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Prebuilt gaming PCs have everything you need to start gaming right out of the box, plus you get a manufacturer’s warranty should anything go wrong. Buying off the shelf may not meet your needs as precisely as building your own gaming PC, but if you haven’t figured those out yet, or just want to get started right away, a prebuilt machine makes a ton of sense.

We’ve spent countless hours testing some of the most popular desktops out there by playing many hours of video games (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it) in a bid to find the best desktop gaming PC currently available. We tested seven desktops, and out of that bunch, two builds rose to the top: a high-end option that’ll set the pace for years to come, along with a budget model that’s a good starting point with room for expansion.

Best gaming desktop overall

The MSI Aegis RS delivers high-end performance in blockbuster games for an affordable price, and has plenty of space for future upgrades.

Best budget gaming desktop

Lenovo's Legion 5i is a perfect budget gaming PC. It may not set any performance records, but it can provide smooth 1080p performance at a price that won't empty your bank account.

Best gaming desktop overall: MSI Aegis RS ($2,499; officedepot.com)

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Key specs

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-11700K
  • Graphics: Nvidia RTX 3080
  • RAM: 32GB
  • Storage: 1TB SSD, 2TB HDD
  • Size and weight: 17.72 by 16.93 by 8.46 inches, 30 pounds

MSI Aegis RS (11TE-089US Gaming) has the largest desktop enclosure of any gaming desktop we tested, but it’s arguably the best looking as well. It’s loaded with high-end components that can keep up with current AAA titles like Call of Duty or Dirt 5, but is well spec’d enough that it should survive the upcoming onslaught that is Halo Infinite later this year. The total cost of the build we tested tallies up to $2,499, and while that may sound like a lot, it’s a very competitive price for a high-end desktop.

Inside and out, the entire Aegis RS build is made up of MSI components. The matte black housing has three RGB fans in the front and another RGB fan inside the case that keeps the liquid running through the CPU cooler at a reasonable temperature.

On top of the case, you’ll find a dedicated LED button you can use to quickly change the RGB colors instead of using the software. Also located on top are the power button, a button that reboots the PC, a USB-C port, two regular USB ports, and audio in/out jacks.

Our review sample came equipped with an Intel Core i7-11700K processor, Nvidia’s RTX 3080 GPU, 32GB of memory and a 1TB solid-state drive for the operating system and some games, along with a 2TB hard disk drive for additional storage. If all of those numbers are gibberish to you, just take comfort in the fact you won’t have to make any changes or upgrades for at least a few years. Although, if you did want to add more memory or another SSD, the motherboard has space for you to do so.

On the backside of the case is where you’ll find a plethora of ports. Seriously, there are enough ports here to connect whatever kind of accessories you need. It’s also where you’ll need to attach the included antennas that provide Wi-Fi 6 connectivity. If you’d rather go hardwired, there’s a 2.5 Gigabit LAN port.

Oh, before we forget, included in the box you’ll find an MSI gaming keyboard and gaming mouse. They’re a fantastic starting point for new PC gamers, and it’s a selling point we found hard to ignore.

But enough about what’s inside the case, let’s talk performance. According to benchmarks, the Aegis RS wasn’t the fastest gaming desktop we tested, but in real-world use, it edged out the $3,799 Corsair One a200, and was powerful enough to deliver high-end performance for every demanding PC game we threw at it.

When playing Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War at 4K resolution with all the graphics settings on ultra, the system averaged 95 frames per second. The higher the framerate the better when it comes to gaming, and we generally look for at least 60 fps for smooth performance. And when we switched over to 1080p in the same game, that number went up to 137 fps. For reference, the next closest system was the Corsair One a200, which averaged 93 fps at 4K and 127 fps at 1080p.

This dependable performance extended to everyday use. Opening the Edge browser with multiple tabs, including one dedicated to YouTube videos, and working in Google Docs all at once didn’t cause a single slowdown.

