Picking out the perfect laptop for programming isn’t easy, especially with more options than ever to choose from. There’s a lot of options to consider, especially if you’re looking to stick to a budget.
We’re going to dive into the specs of laptops that differentiate them from each other. Once we help you understand the differences, we’ll take a look at what kind of laptop you should be looking to get based on the kind of programming you’ll be doing.
But first, here’s a quick snapshot of our top picks:
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Important Laptop Specs
The first thing you’ll want to consider when narrowing down your choices for a programming laptop is the size of the screen. If you’re a digital nomad that travels around often, you might want to stay within the 11″-13″ range of screens to make traveling as easy as possible.
If you do most of your work from the same location or don’t mind carrying around a bigger laptop when you travel, you might want to look at something with a 15″+ screen so you can see more of your coding at once. A larger screen also makes multitasking much easier.
If you’re primarily stationary, you should check out our guide to the best monitors for programming to really increase your productivity!
How much processing power you require is going to vary widely based on what kind of programming you’re doing. Luckily, huge advances in mobile processors have been made over the past 5-10 years, so laptops aren’t the frustratingly slow experience they could be in the past.
Most ultrabook laptops today will come with at least 4GB of memory installed, and many will have 8GB. 4GB might work for web developers who don’t have to do a lot of image processing with Photoshop and the like, but for most developers we’d suggest getting at least 8GB of memory.
Hard Drive Type
Your ideal laptop for coding is going to have a SSD (solid state disk) hard drive. SSD’s are much faster than traditional hard drives when it comes to writing and reading data stored on your computer. They’re also less likely to fail on you, especially in the event that your laptop gets dropped.
A touch screen likely isn’t necessary for most developers unless you’re testing a touch screen app on your ultrabook or view not needing a mouse as a big selling point.
If you’re doing graphic design in addition to programming, then being able to use a pen or stylus on a device like the Microsoft Surface would be a big benefit.
Some higher-end ultrabooks will come with a dedicated graphics card for better video performance. To a programmer, this doesn’t mean much unless you’re developing video games or planning on editing video.
This will obviously be a big factor playing into which laptop you choose. For most programming languages today, the operating system you choose isn’t going to play a big factor into how effective your coding is. Often the only real differences are how easy it is to install your programming tools and how much support you can find online when you run into errors.
Sometimes though, it does make sense to choose one OS over another. For example, programming iOS apps is going to be easier on a Mac because you’ll have more tools and better support at your disposal. Similarly, .NET programming will be easier on a Windows machine.
If you still aren’t sure what OS you should use, find a programming forum dedicated to your language and ask what OS and developer tools others users are using.
Do You Need a Powerful Laptop for Coding?
It’s always better to be safe than sorry and buy a more powerful laptop if you can afford it, but here’s some suggestions for developers who can get away with a less powerful laptop, or those who really need the extra power.
You can get away with a cheaper programming laptop if you are one of the following –
- Web developer – if you’re primarily working on websites, especially if they’re already live and hosted on a web server, you won’t have the need for a top of the line ultrabook.
- Data Analyst/SQL Developer – if you’re primarily working with databases and writing scripts in SQL, PL/SQL, T-SQL, or any other language that primarily interacts with a database, you are safe with a less powerful laptop, assuming your database is hosted remotely. We don’t imagine many people would be running an Oracle instance from their developing computer.
If any of the following describe you, you’re going to want a more powerful laptop for your work:
- Running virtual machines – if you’re required to test your code on a virtual machine instance (testing across OSs, mobile devices, etc), you’re going to want a higher-end notebook that can keep up. Few things are more frustrating than having your virtual machine running so slow you can barely tell if your app is working.
- Working heavily with images or video – if this is you, you’re going to need an ultrabook with a dedicated graphics card to keep up with your multimedia needs.
- Compiling complex applications – if you’re programming in a language that needs to be compiled such as Java or C++, you’ll want more processing power for compiling your application as it gets more complex.
Now that you have a better idea of what you’re after, we’ll give you a list of the best laptops for coding.
The Best Laptops for Programming
On a Budget: Best Laptop for Programming Under $500
Our Pick: [amazon text=Acer Aspire E15&asin=B079TGL2BZ]
If you’re in the market for a cheap programming laptop, this Acer has much of everything you’d want for basic programming starting with a nice 15.6″ screen that gives you plenty of room for your tasks.
This laptop is actually quite powerful for the price, here’s a list of the specs-
- Processor – Intel Core i3-8130U 2.2GHz
- Memory – 6 GB DDR3L SDRAM
- Hard drive – 1TB 5400RPM
- OS – Windows 10
- Battery Life – Up to 13.5 hours
- Weight – 5.27 lbs
If you’re doing some “lighter” programming that doesn’t require a strong graphics card or speedy hard drive, this is a great choice that should fit most people’s budgets while remaining powerful enough for your daily work.
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Looking for more information, reviews, and pricing on this laptop?
Best Touchscreen Laptop for Programming
Our Pick: [amazon text=Surface Book 2&asin=B076HZCQY9]
If there’s one thing Microsoft has gotten better and better at over the past few years, it’s making high-quality hardware.
The Surface Book really takes it to another level of build quality and finish compared to other ultrabooks on the market today. It has a 13.5″ display which runs at an incredible 3000 x 2000 resolution or a 15″ screen which runs at 3240 x 2160, both have more pixels than a Macbook Pro of the same size.
One of the biggest selling points of the Surface Book 2 is its ability to be used as a powerful tablet by snapping it away from its keyboard base. The touchscreen combined with the stylus is perfect for any programmers who also do graphic design and need to work with multimedia files often.
The Surface Book 2 comes in a few different models ranging in power, but most people will get by great with their low-end offering which has the following –
- Processor – Intel Core i5
- Memory – 8 GB
- Hard drive – 256GB SSD
- OS – Windows 10
- Graphics – Intel HD Graphics 620
- Battery Life – Up to 17 hours of video playback
- Weight – 3.38 lbs
You can really customize the specs quite a bit to fit your needs, most programmers are not going to need the NVIDIA dedicated graphics card unless you’re doing a lot of 3D modeling or graphic design.
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Read more about the Surface Book including reviews and pricing!
Best Macbook for Programming
Our Pick: Macbook Pro
The Macbook Pro is an extremely popular choice for programmers, especially at startups like Facebook. Many coders find the reliability and the Unix-based operating system that makes their tools easy to integrate into to be the biggest reason for choosing a Macbook.
This Macbook Pro comes with a 13.3″ display, though it’s available in 15.4″ as well. Unlike the Surface Book there’s no touchscreen elements, and here’s the rest of the specs –
- Processor – Intel Core i5 2.7GHz
- Memory – 16 GB
- Hard drive – 512GB SSD
- OS – Mac OS X
- Graphics – Intel Iris Graphics 550
- Battery Life – Up to 10-12 hours
- Weight – 4.9 lbs
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Read more about the Macbook Pro including reviews and pricing!
Best Ultrabook for Programming
Our Pick: [amazon text=ASUS ZenBook Pro&asin=B07F79W2BC]
If you’re looking for a really powerful ultrabook to handle the most complex of coding tasks, look no further than the ASUS ZenBook. It’s not much more expensive than the Macbook Pro or the Surface Book, but it delivers much more powerful hardware especially with its integrated graphics card.
This ZenBook has a 15.6″ display running at a 4k resolution and a touchscreen, though it doesn’t morph into a tablet.
- Processor – Intel Core i7 2.8-3.8GHz Quadcore
- Memory – 16 GB
- Hard drive – 512GB SSD
- OS – Windows 10
- Graphics – Nvidia GTX1050i
- Battery Life – Up to 10-14 hours
- Weight – 5 lbs
With this powerful of an ultrabook, there’s really nothing you can’t do!
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Find out more about the ASUS ZenBook now!
That wraps up our coverage of the best laptops for programming. If you’re not a fan of track pads or laptops in general, check out our guides to the best mouse for programming and best keyboard for programming.