Are you in the market for a new laptop that suits your needs as a developer? We’ll reveal what characteristics to look for, as well as which laptops best fit the bill.
What to Look For in a Development Laptop
There are several types of machines that will suffice for developing software. But to get the best results and have the ability to tackle more tasks or projects, you’re better off opting for something more than just your standard laptop.
First, let’s start with the operating system. You want a laptop that uses an operating system that matches your development goals. So, if you’re looking to work in Xcode so you can develop for Macs, iPads, and iPhones, getting a Mac is your best bet. If you primarily code for Windows environments, then a PC is more likely to fit the bill.
What about power? If you’ll be working with large complex programs and have a ton of background code, the faster the processor, the better. Although your personal development needs will vary, you should at least aim for something with an Intel Core i5 processor at the bare minimum.
Next comes memory. Your laptop should have at least 8GB of RAM, with 16GB being much more ideal. This will help you work fuss-free, especially if you’re using a heartier development environment such as Visual Studio to develop your applications.
Are you a game developer? Graphics will play a significant part in your decision, as environments like Unity and Unreal Engine will have their own requirements that your laptop will need to match.
That handles the interior of your portable machine. For the exterior, screen size is an essential factor. The bigger the screen, the easier it’ll be to read code, avoid squinting, and make adjustments. As such, you may want something with a 15-inch display or larger. Support for dual monitors will make testing code or websites a lot easier and increase your productivity levels, since you won’t have to switch back and forth between tabs and software quite as much. On the flip side, you may not want a colossal laptop for portability reasons if you’re always on the go.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider comfort, which may lead you to want to try out the laptop in person versus before ordering it online. Is the keyboard to your liking? Can you see yourself working on this laptop for hours at a time? These are all questions you’ll need to answer before making a purchase.
The Top 5 Development Laptops
Below you will find a list of some of the best laptops for developers in 2021.
LG Gram 17
The LG Gram 17 laptop is an excellent pick if you’re looking for something with a large, easy-on-the-eyes display for your programming needs. You’ll have plenty of high-quality real estate to work with, as the screen is not only large (17 inches), but also has a high resolution.
Despite the large display, the LG Gram 17 is surprisingly portable and light (less than 3 pounds), which lets you enjoy all the benefits of a big laptop without sacrificing portability. And if you’re always on the go, you won’t have to worry about constant charging, as the Gram has a very long battery life – it holds a full charge for a little less than 20 hours. Under the hood, you get a 10-generation Intel Core i7 processor with up to 64GB of RAM.
That’s the good. Now here’s the bad: You may not fall in love with the $1,700 price tag or the fact that its touchpad could be better. Some users report it not being very user-friendly, but that could just be chalked up to user preference.
Here are the specs of the LG Gram 17 laptop:
- Operating System/OS: Windows 10 Home
- Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-8565U 1.80GHz (Base) / 4.60GHz (Turbo Clock)
- RAM: 16GB DDR4 2400 MHZ
- Hard Drive: 256 GB SSD / 512 GB storage SATA 3
- Screen: 17 inches with WQXGA 2560 x 1600 resolution. IPS LCD display type.
- Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
MacBook Pro 13-inch
The 2020 MacBook Pro has an M1 chip with an 8-core CPU, making it a fantastic machine for programmers in the $1,100 range. Apps run seamlessly, code compiles quickly, and battery life gives you plenty of juice for all-day work on the go – up to 20 hours on a full charge. To boost your efficiency, there’s a Touch Bar that sits above the keyboard that gives you instant access to shortcuts and tools, which comes in handy quite often.
You’ll get keyboard comfort galore when typing on the MacBook Pro, but where it comes up short is a lack of ports – it has a display port and two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. That may not be an issue, however, for some developers. The display, at 13 inches, may be a problem for web developers, game devs, and any programmer trying to debug apps. However, its small size does make it a great choice for developers that are on the road a lot.
