Table of Contents
Programming is a demanding and often relentless job that requires the right equipment – so we’ve picked out the best laptops for coding so you can concentrate on the task at hand.
Choosing the best laptops for programming isn’t as simple as buying the priciest machine you can find. It’s got to have the right kind of components, for starters: it’s vital to have a powerful processor that can handle coding, compiling, test environments and virtual machines, and you’ll also need at least 16GB of memory, with 32GB preferable.
Elsewhere, the best laptops for coding should have a fast SSD to ensure that files and apps load quickly. And, if you regularly work on the road, you’ll need good battery life too.
There are more crucial considerations. If you’re a programmer, then you’ll probably spend hours looking at this laptop, so it’s important to have a high-quality display – it’ll render your code crisply and help avoid eye strain. And you’re going to be doing loads of typing on your new laptop, so a crisp, comfortable keyboard is essential.
Those are certainly the critical areas if you’re on the hunt for the best laptop for programming, but they’re not the only things you should consider. You’ll need a thin, light and sturdy device if you work out of the office, and check that it’s got enough ports for all of your peripherals. Happily, there are plenty of laptops that tick these boxes at all kinds of budgets, and we’ve rounded the best of them below.
And before we get started, you may have noticed we’re using the terms pretty interchangeably here as both coders and programmers need the same things out of a laptop, but there are some key differences when it comes to coding vs programming, so check out our explainer article too.
Professionals have long favored Apple’s machines, and that remains true with the MacBook Pro 16 – it ticks every box required for high-end programming.
Apple’s 10-core M1 Pro processor is a powerhouse. Combine that with the 32GB of memory and the 16-core graphics chip and you’ve got a machine that will handle any programming situation, from complex coding and compiling to running virtual machines. The battery easily lasts a full day, too.
The Liquid Retina XDR is sensational. Its 3456 x 2234 native resolution and 1000-nit brightness level means everything looks gorgeous, and you’ve got the width and on-screen space to spread work around.
The keyboard is crisp and comfortable, so it’s well-suited for all-day typing, and this machine has an SD card slot, three Thunderbolt ports and Magsafe power connectivity. It looks superb, and it’s got rock-solid build quality.
Downsides are minimal. Some people won’t like the camera notch, and the MacBook is a little heavier than many other productivity portables. There’s no HDMI 2.1. It’s expensive, too: the model we reviewed costs $2,899/£2,799. Pricing starts at $2,499/£2,399, and the cost can easily soar beyond $3,000/ £3,000.
This is the sort of laptop that will last for years, though, and it’s an unbeatable programming machine.
Dell’s XPS machines are the firm’s answer to Apple’s MacBook Pro, so it’s no surprise that the Dell XPS 15 is impressive. It looks fantastic, with a robust aluminum body, and its keyboard is comfortable and fast – ideal for long days of typing.
On the inside, the XPS is available with Intel Core i7 and Core i9 processors. Both are excellent: the Core i7 chip can easily tackle most mainstream programming situations, while the Core i9 part is well-suited to running virtual machines and emulated environments too.
It’s easy enough to upgrade this machine with more memory and storage, and you even get a modest Nvidia GPU for extra graphical grunt in content-creation tools. And while the Dell XPS 15 is not cheap, prices start at £1,999 / $2,299 for a notebook with a high-resolution screen, so it’s more affordable than a MacBook.
The XPS is available with three screens: two IPS models and one OLED panel. For programming, we’d recommend the higher-resolution IPS or OLED displays, which are both excellent. They’ve got 16:10 aspect ratios, which deliver extra vertical space, and the slightly wayward color accuracy doesn’t impact on programming.
Elsewhere, the XPS 15 has enough battery life to make it through your working day. And while it does have a couple of Thunderbolt ports and an SD card slot, there’s no HDMI output and no full-size USB connectivity.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is a great laptop for programming if you want a stylish, lightweight device with great battery life and a touchscreen.
The 15-inch version is our preferred choice, and there’s lots to like: the 3:2 display has a high resolution, impressive quality, and top-notch compatibility with Microsoft’s excellent Surface Pen.
