It’s been a weird year. Like much of America, the staff of PCMag has been working from home since March, when COVID-19 hit New York city hard. Our testing lab and photo-and-video studio, which was housed in a tall office building on lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, is now dispersed across various apartment living rooms and home offices in the five NYC boroughs and beyond. Laptops, CPUs, and graphics cards are benchmark-tested on coffee tables in Staten Island and Brooklyn, and phones and tablets are photographed against city skylines on the roofs of Queens apartment buildings. Despite the worst pandemic our country has seen in more than 100 years, the very important business of product testing and reviewing—to help you determine the right technology to buy—marches on.
Once again this year, we battled, albeit virtually, to whittle down the list of almost 2,000 products we’ve tested in the past 12 months to the 100 in this story, which represents the pinnacle of all that we’ve seen this year.
If you remember last year’s collection, you’ll see some familiar winners for 2020. After all, the best product lines, such as Dell XPS and Samsung Galaxy, pump out several new products each year, and they often get better with each iteration. And because we’re continually reviewing important products as their features, performance, and pricing change, you’ll find some old favorites like Netflix and Spotify. That’s not to say it’s all predictable: Watch for some not-so-obvious choices and some new categories, too—the Best Smart Home Gym Machine, for example.
This list was compiled after considering every product we reviewed between November 1, 2019 through the first week of November 2020. Of the final 100 products we selected, seven received a perfect 5-star rating, 90 earned our top accolade—the PCMag Editors’ Choice award, and all were selected by writers and editors who are experts in the product categories they cover.
Bonus: Our favorite products of the year just happen to serve very well as your ultimate holiday shopping list.
Dell XPS 13 (9310)
The XPS 13 is the best high-end, clamshell-style ultraportable you can buy, and the clear choice for Windows users who want to make a statement. It looks equally at home in your living room and (eventually, once the pandemic ends) in a coffee shop or conference room. With the latest 9310 model, equipped with Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” processors and Intel Iris Xe graphics, it’s as powerful as it is sleek. (You get Iris Xe in the XPS 13’s stepped-up models, like the $1,649 configuration we tested; the base $999 version relies on Intel UHD Graphics.)
Base Configuration Price $999.00
Best Budget Laptop
Asus VivoBook S15 (S533)
This year, the VivoBook S15 was one of the easiest picks to recommend to the average shopper seeking an affordable daily-use laptop. To be sure, less-expensive alternatives exist, but for a full-fledged 15-inch laptop, it offers everything you need in a slim package with good build quality. The S15 has all the essential ports, and most important, the battery is long-lasting. Add a dash of style (fun color options!), and you get an appealing general-use laptop that won’t break the bank at its $699.99 list price. Indeed, given what a deal it is (and the budget-laptop stock shortages we’ve seen here in late 2020 due to the pandemic), etailers have been charging above list price for this winning value. You’ll have to keep a sharp eye to find it at its MSRP.
Acer Chromebook Spin 713
Think of a Chromebook here in 2020, and you may envision a small, inexpensive laptop powering a schoolkid’s remote classes, a pandemic-necessity purchase. We saw our share of those this year. (See, for example, the excellent-value Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Chromebook, around $250.) But this category’s brass ring goes to a different kind of value: Acer’s premium Chromebook Spin 713. More akin to a Microsoft Surface Laptop than a Chromebook, it’s clad in aluminum, with an antimicrobial Gorilla Glass screen, and packs a speedy Intel Core i5 CPU plus 8GB of RAM. The 13.5-inch display has a squarish 3:2 aspect ratio, not the more familiar 16:9, giving you a taller view for text and web scrolling. Chromebook connoisseurs will go ga-ga, and it’s much cheaper than the highest-end enterprise Chromebooks or the venerable Google Pixelbook.
Base Configuration Price $629.00
Best Desktop Replacement Laptop
Dell XPS 17 (9700)
Simply put, this laptop takes the time-tested design of the beloved 13-inch XPS 13 and brings it to a much larger screen and chassis. The result is an excellent all-around laptop with a top-notch screen (4K option included), great audio and inputs, and a wide array of ports. It packs a punch, too, with options for up to Intel Core i9 processors along with an Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU, like in the $2,939 model we tested. It’s sleek, high-quality, and fully capable of replacing a home desktop.
