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Cheapism: Best budget desktop computers

Oct. 23, 2013 at 3:10 PM ET

The Gateway DX4870 is among top picks for desktop computers under $500, according to Cheapism.com.
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The Gateway DX4870 is among top picks for desktop computers under $500, according to Cheapism.com.

As Apple hogs the spotlight this week with its latest media event and tablets take starring roles in more consumers’ digital lives, a chorus of humble PCs goes largely unnoticed. Yet for computer buyers on a budget, a Windows desktop still offers more processing power, storage and capability for the price than a Mac or certainly an iPad.

Here are four top picks under $500 from Cheapism.com

The Gateway DX4870 (starting at $430) has racked up an editors’ choice award and almost entirely favorable reviews online from consumers and tech experts. Like many other computers, it comes in a range of configurations at different price points. Even the cheapest version contains an impressive set of features relative to competitors, including an up-to-date Intel Core i3 processor, a 1-terabyte hard drive (about 1,000 gigabytes), 6GB of memory and Bluetooth support. It has an HDMI port for connecting a high-definition digital display and two USB 3.0 ports for rapidly transferring files to and from other devices, plus six slower USB 2.0 ports, for a grand total of eight. (Where to buy

The Lenovo H520 (starting at $360) attracts budget-conscious consumers with its low price and wins them over with easy setup and speedy performance, according to reviews. On the low end the specs are standard — an Intel Pentium processor, 4GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive. Buyers can step up to an Intel Core i3 processor and 6GB of memory and still squeak in under $500. (Where to buy

The Dell Inspiron 660s (starting at $300) flaunts an extremely cheap base configuration. The slim chassis houses an entry-level Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive but also perks such as HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports and six USB 2.0 ports. Consumers can upgrade all the way to an expert-recommended Intel Core i3 processor and 1TB hard drive without breaching $400. Hundreds of reviewers commend this desktop for its excellent value. (Where to buy)

The Dell Inspiron One 20 (starting at $400) squeezes all its hardware into a display, so it takes up less space than the towers listed above, which require users to buy a separate monitor. Configurations under $500 come with an Intel Celeron or Pentium processor, 4GB of memory and a 500GB or 1TB hard drive. Many reviewers specifically note the quality of the 20-inch HD screen. If you already own a perfectly good computer monitor, though, you may be better off putting your limited budget toward a stand-alone tower. (Where to buy)

These desktops all come equipped with a keyboard and mouse. They are modest machines that don’t lend themselves to rampant multitasking, heavy video editing or intense gaming (but can handle simple games like Candy Crush without breaking a sweat). And yet reviews don’t lament sluggish performance nearly as often as they criticize Windows 8, which graces all of the computers recommended here. The Microsoft operating system has struggled to win fans since its debut last fall. A Windows 8.1 update, released last week as a free download for existing users, seems to be getting a better reception.

More from Cheapism:

Full report on cheap desktops 

Compare budget gaming computers 

Best laptops under $500 

Cheap computer monitor recommendations 

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