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When you need to code from from anywhere, you need one of the best laptops for programming. Don’t be intimidated though, we’ve done all the hard work by testing and selecting those with the essential factors to help you narrow down your search and do your best work, wherever that may be.
EDITOR’S NOTE: May 2023
We have a good variety of operating systems available, as well as companies who make the laptop. We have updated some older models to newer ones and have included some budget-friendly options for those needing a quality suggestion without breaking the bank.
No matter what your reason for needing the best laptop for programming may be, below is a phenomenal place to start looking.
Collin Probst, B2B Hardware Editor
When running and testing code, you need enough performance so your workflow isn’t at the mercy of your portable’s limitations. Look for the best processors (opens in new tab) and fast RAM (opens in new tab) to keep up with your projects. Grab a fast and large-capacity SSD (opens in new tab) as well. You don’t want to wait too long to load projects and files. Each laptop we review has been put through a thorough round of testing in many areas, both benchmark and the real world, to help you choose the best machine.
Whether you want a MacBook Pro (opens in new tab), a Windows 11 laptop (opens in new tab), a powerful Chromebook (opens in new tab), or even a Linux-powered portable, we’ve collected our top picks for the best laptops for programming here. You’ll also find some reasonably affordable, saving you more than the best laptops under $500 (opens in new tab). Read on to see which works best for you, and don’t forget to take advantage of our included price comparison tool to get the best price.
What is a programming laptop?
A programming laptop is designed for rapid, consistent code testing and boasts impressive processors and RAM. Just as important as what’s under the hood, the laptop must be easy and comfortable. A quality keyboard (opens in new tab) is a must for typing all that code. A display that won’t strain your eyes after hours of use is also essential. And if you spend most of your time traveling on the road, consider something thin and light (opens in new tab) for better portability, such as one of the best Ultrabooks (opens in new tab).
All in all, programming laptops focus on a few main things:
- Storage speed
Regardless of the brand of the laptop, if these four elements are high in a laptop, there’s a good chance it would perform well as a programming laptop.
Best laptop for programming (May 2023)
The best laptop for programming in full:
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If you have the funds for an unstoppable workhorse, then Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme mobile workstation is the best laptop for programming.
This laptop gets our vote as one of the best Lenovo laptops (opens in new tab) for many reasons. It has several configurations on hand, depending on your needs and budget. Still, at its most basic, it’s already pretty powerful, packed with a solid graphics card in a robust carbon-fiber and aluminum package that will survive any office or field.
The only negative? You get what you pay for, and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme has a price tag to match its power.
There are multiple updated options for the ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4 / Gen 5), now equipped with up to 11th – 12th Gen Intel Core processors and spec bumps. We’ll post an updated review after we have tested the new models.
Read the full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review (opens in new tab)
The MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) is brilliant for creative workflows but also terrific for programming. Taking the MacBook Pro to the ultimate level, this M2 Pro- or M2 Max-powered laptop blows the rest away with breathtaking power, an equally breathtaking battery life, and an XDR display with 1600 nits of peak brightness. The SD card (opens in new tab) slot, an HDMI port, and three Thunderbolt 4 ports help ensure you have all the necessary peripherals.
The MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) is an incredibly powerful laptop with exceptional battery life. Along with a stunning screen, excellent speakers, and a built-in microphone, this is a workstation you don’t need to plug anything else into.
The boosted specs of the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) make this an awesome laptop, and after falling behind, Apple’s back is on top when it comes to display, with the screen of the 14-inch MacBook Pro being the best you’ll find on a laptop right now.
However, the MacBook Pro 14-inch is likely overkill for many people. If you’re not chucking complex workloads at it, the MacBook Air (M1 or M2) remains your best laptop.
Read the full MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) review (opens in new tab)
Despite the lack of design updates, the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) brings welcome improvements to Apple’s most affordable MacBook Pro. Thanks to Apple’s latest M2 chip, it delivers better performance and battery life than its predecessor’s. Our testing has shown that it performs better in single and multi-core CPU tests than the M1 model and Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4.
With more than enough power to see you through intensive workloads like video editing (opens in new tab), it will certainly see programmers through their daily coding demands. What’s also impressive with so much power is how it keeps things cool and quiet – we found that the fans rarely kick in even when performing demanding tasks, lasting more than 15 hours, and costing the same as its predecessor. If you’re looking for a more affordable MacBook Pro for your programming needs, this one’s hard to beat.
Read our full MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) review (opens in new tab)
The HP Spectre x360 (2021) 2-in-1 laptop had a significant refresh from previous years, and a boost in specs, with 11th-generation Intel Core processors and Intel Iris Xe graphics, along with the impeccable 2-in-1 design and new gem-cut chassis, which means that this version is at the top of our best laptops for programmers list.
The HP Spectre line has always consisted of stunning devices. So, when we say that the Spectre x360 takes things to another level, that should mean something. Not only is this one of the most beautiful laptops on the market right now – with its gem-cut design and sleek profile, but it’s tough on the inside.
HP fitted this with an impressively long battery life, meaning you’re getting one of the best laptops on the market. As such, it’s also the best laptop for programming right now.
HP has recently released the HP Spectre (opens in new tab) X360 (2022). However, due to some issues with the trackpad and pricey OLED (opens in new tab) Screen that aren’t worth the bump for programmers, we have chosen to keep the 2021 model in this guide and remain at the top.
Read our full HP Spectre x360 (2021) review (opens in new tab)
The best Chromebook (opens in new tab) for business right now is the HP Elite Dragonfly. It has amazing performance, a beautiful design, and reasonable battery life. The Intel vPro security capabilities, which go above and beyond what you’ll find in the consumer market, are unique to this Chromebook.