Base Configuration Price $1,399.00
Best Business Laptop
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is one of our perennial favorites, and we reviewed the 2020 edition just in time for the holidays. This ultraportable business laptop is a dream to work on at home or on the road; although your business travel was likely curtailed in 2020, you’ll enjoy using it anywhere. It is super-lightweight, features one of the best keyboards and displays around, and has all the connectivity a professional user could want. (We tested an $1,888 model with LTE connectivity; basic configurations start at just over $1,300 MSRP.)
Base Configuration Price $1,331.00
Best Mobile Workstation
Dell Precision 7540
When it comes to 15.6-inch laptops, mobile workstations make gaming rigs look like wimps—and the new king of the hill is Dell’s costly but colossal Precision 7540, which we tested in a maxed-out $5,000-plus Xeon/Quadro RTX configuration. (Models start at $1,339 MSRP.) By a narrow margin, it’s the fastest mobile workstation we’ve tested. This stupendous performance combined with a handsome 4K screen makes it the best mobile workstation you can buy.
Base Configuration Price $1,339.00
Best Gaming Laptop
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
The Zephyrus G14 is arguably the best value in gaming this year. Our midrange test configuration ($1,449.99, with models starting at $1,049.99) outpaces more expensive machines thanks to its Ryzen 9 processor, and its RTX 2060 is plenty capable as a high-refresh 1080p gaming GPU. It helps that these are tied together in a slick, super-portable chassis with long battery life and a 120Hz screen at an unusual-for-gaming 14 inches. In a world of expensive gaming laptops, it’s an unmatched combination of power, portability, and price.
Base Configuration Price $1,049.99
Best Apple Laptop
Apple MacBook Air
The new MacBook Air, now based on Apple’s M1 processor, is much faster than it’s ever been. Thanks to this home-grown chip, the ultraportable catapults into the same speed tier as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, rather than sticking to its role as the slowpoke sibling. It achieves this feat while maintaining the super-thin fanless design, lux metal build, and insanely long battery life, all at an attractive $999 starting price.
Base Configuration Price $999.00
Best Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop
HP Spectre x360 15
HP’s oversize Spectre x360 15 has a big screen—but it’s a convertible, so you can transform it into a tablet and use its stylus to sketch, draft, and create. The signature luxury design of the Spectre elevates the experience, and our $1,849 review model had a beautiful AMOLED 4K touch display that artists (especially anyone sensitive to color accuracy) will go gaga over. You won’t need to configure it much, as this is a full package that can work as a high-end mobile studio. (Basic models start at $1,399 MSRP, though, if you don’t need all the frills.)
Base Configuration Price $1,399.00
Apple iPad Air (2020)
Apple iPads have much better creative, gaming, and productivity software options than Android tablets, while they’re far simpler to use than Windows slates. The company’s latest iPad Air brings you pro power at a more down-to-earth price. The tablet has a super-fast processor, excellent cameras, and better Apple Pencil support than the previous Air and lower-cost iPad models. For many, it’s an even better buy than the pricier iPad Pro.
Best Ebook Reader
Onyx Boox Note Air
Our new work-from-home, school-from-home lives demand a new generation of reading devices. The Onyx Boox Note Air runs full Android 10, so it can use any reader or document management software. And it gives you a 10.3-inch screen, so you can comfortably read 8.5-by-11 documents and still hold it in one hand. An included stylus lets you easily take notes or annotate PDFs.
Best Cellular Network
For our annual Fastest Mobile Networks tests this year, we drove around 26 US cities, testing 4G and 5G networks against each other (our first 5G test). Though Verizon’s “ultra wideband” 5G network doesn’t have much coverage, we found that it was the only 5G that made a real, generational difference. Verizon’s small amount of UWB 5G is backed up by a high-performing, nationwide 4G network that delivers all the speed most people need. Verizon’s 5G is what pushed it ahead of AT&T, and its 4G kept the carrier head and shoulders above T-Mobile in our tests.
Best Android Phone
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
It took Samsung a few months to recover from the misfire that was the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but when it came back, it came back roaring. A massive powerhouse, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packs in more technology than any other Android device in the US this year. The phone has a gorgeous 120Hz screen, a powerful processor, a 5x optical-zoom camera, and excellent stylus support, and it handles every form of 5G available in the US right now. As you can surmise from the size, battery life is excellent.
