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The best laptops for programming in 2021

best laptops for programming
(Image credit: Emilija Manevska on Getty Images)
Best laptops for programming: Top 5

Read on for an in-depth look at each of these and the rest of our top 10.

01. Dell XPS 15 (2020)
02. Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
03. Huawei MateBook 13
04. Dell XPS 17 (2020)
05. Dell Inspiron 14 5000

The best laptops for programming are essential tools for any developer that wants a powerful machine to work on, while also being portable enough that they can take it out and about with them, and work almost anywhere.

While you don't necessarily need a powerhouse of a laptop to code on, if you need to compile your code, and test out the games you're working on, for example, then you'll want a laptop with plenty of RAM and a modern multi-core processor. They are able to compile code much more quickly. And, the less time you have to spend waiting for your laptop to complete complex tasks, the more time you have to do other things – such as take on more projects.

A graphics card will also be important for games developers working on graphically intensive projects. The best laptops for programming will help you test and run the apps, websites or games you've created with ease (jump to the in-depth what to consider section for more information). 

Bear in mind that ergonomics make a big difference if you're going to be at your machine for hours on end – as most of us are. It's a good idea to complement your laptop with some top accessories too, to get the best out of it. Check out our guides to the best keyboard, the best mouse and best monitor

The best laptops for programming available now

Dell XPS 15

(Image credit: Dell)

01. Dell XPS 15 (2020)

The best laptop for programming overall

CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics - Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti | RAM: 8GB – 64GB | Screen: 15.6" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS - UHD+ (3840 x 2400) | Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD

Fast performance
Eye-catching design
GTX 1650 Ti is a little weak
15-inch screen might be too large for some

If you're after the best laptop for programming, then we can't recommend the Dell XPS 15 (2020) strongly enough. Dell's latest flagship laptop is about as close to perfect as you can get, packing some of the very latest components into a thin and light design that's as gorgeous to look at as it is easy to carry around.

It comes with a stunning 15.6-inch display, which can come in a range of very high resolutions, which makes it an excellent choice for graphic designers who are looking to buy a new laptop. It's got some of the most powerful mobile components on the market right now, including a discrete graphics card in some configurations, which means this can compile code incredibly fast - making it ideal for programmers, and that GPU will help any game developers as well.

Perhaps best of all, its battery life is excellent, which means you don't have to be tethered to a desk if you want to use this powerful laptop.

Best laptops for programmers: Apple MacBook Air (2020)

02. Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

A renewed laptop for graphic design

CPU: Apple M1 (8-core) | Graphics: Integrated 7-core GPU | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 Retina True Tone display (backlit LED, IPS) | Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Super fast and responsive
Good price
Silent when in use
Same design as previous model

After a much-needed refresh, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) has brought a number of great updates that make it one of the best laptops for programming in 2020. Although it’s not quite the powerhouse the MacBook Pro is (or some high-end Windows laptops), it now boasts the same Apple-made M1 chip as those bigger laptops, so it's not that far off at all! 

The 10th generation Intel processors of the last 2020 model were much faster than the previous iteration, and the M1 does one better, so you're getting a super fast laptop with this MacBook Air. And at the same price! 

All of this speeds up the time it takes to compile code - which will have a big impact on your workflow. The new MacBook Air is also as portable as ever, with a seriously lightweight design that makes it easy to carry around with you - and perfect for programmers who do a lot of travelling. 

Best laptops for programming: Huawei MateBook 13

03. Huawei MateBook 13

For portability, performance and price, this is a brilliant all-rounder

CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 , Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB - 512GB SSD | Size: 21.1x28.6x1.2cm | Weight: 1.3kg | OS: Windows 10

Lightweight and slim
Plenty of processor performance
Limited to 8GB memory
Just two USB-C ports

The Huawei MateBook 13 is our pick for the best laptop for programming right now. Huawei stormed into the phone market with its excellent, competitively priced range of handsets, and now it’s done it again with laptops: this portable has great specs for coding work.

For a (relatively) modest asking price, you’re getting all the power of a Core i5 or Core i7, a crisp, bright, high-resolution 13-inch display, and loads of SSD storage. It makes Apple (and other high-end manufacturers) look like thieves. What’s more, it’s super portable too, weighing just 1.3kg and less than 1.5cm thick. This is worth a look before considering anything else.

