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Best Laptop for Programming: Portable, Powerful and Feature-Rich

If you’re a professional software programmer, you know the importance of a great laptop for programming.

Though you can do some type of coding on any laptop, you will often require a powerful one that is lightweight and portable for easy use during your hours of coding. No one wants a laptop slower than their thought process or one that needs too much strength for convenience to move around after a long session of crazy programming. For this reason, finding a modern, high-quality laptop that will serve you well is paramount if you are a professional coder.

Best Laptop for Programming

The best laptop for programming is one that is powerful, portable, and provides the coder with all the necessary ports and facilities they’d want. Programmers love portable, slim laptops so they can do their work in any setting, and that’s what we’ve considered (along with power, of course) when selecting our 5 favorite laptops for programming.

Be sure to check out our buyer’s guide after the reviews too so you know what to look for in great programming laptop.

Our Top Pick

Our Top Pick

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN

Great Laptop Full of Features

The Asus Zenbook 13 UX331UN is a powerful ultrabook from Asus that comes in a 13.3” size, featuring an 8th generation Core i5 and 8GB RAM. This laptop features great battery life, a fantastic design, and also packs a dedicated graphics card.

We feel the Asus Zenbook 13 is the best overall laptop for programming because of its power, portability, ports, battery life, and gorgeous design.

Premium Pick

Premium Pick

Apple MacBook Pro 15

The Dream Programming Laptop

The 15 inch MacBook Pro has been around for a while, and the 2018 version is perhaps the most powerful nongaming laptop on the planet. Featuring 6 Core processors, it is lightning fast at just about everything. Combine that with the gorgeous Retina display and a great battery life and you have the ultimate programming laptop.

If you can afford it, the MacBook Pro 15 is so powerful it could tackle virtually any standard programming software without a hiccup.

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN

Asus ZenBook 13

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 8th Generation 1.6GHz
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce MX150
  • Display: 3” FHD (1920×1080)

We’ll admit that we’ve always been fans of the Asus laptops. Their gorgeous design and high quality build combined with competitive pricing and powerful specs make them attractive for just about everyone.

Given its price, the Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN is our favorite laptop for programming. It comes in a compact 13.3-inch form factor and packs all the latest features that make it an excellent device for coding.

Integrated into this beautiful dark-blue machine is an Nvidia GeForce MX150 which offers added graphical advantage over most laptops in this price range and size. While it’s not the most powerful graphics processor you can find in laptops, it’s more than capable of handling graphic-oriented programming tasks.

The battery life of this laptop can last up to 9 hours, which is pretty good for its size. The Asus laptop also comes with plenty of ports for connectivity, including two USB 3.0 ports, a microSD card reader, and an HDMI port.

Because of its perfect balance of design, performance, and pricing, we consider it the ideal laptop for all kinds of programmers that want to utilize the Windows platform.

Pros

  • Beautiful design
  • Strong performance
  • Decent graphics performance for the price
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Poor webcam

Apple MacBook Pro 15 (2018)

Apple 15 MacBook Pro

  • CPU: Intel Core i7/i9 8th Generation
  • RAM: 16-32GB
  • Storage: 512GB – 4TB SSD
  • GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 630 – AMD Radeon Pro 540X/560X
  • Display: 4” Retina Display (2880×1800)

If you’re developing software for the Apple ecosystem, there’s nothing that can beat the new MacBook Pro 15. This is by far the best laptop for programming in-terms of raw computing power. Coming in a six-core configuration with heaps of RAM at your disposal, there isn’t any kind of programming that will set you back.

MacBooks have remained the laptop of choice for most programmers because of the streamlined operating system as well as the raw power they offer, and the MacBook Pro is right up there. It’s the most powerful offering from Apple, so no matter how extraneous your programming workload is, this Apple laptop will be up to the task.

You get Apple’s signature, minimalistic modern build with a larger screen and the iconic Retina display. The wide variety of spec options ranging from powerful to ridiculously powerful give you the luxury to choose what works for your coding needs, allowing you to build the ultimate laptop for programming.

The thin design and excellent battery life ensure optimum portability so you can program anywhere and everywhere.

Pros

  • Beautiful design
  • Unparalleled computing performance
  • Incredible display
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • No USB Type-A ports
  • Ridiculously pricey

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13 9360

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 8th Generation 1.6GHz
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics 620
  • Display: 3” FHD (1920×1080)

We considered the Dell XPS 15 the best laptop for video editing due to its powerful features and performance, and we have much of the same to say for the smaller version, the Dell XPS 13. The version we’ve chosen is one of the more affordable setups of the Dell XPS 13, with an 8th generation Core i5, 8 gigs of RAM, 128GB SSD, and Intel integrated graphics.

What makes the Dell XPS 13 a fantastic programmable laptop is the combination of incredible battery life, one of the smallest footprints among 13-inch laptops, and an all-white interior. We thought we wouldn’t like the all-white interior, but it is strangely elegant.

The 2018 model is slimmer than its predecessors, but it proudly keeps the near bezel-less screen design that makes it fantastic for coding projects. Powerful new processors and specs make it ideal for almost all developer tasks, making this an excellent laptop for programming and coding. A fingerprint reader under the power button will also keep your device biometrically secure, in case you’re programming on something sensitive.

The only reason the Dell XPS 13 doesn’t get the nod as our top laptop for programming is because of its lack of dedicated graphics. While not a necessity for most programmers, some would want a GPU for graphics oriented coding.

