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 (opens in new tab) 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
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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.
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 (opens in new tab). Still, they are worth considering, so we’ve included a few all-in-ones in this list.
The best desktop computer in 2023:(opens in new tab)
Positioned between the latest M1 Mac Mini (opens in new tab) and Intel Mac Pro tower in terms of power and price point, the Mac Studio has been esigned as an under-screen desktop workstation. It's portable enough to carry between locations when needed, but powerful enough to be your main system for almost any activity, driving up to 4x 6k XDR displays and 1x 4k display at the same time. You get a choice of the very latest Apple M1 Max or M1 Ultra System-On-A-Chip (SoC) hardware – with their ultra high speed processors, unified memory, GPUs and video engines. While the Mac Studio itself does not ship with a keyboard and mouse as standard, Apple's Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Magic Mouse (available to add-on to an order) are designed to match its aesthetic perfectly. Factor the decent selection of ports, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus the rip-roaring speed this thing is capable of, and it makes the ideal desktop computer for pretty much anyone!(opens in new tab)
The Mac Mini may now look a bit second-rate compared to the all-powerful Mac Studio, but it's still a great desktop computer in its own right, not to mention significantly cheaper. Like the Mac Studio, 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.(opens in new tab)
At the heart of the 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.
While users who need seriously potent performance for hardcore image or video editing are still best advised to go for the Intel-based 27-inch iMac and its extra RAM capacity, the new 24-inch iMac packs enough power to satisfy the vast majority of image or video editing requirements. And it does so at a very fair price when you consider the stunning screen that you’re getting as part of the product.
If that's too expensive, then consider a desktop PC specced with 32GB RAM, like the HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop (opens in new tab).
Read more: Apple iMac M1 24-inch review (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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. A 1TB SSD is included in some models for fast and spacious storage - great if you're working with high-res raw files or 1080p video. Although it’s worth bearing in mind internal storage can also be easily upgraded, or there's always our pick of the best external hard drives (opens in new tab).(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
Fancy an iMac with a bit more screen real estate than the 24-inch M1 iMac (above)? The 27-inch version has you covered... correction: had. Apple has now discontinued the 27-inch iMac, but you can still find the most recent (2020) version available at some retailers. And it's still worth hunting out, as its 10th-generation Intel processors, powerful discrete graphics and plenty of RAM give it plenty of image and video-editing fire-power. You also get a decent number of storage options – though the higher capacity SSD choices are very pricey. But 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.
• See other iMacs for photo editing(opens in new tab)
Want the comfort and big-screen viewing experience of a desktop PC, but not the bulk of a computer tower? Samsung's Smart Monitor could be for you. Think of it a little like an all-in-one computer like an iMac, but pared right down to the bare essentials, and costing far less as a result.
Rather than using full-fat processing hardware from Intel or AMD to run Windows, the Smart Monitor runs Samsung's own Tizen operating system, similar to Samsung smart TVs. This, combined with the monitor's built-in Wi-Fi, gives you access to streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV and YouTube. Alexa, Google Assistant and Bixby voice assistant support is also present, as is casting via AirPlay 2.
When playtime is over and it's time to get some work done, you can connect a keyboard and mouse to the Smart Monitor via Bluetooth 4.2 and then use Microsoft Office 365 for its productivity apps. If you've got a Samsung S8 or newer phone, Samsung's DeX utility will enable it to power a desktop-like PC experience on the monitor.
The Smart Monitor is available in 24, 27, 32 and 43-inch sizes, with the latter making sense if you want a sofa-based computing experience. For traditional desk use, we'd go for either the 24-inch Full HD model (larger 27-inch options don't give you any extra resolution), or this, the 32-inch 4K (3840 x 2160) M70A model for its superior screen clarity.(opens in new tab)
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. This second iteration of the Surface Studio is 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.(opens in new tab)
Next on our list of the best computers for photographers is the Intel Frost 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.(opens in new tab)
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 (some newer models can be found with a 2560 x 1440 display), 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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