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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. LG Gram 17 (2021)
04. Huawei MateBook 13
05. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Welcome to our pick for the best laptops for programming in 2021. On this page, we've gathered together a range of brilliant laptops that you can comfortably code on, no matter if it's for your work, study or your own enjoyment.

When looking for the best laptop for programming, you don't necessarily have to go for raw power, but you also don't want to be stuck with something that can't keep up with your needs. To quickly compile code, you'll want something with a decent modern processor and plenty of RAM.

If you are programming games, then getting a laptop with a graphics card may also be worthwhile, as it means you can try out your game while you work on it. Going for a larger screen may also make coding more comfortable, as you'll see more of your work at once without having to scroll.

Also, 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

The Dell XPS 15 (2020) is in our view the best laptop for programming right now. As with previous XPS laptops, this 15-inch beauty combines a stunning design, excellent build quality and some of the most powerful mobile components you'll find in a laptop.

It's thin and light, which not only means this looks and feels like a premium laptop for programming on, but it's also comfortable to carry around with you as well. It's high resolution 15.6-inch display is great for working on, and with high-end processors (and even graphics cards in some configurations), the Dell XPS 15 can compile code incredibly fast - making it ideal for programmers. Plus, if you go for a model with a GPU by Nvidia, you can test out your games while coding them.

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 programming

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
Fanless

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.

While the 13-inch MacBook Pro (also on this list) is more powerful, the thinner and lighter (and more affordable) MacBook Air now comes with the same Apple-made M1 chip as the the Pro, which means it's no slouch when it comes to programming.

Best of all, the new MacBook Air is the same price as the previous model, so you're getting a noticeable boost in performance and battery life for no extra money!

The power of the M1 chip 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. 

The M1 chip isn't just powerful - it's also efficient - which means the new MacBook Air has a brilliant battery life as well.

LG Gram 17 (2021)

(Image credit: LG)

03. LG Gram 17 (2021)

The best large-screen laptop for programming

CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3000 Series | RAM: Up to 64GB | Storage: 1TB SSD | Size: 381 x 261 x 17.78mm | Weight: 1.35 g | OS: Windows 10

Incredibly light
Long battery life
Expensive
Not the best touchpad

If you're after a large-screen laptop to do your coding on, then the LG Gram 17 (2021) is the perfect choice. It has a gorgeous screen that's high resolution and large, giving you plenty of workspace. However, this is a laptop that proves you don't have to sacrifice portability and comfort for screen size, as it's impressively light. This means you can comfortably carry it around with you - perfect for anyone who travels a lot.

It's also got one of the best battery lives we've seen in a Windows 10 laptop, mainly thanks to the new Intel 11th generation hardware that's powering this new laptop for 2021. So, you can work anywhere you like, safe in the knowledge that the battery will easily last you a whole work day - and longer.

Best laptops for programming: Huawei MateBook 13

04. 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
Affordable
Plenty of processor performance
Limited to 8GB memory
Just two USB-C ports

The Huawei MateBook 13 is one of the best laptops for programming, especially for coders on a budget. Huawei is perhaps best known for its excellent smartphones, which won over critics by offering the kind of features and build quality you'd expect from more expensive competitors, and it's done the same with its laptops.

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.

If you've been eyeing up Apple and Dell laptops in this roundup, but find them too expensive, then the MateBook 13 is a fantastic alternative.

What’s more, it’s super portable too, weighing just 1.3kg and less than 1.5cm thick.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

05. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

A brilliantly powerful laptop for programming on

CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU | Graphics: Integrated 8-core GPU | RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory | Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 LED-backlit Retina display | Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD | Dimensions (H x W x D): 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56 cm

Huge battery life
Great performance
Can run iOS apps
Still lacks ports

The latest MacBook Pro from Apple is a brilliant laptop for programming on. It features Apple's own M1 chip, like the new MacBook Air, and this allows it to run apps with ease, and compile code quickly.

It'll run your programming tools without any issues, and it comes with the Touch Bar across the top of the keyboard, giving you quick access to tools and shortcuts, and can dramatically speed up your workflow.

Perhaps best of all, it comes with an improved keyboard that's not just more reliable than the previous model's keyboard, but is also much more comfortable to work on.

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) also boasts the longest battery life ever seen in a MacBook. We've tested it ourselves and it's seriously impressive, allowing you to work all day and still have battery life left.

Also read: MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review

best laptops for programming: Dell Inspiron 14 5000

06. 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, and it costs a lot less than many of the laptops on this list, but without skimping on features or performance.

So, it's got a high resolution Full HD display, a quad-core processor and fast SSD storage, all of which means this is a dependable laptop that will keep up with any of your demands while you're programming.

Sure, it doesn't boast the premium style of its more expensive competitors, but if you're on a tight budget, and you want a laptop that will do everything that you need it to, and you don't care about visual flair or features that you're never going to use in your day-to-day programming, then this is definitely a laptop worth considering.

best laptops for programming: Lenovo ThinkPad P1

(Image credit: Lenovo)

07. 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

If you're after a laptop to take your programming to another level, then the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 is worth considering.

This seriously powerful workstation laptop 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)

08. 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

If you're a programmer working on Windows 10 apps in particular, then the Surface Laptop 3 could be the best laptop for you. As it's made by Microsoft, this is a brilliant showcase for Windows 10, so you can be sure your Windows apps run perfectly on the operating system.

Of course, as a Windows 10 device, it can also run any tool or application you rely on to program. 

While Microsoft is best known as a software company, it's been making some great hardware recently as well, and the Surface Laptop 3 is a great example of this, with a stylish 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. 

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 new HP Envy 13 is a great pick for programmers looking for a stylish yet dependable laptop to work on. 

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. It's also overhauled the body of the laptop, giving it a luxurious all-metal design that gives this laptop a beautiful premium look and feel, while also protecting it from knocks and bumps. It certainly earns the ‘Envy’ moniker - use this in an office and you'll be getting appreciative glances from your co-workers.

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.

This all makes it a fantastic laptop for programming on, with performance that matches most Windows 10 laptops, but with an incredibly long-lasting battery that means the Pixelbook Go will keep on going even after many Windows 10 laptops give up the ghost.

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. 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.

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. Don't miss our round up of the best graphics cards if this is something you might need. 

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.

Plus, the faster your laptop can compile code, the less time you'll be spending waiting around, and that can mean you're more productive, and are able to take on more projects.

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.

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