It’s important to have the right tools for the job, and the most important tool for a programmer is their computer. As we get better and more compact computer technology, many coders are moving away from clunky desktops to sleek, portable laptops. In this article, we are going to take a look at three of the best laptops for programming in 2020, plus a bonus three best cheap laptops for coding if the below are above your budget.
Since we are looking for the perfect laptop for programming, we will need something fast, powerful, reliable, and ergonomic. Good battery life is important as well. The price will also be a factor, though we will only list the manufacturer’s price at the time of this article’s writing: you may be able to find a better deal from another online reseller.
It’s also important to consider that programming is a very broad topic, and programmers in different fields will have different needs. For example, if you plan to work with big data or AI, you’ll probably need a lot more processing power than someone working on less data-intensive code.
Best Laptops for Coding in 2020
Microsoft Surface Pro X
The Surface Pro X isn’t actually a laptop, it’s a tablet that thinks like a laptop. While it functions with a (unfortunately not included) pretty nice keyboard, it can also be taken on the go and used with its 13-inch touch screen or a surface pen. It also has LTE connectivity, meaning you can connect to wireless data to have the internet wherever you plan to take your highly portable Surface. It’s incredibly thin and light, 7.3mm thick and 1.7 pounds (without the keyboard).
On the technical side, the screen has a high pixel density. Although it’s only 13 inches it has a resolution of 2880 x 1920. It comes with Microsoft’s new SQ1 processor, their version of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx, and 8-16gb of RAM, making it lightning-fast for a device of its size.
On the downside the storage is pretty small, it comes with a range of storage sizes from 128gb to 512gb SSD. The battery life isn’t amazing for power users, just around seven hours if using any kind of processor-intensive programs. It also currently has some compatibility issues with 64-bit x86 programs (like the adobe suite), so if you plan on using those this might not be the perfect choice for you.
This laptop/tablet starts at $999, but that price can almost double if you need more than 128gb of space and a keyboard.
Apple MacBook Air
The Macbook Air is a go-to for thousands of professionals. It’s a proper lightweight laptop that performs reliably. It has a brand new 13 inch IPS retina display that is crystal sharp with 2560 x 1600 resolution.
The technical specs do lack on this device, however, this is true of most Apple products. These devices are designed to make the most out of the hardware they have and perform much better than their specifications imply. That said, the newest Macbook comes with SSD storage from 124gb to 1tb, 8gb of memory, and a dual-core Intel Core i5. It does have a good battery though, which can run a continuous 1080p video for close to 10 hours.
One of the most appealing features is the form factor and weight; it’s only 15mm thick with the keyboard, and it weighs only 2.75 pounds. These laptops are easy to hold and use, as well as transport.
The price tag for the newest Apple laptop ranges from $1099 to $1299, which isn’t terrible considering how well Macbooks age.
HP Spectre x360 15T
While this contender is not as lightweight or portable as it’s rivals, it takes the category for high performance. It has options (incredibly) for a 15-inch 4k display, it has a formidable 9th gen i7 processor sporting 6-cores, and it has a built-in NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card. It’s a laptop built for true power users, and it has the display and performance to match it. If you are planning on coding for game development, this would be a fantastic choice.
Additional specs include 16GB of DDR4 ram and a blazing 1TB NVMe solid-state drive. The result is a laptop that contends with many mid-range desktop computers and is a debatable better alternative to an Apple Macbook Pro. An added bonus is the touchscreen and the ability to fold the screen all the way around to make a touch display stand.
The battery, surprisingly, beats out most high power gaming laptops, lasting around 7 hours while watching HD video. It is a bit bigger than the other options, at around 20mm thickness and a weighty 5lbs, but this is a small price for the power provided.
This is also our most expensive option at around $1,800 (depending on where you live in the world), but less expensive variants of the same laptop are offered by HP in case you could afford to lose a few points of power, the 4k resolution, or go with a smaller 256gb SSD.
The Best Cheap Laptops for Coding
So maybe the above prices seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re just breaking in to programming. Many languages and projects don’t need that much power, especially in fields like front end web development where the load can be much lighter than developing machine learning. If your programming career doesn’t require a NASA laptop, take a look at these three inexpensive laptops for coding.
ASUS Chromebook Flip
The Chromebook Flip from ASUS is a Chromebook. If you’re not familiar, these are inexpensive laptops built to run chrome, and that’s about it. In fact, it runs on ChromeOS which is little more than a web browser and a file system. The good news is that today you can do almost anything from a web browser, including programming.
While you may be sacrificing in power (and memory, most Chromebooks only have a 64gb SSD), you make up the difference in cost. Chromebooks typically only have a dual-core processor—instead of the more common quad-core processors being used in modern mobile devices—and simple integrated graphics. ASUS’s take on the Chromebook is no different: it’s small, lightweight, well designed, has a built-in touchscreen, and costs around $500 (depending on which model you select).
ASUS Aspire 5
If Chrome won’t cut it and you do need a Windows 10 home installation, ASUS has your back again. The Aspire 5 costs close to the same amount that the Chromebook does, a little over $550. However, it offers an Intel Core i5 processor, 8gb of memory, and a 512gb SSD. It won’t be as fast or as flashy as the above three, but it will work perfectly for basic tasks.
Lenovo Thinkpad X270
I’ll be the first to admit that Thinkpads are not the prettiest laptops available. However, they are known for being tough. Thinkpads are laptops that last, and even the cheapest entry in the newest lineup, the X270, is no exception.
With an Intel i5 processor, 8GB memory, and a 256GB SSD, this laptop comes in right between the other two inexpensive options. However, it also comes in cheaper than both at $429 at time of writing.
The Best of the Rest: Honorable Mentions
We didn’t have time to cover every high-quality coding laptop available here, so if any of those mentioned before aren’t right for you, try out these laptops:
- Asus VivoBook
- Razer Blade 15
- Dell XPS
- Microsoft Surface Pro X
- Apple MacBook Air
- HP Spectre x360 15T
- Asus Chromebook Flip
- Asus Aspire 5
- Lenovo Thinkpad X270
- Asus VivoBook
- Razer Blade 15
- Dell XPS
This list is far from comprehensive, there are more good laptops for programmers available today than ever before. This is simply a round of the best available. If you are looking for a good reason to use your new laptop, consider picking up a new language at a coding bootcamp.