If you're looking for a CNC machine that is compact enough to fit on your desk but is capable enough to do CNC routing on a variety of materials, then this guide will help you.
The most important factors you need to consider before choosing a desktop CNC machine are:
- Machine Footprint: This is important if space is a constraint for you. This parameter also affects the size of the workpiece that can be used.
- Material Versatility: It is important to consider the types of material the machine can work on.
- Speed: Consider the travel and cutting speed of the machine and see if it is quick enough for you. Most desktop CNCs have a PRO version which is much faster than the hobbyist version.
Considering these factors and other factors like hardware, drive, design, accuracy, software, customer support, warranty, documentation quality, and community support, I zeroed in on a shortlist of the best desktop CNCs in various categories.
I have tried to be comprehensive when reviewing each product to make sure you understand everything you need to know about the machine before deciding for or against it.
Here are the best Desktop CNC Router Machines on the market [in 2023] for Hobbyists and Small Shops.
Most CNCs in this review ship as DIY CNC Router kits while the assembled ones are plug-and-play.
Some of these are excellent if you're looking for a home/hobby CNC machine.
MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.
Best Desktop CNC Engraving Machines (Under $500)
The CNCs in this category are meant for engraving, with a low depth of cut. They typically work on materials like wood, MDF, plastic, PCBs, and acrylic.
The typical depth of cut on these machines is around 0.5mm with a 1/8" bit.
I make it a point to differentiate them from the more expensive CNC routers which can actually cut deep into the wood and other similar materials.
The most popular CNC size in this category is 30x18 cm. These CNCs typically have a price under $500.
Also, if your application is laser engraving these machines are a good bet, as most other bigger desktop CNCs in this list get the warranty voided if a laser module is attached to their CNC.
1. SAINSMART GENMITSU 3018-PROVer
The Sainsmart Genmitsu is really the first product that packaged the generic 3018 CNCs into a well-branded CNC with US-based customer support.
The PROVer gives you an effective engraving area of 260 x 155 x 35mm (10.2" x 6.1" x 1.4”), with a footprint size of 420 x 340 x 280mm (16.5 x 13.4 x 11.0”).
Note that the footprint is 42x34 cm although this CNC has 30x18 cm in its name.
The PROVer can engrave on most soft materials like wood, MDF, plastic, PCB, and acrylic.
There are people who engrave on aluminum with the PROVer, but it's not ideal.
The Gemmitsu 3018-PROver is a step up from its earlier version Genmitsu 3018-PRO. This upgraded version comes with a pre-assembled setup that takes less than thirty minutes to get started.
If you are someone who doesn't want the hassle of an assembly from scratch and wants to get started quickly, this aspect is worth consideration.
Unlike its predecessor, the PROVer uses an all-aluminum chassis which gives it more rigidity.
This CNC is also equipped with an offline controller, which lets you operate it quickly without a computer.
The offline controller has a 1.8” touch screen dedicated to giving you complete control of the machine in offline mode.
The easily accessible emergency stop button and the acrylic enclosure (only on two sides) to contain debris provide better safety.
The controller of the Genmitsu runs on GRBL 1.1. If you don't prefer GRBL, Sainsmart also offers a version of the PROVer with Mach3 Software as well- Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer Mach3 Kit.
The PROVer has limit switches for each axis which helps the spindle from overshooting past the cutting area, however, it comes at the price of a tad bit lesser work area compared to the 3018-PRO.
It also comes with a Z probe unlike in the earlier versions. This is a really useful tool for calibrating the workpiece height before starting.
Without the probe, you need to use a piece of paper and do multiple trials to set the zero height.
The machine’s ability to automatically return to zero compensates for its build volume.
In terms of electronics, the PROVer uses TB6S109 Toshiba stepper drivers, making it more silent than the 3018-PRO.
The stepper motors on the X, Y, and Z axes are 1.3A with 35 oz.in (0.25 N.m) of holding torque.
It also uses optocouplers to isolate the mainboard from the high-power drivers and protect the mainboard during hard stops.
The spindle on the PROVer can go up to 10,000 RPM with a maximum power of 120W.
If you looking to choose a spindle for your CNC, then check out this detailed guide- Best CNC Spindles in 2023
The product kit comes with a partially disassembled 3018-PROVer, an accessories box, a tools box, and an offline control module.
Customizability and upgradability are excellent features of any Sainsmart machine and the PROVer is no exception.
You can get a 5.5W laser module added to the Sainsmart by spending an extra $150, which I highly recommend you get.
If you want more work area later, you can get the 30x40 Y-axis extension kit for $60, which converts this 3018 CNC to a 3040 CNC with the Y movement length becoming 370mm (14.6”).
If you get the extension, I suggest you get the 500W spindle upgrade and the aluminum spindle holder as well. Especially if you plan to engrave on aluminum.
Overall, the Sainsmart PROVer would be my top recommendation among sub-$500 CNC engraving machines.
Rigid all-aluminum chassis, offline capable
1-year manufacturer's warranty
2. Comgrow ROBO CNC
Comgrow ROBO is a 3018 CNC that's even more affordable compared to the Sainsmart PROVer.
It also has an offline controller at this budget, making it value-packed.
It is built with an aluminum frame, which gives it good strength and, at the same time makes it lightweight.
This machine has an effective engraving area of 7" x 11.8”, which is actually a bit more than the Sainsmart PROVer.
The Z-axis height of 1.8”, is a bit low. However, it's acceptable considering its price.
You can engrave on various materials like bamboo, wood, bamboo, paper, leather, and flammable plastic.
It uses a 775-type spindle that can spin at 10,000 RPM and uses an ER11 collet that can accommodate 1/8 bits.
This tabletop CNC uses a GRBL-based controller and comes with GRBL Candle for CNC motion control. However, you can use most GRBL-based CNC software to run this CNC.
I talk in detail about CNC software choices here-Best CNC Software 
The four-piece clamps provided with the CNC are really useful for holding down the workpiece during the engraving.
The downside of the lower price is that there is no US-based customer support and your only option is to email the vendor in case you have questions.
The support for this product is good, I got quick responses for my queries each time I contacted them.
The assembly process is easy and is better than that of Sainsmart Genmitsu. It took me less than 30 minutes to assemble everything and get it configured with my computer.
If you want a reliable small CNC machine that is easy to learn and affordable, the ROBO CNC is a good option for you.
Best Desktop CNC Routers ($500-$2,500)
In this category, most CNCs can cut through appreciable depths of materials like hardwood, plywood, and MDF.
Letting you cut out pieces instead of just engraving like in the previous category.
You can use some of these machines to work on aluminum, primarily aluminum sheets, however, these machines are not primarily designed for use on metals.
If you want to primarily mill aluminum, then check out the Best Aluminum Milling CNC Machines.
My picks in this category are:
- Carbide 3D-Shapeoko 4 CNC Router
- Inventables X-Carve
- Openbuilds LEAD CNC 1010
- BobsCNC Evolution 3 CNC (Mainly due to affordability)
- LongMill MK2
The Carbide 3D Shapeoko 4 and Inventables X Carve are for those who want a great desktop/tabletop CNC that has a big well-known brand behind it.
The Openbuilds LEAD CNC 1010 is for those who love CNCs with open-source hardware and intend to tinker a lot with their CNCs.
If you only want a desktop CNC that can work on ferrous metals or one that comes fully assembled, you can look at the next section.
1. Shapeoko 4 CNC Router-Carbide 3D
Launched in May 2021, Shapeoko 4 from Carbide 3D is the improved version of their highly popular Shapeoko 3 CNC Router.
This desktop CNC router can cut materials such as wood, plastic, PCB, HDPE, and MDF among other non-metallic materials.
Aluminum sheets can also be cut using the Shapeoko 4, at a lower speed compared to when cutting wood.
In the standard version (smallest), the Shapeko 4 occupies an area of 33" x 24" on the table with a weight of 70 lbs.
The effective cutting area that you get in the Standard version of this tabletop CNC is 17-½" x 17-½".
The Shapeoko 4-XXL version (33" x 33" cutting area) and the X-Carve (30" x 30" cutting area) both have roughly the same price.
But the cutting area is 3" more on the Shapeoko 4.
The Z-axis travel that you get on the standard version is 4".
The Shapeoko 4 uses the custom aluminum extrusion designed by Carbide 3D and it is impressively rigid for anything that the Shapeoko can cut.
I highly recommend you get the hybrid extrusion table along with the Shapeoko 4 at an extra $300 (approximately) cost.
The extrusion table is designed so well that I can't take my eyes off it.
The highly rigid aluminum extrusion and MDF slat design make work holding super strong and easy with the built-in T slots.
The gantry of the Shapeoko 4 moves on V-wheels.
While that's not ideal, Carbide 3D has upgraded its V Wheel design to make it more rigid.
The V wheels are made of a material called Delrin, which is a type of hard thermoplastic.
The new V wheels are twice as rigid as before and also larger in diameter.
If you don't prefer V Wheels, the Shapeoko Pro uses linear rails for gantry motion. However, it costs around $2,600 plus shipping.
An advantage to using V wheels is that there is no need to oil it regularly. Unlike linear rails, which will rust if not lubricated periodically.
The Drive for the X and Y axis on the Shapeoko 4 uses 15 mm belts. The belt width has been upgraded from the 9mm in Shapeoko 3.
The wider belts of the Shapeoko 4 mean better overall stiffness which translates to reduced belt stretching, better belt life, and overall accuracy.
The Z-axis of the Shapeoko 4 uses a lead screw drive which is much more accurate than a belt drive.
The Shapeoko 3 originally shipped with belt drives for the Z-axis motion, like the X-Carve.
But the later Shapeoko 3 shipped with lead screw systems using the Shapeoko Z plus upgrade.
Note that Carbide 3D offers a ball screw drive upgrade for the Shapeoko using the Shapeoko HDZ ball screw kit.
How does the Shapeoko 4 look in terms of electronics?
The GRBL based Carbide Motion V3.0 board is the heart of the control system. This board is used to run the Shapeoko Pro as well.
There are four NEMA 23 stepper motors on the Shapeoko 4 with a dual drive Y-axis.
At the cutting end, Shapeoko offers their own Carbide Compact Router, which has RPM in the range of 12,000-30,000.
The Carbide compact router is a stripped-down version of a router with only the useful parts for CNC remaining.
If you wish to use your own router, you need to use a 65mm diameter router like the Makita RT0700C. Note that a DeWalt won't fit into the router mount.
In the same vein, if you want to use a spindle instead of a router get a 65mm VFD spindle.
All the software you need for running the Shapeoko 4 is included with it.
Carbide Motion is the control software for controlling the machine from your computer and Carbide Create is the 2D (and 2.5D) CAD plus CAM package for designing and generating toolpaths.
Unlike the Inventables Easel, Carbide Create is not cloud-based and that's great if you don't want to stay connected to the internet at all times.
Carbide Create is free forever and runs on both Windows and Mac computers.
If you need to do 3D modeling, Carbide 3D offers their Carbide Create Pro (paid) software which needs a subscription.
Note that most other alternatives like Fusion 360 and Vectric can be used to run Shapeoko instead of the software program provided by Carbide 3D.
Shapeoko 4 does not ship with an enclosure. However, it includes the Sweepy 2.0 dust boot which sits next to the router and is really good with dust collection.
The dust boot can be connected to any 2.25” shop vac to eliminate much of the dust generated.
The Shapeoko 4 makes major strides in terms of ease of assembly compared to Shapeoko 3 with more intuitive instructions and pre-assembled parts.
The highly detailed assembly video by Carbide 3D has clearly helped.
Shapeoko has a fantastic, active online community that is super helpful for any queries.
All Shapeoko machines are made either in Torrance, California, or Sterling Illinois.
Carbide 3D offers a one-year warranty against manufacturer defects for a period of one year.
But what's really interesting is their 30-day replacement policy, whereby Carbide 3D will replace any part damaged due to operator error-free of cost.
This is really helpful for beginners who might be afraid of breaking the machine while putting it together or during the initial learning period.
Carbide 3D is known for excellent customer support in the CNC community.
Overall, the Shapeoko 4 is my best pick for a desktop CNC under $2,500 for a hobbyist.
I have done a much more detailed and in-depth review of Shapeoko 4 CNC here-Shapeoko 4 CNC Review
2. X-Carve 1000 Fully Loaded Bundle-Inventables
The Inventables X-Carve 1000 mm CNC is one of the most popular desktop CNC machines on the market.
However, you can also choose to build your kit where you can choose which add-ons you need.
With a footprint size of 1250mm (49") by 1000mm (39"), the X Carve provides an effective cutting area of 750mm(30") x 750mm(30").
X Carve used to be sold in smaller sizes of 500 mm and 750 mm but these have been discontinued.
Although considerably larger than the 3018 CNCs, the X Carve can still fit on a desk with at least a 4' x 4' size.
The weight of the 1000mm X-Carve after assembly is approximately 102 lbs. Ensure that your desk can support this weight.
You can put up to a 4' wide sheet of material on the X Carve, while the length can be as long as you want, provided you can support the length sticking outside the CNC.
Considering the gantry height, the maximum thickness of the material that can be worked upon using the X Carve is 4 inches.
The X Carve can work on wood, plastics, acrylic, and HDPE among other materials.
This desktop CNC uses an aluminum frame that's good enough for working on wood, plastic, MDF, and other non-metal materials.
There are users who push this machine to mill aluminum, but it's not ideal.
If you want to mill aluminum along with wood, the X Carve Pro is what Inventables recommends, but then that machine costs upwards of $8,500.
The Gantry uses V Wheels for motion, just like the Shapeoko, and not linear rails. Extrusions with V-Wheel are machined with less accuracy compared to linear rails.
The X Carve uses a belt drive on all three axes, which is a drawback considering its price.
In comparison, the Shapeoko 4 uses a lead screw for the Z-axis while the Openbuilds LEAD CNC uses Acme lead screws for all three axes.
What this effectively means is that you need to go slow to avoid missed steps.
In the fully loaded bundle, the X-Carve uses four NEMA 23 Stepper motors. The Y-axis uses two stepper motors to avoid racking.
I really like how neatly designed the controller of the X-Carve is.
It packs all the electronics of the machine (except the motors) within, combined with a large heatsink and a cooling fan.
Called the X-controller, it houses the four stepper drivers, the GRBL controller board, spindle speed control (0-5VDC PWM), and the power supply (AC to DC).
The prominent red knob at the top of this CNC controller lets you control the spindle speed.
Unmistakably, the X-Carve runs on GRBL as the controller firmware.
The design software by Inventables, the Easel PRO is included when you buy X-Carve.
Easel is a web-based CAD+CAM software. In addition, you need Universal Gcode Sender (UGS) to send the Gcode generated by Easel to the controller.
An interesting feature of Easel is that it has a materials tab, where you can choose the type of material (e.g. Maple) that you are working on and Easel will choose a pre-built feed and speed for that material.
For most people, assembling the X-Carve takes around 2 days of effort (12-15 hours), helped of course by the excellent documentation provided by Inventables.
One of the best parts about owning an Inventables machine is the highly active community around it.
A lot of upgrade options and customizations are discussed in the community and that's quite useful.
Inventables does not offer any formal warranty on the X-Carve but offers US-based phone support in case you have questions.
Overall, X-Carve is a good desktop CNC to buy especially if you like the Cloud-based Easel software that comes with it.
Matterhackers is the best store for buying the Inventables X-Carve, due to the free shipping they offer all over the USA and the lowest price guarantee.
I have done a much more detailed and in-depth review of X-Carve CNC here-X-Carve CNC Review
3. OpenBuilds LEAD CNC Machine 1010
The Openbuilds desktop CNC router is a value-packed machine sold by the creators of the Openbuilds online community.
The design choice in this machine reflects the no-nonsense approach taken when a machine is built by an open-source movement.
Openbuilds allows you to choose the electronics you want with the LEAD CNC 1010.
You can also choose to get just the hardware components and build the electronics (control system) yourself.
This desktop CNC can work on hardwood, acrylic, and HDPE among other materials.
With the correct feeds and speeds, you can mill aluminum sheets with multiple passes.
To give an idea of the speed you can achieve with this, typically a 1/4" deep cut on 6061 aluminum takes 5-6 passes to complete with accuracy.
The Lead 1010 has a footprint of 40" x 40" and an effective cutting area of 32" x 29".
The Z-axis travel is 4" and the maximum thickness of stock can be 2".
The frame of the LEAD 1010 CNC is made of C Beam Aluminum extrusions, which are great for extending the bed and customizing later.
All the drives on this CNC are run using an Acme Lead screw (8mm) which is much better at reducing backlash compared to belt drives.
Like most desktop CNCs the linear motion in this CNC is achieved using V-Wheels.
However, Openbuilds claims their V-Wheels to be considerably stiffer than V-Wheels made of Delrin in other CNCs.
In my opinion, the control system of this machine is excellent.
The Blackbox motion control system, made by Openbuilds is a GRBL 1.1-based controller that houses well-equipped Toshiba stepper drivers.
The four NEMA 23 stepper motors with 175 oz.in holding torque are powerful enough for most hobbyist operations.
If you think you need more power, the 345 oz.in high torque NEMA 23 stepper motors are also available as an option.
The Blackbox controller integrates well with OpenBuilds CONTROL which is the Machine Interface Controller software developed by Openbuilds.
Openbuilds CONTROL has some built-in features for calibration and adjustment, which Universal Gcode Sender (UGS) doesn't have.
For the CAM software, you have the option of using the Openbuilds CAM free software or any other software of your choice.
You’ll have to buy a spoil board of size 1/2” x 32” x 40” locally before you can get started.
The machine arrives dismantled, and the lack of spoil board allows for a smaller packaging size. However, the assembly instructions are clear with properly labeled parts and enough instructional videos.
Openbuilds has a highly responsive customer care and support team.
The community at Openbuilds is one of the biggest advantages to buying the LEAD 1010 desktop CNC.
The highly active community can walk you through almost any query or bottleneck.
The LEAD 1010 desktop CNC is for those who love open-source hardware without all the bells and whistles of a branded CNC and enjoy tinkering with their CNC a lot.
Read a dedicated review of LEAD 1010- Openbuilds LEAD 1010 CNC Review 
4. BobsCNC Evolution 3
The BobsCNC Evolution 3 (E3) is a hobbyist CNC Router that is made from a 6 mm thick 5-ply baltic birch plywood frame and is known for being value for money.
Although lesser in capability compared to the other machines in this list, the evolution 3 is still the most affordable CNC router which can cut wood instead of engraving.
Its very affordable price is the primary reason why it features in this list of best CNC routers.
The footprint size of this tabletop CNC is 31" x 26" with an effective cutting area of 18" x 16". If you have a small shop, check if this size will suit your requirement.
Note that there is the Evolution 4 model from BobsCNC as well on the market.
However, the E4 has a footprint of 32" x 39" and so it would be unfair to list it among desktop CNCs, so it is not included in this review.
The plywood frame of the E3 CNC clearly helps in cutting down the total cost of this desktop CNC compared to other CNCs in this category which has metal extrusion frames.
The E3 uses a belt drive for X and Y axes while using an acme screw drive for the Z-axis.
The Z-axis travel on this machine is 3.3".
This means, you can keep a stock of a maximum thickness of 3.3" on this CNC, and you will be able to cut up to a depth of 1.2" into the 3.3" thick stock without a tool change.
With a tool change, you can cut through the full depth of the 3.3" thick stock.
Even with the plywood frame, and belt drives on the X and Y axis, you can maintain an accuracy of at least 0.002" on this CNC provided you stay within the recommended limits.
BobsCNC recommends doing a rough cut with a relatively high depth of cut first and a low depth of cut final finishing pass to get the best results.
Even though this machine is made to work with soft materials like MDF, wood, and plastics, people who bought this machine have used it successfully on aluminum.
This CNC has a slower travel speed and plunge speed compared to other CNCs in this category. However, it is possible to do amazing work with this router as the image below shows, if you can be patient.
The E3 ships with a Makita RT0701C Router that provides a variable speed of up to 30,000 RPM.
If you don't want the default router that's in the package, you need to buy from the BobsCNC website where you can buy the CNC without a router.
The use of a router means this CNC is as loud as using a typical manual router in your shop.
You can cut to a depth of about 1.2" on a 3.3" thick wooden stock without changing the tool or you can make a through cut on a 2.25" workpiece.
In terms of customization, you can also choose if you want the 3/4" MDF spoil board that costs $100, to ship with the CNC.
On the controller end, E3 uses an Arduino Uno clone (from Keyestudio) controller running on GRBL firmware and is paired with A4988 stepper drivers.
The motors used are NEMA 17 stepper motors with 76 oz-in of holding torque.
There are homing switches for each axis on this CNC which lets you return to the home position at the click of a button.
BobsCNC recommends EstlCAM software for use as CAM software for converting the CAD design into G Code.
Vectric Aspire and Alibre are CAM software programs compatible with BobsCNC.
In addition to the CAM software, you need a CAD software program (for designing) and Universal Gcode Sender (UGS) for sending the Gcode from the CAM software to the controller.
This CNC comes as a kit and needs to be assembled using the manual provided. The manual is excellent with clearly labeled parts and steps with photos.
The assembly is moderately easy with most beginners taking around 8-10 hours to get the machine up and running.
Note that the accuracy of any assembled CNC can be affected if it's not put together properly.
BobsCNC offers a 2-month warranty for their products and supplied parts, which is slightly less than the industry standard.
There isn't a dedicated active community forum for BobsCNC anywhere. However, there are a lot of users for this CNC, and youtube videos on the product are in plenty.
Overall, this is a value-for-money desktop CNC that hobbyists can use provided you understand its limitations.
Has a Z-axis travel of 3.3 inches
90-day manufacturer's warranty
For a more in-depth review of the BobsCNC Evolution 3 check this review- BobsCNC Evolution 3 Review.
5. LongMill MK2
LongMill MK2 is a CNC router from Sienci Labs, a Canadian CNC manufacturer. The machine comes in three different work area options.
|Model||Work area in mm||Work area in inches|
|12 x 30||818 x 366 mm||32″ x 14|
|30 x 30||818 x 866 mm||32″ x 34″|
|48 x 30||1278 x 866 mm||50″ x 34″|
Besides the size difference, there is not much difference with the machine build.
All models come with a sturdy aluminum frame, linear rails and bearings, anti-backlash lead screws, NEMA 23 motors, and a GRBL-based control board.
Note that the machine doesn't come with a wasteboard. You'll have to supply one based on the machine size you choose.
The same is the case with the spindle. Sienci Labs recommends using Makita RT0701/RT0700 routers with the machine, but you can also use others.
You can run the machine with your software of choice. Some of the software programs you can use are Ecarve Pro, Fusion 360, Carbide Create, etc.
With LongMill MK2, you'll also get a starter kit with all the tools you need to start your first project.
Sienci Labs offers many upgrades available for the LongMill MK2 series, this includes
- A laser module that can be added to the router head.
- A rotary module for carving cylindrical objects.
- A Z-axis touch probe for precision milling.
Unfortunately, they only offer a 90-day warranty for LongMill, but you can still get support from the community.
They have community forums hosted on their website and an active group on Facebook.
LongMill is a robust machine that you can get at a surprisingly affordable cost. Depending on the model and upgrades you choose, their prices will vary.
Comparing the Choices among Desktop CNC Routers
I've attempted to summarize some of the key aspects of each CNC for a quick comparison.
Note that pricing is approximate and based on the size and accessory choice considered in the review above.
Also, the pricing can change without notice, hence verifying the price with the manufacturer's website is recommended.
Also, it would be unfair to compare the BobsCNC (considering its price) with the other machines listed, so that's not in this table.
|Shapeoko 4||X Carve (1000mm)||Openbuilds LEAD 1010|
|Cutting Area||17.5" x 17.5" (std.) and|
33" x 33" (XXL)
|30" x 30"||32" x 29"|
|Rough Price||$1,700 (std.) and $2,300 (XXL)||$2,300||$1,900|
|Warranty||1 year + 30 days replacement||None||1 year|
Quick Comparison of the best Desktop CNC choices in 2023
If these sizes are too small for you, then a 4x8 CNC router might better fit your need. Check out this comprehensive guide to know more about them- Best 4x8 CNC Routers in 2023
Best Fully Assembled Desktop CNCs ($3,000+)
Now, If you don't want a DIY kit that you have to assemble, and instead want a fully assembled desktop CNC that you can use from the get-go, the following machines are great choices:
Of these, Pocket NC V2-10 can mill steel and titanium reasonably well.
But if you want a CNC that can do serious steel milling then you need to look at benchtop CNC Mills. I talk in detail about them here- Best Benchtop CNC Mills in 2023
All are small desktop/tabletop CNCs, ideal for use in an educational setting and for small detailed work.
1. Carbide3D Nomad 3
The Nomad 3 is a really popular small desktop CNC machine from Carbide 3D.
For starters, the Nomad 3 comes fully assembled and is ideal for people who want a reliable machine that runs out of the box.
If you want to do precision work on small stock, then the Nomad 3 is the most cost-effective and accurate option.
It comes fully enclosed and has a footprint size of 19" x 17.5". The cutting area that you get is 8"(200mm) x 8"(200mm).
Due to its small cutting area, it's preferred by people doing prototyping for small parts, jewelry makers, small metalworkers, and educators.
Nomad 3 weighs 65 lbs and is quite silent for a CNC. This makes it ideal for use in an office or school setting for educational purposes.
Nomad 3 has been upgraded by many folds compared to the earlier versions of Nomad.
The maximum spindle RPM has been doubled to 24,000 at 130W power.
Internal lighting has been added, which has greatly improved efficiency when working with the Nomad.
Nomad 3 uses lead screw drives for all three axes, with backlash nuts added.
Also, the Nomad 3 uses linear rails for X and Y motion, and not V wheels like the Shapeoko 4, which is expected as precision work is what it's for.
The Nomad 3 can do smooth milling on wood, plastics, PCB, aluminum alloys (like 6061), copper, and brass.
Steel and Titanium milling has been done on Nomad 3 with coolant and slow feeds by skilled machinists. However, this is not the ideal machine for that.
The Pocket NC V2-10 (next on this list) is what you need if you want a small desktop CNC that can cut steel alloys and titanium.
Carbide Create is the CAD plus CAM solution for modeling and Carbide Motion is the control software.
Both software programs are non-cloud-based and do not need an active internet connection to work.
Carbide Copper is a CAM software built specifically for PCB milling that's highly popular in that community.
It's a free, cloud-based app that can open Gerber RS247X format files and Excellon drill files. Both are PCB-specific design software programs.
Carbide Create in combination with Nomad 3 is the ultimate PCB milling solution for any hobbyist or home PCB business owner in my opinion.
Carbide 3D offers an 18-month warranty on the Nomad 3 and any damage that occurs within the first 30 days due to operator damage will be replaced free of cost by Carbide 3D.
Overall, the Nomad 3 is a sleek, hassle-free machine for people who want to do precise cuts on small stock.
More about this CNC- Nomad 3 CNC Review 
2. Pocket NC V2-10
At 16" x 8" footprint, the pocket NC V2-10 is the smallest machine in this list in terms of size.
However, it is quite a powerhouse in what it can do.
The Pocket NC V2-10 is the world's smallest 5-axis desktop CNC that can mill stainless steel, Titanium, and Aluminum.
Considering what it can do, it would be more appropriate to call this machine a desktop CNC mill.
There are plenty of videos of this machine plowing away at steel on YouTube, which should convince you of its capabilities.
What the 5-axis capability means in practical terms is that apart from the X, Y, and Z motion, the stock can rotate about both the X and Y-axis.
This increases efficiency by a great deal because this CNC can mill multiple faces of the stock material without having to take off the stock and turn it manually for milling.
Unlike the other machines, the Pocket NC V2-10 mills horizontally while the stockholder moves and turn as per requirement.
This small desktop CNC has 4.55" of X travel and 5.05" of Y travel which is unmistakably small. The Z travel of 3.55" is actually not bad at all compared to other CNCs in this list.
The Pocket NC has 30 lbs of weight, and with a spindle speed that can be varied between 2,000 RPM and 10,000 RPM, it can cut through some hard materials.
At a price of $6,000, this CNC is surely expensive but it is meant for hobbyists who want a no-nonsense solution for metal milling small components.
Penta Machine offers a one-year warranty on this CNC machine.
Originally started as a Kickstarter project in 2015 by Michelle Hertel and Mathew Hertel, this machine is manufactured in Belgrade, Montana, and also the company is based in Belgrade.
Penta Machine offers US-based phone support for their product and they are well-reputed for good customer support.
The accuracy and precision of the machine, along with the time it saves you, easily justifies the roughly $6,000 price tag.
3. ShopBot Desktop D2418
Manufactured by the well-known brand Shopbot, the ShopBot Desktop CNC comes in two variants. One with the aluminum deck and the other with a Universal Vacuum hold-down deck.
This desktop machine is known for its impressive woodworking capabilities. It delivers high precision to a range of materials from wood, and plastics, to aluminum.
This desktop machine can perform a wide range of machining functions to support workbench, prototyping, and production processes.
In addition, it has an agile platform to support your growing fabrication needs.
The first variant with the Aluminium Deck, a general-purpose deck known for its versatility, comes with an attached MDF board and supports a wide variety of machining options.
You can add typically available dovetailing or milling attachments by removing the aluminum deck partially or completely.
The second variant, with the Universal Hold Down deck, includes an MDF spoil board, plywood plane, and the ShopBot Vacuum for quick hold-down sheet materials.
While it is not an optimal option for cutting small parts, it does a great job for large parts without additional hold-down from screws, tabs, or nylon nails.
But, unfortunately, it creates a lot of environmental noise.
It has a 24” x 18” x 5.5” work area and a footprint of 39” x 30” x 30”. The ShopBot Control System software controls it.
The manufacturers have an enclosure option on their portal for customers who need the safety feature.
The ShopBot Desktop CNC offers a wide range of customization, and as a result, the price of the ShopBot will depend on the customizations that you select. However, the base model with no customization can be bought for $7615.
Easily, the most expensive on this list, the Shopbot desktop is ideal for educators and companies who want the reliable customer support of Shopbot and a zero-hassle experience.
Buyers Guide: Things to Consider Before Buying a Desktop CNC Machine
While choosing a CNC machine, you should consider the material of the workpiece, the size of the workpiece, accuracy, and speed with which the work is to be done.
The space to keep the machine can be a determining factor if it is a small workshop or a personal setup.
Spindle vs. Router: A spindle is relatively expensive and can run for long periods with unwavering accuracy but are difficult to replace. Routers are best suited for hobbyists as they don’t cost as much and can easily be swapped for various project requirements but provide less accuracy.
Consider the rigidity and strength of the product as these will determine the vibration levels the machine can handle and that in turn would determine the materials.
Desktop CNCs are used indoors, and hence enclosure is an important factor to consider. Most manufacturers offer enclosures as an optional add-on at an extra cost.
That brings us to another criterion for selecting the machine. Community Support! It is of paramount importance, especially if you are a beginner. A well-maintained community forum allows for a very positive experience with a quick and reliable resolution to your queries.
Test the software that comes with the machine and see which one works for your application. Some have a higher learning curve with richer features while others are easy to use with limited capabilities.
Also, consider whether you have an internet connection to run cloud software in your workshop.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is the best CNC router for sign-making?
The best CNC router for sign-making is the Carbide 3D Shapeoko 4 CNC router which has in-built features in its Carbide Create software for sign-making and can generate toolpaths that are ideal for detailed sign-making work. These features make Shapeoko 4 capable of making signs quickly. Shapeoko 4 can also work on very large signs due to its large bed size (33" x 33").
Shapeoko 4 also has specific router bit options and software settings that allow the creation of intricate 3D signs as well making it ideal for sign makers.
Which is the best entry-level CNC router?
The best entry-level CNC router available today is the BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC router. While being a fully capable CNC router that can work on all non-metallic materials and create almost every product, BobsCNC is also the most affordable CNC router (at $1,230) making it truly the best entry-level CNC router.
Thanks for the overview. I wonder how Stepcraft D and M series compare to your top picks in your opinion. I am converging to it for high precision (compared to 3018 Pro I was first considering) and versatility (I am thinking of using 3D printing head and the oscillating knife), but it's rather expensive.