Here are the specs of the MacBook Pro 13 inch laptop:
- Operating System/OS: macOS
- Processor: Apple M1 Chip with 8 Cores (4 performance / 4 efficiency). 8 core GPU. 16-core Neural Engine.
- RAM: 8 GB unified memory. Upgradeable to 16GB.
- Hard Drive: 256 GB SSD (Configurable up to 2TB)
- Screen: 13.3 inch LED-backlit. 2560 x 1600 native resolution.
Note, as with most laptops and PCs, the MacBook Pro 13 comes in different configurations, so feel free to check out the different options if the out-of-the-box options are not quite what you are looking for.
Dell XPS 15
While this list is in no particular order, the 2020 version of the XPS 15 may be the best development laptop of the bunch. It looks great, has a quality build, and packs plenty of power under the hood with a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor.
Portability is easy since the XPS 15 is very light and thin, despite its large 15.6-inch display. And while you’ll enjoy loads of power for coding, testing out games while you develop them, etc., you won’t have to worry about poor battery life, as the XPS 15 is built to last without being constantly plugged in – around 17 hours when using resource intensive applications. Another benefit: the XPS 15 is eco-friendly, with recycled packaging and 90% of the laptops parts recyclable as well.
Depending on your configuration, the XPS 15 can cost anywhere from just over $1,000 to well over $2,000.
Here are the specs of the Dell XPS 15 laptop:
- Operating System/OS: Windows 10 Home with a free upgrade to Windows 11 upon release
- Processor: 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i5-10300H (8MB Cache, up to 4.5 GHz, 4 cores).
- RAM: 8GB DDR4-2933MHz, 2x4G
- Hard Drive: 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive
- Screen: 15.6 inch Infinity Edge, Anti-Glare. 1920 x 1200 resolution.
- Graphics: Intel UHD
HP Envy 13 (Model 13-ba1047wm)
If you’re developing on a budget, the HP Envy 13 can be had at a starting price of $650. Despite the low price, the Envy has a premium look and feel thanks to its all-metal exterior that catches the eye and provides durability when lugging it around town.
An 8th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 powers this compact laptop that’s incredibly portable yet powerful. Using it is a pleasure as well, thanks to a large trackpad and a superb keyboard that allows for seamless typing and navigating the screen.
Where does the HP Envy 13 falter? The small display can be a problem for graphic-intensive apps and for developers reviewing code. This is further hindered by the fact that there is no 4K option. It also has an integrated graphics chip, which may be a negative for game developers.
Here are the specs of the HP Envy 13 laptop:
- Operating System/OS: Windows 10 Home 64
- Processor: 11th Generation Intel® Core™ i5 processor
- RAM: 8 GB DDR4-2666 MHz RAM (onboard)
- Hard Drive: 256 GB PCIe® NVMe™ M.2 SSD
- Screen: 13.3″ diagonal. Resolution: 1920 x 1080.
- Graphics: Integrated
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
Developers of Windows 10 apps may find the Surface Laptop 4 to be their best option. For about $1,000, you get a comfortable keyboard, an exterior that’s durable yet stylish, and excellent battery life. And if you need enough power to complete the toughest programming tasks, you can get it via 11th-generation Intel Core processors, a quick SSD, and up to 32GB of RAM. All that and you can choose from a set of unique colors.
We suggest choosing the 15” screen if it fits your budget, as was the case with other 13 inch models, the smaller version may not be the best option for developers working in code.
Here are the specs of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4:
- Operating System/OS: Windows 10 with a free upgrade to Windows 11 when released.
- Processor: Multiple options for both 13 and 15 inch models, starting at the Quad Core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1135G7 processor and moving up to the AMD Ryzen™ 7 4980U Mobile Processor with Radeon™ Graphics Microsoft Surface® Edition (8 cores).
- RAM: 8GB, 16GB or 32GB LPDDR4x RAM
- Hard Drive: Removable solid-state drive (SSD)5 options3: 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB
- Screen: 13.3″ PixelSense Display. Resolution: 2256 x 1504 or 15” PixelSense Display. Resolution: 2496 x 1664.