Pros

  • Beautiful remodeled design
  • Excellent performance for the price
  • Incredible bezel-less display
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Awkward webcam placement still a problem
  • Most ports have been replaced by USB Type-C

Google Pixelbook

Google Pixelbook

  • CPU: Intel Core i5/Core i7 7th Generation
  • RAM: 8-16GB
  • Storage: 128-512GB SSD
  • GPU: Intel Graphics 615
  • Display: 3” 2400×1600

The Google Pixelbook may initially seem like an odd choice for most programmers, but the benefits are huge if you’re a professional coder for the world’s most popular mobile operating system, Android. It is the natural choice for all Android developers, and the Google Pixelbook is streamlined to offer the Chrome and Android experience in a powerful laptop that works as well as it looks.

Most Chromebooks are designed to appeal to students and individuals who only need a laptop for rudimentary computing tasks. The Pixelbook is different – it’s power-packed with some of last year’s best hardware, a stunning display, fast storage, and an elegant modern design.

All this plays well for the Android programmers, as ChromeOS offers native support for Google’s Android Studio development tools. Full Linux support is in beta as well, so you can further your programming limitations to the versatile OS.

The Pixelbook also does the yoga thing, folding into a tablet, and can be used in conjunction with a wonderful stylus (sold separately) for added precision. Plenty of ports are on offer as well, and the simple yet elegant design screams quality from one edge to the other.

Pros

  • Great minimalistic design
  • Excellent performance
  • Ideal for Android developers

Cons

  • Limited application for developing for other operating systems
  • Speakers are weak

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Surface Pro 6

  • CPU: Intel Core i5/Core i7 8th Generation 1.6GHz
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128-256GB SSD
  • GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Display: 3” QHD (2736×1824)

For those programmers looking to code on an ultra portable system, there isn’t a better option than the Microsoft Surface Pro 6. The newest iteration comes with the latest Intel Core i5/i7 quad core processors and feature powerful specs in a tablet form factor.

Yes, you’ll have to buy the keyboard cover separately, but it’s an investment worth spending on. With the keyboard, you’re able to utilize the full power and functionality of the Surface Pro 6 as a tablet and laptop.

The screen of this device is absolutely fantastic, as expected from most of the Microsoft laptop and tablet products out there. You get all the power you’ll want for most programming tasks, and the battery life on the Surface Pro 6 is fantastic for such a mobile device, lasting around 8-9 hours on a single charge.

Whether you’re sitting in a train or sipping coffee in Starbucks, you can utilize the Surface Pro and its power for all your mainstream programming needs. Buying the separately sold stylus makes it an even better portable laptop for programming than it already is.

Pros

  • Fantastic form factor
  • Very portable
  • Powerful for a tablet
  • Incredible battery life for such a device

Cons

  • Keyboard and stylus require separate purchase

Buyer’s Guide

    Okay, we know that the bulk of the heavy lifting is done by the computer processor and even RAM, but in a laptop for programming, you also want to look at the storage type. Programming and coding will require frequent read/write functions, and in order to keep pace, you want more SSD storage instead of hard disk drives.

    Even the weakest SSDs are around 7-8 times faster than the hard drive with the most RPM. More importantly, SSDs are more durable and have a much longer life – the chance of failure is almost nonexistent as there are no moving parts.

    Ideally, your programming laptop should have an NVMe PCI-e SSD. This type of SSD is not only small and compact, it is also the fastest in the world in 2018. Having such a fast SSD will ensure you have no slow-downs when performing regular read/write tasks during programming.

    The processor and the RAM are the two most important components in a laptop for programming. You will need a good amount of memory to run most coding programs and environments. Larger compilations will require plenty of processing power, and to get through it you’ll want a modern multi-core processor.

    Processing power is arguably the most important feature. The CPU is the brain of the computer, and its job is to handle all the information you feed it in the form of coding. Compiling a program you’ve written is a CPU intensive task, so the best speeds are associated with the best processors.

    Memory is also important because it allows you to run several different programs at once without stressing your computer. Many programmers utilize different software all at once, and in that scenario a lot of memory is essential. For modern laptops, 8GB memory will suffice. If you are running an unusually large number of programs at once though, you should consider 16GB instead.

    Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours is what most programmers are used to, but the very reason laptops are more popular among coders than desktops is because of their portability. As a programmer, you will likely be doing your work in your office, in a bar, in the bus while traveling, and maybe even while on the loo.

    Portability is paramount here, and that is why we’ve only featured laptops that are highly portable yet have powerful hardware to run all major programming software smoothly.

    Do I need a dedicated graphics card in a laptop for programming?
    This will depend on the type of programming you are doing. Most programming requires good RAM and a powerful processor, but a dedicated graphics card is entirely optional.

    Some software for programming which deal with graphics content such as UnrealEd or Unity will require good VRAM (video RAM) and graphics power, which is not available in integrated graphics. In such scenarios, a graphics card is highly recommended.

    Are gaming laptops good for programming?
    Gaming laptops have a lot of RAM and powerful processors, so they generally tend to tick the box. However, they are much more expensive than regular laptops, have inferior battery lives, generate a lot of heat, and are much heavier.

    For this reason, they are not usually preferred by hardcore programmers. If, however, you’re a gamer and a coder, you could benefit greatly from a feature-packed gaming laptop.

    Which is better for programmers: Mac or Windows?
    This question has been thrown around for decades now. Mac OS is loved by coders because it has better cross-platform compatibility. More importantly, Mac provides a streamlined operating system that has an ideal environment for programming. For this reason, it is the more popular choice.

    However, Windows is catching up, and as laptops become more powerful, the difference in performance between the two platforms is minimal. Windows offer better fidelity and customizability, and is better at performing all tasks because of better program compatibility, making it a great platform if you’re interested in performing all major tasks.

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