Using the right tools for a job ensures that it is done with ease, efficiency and has good results. Programming is no exception to this. So, if the primary use of a laptop is for something as important as programming, it would be best to buy a machine that is suited for it. This way, money is spent on what is really needed and utilized, rather than on a machine which has certain capabilities that remain unused, but other more useful parts that could have been better if the budget wasn’t spent on qualities that would be rarely fruitful.
But what does a programmer need from a laptop? The exact requirements from a laptop for programming will differ depending on the type of programming to be done and what software tools are used. For example, the requirements of a front-end developer and database engineer will differ. However, there are some general requirements shared by all.
As far as performance is concerned, one of the most important things a programmer wants is for the compile or build times to be as short as possible. This saves time and allows the code to be tested and modified more often and quickly. The build times are most directly affected by CPU and RAM. Furthermore, if emulation is required during the emulation process (for example, emulating a phone in Android Studio), the needs increase even more. For some specific functions (such as the mentioned emulation) relatively lesser known features of processors might boost the performance.
Regarding graphics, many programmers would be fine with the integrated solutions and maybe entry level discrete graphic cards. High end graphic cards would be a requirement only for those working in games or any other graphic intensive projects.
There is often a need to keep track of lot of information in a development environment. So, the screen should be large enough with good resolution. However, in laptops the options are limited by the fact that screen size directly affects portability.
Finally, since programmers need to use their computers constantly for extended periods of time, comfort is important during use. The quality of the screen with regards to its reflectivity and viewing angles is important to minimize the strain on eyes. Talking about comfortable use, the keyboard’s layout and build is very important, for obvious reasons. Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to have an exterior build that is reasonably sturdy.
In short, better CPUs and high RAM are important, SSDs are preferred over HDDs, larger screen size and multiple display support might also be required and user comfort is very important. As mentioned before, different types of developers would have different needs in some of these aspects of a laptop.
So keeping all of this in mind, here are some of our picks for the best laptops for programmers. Most of these laptops dual screens either via HDMI or USB Type-C ports, so that requirement is fulfilled almost for all of the following. For the rest, lets see what they’ve got.
Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM ($350)
Image Source – Acer
Specs – Intel Core i3 7100U, RAM – 4 GB, Storage – 1TB HDD, HD display, Integrated Graphics)
So, starting off with the lower end of the budget and requirements, this particular model of the Acer Aspire E15 is an entry level laptop with a Core i3 processor and 4 GB of RAM. It has plenty of storage space and surprisingly, an HD display. Thanks to the ultra-low voltage version of the i3 (which is the norm now for most i3 laptops), the battery life can be expected to be good. The price seems fairly good for what the machine offers.
These specs would work well for web developers, new programming students and others who either write code that is not computationally intensive. This is more or less the bottom end of the feasible range at which meaningful programming can be done.
Heavier IDEs (for example Android Studio) can be fiddled with for learning, but would be almost unusable for proper projects. By spending a little more, the RAM can be increased so that it might fare better. However, given the processor, there’s a limit to how much of a RAM increase would be sensible. Paying to make the RAM more than 8GB might not be worth it.
Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4 ($580)
Image Source – laptoping.com
Specs – Intel Core i5 7200U, RAM – 8 GB, Storage – 256GB SSD, 15.6” FHD display, Nvidia Geforce 940MX Graphics)
The next logical step upwards would be towards an i5 based machine. Although quite a price jump from the previous member of this list, the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G is good for its price. The Core i5 along with the 8GB of RAM has the processing power for a little more serious app development. A little investment into a RAM upgrade might go a long way to improve those build times. Core i5 7500U also possesses the Intel Virtualization technology (VT-x) which would help in emulation. (This feature is part of all the laptop processors mentioned after this one)
It also possesses an entry level graphic card from Nvidia’s last generation. While it is not exactly the poster boy for power, the 940MX does have the capabilities to handle some graphical work load.
The storage is exclusively solid state, so while the loading times would be great, the 256GB storage limit might be a little close for some people’s comfort.
The screen supports full HD resolution (1920×1080) and possesses Acer’s BluelightShield, which is supposed to minimize blue light emissions and reduce eye strain. However, viewing angles are still limited. The key board is standard for the 15.6” size and works well. The trackpad though, might have a “low-cost feel” to it, but works satisfactorily. All in all, it is a comfortable laptop for long continuous usage.
Acer Aspire VX 15 Laptop – VX5-591G-54VG ($899)
Image Source – Laptopmag
Specs – Intel Core i5 7300HQ, RAM – 16 GB, Storage – 256GB SSD, 15.6” FHD display, Nvidia GTX 1050Ti Graphics)
Acer’s Aspire VX 15 is designed as a budget gaming laptop. However, it has some characteristics that make it a good portable machine for developers as well.
The Core i5 processor inside it has 4 physical processor cores (though not hyperthreading, not 4 threads as well) and 16GB of RAM to go with it. While this is good enough for the programming tasks mentioned for the machines before it in this list, these specifications would be good enough for database developers and engineers to work with as well. Nvidia’s GTX 1050Ti packs quite a punch despite being a budget graphic card, thanks to the efficiency of its generation’s architecture. It also boasts 4GB VRAM of its own and would be useful for graphical work loads.
