Wondering which is the best MacBook for programming? On this page, we aim to provide advice based on our own expert testing and experience with Apple's laptops. Suffice it to say that any current Apple laptop is going to be able to handle most programming tasks, so choosing which is best for you mainly comes down to questions of size, portability, budget and what else you might want to do with the machine.
We've reviewed most MacBooks hands-on, and many of our internal team and freelance contributors use MacBooks are their everyday devices for work. That gives us many hours of experience through which we've come to know MacBook in and out.
In the guide below, we aim to help you choose the best MacBook for programming for your needs and budget (if you don't want an Apple-specific list, head over to our best laptops for programming guide. We also have a guide to the best laptops for graphic design).
The best MacBook for programming today
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The MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) is in our view the best overall MacBook for programming. It has basically everything you want, including a choice of hugely powerful M1 Pro and M1 Max chips from Apple. It's since been superseded by a 2023 model with the M2 Pro or M2 Pro Max chip, but considering that the 2021 model already offers much more power than you need for programming tasks, we recommend this one for programmers since you're more likely to find an attractive deal. It will still serve you for plenty of other tasks, including graphics work, if you'll be doing more than programming alone.
We find that out of all the MacBooks, the 14-inch offers the best balance between portability and screen size for programming. You get the same choice of processors, same ports and same 1,600 nits of peak brightness as with the 16-inch mode Pro, but the smaller size makes it more comfortable for use out and about, for example in class or in a cafe. When we tested it, our reviewer found it performed brilliantly for everything from 3D modelling to image editing and video editing – we got instantaneous results when doing complex tasks in Cinema 4D. We also got an impressive 11 hours of web browsing from the battery.
Read our full MacBook Pro 14-inch review to learn more.
If you do want something more portable, the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) is the way to go. The 2022 13-inch M2 MacBook Air is very similar to the 13-inch MacBook Pro released in the same year, but it's a tiny bit cheaper and lighter.
It's also lighter and more compact than the previous MacBook Air, despite having a larger screen (13.6-inch) and more powerful processor. The screen is 25 per cent brighter, and the laptop also has MagSafe support, which means plugging and unplugging the power cable is easy and safe. We found battery life to be superb (we got over 16 hours of video playback when we tested it).
The M2 chip makes light work of compiling code, and the extra screen space makes it a joy to code on. If the 14-inch MacBook Pro is too expensive, and offers a level of performance that you just won't need, then we strongly recommend the new MacBook Air instead.
See our full MacBook Air (M2, 2022) review for more details.
If you're a coder on a tighter budget who just does not need the kind of horsepower the other MacBooks offer, then the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) remains an excellent choice.
The 2020 MacBook Air still hits the perfect sweet spot between value and performance. It's the cheapest MacBook you can buy new even at full price, but it often sees discounts. In our tests, we were impressed by how fast and smooth the laptop is in use, and we got well over a full day of use on a single battery charge.
Another benefit of the M1 MacBook Air is that it's fanless, which makes it silent in use. While the M1 chip has been succeeded by the M2, it still offers fantastic performance, especially when compiling code. This isn't the best MacBook to choose if you're going to be doing video editing or image editing , but if you only need a laptop for programming and general productivity, this should still do the job just fine.
See our full MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review for more details
The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) is a great MacBook for programmers who need more power than the MacBook Air, but don't need the power (or can't afford) the MacBook Pro 14-inch.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch is essentially the entry-level model for the MacBook Pro, and packs an M2 chip, which is more powerful than the M1 but not as fast as the M1 Pro or M1 Max that come with the MacBook Pros above.
Like the MacBook Air (M2, 2022), this excels at code compilation, and offers enough raw power to emulate various devices to help you test your apps and games while you work on them.
Unlike the MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with a fan, and while this makes it a bit more noisy (though still impressively quiet), it means it can work for longer periods with heavy workloads without overheating.
Read our MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) review for more details.
If you need a MacBook that can handle much more than programming and you also want the largest screen you can get, the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) could be the best choice for you. It's essentially the same as the 14-inch model at number one in our list, coming with a choice of Apple's M1 Pro or M1 Max chips, but with a larger screen and battery.
People who find looking at lines of code on a larger screen more comfortable will love this device. The 16-inch MacBook Pro also boasts the best battery life of any MacBook. Apple says that you should get around 14 hours of web browsing from a charge, but we've seen more like 17 hours for basic online work. You can also configure it up to 64GB of memory, up to 8TB of storage, making it a supremely powerful MacBook. While it will be overkill for many programming tasks, it's ideal for anyone doing demanding video work on the side.
Again, Apple has a newer 2023 model, but as a laptop for programming, this is already much more than you need, plus the 2021 model is coming in for some very attractive discounts at the moment.
See our full MacBook Pro 16-inch review for more details.
Is a MacBook good for programming?
We think MacBooks are great laptops for programming. They have bright, crisp retina displays that show type clearly, they're powerful and they have good battery life – important if you're coding on the go. MacBooks now come in a good range of sizes, from the cheaper 13-inch MacBook Pro and Air to the larger and more powerful 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros and now even a 15-inch MacBook Air so there's plenty of choice.
Is a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air best for programming?
It used to be that we would easily recommend a MacBook Pro over a MacBook Air for programming because of the larger screen and retina display, which is great if you have the font for your programming set small. But in recent years, the differences between the MacBook Pro and Air have become less clear-cut. MacBook Airs now have retina displays and Apple's own silicone (either the M1 or M2 chip), and there's even now a 15-inch MacBook Air for those that prefer a larger screen. This means that we would only recommend paying more for a MacBook Pro if you'll be using your MacBook for other, more graphically demanding tasks as well.