Dell XPS 17

(Image credit: Dell)

04. Dell XPS 17 (2020)

The best large-screen laptop for programmers

CPU: Up to 10th Generation Intel Core i9-10885H | Graphics: Up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 with Max-Q | RAM: Up to 64GB DDR4-2933MHz | Storage: Up to 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe | Size: 248.05 x 374.45 x 19.5 mm | Weight: 1.48kg | OS: 2.11 kg

Nice design
Great screen
Not the most portable
Lack of ports

For many programmers, having a large screen to work on is incredibly important, as it means you have plenty of space to have apps and windows open. Having to write lines of code in a cramped and small screen is never fun, and that's why the new Dell XPS 17 is in our view one of the best laptops for programmers. Not only does it offer a gorgeous 17-inch screen, and supports 4K resolutions (which we recommend), but its also got a brilliant thin and light design (much like its 15-inch sibling, the XPS 15), which means you don't have to lug around a hefty laptop just to enjoy a large screen. However, it is noticeably bigger and heavier than laptops with smaller screens, so do keep that in mind. Still Dell, has built a brilliant large screen laptop that's also packed with cutting edge components, so compiling code can be done in a flash.

best laptops for programming: Dell Inspiron 14 5000

05. Dell Inspiron 14 5000

A great laptop for programming if you're on a budget

CPU: Intel Core i5-8265U (quad core, 3.9GHz Max Turbo Boost) | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForceR MX150 2GB GDDR5 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Size: 32.4x23.2x1.9cm | Weight: 1.48kg | OS: Windows 10

Well specced and well priced
Excellent screen
Upgrade to Core i7 and SSD shrinks to 128GB
Not particularly powerful for 3D

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 is a great all-round laptop for programming. There are three key things to look for if you want a great modern laptop – a Full HD (1,920x1,080) IPS display, a quad-core processor (at least) and speedy SSD storage. Aside from that, it’s easy to get fixated on bells and whistles when talking about laptops but many coding tasks don’t require anything particularly exotic.

Dell’s Inspiron 14 5000 ticks all these boxes, and guarantees great running performance and an excellent system for all computing tasks, including more taxing processing jobs. The starting specification gets you the aforementioned high-resolution display, a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD, with a sleek build and a starting price that really isn’t too extortionate. Go up a level and there’s 1TB of storage and a Core i7 processor.

There's also a 2-in-1 version of this machine, but that's not what we're referring to here. 

best laptops for programming: Lenovo ThinkPad P1

(Image credit: Lenovo)

06. Lenovo ThinkPad P1 (Gen 2)

Professional-grade premium performance

CPU: Six Core Intel Core i7 / Xeon | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro T1000-T2000 | RAM: 8-64GB | Storage: 256GB-4TB | Size: 36.2x24.6x17mm | Weight: From 1.7kg | OS: Windows 10 Home / Pro

Incredible performance in a slim chassis
One of the best displays on a laptop
Wired ethernet has shifted to a new ‘mini’ standard
Not vastly cheaper than Apple’s premium models

With this model, Lenovo has taken the kind of computing experience most of us assume is only possible with a desktop workstation housed in a large box under a desk, and not only made it portable, but squeezed it into a thin design. 

It's ideal for those that need workstation power. The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 offers professional-grade Xeon processors, with up to six cores, an Nvidia Quadro T2000 graphics card and up to 64GB of memory.

You can stuff it with up to 4TB of nVME SSD storage, and opt for a 15.6-inch 4K display that’s not only touch-sensitive but colour-accurate too. It’s a great general-purpose workstation, capable of all kinds of visual design work and heavy lifting processor-intensive tasks. 

Of course, it works great for coding as well. That’s partly thanks to Lenovo’s excellent keyboard design, but in general, the ThinkPad P1 is superbly built, including a semi-rugged chassis that can survive light knocks, and a very healthy selection of ports.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

(Image credit: Microsoft)

07. Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Windows programming on Microsoft’s own hardware

CPU: Intel Core i5 - i7 / AMD Ryzen 5 / AMD Ryzen 7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics / AMD Radeon Vega 9 / AMD Radeon RX Vega 11 | RAM: 8GB - 16GB | Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense (2,256 x 1,504) / 15-inch PixelSense (2,496 x 1,664) | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD

Excellent battery life
Choice of Intel or AMD CPU
No Thunderbolt 3 option
Too few ports for its size

As it comes from Microsoft, the Surface Laptop 3 effectively offers a pure Windows 10 experience, making it a benchmark for testing and developing Windows software. It has a great design, a solid aluminium shell and a very comfortable keyboard. The newest version comes in matte black and offers fairly meaty specifications, with a Core i7, up to 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD storage and a high-resolution 13.5-inch screen that works with Microsoft’s Surface Pen stylus.

