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The best laptops for programming in 2020

Best laptops for programming: Dell Inspiron 14 5000

If you're looking for the best laptop for programming in 2019, then this guide will help. We've rounded up the best laptops that coders and developers can use for work.

While computer programming (or coding) doesn't necessarily need an all-powerful laptop, it's always good to have a bit of power, especially if you are performing particularly complex programming, or want to run the apps, websites or games you've created.

That's why we've included some powerful devices in our pick of the best laptops for programming, and it's why we've decided that the best laptop for programming in 2019 is the Huawei MateBook 13. It packs in some great specs for a very reasonable price (and it's super-portable, too). Read on for our ranking of programming laptops, suitable for a range of budgets, plus a run-down of what you should be looking for.

While you're in the market for your new laptop, bear in mind that ergonomics make a big difference if you're going to be coding for long stretches. To get your setup sorted, check out our guides to the best keyboards and the best computer mouse. Or if you're on the hunt for a design-specific device, take a look at our roundup of the best laptops for graphic design.

Also, with the holidays rapidly approaching, retailers across the internet are beginning to seriously cut their prices, so you could find an excellent bargain on some of the best laptops for programming. To make sure you don't miss out on any amazing offers, we've also included our built-in price checker to scour the internet and bring you the very best prices for every laptop on this list. 

Best laptops for programming: Top 5

01. Huawei MateBook 13
02. LG Gram 17
03. Dell Inspiron 14 5000
04. Lenovo Thinkpad P1
05. Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

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

Best laptops for programming: What to look for

As we said before, programming is essentially based around writing text, so you could do it on almost any machine. However, there are a few features that will make a difference to a coder's workflow.

The perfect screen size for programming is an interesting debate. With more screen area on a 15-inch laptop, it’s easier to read through code and make GUI adjustments, but you usually lose some of the portability of a smaller computer. We’ve covered screen sizes from 13 inches, and recently we had a chance to test the highly impressive LG Gram 17-inch laptop. The LG Gram has a massive screen that will accommodate even more code, but without the weight and bulk of a typical 17-inch laptop.

More memory will mean today’s heavyweight integrated development environments (IDEs) such as Visual Studio will run buttery-smooth, and make it easier to make changes when working with complex website layouts that have huge amounts of background code. Large, complex programs compile faster with a faster processor.

Finally, if you think your new idea is going to be the next big hit on Apple’s App Store, you need a laptop running MacOS to use Xcode, Apple’s IDE that’s used exclusively to develop applications for the iPhone, iPad and Mac. Similarly, if you’re considering working with game development within an environment such as UnrealEd or Unity, as part of your project, you can’t ignore graphics performance either. 

Best laptops for programming: Huawei MateBook 13

01. 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 chip, 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.

Note that while the Huawei MateBook 13 is now available in the US, we're still waiting for more details of the UK release.

Best laptops for programming: LG Gram 17

02. LG Gram 17

17" of screen space packed into an incredibly light laptop

CPU: Intel Core i7-8565U (quad core, 4.6GHz Max Turbo Boost) | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Size: 38.1x21.1x1.7cm | Weight: 1.34kg | OS: Windows 10 Home

Powerful quad-core processor
Plenty of memory
No discrete graphics card
Limited customisation options

Built from a super-light magnesium-carbon alloy, the LG Gram is touted as the lightest 17-inch laptop in the world, measuring just 1.7cm thick. If you like the idea of having a bigger laptop screen for editing code on, then a 17-inch model will be the right choice, but most 17-inch laptops are unfortunately thick, heavy and difficult to carry around. With the LG Gram 17, you don't have to make that concession – plus it has a specification that will ensure any programming tools run without a hitch. 

LG has equipped the Gram 17 gorgeous IPS WXGA (2560x1600) screen that looks sharp and bright, with high colour accuracy, a quad core Intel Core i7 processor, a 512GB SSD and 16GB of memory. That’s enough performance to chew through any heavyweight IDE out there.

For more information, read our LG Gram 17 review.

best laptops for programming: Dell Inspiron 14 5000

03. Dell Inspiron 14 5000

The best 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
GeForceR 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 FullHD (1,920x1,080) IPS display, at least a quad-core processor and 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 latest Inspiron 14 5000 laptops tick all these boxes, which will guarantee 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 an additional 1TB hard disk and a Core i7 processor.

Note there's also a 2-in-1 version of this machine, but that's not the one we're talking about here. 