The soft keyboard is comfortable, and the exterior is robust enough to handle life on the road. The Surface’s body is only 14.7mm thick and it only weighs 1.54kg, so it’s lighter than most 15-inch productivity laptops, and its battery life stretches beyond twelve hours. The only downside is a lack of ports.
On the inside, the 15-inch model comes with AMD Ryzen 7 and Intel Core i7 processors. They’re low-power chips, but they can still handle mainstream processing. The AMD chip is better than the Intel part, so stick with that, and bear in mind that there’s no dedicated graphics.
Prices start at a reasonable $899/£799 for the 13.5-inch base model, though we’d recommend you go for the 15-inch AMD Ryzen 7 configuration which will set you back a bit more at $1,699/£1,649, so the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is cheaper than its beefier rivals. It’s great if you need programming power away from the house.
The HP Envy x360 13 is the cheapest machine in this round-up, with prices that almost always duck under $1,000/£1,000. For that money you can pick from a wide array of AMD and Intel processors, but we’d always recommend AMD Ryzen 7 chips with 16GB of memory – those are superb choices for programming, even if full-power laptop chips offer a bit more pace.
The HP is the only convertible in this group, too, adding another dimension to this notebook. Swing its 360-degree hinge around and use the included stylus and you can deploy this machine as a tablet.
The HP’s lightweight body and 13.3-inch display means it’s easy to carry this machine around, and it has a reasonable port selection and a fast, comfortable keyboard. You’ll get between nine and eleven hours of battery life, so it’ll last through most working days.
Bear in mind, though, that the lower price does mean some compromises. You can’t go beyond 16GB of memory or 512GB of SSD space, and there’s no discrete graphics. And while the 1080p display is fine for everyday programming, it’s easily bettered elsewhere.
Despite that, there’s loads to like: the Envy is affordable, well-built, and fast enough for mainstream programming, so it’s a great mid-range choice.
The Apple MacBook Pro’s 16-inch model might be our favorite programming portable, but its smaller stablemate is fantastic too – especially if you need to code on the road.
The MacBook Pro 13 only weighs 1.4kg and it’s slim, so you’ll barely notice it in your bag. On the inside, Apple’s smallest MacBook Pro has an M1 chip with eight cores, and it’s an excellent bit of silicon with ample power for mainstream programming workloads. It compiles quickly, it’s a capable multi-tasker, and it’s especially good for Mac OS and iOS developers.
Apple’s 13.3-inch display has a 2560 x 1600 resolution, which means crisp imagery for programming tasks, and it’s got bright, bold colors. Fifteen-hour battery life means you can program for your working day and both commutes. This machine has a comfortable keyboard, and the customizable Touch Bar adds another layer of usefulness.
This smaller MacBook Pro isn’t available with more than 16GB of memory, so high-end programmers may look elsewhere. Connectivity is limited, too – this notebook only a headphone jack and a couple of Thunderbolt ports.
Those issues and the MacBook’s size mean it won’t work as a main machine for most programmers, but it can tackle programming on the road – so it’s an ideal secondary option. If you want the 16GB model, prepare to pay at least $1,499/£1,499.
There’s always a more extreme choice if you want a lightweight laptop for programming on the move: The Apple MacBook Air. This notebook only weighs 1.29kg and it’s barely half an inch thick, so it’s never going to weigh you down.
Remarkably, Apple has still found room inside the Air for an M1 processor. That’s impressive – combine that with 16GB of memory and you’ve got the power to handle any mainstream programming task, even if the fanless design here means that the MacBook Pro 13 maintains high-end speeds for longer.
The reliably quick internals are paired with a responsive keyboard and a typically great screen. The 13.3-inch diagonal might not deliver loads of space, but the 2560 x 1600 resolution means everything is crisp. Expect eleven hours of battery life from this machine.
Apple’s slimmest machine is tiny, powerful, and robust. For a 16GB model you’ll have to pay £1,199 / $1,199, so it’s not ruinously expensive either. Negatively, you can’t make big memory upgrades, and the Air only has two Thunderbolt ports.
Still, the Air is a top choice if you want a powerful programming laptop that’s as light as possible. Be aware, though, that the MacBook Pro 13 has better battery life and more storage upgrade options, and is only slightly larger