Best Apple Phone
Apple iPhone 12 mini
We’ve been asking for a smaller premium iPhone for a long time. Apple finally delivered. The iPhone 12 mini isn’t a second-class citizen in the iPhone world: It has all the speed, camera prowess, and 5G capabilities of its bigger sibling, in a one-handed form factor, for less money. When we start to leave our houses on a regular basis again, we’re going to want to carry bags, hold children’s hands, and fit things into the annoyingly small pockets of tight pants. The iPhone 12 mini is an affordable, powerful phone for the year we’re hoping 2021 will be.
Best Budget Phone
Motorola Moto G Power
The Moto G Power hits all the basics, the way a good budget phone should. It has excellent battery life, reliable reception and call quality, and a big screen that’s usable in sunlight. Motorola always uses a light hand with its Android software, not loading it down with bloatware, and it has a better track record with updates and support than many other budget phone makers do. We’ve recommended many phones in the Moto G series, because we know that when you get one, you don’t have to worry. The G Power continues this solid legacy.
The first real hotspot for Verizon’s super-high-speed 5G network is the first hotspot that can give you a taste of what 5G is supposed to be—provided you can find network coverage. The M2100 can use Wi-Fi 6 to split Verizon’s gigabit wireless connection across up to 30 devices, letting you quickly set up an outdoor office or workgroup. It’s held back by Verizon’s network, which primarily works outdoors in relatively small parts of major cities. But at least Verizon is showing what we can do with true wireless, high-speed access when it becomes more widespread.
Apple Watch Series 6
Outperforming Google Wear OS–based models and offering a much more fully realized smartwatch experience than Fitbit’s health-centric alternatives, the Apple Watch is once again our top pick. This year’s flagship Series 6 model offers two key features that can help keep you safe amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic: an SpO2 sensor that lets you monitor your blood oxygen saturation level and a countdown timer that keeps you honest when washing your hands. The Series 6 further impresses thanks to a faster processor, a brighter display, and an always-on altimeter, all of which help make the best smartwatch you can buy a smarter choice than ever.
Digital Health & Fitness
Best Fitness Tracker
Fitbit Charge 4
Featuring a GPS to map your exercise route without a phone, Spotify controls, and Fitbit Pay, the Charge 4 gives you the most bang for your buck of any fitness tracker. The latest addition to the high-rated Charge line also offers a motivating new metric called Active Zone Minutes and more robust sleep-tracking tools, which together can help encourage you to get moving and improve your shut-eye. It also stands out thanks to its sleek, water-resistant design and weeklong battery life.
Best Heart Rate Monitor
For the most accurate heart rate readings, use a chest strap over a wrist-worn device. And for the best basic chest strap, go with the Polar H9. With a comfortable and swim-safe design, ANT+ and Bluetooth support for easy pairing with fitness equipment, an excellent companion app that puts your metrics into context, and training programs to help improve your fitness level, the H9 offers tremendous value at a competitive price.
Best Smart Scale
With its first smart scale, Wyze upholds its reputation for delivering quality products that undercut the competition. The Wyze Scale offers unbeatable value with the ability to measure and track 12 metrics, including your BMI, body-fat percentage, body-water percentage, heart rate, and more—for just $20. It also offers a safe mode for pregnant women and people who wear pacemakers, and it keeps your data private while offering auto-recognition and syncing for eight users, addressing the main limitations of similarly priced and even some more expensive competitors.
Best Smart Home Gym Machine
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, there’s never been a better time to invest in a smart home fitness device. The Peloton Bike+ is one of the best you can buy. It builds on the original model with a new Auto Follow feature for automatic resistance adjustments, an upgraded sound system, a rotating touch screen that allows for a better viewing angle when doing floor-based workouts, and support for one-tap Apple Watch pairing. With these upgrades, plus a vast and varied on-demand workout library and a regular schedule of live classes, it leaves other indoor cycling bikes in the dust.
