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The best desktop computer for photo editing – PCs and Macs for photographers

best desktop computer for photo editing
(Image credit: Microsoft)

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.

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 and a mouse and 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, however. First, they 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 of the best desktop computers for photographers.

(Image credit: Future)

1. Apple Mac Mini M1

The best all-round desktop computer for photographers

CPU: Apple M1 8-core | Graphics: 8-core integrated GPU | RAM: 8-16GB | Storage: 256GB-2TB SSD | Connectivity: 2x USB 4/Thunderbolt/DP, HDMI, headphone socket, Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth | Dimensions (WxDxH): 197 x 197 x 36mm

Super-small and quiet
Stunning performance
Reasonable cost for such high speed
Only max 16GB memory
Fewer Thunderbolt ports than before
Few fully compatible apps at present

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.

(Image credit: Acer)

2. Acer Aspire TC

The best budget desktop PC for photographers

CPU: Up to Intel Core i7-10700 (8 core, 2.9GHz) | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 1TB HDD, 256GB SSD | Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi | Dimensions (WxDxH): 340 x 163 x 350mm

Limited RAM
No discrete GPU
Only 1TB hard drive or 256GB SSD

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 lots of different spec options, but we reckon the best bang-per-buck comes from the configuration built around a 6-core Intel Core i5-9400 processor and 8GB of RAM. 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.

(Image credit: HP)

3. HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop

A great compromise between price and power

CPU: Up to Intel Core i7-10700 (8 cores, 2.9GHz) | RAM: 8GB-32GB DDR4 | Storage: 256GB-1TB SSD | Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi | Dimensions (WxDxH): 13.28" x 6.12" x 12.09"

Nice design
Lots of performance options
Gets very pricey if you spec it up

The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop PC is another affordable desktop computer with a gaming theme but that's also great for photographers. It does a superb job of balancing price and features, with our preferred spec option packing a six-core Intel processor, 8GB of RAM and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card, making it great little desktop PC for photo and video editing compared to PCs with integrated graphics only. It also comes with a multi-card memory card reader, which makes it quick and easy to get your photos off your camera.

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple iMac (27-inch, 5K, 2020)

The best all-in-one desktop computer

CPU: 6-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5 – 8-core 10th-gen Intel Core i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 570X - AMD Radeon Pro Vega 48 | RAM: 8-128GB | Storage: 256GB-8TB SSD | Dimensions (HxWxD): 51.6 x 65.0 x 20.3cm

Stunning 5K display is built-in
Quiet under load
SSD upgrades are expensive

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 the latest 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.

• See other iMacs for photo editing

5. Microsoft Surface Studio 2

A great Windows alternative to the iMac

CPU: Intel Core i7- 7820HQ | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 | RAM: 32GB | Storage: 1TB SSD | Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (WxDxH): 25 x 22 x 3.22 cm

Seamlessly transitions between modes
Best and biggest digital drawing board
Built-in touch-sensitive screen
Ports hard to reach
Pricey proposition for most

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 it runs Windows 10. However, it is expensive. Very expensive.

(Image credit: Apple)

6. Apple iMac Pro

A powerful all-in-one for professionals

CPU: 10-core to 18-core Intel Xeon W | Graphics: AMD Vega 56, Vega 64, Vega 64X | RAM: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB | Storage: 1TB SSD, 2TB SSD, 4TB SSD | Connectivity: 10Gb Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi | Dimensions (W x D x H): 65 x 20.3 x 51.6cm

Most powerful Mac ever
Excellent design
Very expensive
Non user-upgradable

For professional photographers who need a serious amount of power, the iMac Pro  could be the perfect PC for you. While still featuring the iconic iMac design that Apple is famous for, the iMac Pro features some of the most powerful components you'll find in a PC, including powerful Intel Xeon W processors, large amount of RAM and powerful graphics cards. This makes the iMac Pro a brilliant tool for multitasking, with the professional-grade graphics cards allowing you to edit incredibly high resolution photographs with ease. However, this is also an extremely expensive PC,  and it offers a level of power that not every photographer will need, so think carefully before you make this purchase. However, if you're after an incredibly powerful and stylish all-in-one PC, then the iMac Pro will be an ideal purchase.

• See our guide to the best iMacs for photo editing

Intel Hades Canyon NUC

7. Intel Hades Canyon NUC

A tiny PC that's brilliant for photo editing

CPU: Intel Core i7-8809G | Graphics: Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics (4GB HBM2 VRAM), Intel UHD Graphics 630 | RAM: N/A | Storage: N/A

Lots of ports
Easy to upgrade

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.

(Image credit: Lenovo)

8. Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 3i (24")

A great value Windows all-in-one

CPU: Up to 10th-gen Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Integrated Intel® UHD Graphics | RAM: Up to 16GB | Storage: Up to 512GB SSD or 1TB HDD | Display: 23.8" FullHD (1920 x 1080) IPS Multi-touch

Competitive price
Decent IPS touchscreen
Limited RAM and storage
CPU not the fastest

The Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 3i 24-inch is an all-in-one PC that proves 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 IPS screen, 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.

Read more:

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Best external hard drives for photographers

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Best internal SSDs

The best drawing tablets for photo editing

The best mouse for photo editing

The best monitors for photographers in 2021

The best photo-editing software

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