Best laptops for programming: Lenovo ThinkPad P1 laptop

04. Lenovo ThinkPad P1

Professional-grade premium performance

CPU: Six Core Intel Core i7 / Xeon | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro P2000 | RAM: 8-16GB | Storage: 256GB-4TB | Size: 36.2x24.6x1.8cm | Weight: 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

Rounding off our pick of the best laptops for programming is theThinkPad p1. 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 form that in thickness, is close to an Ultrabook.

It’s the only laptop of this size that offers professional-grade Xeon processors, with up to six cores, an Nvidia Quadro P2000 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, a very healthy selection of ports, retaining two original USB Gen 1 ports, as well as two newer, Thunderbolt capable USB type C ports and HDMI. Make no mistake, if it’s raw performance you want, this is the laptop to go for.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

05. 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 new 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.

Best laptops for programming: 2018 Apple MacBook Pro

06. MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, mid-2019)

The best MacBook for programming

CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – 8th-generation Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 – 655 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2,560 x 1,600 | Storage: 128GB – 2TB SSD | Dimensions (H x W x D): 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.49cm

 Much more powerful 
 More storage 
 Keyboard learning curve 

While Apple’s MacBook and the newly updated MacBook Air are the most portable Apple laptops in the range, with its recent update, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is now our first choice for working with Xcode to develop apps for iOS and MacOS when on the go.

Quad-core eight-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 bootcamp or in a virtual machine such as Parallels, you’ll be able to use your Mac to develop apps for any platform on Earth.

Best laptops for programming: Asus Zenbook laptop

07. Asus Zenbook UX-430

Portable and affordable, the Zenbook is a great laptop for programming

CPU: 2.4-2.7GHz Intel Core i3-i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 940MX | RAM: 4-16GB | Storage: 128-512GB | Size: 32.4x22.5x1.59cm | Weight: 1.25kg | OS: Windows 10 Home Pro

Lightweight and slim
Available in four colours
No quad-core option
Geforce 940MX is slightly limited

Despite dated stereotypes of programmers being stuck in bedrooms and offices, many coders see the profession as highly sociable – whether it’s working together on group projects, or attending one of the numerous workshops and conferences that exist all over the country.

In that case, you might prefer an alternative to the larger laptops we’ve suggested and instead, put portability at the top of your wish list. The 13-inch Asus Zenbook UX-430 is an ultraportable option – weighing just 1.25kg and measuring 15.9mm – without a massive price tag. However, even though the Zenbook is slim and well priced, it has a specification that’s still great for coding work.

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

08. HP Envy 13 (2018)

A premium all-metal laptop for coding work

CPU: Intel Core i7-8565U (quad core, 4.6GHz Max Turbo Boost) | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Size: 38.1x21.1x1.7cm | Weight: 1.34kg | OS: Windows 10 Home

All-metal premium design
Lots of horsepower
Limited storage options compared with some competitors

The latest HP Envy 13 (2018) a great pick for programmers. HP made big changes to its popular 13-inch Envy laptop in the latest redesign, adding an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, increasing the memory and reducing the size and weight. Coupled with its high quality touch-sensitive 1080p display, it’s now both powerful and super portable. But perhaps the most noteworthy change is the stunning all-metal design, covering even 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)

09. 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, Chromebooks are designed to be highly affordable, with available features and performance suffering to bring the price down.

While a cheaper Chromebook can still work fine for those who are new to coding (especially children just learning coding skills, for example), the Pixelbook Go has been designed to compete with the bigger boys in laptops. 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 Google's latest Chromebook, and it's one of the best laptops for programming in the world right now. It's 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: HP Spectre Folio

10. HP Spectre Folio

A high-end 2-in-1 that’s great for programmers

CPU: Intel Core i5-8200Y - Intel Core i7-8500Y | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615 | RAM: 8-16GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Size: 15.4x23x3.2cm | Weight: 1.49kg | OS: Windows 10 Home 64

Lovely leather finish
2-in-1 design

The 13.4-inch HP Spectre Folio is a great 2-in-1 device for programmers. We’d generally pick a laptop over a tablet for pure coding, but a 2-in-1 is a worthy substitute, as it gives you an environment where you can test tablet applications as well. 

This high-end example oozes quality thanks to its gorgeous leather cover, which earns it the Folio name. There's a great internal specification as well – with up to 16GB of memory and a Core i7 processor, it’s not going to disappoint in the performance stakes, but it might leave a hole in your wallet.

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