Best Smart Thermostat
The Nest Thermostat is the company’s most affordable model to date—and arguably the most attractive. It lets you control your heating and cooling system by phone or voice, set temperature schedules, and remotely monitor your energy consumption. It also offers energy-saving features to help cut down costs on your bill, including the ability to turn itself down when you leave home, so you’re not heating or cooling an empty house. It’s a strong alternative to the Nest Learning Thermostat for around half the price.
Best Smart Lighting
The Philips Dimmable A19 Smart Wi-Fi Wiz Light Bulb is a far more affordable option than the company’s Hue LEDs, offering ample features for the price, including support for IFTTT integrations and voice control via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri Shortcuts. Its companion app lets you create Scenes to set the mood for different occasions with the press of a button, Rhythms to automate lighting adjustments based on the time of day, and Schedules to enable your preferred light mode on certain days and times.
Best Robot Vacuum
Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI
Ideal for big homes and cluttered floors, the Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI is an investment—but it can both mop and vacuum, and it does both better than any robot we’ve tested. It stands out from the pack thanks to integrated artificial intelligence technology that allows it to automatically identify and avoid common obstacles that competing products get stuck on. It also functions as a roving indoor security camera, making it one of the most feature-rich hybrid floor-cleaning robots on the market.
Best Security System
Blue by ADT Home Security System
Although SimpliSafe remains our top pick overall, the Blue by ADT Home Security System is the best new system we tested in 2020. It’s reasonably priced and versatile, so you can start small and add components (such as door and window sensors, motion detectors, and flood sensors) as you need them, and you can opt to monitor your home yourself via the companion app or pay $20 per month for 24/7 professional monitoring. The system works with lots of third-party devices, supports Alexa and Google voice commands, and most important, performed flawlessly in testing.
Starts at $159.99
Best Security Camera
Wyze Cam Outdoor
If you’re looking for an affordable outdoor security camera, the Wyze Cam Outdoor is the best sub-$50 model money can buy. It’s wireless, easy to install, and offers sharp 1080p video for much less money than most of the competition—plus free cloud and local storage. The Cam Outdoor has everything you need to monitor activity outside your home, as well as Travel Mode, which lets you take the camera anywhere, connect to it using your phone, and record motion and time-lapse video without the need for an internet connection. Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT support are icing on the cake.
Best Smart Door Lock
August Wi-Fi Smart Lock
With the addition of embedded Wi-Fi that lets you connect it to your home network without a bridge, the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is the company’s smartest model to date. It’s also the smallest, featuring an attractive matte-black or silver design with a textured grip. It’s easy to install and use, and it offers plenty of features, including integration with voice assistants, support for Apple HomeKit and IFTTT applets, and seamless integration with a variety of home automation and home security platforms.
Best Video Doorbell
Arlo’s first video doorbell is a winner, offering stunning high-res HDR video that lets you see who is at your door right from your phone or on an Alexa-based smart display. It alerts you with a live video stream when the bell has been pressed or when someone approaches, and lets you speak with whomever is out there. And it’s easy to install, stylishly designed, and doesn’t require a hub.
Best Smart Display
Amazon Echo Show 8
The Amazon Echo Show 8 hits an ideal middle ground among size, power, and price. Its 8-inch screen can show plenty of useful information, play video content from Prime Video and Hulu, and even make video calls. The Show 8’s stereo speakers put out surprisingly strong sound. Considering the larger Echo Show 10 is nearly twice the price, this is an excellent value for those who want touch-screen Alexa access at home.
Best Smart Speaker
Amazon Echo (4th Generation)
The newest Amazon Echo speaker is much more spherical than the cylinders of the past, and inside, it packs some of the best hardware yet. With surprisingly strong bass for its small size and a built-in smart home hub that supports Zigbee, BLE, and Amazon Sidewalk, this simple orb can easily become the anchor of your smart home.
Best Computer Speakers
Harman Kardon SoundSticks 4
Harman Kardon SoundSticks speakers are celebrating their 20th anniversary, and the newest version is as good as the line ever was. Powerful and clean 2.1-channel audio pumps through the iconic transparent speakers and subwoofer, and Bluetooth connectivity lets you stream music from your phone even with the speakers connected to your PC.
Best True Wireless Earphones
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Bose continues to be the undisputed champion of noise-canceling headphones, and the QuietComfort Earbuds are some of the most impressive we’ve tested yet. Active noise cancellation blocks out nearly every rumble, hum, and murmur around you, while excellent drivers provide fantastic sound with rich bass and clean high-end. They’re expensive, but that’s the price you pay for best-in-class noise cancellation.
