive or a 512GB SSD, which will soon fill up if you're working with high-res raw files or 1080p video – although it’s worth bearing in mind internal storage can be easily upgraded, or there's always our pick of the best external hard drives.
The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop PC is another affordable desktop computer with a gaming theme, but it's also great for photographers. It does a superb job of balancing price and features, with plenty of configurations available to suit your performance and budget requirements. It's also possible to spec a discreet graphics card to accelerate video editing and transcoding, but be careful, as its easy to get carried away and spend big bucks. The only upgrade you really need is to spec up the RAM from the standard 8GB to a more healthy 16GB, as this can remove a major potential performance bottleneck. The Pavilion Gaming PC also comes with a multi-card memory card reader, which makes it quick and easy to get your photos off your camera.
If you’re looking for the best all-in-one desktop computer for photographers, then Apple has you covered with the latest 27-inch iMac. It comes with top-end tech, including 10th-generation Intel processors, powerful discrete graphics and plenty of RAM. You also get a decent number of storage options – though the higher capacity SSD choices are very pricey. Best of all, the built-in screen is simply stunning with a Retina 5K (5,120 x 2,880) resolution and Apple's True Tone technology for accurate color. Apple is very popular with creatives for a good reason, and its macOS software is compatible with the biggest names in photo editing.
What's more, with the iMac Pro having been discontinued, this is now the fastest, most powerful iMac in town. Let's see what the new super-slim M1 powered 2021 model brings, though – the M1 processor has already proved blazingly fast in the Mac Mini M1.
• See other iMacs for photo editing
At the heart of the new 24-inch iMac is Apple's superb M1 System on a Chip, which combines pretty much all the core aspects of a computer onto a single chip, much like a phone or tablet. It's supremely fast and efficient, and has given traditional computer processor manufacturers like Intel and AMD a big worry.
The iMac M1 has the same 8-core processor as its MacBook cousins, but pairs it with a 23.5-inch Retina screen boasting a huge 4.5K (4480 x 2520) resolution and an eye-popping 500-nit brightness. Factor the DCI-P3 color space coverage, plus Apple's excellent True Tone technology, and this display is sure to be a huge hit with creatives wanting the best possible viewing experience.
The 24-inch iMac even looks great when it's powered off, thanks to it's unbelievably slim screen and the fact that you can choose from 7 body color options.
The only drawback here is, like an M1 MacBook, the M1 chip can only be specced with a max 16GB of RAM. This can soon be devoured when you're editing high-res, multi-layer image files or 4K video, especially if you've got several web browser tabs open at the same time. You won't be able to add more RAM in the future, so if you want a truly future-proofed iMac, the 2020 27-inch model (above) is still the safer option, providing you spec it with 32GB RAM or more. If that's too expensive, then consider a desktop PC specced with 32GB RAM, like the HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop.
If you like the idea of a stylish and powerful all-in-one PC, but you don’t want to use an Apple product like the iMac, then the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is a brilliant choice. It’s stylishly designed and comes with some excellent components that make it a great bit of hardware for photographers. Its screen is touch-capable, which gives you more options for interacting with it, and thanks to the special hinge that connects it to the base, the screen can pivot down almost flat so it can be used like a drawing board. However, the Surface Studio 2 is expensive. Very expensive.
Next on our list of the best computers for photographers is the Intel Hades Canyon NUC. Intel’s NUC devices are small yet powerful PCs that pack enough power to edit photos on, while also being tiny enough to hide away and not take up too much space on a desk. Part of their appeal is that they are barebones machines, which means you need to add RAM and a hard drive yourself. This makes them flexible (you can add the amount of storage space and memory you need) and affordable (you can shop around for the best prices for those components). You’ll need to install Windows 10 separately, and while installing the RAM and hard drive is pretty straightforward, it might be a bit too fiddly for some people.
Lenovo's IdeaCentre AIO (all-in-one) range pf PCs prove you don't have to buy an Apple iMac if you want a stylish and powerful all-in-one desktop computer for photo editing. While it doesn't come with the most cutting-edge components, it still offers more than enough power for running Adobe Photoshop and other photo editing applications. It's a particularly good PC for photo editing thanks to its screen (several sizes are available - our size/price preference is the 24in version), which though 'only' 1080p resolution, uses IPS display tech for excellent contrast accuracy and viewing angles. Best of all, it's way more affordable than Apple's pricey iMac machines.
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