There are a lot of other variants, too, meaning you can get the power that you want. It isn't as cheap as some options out there but you do get a superb laptop, now with USB-C. 

MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

08. MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)

A brilliant compact graphic design laptop

CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – 10th-generation Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 | RAM: up to 32GB | Screen: 13-inch Retina display with True Tone | Storage: 256GB – 4TB SSD

Improved specs (on some models)
Larger capacity SSD for starting model
New keyboard is great
Entry-level model still has 8th gen Intel CPU
You still only get Thunderbolt 3 ports

While Apple's MacBook Air is the most portable Apple laptop, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a great choice for working with Xcode to develop apps for iOS and macOS when on the go.

New tenth-generation Intel CPUs are now an option, delivering across-the-board performance improvements, making this MacBook both portable and powerful. While it might weigh slightly more than the aforementioned MacBook models, the performance boost will be worth it when running taxing processing tasks, such as heavy-duty coding projects.

And since Macs can run Windows just fine via Boot Camp or in a virtual machine such as Parallels, you’ll be able to use your Mac to develop apps for any platform on Earth.

The best laptops for programming: HP Envy 13 (2018)

09. HP Envy 13

A premium all-metal laptop for coding work

CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5-i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620, Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 256-512GB SSD

Premium look and feel
Terrific keyboard
No 4K option if you want that

The latest HP Envy 13 is a great pick for programmers. HP recently made big changes to this popular 13-inch laptop by reducing the size and weight. Coupled with a high-quality touch-sensitive display, it’s both powerful and super portable. But perhaps the most noteworthy change is the stunning all-metal design, covering the keys and around the screen area that absolutely earns this laptop the ‘Envy’ moniker.

The keyboard has plenty of travel, with page up and down keys, and the trackpad is large enough to be extremely comfortable - both critical aspects of a laptop for long coding sessions.

(Image credit: Google)

10. Google Pixelbook Go

An excellent Android development platform capable of running full-fat Linux

CPU: Intel Core m3 - Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615 | RAM: 8GB - 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) or 4K LCD touchscreen | Storage: 128GB - 256GB eMMC

Incredible battery life
Amazing ‘Hush’ keyboard
Iffy pricing at mid- to- high-end
No biometric login

For Android developers, a Chromebook might seem a natural choice for the best possible integration with Google’s software and services, with full support for running Android software natively. However, many Chromebooks are designed to be highly affordable, with lower-spec features and performance suffering to bring the price down.

The Pixelbook Go is an upgrade from more basic models, designed to compete with the bigger laptop manufacturers. It still runs ChromeOS, which supports Google’s Android Studio development tools, but the hardware is right up there with a standard Windows laptop. You can also run Linux apps as well.

The Pixelbook Go is certainly the best Chromebook ever made. It packs some impressive hardware, including an Intel Core i7 processor, a choice of 8GB or 16GB RAM and a large and vibrant 1,920 x 1,080 screen or 4K touch screen if you really want to show off.

Best laptops for programming: What to look for

Programming can be done on many different types of machines but many programmers want something more than just a basic laptop. 

Screen size is really important when selecting a top laptop for programming. You'll get more on a 15-inch screen than a smaller one, for example, so it's easier to read through code and make GUI adjustments. Of course, with a bigger display you sacrifice portability. 

Memory is also key. Heavyweight development environments such as Visual Studio will run better with a healthy dollop of RAM and we'd recommend considering a minimum of 8GB but 16GB ideally. 

Also consider getting an Intel Core i5 processor as a minimum – that level of power isn't exceptional but it will guarantee you enough performance, especially if you're doing things like working with complex website layouts that have a lot of background code. Large, complex programs compile faster with a faster processor.

Graphics can also be key depending on the development work you're doing. If you're working with game development in an environment such as Unreal Engine or Unity then you need to consider the graphical requirements of those apps. 

And remember it's a good idea to use an operating system that's aligned with your goals. Want to develop in Xcode for the iPhone, iPad and Mac? Then you're going to need a Mac.

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