Best Budget Earphones
Tribit FlyBuds 3
You can get good sound from wire-free earphones without spending a lot of money, if you know where to look. The Tribit FlyBuds 3 are inexpensive little earphones that offer plenty of bass and incredibly long battery life (with a powerful charging case). They’re waterproof, too, so you can safely wear them to the gym, on runs, or for a walk in the rain.
Bose might be the ruler of noise cancelation, but Sony comes in at a close second while offering even better sound quality. The WH-1000XM4 are noise-canceling, wireless over-ear headphones that pump out audiophile-level sound quality with powerful bass and crisp highs that don’t overshadow each other. The noise cancelation is also impressive, blocking out nearly all outside sounds.
Best Compact Camera
Photographers who are tired of schlepping around a full-frame camera but want the real camera experience: Look no further than the Fujifilm X100V when searching for a quality compact camera. The latest edition of this fixed-lens model has new optics, an improved sensor, splash protection, and the optical-hybrid viewfinder that has defined the series from day one.
Best Bridge Camera
Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ1000 II
2020 was a quiet year for bridge cameras: fixed-lens models with bigger-than-pocket-friendly confines and loads of power. The Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ1000 II becomes our winner by default, but wouldn’t be here if we didn’t recommend it highly. It matches a 20MP 1-inch sensor to a 25-400mm zoom lens and includes 4K video, too. It’s one of the best options for backyard birders and hikers looking for some zoom and macro, and it can even handle some sports photography.
Best Full-Frame Camera
Panasonic Lumix DC-S5
Two years after joining Leica and Sigma in developing cameras and lenses for the L-Mount Alliance, Panasonic delivers the best full-frame camera of the year. The Lumix DC-S5 gets it all right, with a stabilized 24MP sensor, 10-bit video, and a front-facing touch screen. It handles well, is protected from dust and splashes, and is backed by a growing but robust lens library.
Best APS-C/Crop Sensor Camera
Our top-rated camera this year is the Fujifilm X-T4. It’s a true pro-grade, albeit not full-frame, body, with the expected features—a stabilized image sensor, 4K video, and a rugged, all-weather build. It tracks subjects at 15fps, offers a ton of stunning in-camera film looks, and is backed by a large library of quality lenses. It’s the best X system camera Fujifilm has made to date.
Tamron 17-28mm F2.8 Di III RXD
Tamron has delivered a number of quality lenses for the Sony full-frame camera system. The 17-28mm F2.8 Di III RXD is the wide-angle entry in its F2.8 zoom trio, and it’s one of our favorite lenses for the system. It’s svelte but built for all-weather use, and it’s just as capable for stills or video. And the price is hard to argue with—it’s less than half the cost of the Sony 16-35mm F2.8.
DJI Mavic Air 2
Our favorite camera drone is the DJI Mavic Air 2. It’s a small but powerful quadcopter with a folding design for easier transport, a 48MP Quad Bayer camera, pro-grade 4K video, and loads of automated flight features. Obstacle-detection sensors prevent collisions and enable subject tracking, and the drone offers a number of automated cinematic shots to raise your production values.
Best Action Camera
GoPro sets the gold standard for action cams: It delivers a good, tough product, year after year. For 2020, it’s the Hero9 Black, featuring a slight increase in size versus last year’s Hero8, in part to accommodate a full-color front screen for vloggers. It’s still a small, mountable camera and now has a bit more battery life, 5K video, 20MP stills, and support for an add-on lens, the Max Mod, and other accessories. Pricing is a little confusing, though—the camera is most affordable when bundled with a GoPro subscription, and that’s an option only from GoPro and select specialty shops.
TVs & Home Theater
Hisense H9G Quantum Series
Hisense proves you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a TV with an excellent picture and loads of features. The H9G Quantum Series offers some fantastic contrast and color for the price. Its Quantum Dot panel represents HDR content faithfully and vibrantly, and its Android TV interface lets you use Google Assistant just by speaking to the TV, without even touching the remote.