MSI hasn’t installed any bloatware or anti-virus software you’ll have to deal with. It’s a clean Windows install, adding only a couple of apps you can use to manage the RGB lighting or see system stats. Controlling the RGB lights in the app is confusing and doesn’t offer many options outside of MSI’s custom presets. We stuck to using the button on the case to alter the case’s lighting. RGB lights don’t make you a better gamer, but when they look as slick as they do on the Aegis RS, you can’t help but feel like they do. We appreciate the light-handed approach, which is a somewhat rare attribute when it comes to PC manufacturers.

The only downside to the MSI Aegis RS 11TE is that the case itself is big. You’ll need to find some extra space next to your desk, or you’ll need a fairly large desktop if you want to keep it up off the ground.

The MSI Aegis RS we tested is a heck of a deal that’s loaded with modern components and provides you plenty of room to grow and upgrade in the future. But you aren’t limited to the $2,499 model we tested. Aegis RS builds start at $1,599 for a PC equipped with an RTX 3060, and max out at $3,499 with an RTX 3080 Ti.

Best budget gaming desktop: Lenovo Legion 5i ($949.99; bestbuy.com)

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Key specs

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-11400K
  • Graphics: Nvidia GTX 1660 Super
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256SSD, 1TB HDD
  • Size and weight: 16.5 by 16.04 by 8.07 inches, 30.9 pounds

Looking at price tags on gaming desktops can be panic-inducing. The Lenovo Legion 5i, on the other hand, gives you respectable performance in even the most demanding games at an affordable price. And, if you’re feeling adventurous down the road and want to boost its capabilities, all you have to do is remove a pane of glass and swap out a component or three.

The Legion isn’t as flashy as the Aegis RS, but it’s still clearly a gaming PC. The Legion logo on the front of the case has an RGB light behind it, and a single strip of RGB lights along the top of the inside of the case lights up the components behind the glass. You can change the lights through the Lenovo Vantage app, but don’t expect full control. Instead of having every color of the rainbow available to you, you’re given three choices for which lights to have on, and one color: blue. You can, however, swap out any of the fans inside the case with RGB fans of your choice if you want a more colorful experience.

The top of the case has two USB ports, audio in/out jacks, and a power button. On the rear of the case, you’ll find four USB ports and a lone USB-C port, a minimal amount compared to other desktops, but you should have enough to connect your keyboard, mouse and an external storage drive or two. There’s a Gigabit Ethernet port if you want a wired internet connection, and Wi-Fi 6 if you don’t.

Rounding out the specs is an Intel Core i5-11400 CPU, Nvidia GTX 1660 Super, 8GB of memory, a 256GB SSD and a 1TB HDD for additional storage.

The sum of those parts is a gaming PC that can handle 1080p gaming at 60 fps with ease, as long as you’re willing to tinker with graphics settings for the most resource-intensive games, like Black Ops. Heck, you might even get away with some 4K gaming on games that don’t require every ounce of processing power.

To be clear, the Legion 5i scored the lowest out of the testing group on benchmarks and real-world tests. But that’s plenty in the real world, so long as you aren’t looking for extreme graphics performance. When playing Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the Legion easily hits a respectable 89 fps on max settings at 1080p. At 4K, though, the system starts to struggle. In the same game, it reached 29 fps, borderline unplayable for a fast-paced first-person shooter like Call of Duty.

But the Legion just isn’t built for 4K gaming anyway. Down the road, if you find you’re not happy with the level of performance, you can always buy a more powerful graphics card, gaining improved graphics with more advanced features like real-time ray-tracing and better 4K performance. Alternatively, some other Legion 5i models offer better graphics and processor performance out of the box, but cost nearly twice as much as the model we tested.

When it comes to preinstalled software, the Legion 5i doesn’t have a whole lot. The previously mentioned Lenovo Vantage is installed, but so is McAfee’s antivirus software. That’s par for the course on entry-level computers, and the Legion 5i is no different. Thankfully, once your free trial ends you can remove it with a few clicks of the mouse. And the Legion 5i handled more common computing tasks like browsing the web or bouncing between work documents with ease.

