Windows 10 has arrived, and with it comes the inevitable question: should I upgrade my PC? Even with a few outstanding bugs left to quash, Microsoft’s new software marks a major improvement over its predecessors and should be considered essential, so that’s a fairly solid yes to Windows 10 itself, but what about the PC that runs it? The answer to the hardware upgrade question is much less obvious. Microsoft’s minimum spec requirements haven’t changed since Windows 7, making it possible to enjoy the latest software without having the latest PC. And yet, to get the best possible Windows 10 experience, with neat extras like Windows Hello facial recognition, you’ll probably want to upgrade your computer even if you don’t strictly need to.
Unlike Windows 8 before it, Windows 10 really doesn’t introduce any new specific hardware requirements. Windows 8 was all about touch, so everyone was encouraged to grab a laptop-tablet hybrid device to get the most out of it. The closest thing to that with Microsoft’s latest operating system is the need for an Intel RealSense 3D camera to enable Windows Hello. There are 10 PC models currently shipping with RealSense cameras or you can buy one separately for $99. Like touchscreens or fast graphics cards, both of which Windows 10 can make excellent use of, one of these 3D cameras is an addition that’s nice, but not necessary, to have.
Let's narrow down the cornucopia of choice
You can be absolutely sure that the best Windows 10 PCs are yet to come. Microsoft’s OS updates always catalyze a big upgrade cycle among PC manufacturers, which this year will sync up with the back-to-school shopping period and the introduction of Intel’s Skylake processor. So there’s plenty to look forward to. But that’s a universal truth for anyone looking to buy a PC, and at some point you just have to put a stop to all of the roadmap tracking and decide what the best PC is right now. What better moment for it than Windows 10’s debut?
Picking out the best Windows 10 PC is really no different from finding the best PC, period, which is a tough task given all the diversity on offer. Still, the computer cornucopia can be reduced down to a manageable shortlist if you know what you’re looking for. Here’s our rundown of the best available options for Windows 10 PCs, assorted by the needs you may be looking to sate.
The best Windows 10 laptops for most people
There’s no universally accepted best Windows 10 PC, but the machine that comes closest is Dell’s XPS 13 laptop. It embodies everything good and modern in laptop design today, with a high-resolution display that has almost no bezels, a generous glass trackpad, and plenty of power condensed into a very compact, aluminum-wrapped package. The XPS 13 has raised the bar of expectations for what an ultraportable laptop can and should look like, but it also has the performance and practicality to be your everyday workhorse computer. The upgraded touchscreen version also allows you to make full use of Windows’ touch-friendly features, though that does come at the cost of some battery life.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X250 is the more utilitarian and pragmatic alternative to the XPS 13. With the extended six-cell battery attached, this ThinkPad promises to last up to 20 hours on a single charge. It’s predictably thicker and heavier than Dell’s PC, but that allows it to include an Ethernet jack, a VGA output, and a more comfortable keyboard with deeper key travel — all of which remain valuable conveniences for business users. The X250 has a matte screen, as with the non-touch XPS 13, which can be flexed open to a full 180 degrees. Lenovo maintains the underrated ThinkPad tradition of making some of the hardiest and best hinges around, and the X250 overall feels like a computer that can withstand years of reckless abuse.
The best Windows 10 PCs for gamers
Both of our top two laptop picks offer excellent portability, great keyboards, and performance that's adequate for almost all tasks, but neither is a great choice for gamers on the move. If your idea of the perfect Windows 10 PC is a mobile gaming station, then you should look to Alienware’s 2015 laptop range. The Alienware 15 and 17 come with the usual litany of high-end spec options (including touchscreens), but what sets them apart is the compatibility with Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier, which is simply a breakout box into which you can install a full desktop graphics card. These laptops thus become a new sort of hybrid device: portable gaming machines in their basic form, and upgradeable, highly capable desktop rigs when connected to the graphics amp.
Mobility isn’t a must-have feature for everyone, but a small footprint is always appreciated, and the toaster-sized MSI Nightblade offers a great option for new PC buyers. It’s part of the Taiwanese company’s gaming range, so it comes with neat extras like Killer LAN networking and extra-durable motherboard components, and it can fit a full-size graphics card. You needn’t think of the Nightblade as just a gaming PC, however: it’s fully customizable and can be adapted to whatever purpose you seek to fulfill. Plus, it has a relatively austere, universal look that can fit into most environments. There are numerous alternatives from the likes of fellow Taiwanese PC maker Shuttle out there, but the Nightblade seems to strike the best balance between compact dimensions and room for future upgradeability.
The best desktop PC for Windows 10
The most effective way to minimize the space that a PC occupies on your desktop is to just build it straight into your display. This sort of convergence is what all-in-one PCs are all about, and the most desirable among them today is the Asus Zen AiO. It’s not on sale quite yet, but we’re including it on this list anyway just because of the exciting trend it foreshadows. The Zen AiO will be among the first Windows computers with a USB-C port and it will be one of the few with an integrated Intel RealSense camera. Core i7 processors from Intel, up to half a terabyte of SSD storage, and discrete Nvidia graphics make the Zen AiO more than powerful enough to handle Windows 10 and a variety of tasks besides — but what’s most impressive about it is the slim and handsome aluminum case that all of that power is enveloped in.
The best tablet for Windows 10
Microsoft’s effort at building the best Windows 10 PC is probably on the near horizon, however the company already has a very capable candidate for the role in the Surface Pro 3. Featuring an integrated kickstand and one of the best keyboard covers in the business, the 12-inch Surface Pro is the best tablet-laptop hybrid we’ve seen so far. It even has a stylus, which works remarkably well and shows off some of the synergy of having Microsoft software and hardware working together. It’s not perfect as either a laptop or a tablet, but the Surface Pro 3 is more versatile than both.
Or just build your own
No serious PC buying guide would be complete without including the honored tradition of building your own machine. The most personal and satisfying Windows 10 PC will always be the one you make yourself, and the options for doing so have never been more diverse or affordable. To set yourself up for the best of Windows 10, start with a graphics card that supports DirectX 12, the latest set of graphics APIs that will accompany the release of the new OS. Among other things, DX12 will make better use of multi-core processors and multi-GPU setups to deliver more frames of more detailed content on the screen. And to make the most of that graphical fidelity, you’ll also probably want one of those delightful 34-inch ultrawide monitors that highlighted Computex this year. Finally, though USB-C is still hard to find, making sure your motherboard has at least one of those future-facing ports will ensure your PC doesn’t feel aged prematurely.
The best of Windows 10 is surely yet to come, but there are already plenty of fantastic ways to experience the latest and greatest from Microsoft. As ever, the question of the best Windows PC depends most on who’s asking the question. Once you’ve identified the things you truly need, the most suitable choice will quickly make itself apparent.