Best Media Hub
Chromecast With Google TV
The newest Google Chromecast adds what’s been missing from the media-streamer line since its launch: a remote and an on-screen interface. Instead of relying on your phone, as older Chromecasts do, the Chromecast With Google TV offers a powerful and accessible Google TV menu system with loads of different streaming apps and services, as well as Google Assistant through the microphone-equipped remote. It’s a 4K streamer, too, with support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision, so you can stream sharp, vibrant video.
If you want powerful, room-filling, one-piece home theater audio, the Sonos Arc is the soundbar for you. The Dolby Atmos–compatible Arc offers plenty of bass and a big sound field on its own, or you can combine it with Sonos Sub and Sonos One speakers to build it into a true surround-sound system. It even functions as a smart speaker, with support for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants.
Best Budget Desktop
Acer Aspire TC-885-UA92
All many shoppers need is a low-cost, small-footprint family PC for the home. The Acer Aspire TC-885-UA92 delivers that better than any of the other budget towers we’ve reviewed, with no real shortcoming for the price. It’s compact, the design is restrained (but not entirely boring), and it includes such extras as an optical drive, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB-C. It uses integrated graphics, and the interior is limited, but those are understandable secondary concerns given the value it delivers.
Base Configuration Price $549.00
Best All-in-One Desktop
HP Pavilion 24 All-in-One
All-in-one PC sales may not have exploded, as some predicted, but there are some excellent options on the market. The Pavilion 24 is our favorite. The $799.99 model we tested is a great alternative to the pricey Apple iMac. The design is more elegant than its price may suggest, and its performance, ports, and storage capacity leave little to be desired for a general use desktop. A hearty front soundbar, pop-up webcam, and 24-inch screen round out its strong case as a machine for work or entertainment, all without making you fit a tower on your desk.
Price as Tested $799.99
Best Compact Desktop
Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit (Ghost Canyon)
Intel is a perennial innovator on mini-desktops, but the NUC 9 Extreme Kit takes things to a whole different level. The bare-bones kit is built around Intel’s nascent Compute Element, a card-style module that contains the CPU, memory slots, and storage module slots in a sort of “mini motherboard” the size of a video card. This allows the NUC 9 room to incorporate a compact ordinary graphics card and include the power supply inside the chassis. The result: a hyper-dense, compact dynamo of a mini-PC.
Base Configuration Price $1,700.00
Best Gaming Desktop
Lenovo Legion Tower 5i
Mass-production gaming towers are only getting better, inching closer in style to gaming PCs from boutique companies while keeping the cost down. The Legion Tower 5i is the best of the bunch this year, with a classy-looking build and plenty of configuration options at reasonable prices. Our review model featured an RTX 2070 Super graphics card and a 10th-Gen Intel Core i7 processor for $1,449 (models start at just over $1,000 MSRP), a good example of how this system undercuts similarly equipped competition and why it earns our Editors’ Choice.
Base Configuration Price $1,029.00
Best Business/Desktop Workstation
Dell Precision 7920 Tower
You can configure the Precision 7920 Tower to be a workaday single-CPU workstation packed with storage (models start at $1,779) all the way up to a dual-Xeon Platinum monster for rarified compute scenarios such as machine learning and data science. Our $20,000-plus (not a typo!) review machine, which was kitted out to push the limits with a Quadro RTX 8000 48GB graphics card, is just an example of the far limits of what Dell’s high-end workstation can do. You can opt for less and still get specific ISV certifications and hardware designed for 24/7 stress.
Base Configuration Price $1,779.00
Best Apple Desktop
Apple Mac mini
Sure, it’s nothing like the mighty, many-kilobuck Mac Pro, with its raw content-creation power and heavy-metal graphics options. But the newest Mac mini has its own superpowers. Apple’s refreshed version of its classic compact has been given new life by Apple’s M1 CPU. Early tests show it to be a powerful churner with native applications, and it even shows some moxie from its integrated graphics for light gaming. Plus, a new low starting price of $699 makes the Mac mini an unexpectedly good value among small desktops.
Base Configuration Price $699.00
PC Components & Storage
Best Graphics Card
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition
While Nvidia’s launch of “Turing”-based graphics cards landed a bit tepidly in the minds of most cost-conscious gamers, the company’s new “Ampere” cards are finally bringing big power down to a more reasonable price. As a midrange GPU, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition finally makes high-detail 4K gaming a possibility for anyone shopping for a graphics card around the $500 mark. Top it off with a suite of additional supported features such as DLSS, ray-tracing, Nvidia Broadcast, and Reflex low-latency mode, and you’ve got the complete PC gaming package in one card.
Best High-End CPU
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
In the world of desktop CPUs, AMD has been on a tear for the past year and a half, lapping Intel in cost-per-core and content-creation tasks with regularity. But until the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X, the company still lagged behind in one crucial area: gaming. No more! The Ryzen 9 5900X—as well as the rest of the chips released in the company’s new Ryzen 5000 Series of CPUs—have proven themselves to be highly capable gaming engines, also shattering records in core-sensitive content-creation benchmarks across the board.
Best Budget CPU
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
The AMD Ryzen 3 3300X is a budget CPU that proves you don’t need a whole heap of extra cores—and bucks—to get serious gaming performance from your desktop PC. At just four cores and eight threads, the Ryzen 3 3300X regularly wrangles capably with Intel CPUs that are twice or even three times as expensive, in games such as Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six: Siege. The Ryzen 3 3300X makes it possible to build a powerful gaming PC on a budget while leaving enough cash to invest in a high-refresh monitor or a beefy GPU to complete your frag-tastic package.
Best Internal SSD
Featuring blisteringly quick speeds at a price that undercuts most of its competition, the Crucial P5 internal NVMe SSD is the current cream of the crop. Featuring the company’s first in-house controller, the P5 excelled in nearly every benchmark we ran, beating out more expensive SSDs in both sequential and 4K read and write speeds. Topping it off with a comprehensive software-management package, the Crucial P5 is a perfect choice for anyone who needs a fast SSD at a budget-level price.
Starts at $54.99
Best External SSD
Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch
The Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch takes a great portable SSD, the T7, and perks it up a tad with a fingerprint sensor for added security. If you’re a traveler who needs to keep your files safe from prying eyes, the T7 makes it easy to lock and unlock your drive on the fly. While a fingerprint sensor may not be as secure as a passcode-based drive, it strikes a balance between usability and security that other portable storage solutions struggle to match.
Base Configuration Price $130.00
Best Inkjet Printer
Epson EcoTank Pro ET-5850
Beautiful prints, low ink costs, and great features lift this all-in-one color inkjet printer above the competition. It can handle significant volume for small and midsize offices, and its small footprint is ideal for those working from home or other cramped spaces. The low running costs are made even lower by an offer (expiring in March 2021) of unlimited ink reimbursement for two years. On just about every front, the ET-5850 is best in class.
Best Laser Printer
HP Neverstop Laser 1001nw
HP wowed us with this bulk-toner (cartridge-free) laser printer, which boasts strong print quality and impressively low running costs. The refillable toner bin does away with wasteful, inconvenient cartridges. The 1001nw is a terrific value for cost-conscious and eco-conscious people who need to print and copy 500 to 2,500 monochrome pages each month. If you’re looking for a single-function laser printer designed for homes, small offices, and workgroups, you really can’t do better.
Best Photo Printer
Epson SureColor P700
Photographers, digital artists, and graphic designers looking for gorgeous large-format printing will fall in love with the P700, which can print borderless banners and panoramas up to 13 inches wide and cut sheets up to 13 by 19 inches. Epson has put a lot of thought into this printer’s design, and it shows in the tidy footprint, highly detailed and color-calibrated touch screen control panel, and precise 10-channel print head with anti-clogging features. Most important, it produces dazzling, perfectly calibrated prints with rich blacks and vibrant colors.
Best Portable Printer
Canon Pixma TR150 Wireless Portable Printer
This cute little 4.5-pound portable color inkjet printer is the perfect fit for any traveler, as well as for people working in tiny home offices or at kitchen tables. It handily outperforms the competition on color-print quality, has good print speed, and delivers reasonable running costs. It can be powered directly from the wall or via USB, and an optional battery untethers from the outlet or PC. It even saves templates that can be printed straight from the control panel, and it’ll talk to anything: your phone, your laptop, and even your smart home device. Alexa, print a winner’s certificate.
Best 3D Printer
Original Prusa Mini
This compact, open-frame 3D printer ships from the Czech Republic as an easy-to-assemble kit. Initial calibration proved tricky in our testing, but once up and running, the Original Prusa Mini consistently produced high-quality prints, an uncommon feat among budget 3D printers. It can print objects from a variety of filament types at sizes up to 7 inches on a side. Some newbies may be happier with a preassembled, plug-and-play 3D printer, but for those willing to roll up their sleeves, the Prusa Mini is a highly capable machine at a great price.
Epson EF-100 Mini-Laser Streaming Projector with Android TV
The impressive EF-100 manages to be the least expensive, smallest, and lightest home laser projector in its class. It combines the significant advantage of laser projection, including an anticipated light-source life of 12,000 hours at full power, with a small size and low weight that make it truly portable and easy to store. Nine nuanced brightness settings save electricity and prolong the life of the laser, and it produces accurate color and great audio. Gamers and film buffs looking to replace a TV with a projector will find this little powerhouse a very tempting morsel.
Razer Pro Click Wireless Mouse
With help from the ergonomics experts at Humanscale, Razer takes its gaming hardware expertise and applies it to productivity with the Razer Pro Click Wireless Mouse. Whether you’re clicking enemy units or work links, you’ll appreciate the mouse’s comfortable shape, healthy assortment of button and wheel inputs, multi-device syncing over Bluetooth and 2.4 GHz wireless, and long battery life.
Corsair K95 RGB Platinum XT
The Corsair K95 RGB Platinum XT brings back everything gamers love about the original K95—the smooth typing action, well-placed lighting, USB pass-through, and dedicated macro keys—and adds more onboard profiles and a new padded wrist rest. The biggest improvement? The XT has macro keys that are compatible with Elgato’s Stream Deck software, a combination that lets you use the extra keys as video switchers.
Best Productivity/Design Monitor
Apple Pro Display XDR
Except for the $1,000(!) stand, the Apple Pro Display XDR is one of the best values you can get in the world of content-creation-focused professional monitors. The XDR won huge points for being expertly calibrated straight out of the box (something even the priciest reference displays struggle with), and while it may not be a one-to-one replacement for the $30,000 reference monitors from the likes of Sony, its spectacular color results and beautiful design make it a must-have for up-and-coming content creators who work in film, photography, or 3D design.
Best Gaming Monitor
ViewSonic Elite XG270QG
What do you want in a gaming monitor? High resolution? Fast refresh? Functional design? Look no further, because the 27-inch ViewSonic Elite XG270QG has it all. Featuring one of the lowest input-latency figures we’ve seen while testing a gaming monitor, the XG270QG fills a niche for gamers who want to play at 1440p but don’t want to sacrifice on refresh rates to do so.
TP-Link Archer AX11000 Next-Gen Tri-Band Gaming Router
It’s pricey, but if you’re looking for a future-proofed, high-performance router, the TP-Link Archer AX11000 has all the bases covered. Fast performance numbers come from a tri-band architecture that also supports Wi-Fi 6, and you’ll score excellent security and parental controls, too. The smart management app is easy and has throughput-enhancing features aimed specifically at gamers. The Archer AX11000’s only real downside is that availability has been spotty in the latter half of 2020. If you can’t find it and don’t want to wait, check out a very close runner up, the Asus RT-AX88U.
Best Wi-Fi Mesh System
Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8)
Mesh systems are very easy to set up and can cover an entire house with a strong wireless signal. That’s why they’re quickly taking over the home-network market. Our 2020 favorite is the Asus ZenWiFi AX XT8. A two-pack (consisting of the router and one expansion node) runs you just under $450, which seems pricey, but remember—that’s for two devices. The system is easy to configure and has a simple but thorough management app that covers not only security but also good traffic and signal-strength features, too.
Best Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Synology DiskStation DS220j
If you want to control your data as well as keep it safe, then you’re looking for network attached storage (NAS). The best personal NAS that passed through PC Labs in 2020 is Synology’s DiskStation DS220j, at $169.99 for enclosure and software (no disks). Once you add compatible storage, the DS220j is easy to configure, delivers excellent performance numbers, covers most any RAID configuration you might want, and has a long list of compatible apps: You can turn your NAS into anything from a cloud-accessible bit-bucket to a media server.
Best Game Console