The full HD display is sharp, but the colours are slightly bland for some users’ taste. The keyboard is comfortable to use and feels very responsive. The 4×3 inch touchpad is also smooth and comfortable in use. Looking at the overall appearance, it is sturdy. Its appearance does have marks of a gaming PC with red outlines around the touchpad, heat exhaust, the W,S,A,D keys and the front, but not overly done to be a point of concern for people who would prefer plain and simple beauty. It is slightly larger than perhaps one would want in a really portable machine, but still perfectly easy to carry around, especially with a bag.
Again, the SSD only storage option means faster boot and load times, but it might be too limited for some people.
Dell Inspiron 15 7567 ($1200)
Source – Dell
Specs – Intel Core i7 7700HQ, RAM – 16 GB, Storage – 128 GBSSD+1TB HDD, 15.6” FHD display, Nvidia GTX 1050Ti Graphics)
The Inspiron 15 7567 configuration mentioned here is a fairly well rounded system that would work well for most programmers’ tasks. The quad core processor i7 processor, with its 4 core and 8 threads thanks to hyperthreading, provide plenty of processing power and is matched by 16GB of RAM, which can be extended to 32GB. The combo of 128 GB SSD and 1TB HDD would allow the user to experience the best of both worlds if used properly. It also sports the GTX 1050Ti to handle some level of graphics.
Contrary to the lower cost models of the Inspiron line, the screen is good. It also supports upto 1920×1080 resolution and has better viewing angles thanks to the IPS display. The keyboard and touchpad are ergonomic and work well. The external build is strong and looks normal, with some signs of being designed as a gaming laptop.
All things considered, this laptop would satisfy most developers’ needs. For example, mobile game and app developers, database developers, web designers, some game development which does not involve heavy graphics.
Dell XPS 15 9560 ($1600)
Source – Dell
Specs – Intel Core i7 7700HQ, RAM – 16 GB, Storage – 512GB to 1TB SSD, 15.6” FHD display, Nvidia GTX 1050)
Dell’s XPS line is known to have well built, good looking machines with good performance and comparatively high prices. Given that they are high performance, non-gaming machines, they certainly have characteristics that make them more useful for programmers who would be working on non-graphical, computationally intensive projects. Therefore, it merits a mention in a list of best laptops for programmers.
The XPS 15 9560 mentioned here is very similar to the Inspiron 15 7567 mentioned before (same processor, similar amount of RAM, similar, slightly weaker graphic card), but is better in some important aspects. It also has a full HD display, but with the option of a 4K display as well with additional cost. It only sports an SSD, but with 4 times as much space on it and uses PCIe rather than SATA. And still there is an option of an even larger SSD (1TB), although that also bumps up the price. It is also thinner and lighter, making it all the more portable. The portability is also helped by the excellent battery life.
Being an XPS laptop, the exterior is also well built, clean and good looking. The keyboard and touchpad are very comfortable to use. Within the XPS line, this model seems like a good middle ground between the performance programmers would need (build times, load times, good emulation etc) and the price they’d be willing to pay for it.
MacBook Pro 13” ($1300 onwards)
Image Source – Apple
Specs – Intel Core i7 (Dual Core, 4 threads), RAM – 16 GB, Storage – 128 GB SSD to 1TB SSD, 13” QHD Retina Display, Integrated Intel Iris 640 Graphics)
Some of the specs might look like a downgrade from the last entry in the list, while the price increased, there are some specific reasons why the latest MacBook Pro’s 13 inch version is here.
The primary reason for putting the MacBook Pro in the list is that while there are ways to develop for the Apple ecosystem on non-Apple machines, it is inconvenient, somewhat inefficient and in some cases, not strictly legal. So having an Apple machine was necessary to account for iOS developers.
Having said that, I think the 13” MacBook Pro with a Core i7 + 16GB of RAM would hit the sweet spot in the compromise between power and Apple’s notorious prices. The storage is available only as SSD options, from 128GB all the way to 1TB in accordance with users’ needs. Though it increases the cost of the machine significantly. The integrated Intel Iris graphics would work fine in most cases until graphic intensive work is needed, though that won’t be the purpose of anyone buying this machine.
Being an Apple product, it is no surprise that the quality of each component as well as the overall build is very good. The trackpad and keyboard are a pleasure to use and the famous retina display is probably the best in this list. These points contribute well to the ease of use/comfort factor, despite the 13” screen size.
MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro-002 ($2399)
Source – MSI
Specs – Intel Core i7 7700HQ, RAM – 32 GB, Storage – 512GB SSD + 1TB HDD, 15.6” FHD display, Nvidia GTX1070 8GB)
To round off the list of best laptops for programmers, we look take a high-end gaming laptop. This beast of a laptop has a 4 core, 8 thread Core i7 processor, which is accompanied by a whopping 32 gigabytes of RAM. Clearly, this is approaching the limit of processing power available in a laptop. On the storage side, it has 512GB of SSD which is complemented by a terabyte of HDD storage for all the stuff that doesn’t need to be on an SSD.
It has a high-end graphic card, Nvidia’s GTX 1070, which should be enough to handle most graphic intensive work. This is the laptop on the list for programmers who have to work on computation heavy and graphic intensive projects.
Thankfully, the exterior isn’t overly done, unlike most gaming laptops. The touchpad is quite spacious, though the multi-colour backlit keyboard could have been given more room. Nevertheless, it is till comfortable to use.
Surprisingly for its power, it is actually quite thin and light. The efficiency of processors (both CPUs and GPUs) has reached a point where high performance isn’t necessarily accompanied by bad battery time and large size. This fact would be even more pronounced in the near future.