The Legion 5i didn’t blow us away, but for the money we don’t have much to complain about. For $950, you’re getting a capable gaming computer that pushes pixels perfectly well at 1080p and provides an enjoyable gaming experience. And when you’re ready, you can slowly upgrade and tweak your system. Or don’t do that at all. That’s what’s great about owning a gaming PC.

How we tested

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We tested every gaming desktop using the same 4K monitor, gaming keyboard and gaming mouse. After we connected each desktop in our testing pool to the necessary accessories, we ran a mix of performance-based benchmarks to obtain quantitative metrics that we could then combine with our personal experience during real-world use. We used Geekbench 5 along with PCMark 10’s extended benchmark test to measure multitasking capabilities.

Our daily use consisted of some work but mostly play. More specifically, we ran gaming benchmarks with built-in tools for Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Dirt 5, both at 1080p and 4K, with graphics settings cranked to ultra. This gave us a good baseline of how the different PCs would handle modern blockbuster games. Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story, though. So we also spent a ton of time playing Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, noting the frame rate in 4K and 1080p, again with graphics settings as high as they could go.

To measure frame rates while simultaneously gaming, we used the Xbox Game Bar’s frames-per-second overlay, which averages the frame rate over the last 60 seconds. We would then take note of the average five times during a gaming session, and average those numbers. The end result gave us a solid baseline of what frame rate you can expect. We also paid close attention to how loud the cooling system of each PC is, while monitoring for any graphic anomalies or performance hiccups.

Outside of hands-on time, we also noted how easily these systems could be taken apart for owners to add or upgrade components on their own.

Others we tested

Intel NUC Ghost Canyon ($2,808 as tested; simplynuc.com)

A NUC is supposed to be impressively small by design, and the NUC Ghost Canyon (or NUC 11 Extreme) is just that, with the smallest footprint out of our testing group. Don’t be fooled, however, there’s still enough room inside to fit an RTX 3080 next to the mainboard. But compactness comes at the cost of some performance, inability to easily upgrade some components, and a higher price tag than similarly spec’d standard-sized machines.

NZXT H1 Mini Plus PC ($1,749, originally $1,799; nzxt.com)

NZXT has several prebuilt gaming PCs in its Mini series. Each model is for a different price point and purpose. The H1 Mini Plus is the middle-of-the-road option, offering a unique computer case, with respectable components and performance at the sub-$2,000 price point. We like the H1 build a lot, but the performance was on the lower end among our test group, and placement was made difficult by the fact that you have to lay the H1 on its side to access the majority of ports.

Corsair One a200 ($3,649.99, originally $3,799.99; corsair.com)

When it comes to benchmarks, the Corsair One a200 was the fastest desktop computer we tested in nearly every metric, though it wasn’t the fastest real-world performer. The case for the a200 is a sight to behold and exudes quality. It’s very expensive, however: the build we tested at $3,800 is the least expensive Corsair offers in this line.

Origin Chronos ($2,919 as tested; originpc.com)

We like the playful design of the Origin Chronos. It has multiple build options, including a glass or mesh side panel, and customizable graphics panels for the opposite side. You can craft a custom gaming PC build using Origin’s intuitive website, but be careful — it quickly adds up. The RTX 3070 gave us middle-of-the-road performance just as we expected, but ultimately we found the MSI Aegis RS to be a better deal.

Corsair Vengeance i7200 ($3,199 as tested; corsair.com)

Corsair’s Vengeance i7200 has plenty to offer when it comes to custom configurations, spanning price points from $1,999 to well over $4,000, depending on what you want inside your PC. The tower has plenty of RGB to light up your room at night during gaming sessions and provides lots of space for the experienced and novices alike to make upgrades on their own. The i7200 was a contender for our top overall pick, but cost a bit more while offering slightly lesser performance.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: