Having a laptop suited to your needs is important for consumers, but essential for software developers. You want the best laptop for programming, because if the machine isn’t well suited for coding, it could be a significant hindrance.
Luckily, there are a variety of options for different types of programmer on every budget. We’ve put together a list of the best and highest rated machines for every circumstance.
What Makes a Good Programming Laptop
Before starting, let’s define what specifications a good coding machine will have. While these can vary depending on the type of development involved, there are some baselines to consider:
- Processor: 8th Generation Intel i5 minimum, i7 for game and VR development.
- RAM: 8GB minimum, 16GB or above for game and VR development.
- Hard Disk: Solid-state Drives (SSDs) speed up booting and loading considerably.
- Display and Graphics: While small laptops are easy to transport, an HD screen is essential for readability. Game developers will also need dedicated a graphics card.
- Keyboard: A bad keyboard can ruin a user experience, no matter how good the specifications are!
There are exceptions to these requirements, but as a general rule, any laptop meeting all of them will be ideal. Which are the best though?
Best Laptop for Coding
Dell XPS 13
Developers loves the Dell XPS series, and this laptop remains among the best in its price range. The Dell XPS 13 is available in multiple configurations, with an 8th generation Intel i5 1.60GHz processor as standard. This processor should be able to handle almost all programming tasks.
The 13.3-inch InfinityEdge touchscreen is among the best in its class and is perfect for long coding sessions. Those willing to pay extra can upgrade to the 4K Ultra HD version, though the benefit of this may be marginal.
The 8GB of DDR3 RAM will give most users a smooth experience. The laptop comes with a choice between Windows 10 Home or Pro, or Ubuntu pre-loaded onto the upgradable 128GB SSD hard drive.
Those able to extend their budget should prioritize either a larger capacity SSD or more RAM as either would be a worthwhile investment.
Best Budget Laptop for Programming
ASUS VivoBook F510UA
The ASUS VivoBook F510UA is the best value programming laptop under $500. Despite its price, it doesn’t lose out on hardware specifications, with an Intel Core i5-8250U 1.6GHz processor and 8GB of DDR4 RAM. The 15.6-inch Full HD display and 1TB SATA hard drive mean this computer stacks up favorably to more expensive models.
For a great Windows-based development laptop without a touchscreen, it’s hard to go wrong here.
Best Laptop for Game Development
MSI GP73 Leopard-609
Game development can range from relatively simple 2D games all the way to full AAA titles with top-end graphics. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to prepare for all eventualities.
The MSI GP73 Leopard-609 is a perfect example of an all-around powerhouse capable of packing a lot of performance into a small form factor.
This model has a powerful 8th generation six-core i7 processor and 8GB of DDR4 RAM. This memory is upgradable, as is the 1TB HDD. An NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 takes care of keeping graphics running smoothly, and a 17-inch Full HD display keeps everything looking sharp.
If you are a sole developer or specialize in both game programming and art, you’ll be pushed to find a better all-around portable game development machine.
Best Laptop for iOS Development
It will come as no surprise that an Apple laptop is best for developing for iOS. The recent MacBook Pro with Touch Bar comes with an Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 2.3GHz. Its 8GB of memory will keep multitasking simple, and the 256GB of SSD storage enables lightning-fast booting and loading. If you are required to write in Swift—Apple’s native language for iOS development—the MacBook Pro has enough processing power for the language’s infamously costly compiling.
Many people buy Apple products because they like Apple products, and the price is not always a consideration. However, if you do have to code for iOS, the latest MacBook Air may be a more wallet-friendly choice.
Best Laptop Keyboard for Programmers
Lenovo ThinkPad T470
Comfortable typing is essential for coding, and laptops haven’t always met this requirement. The ThinkPad range of laptops, however, are known for breaking that trend. The ThinkPad T470 combines good battery life with an 8th generation 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor. These laptops are highly customizable with choices ranging from between 8GB and 32GB of RAM, and a 500GB to 1TB SSD for storage.
These are all-around high-performance machines which are consistently recommended by programmers for their responsive and comfortable keyboard. Another fantastic feature is the Power Bridge, allowing users to swap out batteries without powering down the machine.
Best Laptop for Travelling Coders
Those of you who do a lot of traveling may not want to take an expensive machine with you. Alongside the wear and tear sustained from airport and rail travel, there is the ever-present danger of theft. However, since the widespread adoption of cloud-based version control, a stolen laptop is a financial burden rather than a soul-crushing loss of work.
With this in mind, the HP 15T has enough power for most daily tasks at a super low price tag. The laptop, with its AMD 2.5 GHz processor and 4GB of DDR4 RAM, isn’t comparable to others on this list. However, it does represent a lower financial investment and is, therefor, a great secondary machine. Unfortunately, the 15T doesn’t come with a touch screen, but it does have two USB 3.1 ports alongside an HDMI output.
HP laptops are known to come with pre-installed bloatware. If you want to get the most out of this laptop, you should perform a clean install of Windows 10, or better yet, your favorite Linux distribution.
Choosing the Best Laptop for Programming
In the end, choosing the best laptop for programming depends on what you want to do with it and your budget. This list includes options for different budgets and uses, but is by no means exhaustive. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, then you may want to consider one of these best laptops under $500.
Once you’ve settled on your chosen programming laptop, you’ll need the software to get yourself up and running. If gaming development is your passion, then you’ll definitely want to install these free game development software tools to make your own games.