Additional security measures in the entry-level configuration make it more than capable as a a laptop for programmers regardless of the task. Thanks to this raw power, this Chromebook is phenomenal for programming. Additionally, the comfortable keyboard is great for all-day use.
The Elite Dragonfly Chromebook has the option of 5G/LTE connectivity, now relevant that the 5G rollout is underway.
The Elite Dragonfly Chromebook is gorgeous inside and out, and between the security features, performance, and connectivity options, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better Chromebook for your business.
However, this Chromebook starts at more than a grand, easily the most expensive.
Read our full HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook review (opens in new tab)
The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) may not have gotten a massive design overhaul, but what it lacks in that department, it makes up for in performance and battery life thanks to Apple’s groundbreaking M1 chip.
This MacBook Pro has the longest battery life of a MacBook, allowing you to use it for programming for hours on end without having to worry about stopping to find a charger.
The M1 chip is no slouch regarding performance, so compiling and testing code is also extremely quick. If you have the budget for it, this is a programming laptop that will last you for years.
Read our full MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review (opens in new tab)
The LG Gram 17 (2021) is the latest 17-inch variant of the company’s superb lineup of productivity-oriented laptops that focus on being as light as possible.
This means you can get a gorgeous 17-inch 1600p display in a laptop that weighs just 2.98 lbs (1.35kg). So, for programmers who need nice, big screens to work on, this is a fantastic choice, and you can comfortably carry it around with you wherever you go.
Coupling that lightweight design with the fact that the battery lasted nearly 14 hours in our testing, you have the recipe for the perfect laptop for programming on.
Read our full LG Gram 17 (2021) review (opens in new tab)
Premium Chromebooks (opens in new tab) occupy their space in the laptop market, bridging that gap between powerful traditional laptops and super lightweight Chromebooks.
And the Asus Chromebook Flip C436F/C436FA is perhaps one of the very few examples of these out there, with its combination of superb power, terrific feature set, and premium build, but a price tag that’s cheaper than its rivals.
If not, just any Chromebook will do, then you will want the Asus Chromebook Flip C436F. It’s more powerful and more capable than many of the (cheaper) Chromebooks, but it also comes with many cool features that others only wish they had.
Although the Asus Chromebook Flip C436F is a premium Chromebook, it costs less than the Google Pixelbook and the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook – $200/₤200 less, to be specific. That means that for that same robust experience, you’re paying less. That’s money you can spend on accessories.
Many thin and lightweight laptops don’t quite measure up regarding performance. But, thanks to this Chromebook’s combination of lightweight OS and solid internals, it is thin, lightweight, and capable of exacting multitasking productivity demands.
The Asus Chromebook Flip C436F may be among the cheapest premium Chromebooks, but a traditional Chromebook is still pretty pricey. If $800 (£800, AU$1,222) is already too much, there are quite a few great Chromebooks out there that are capable in their own right.
Read our full Asus Chromebook Flip C436F review (opens in new tab)
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 5G builds on the design changes introduced by the Surface Pro 8 for an even more powerful and portable experience.
As a 5G system, the Surface Pro 9 5G stands ready to keep you connected at home and on the go without needing a Wi-Fi connection, making this an ideal solution for programmers on the go. It also comes with the new Windows 11 (opens in new tab) operating system pre-installed and one of the best webcams (opens in new tab) we’ve used on a laptop.
With its bigger screen, nested and slim pencil, and day-beating battery life, the Surface Pro 9 5G moves Microsoft’s Surface line in the right direction, but the custom ARM chip brings a host of hiccups.
Read the full review: Surface Pro 9 5G (opens in new tab)
How did we test programming laptops?
For years, we have tested laptops with a combination of tasks to see how each laptop compares. These tests are a mix of benchmark and real-world applications that allow us to spot where some laptops shine above others and give us insight for our scoring and overall review of a given laptop. A few of these tests, in no particular order, include:
- YouTube playback
- 3DM Timespy
- Browserbench Speedometer 2.0
We also consider overall ease of use, our real-world experience using these laptops as daily drivers during our testing, and the overall feel of these elements coming together to create a laptop for programming.
Frequently asked questions
Do you need a powerful laptop for programming?
Programming is one of those tasks that does not demand high-powered devices. However, a programmer can benefit greatly from a high-powered machine. Therefore, answering this question takes more than just a yes or no. Programming is possible on medium to slower devices, where the problem lies in loading and editing the projects. So, if you have large or complicated programs you are working on or do not have the time to sit and wait for your computer to render your projects, we suggest a more powerful laptop.
If you choose more power, you will be able to run your workflow smoother and faster, and you’ll be able to test your projects live much faster.
Which laptop processor is best for programming?
We explored this a bit in the review above, but to summarize quickly, the newest and best will always run well for programmers. However, if you want to spend a little less, any processor that is an 8th-generation intel processor or beyond should be able to operate for you. If you are an Apple fan, we have seen both Intel and Apple silicon work great for programming.
What laptop screen size is best for programming?
As mentioned above, this question is hard to answer without knowing more details. Essentially, it is up to personal preference. We have individuals on our team that swear by different-size screens for many reasons. This also can change based on whether you use an external monitor as your main display. The portable route would be to pick up something with an 11 – 14 inch display. This keeps the device maneuverable on a train, in a coffee shop, or on the go while still giving enough screen real estate to get work done. A 15-inch screen or larger becomes quite cumbersome, but at the same time, it grants significantly more space to see your work.
How much RAM do I need for programming?
Depending on the level of programming you are doing, different levels of RAM will be needed. For basic programming, 4GB of RAM is manageable. As file sizes get more complex or even larger, this laptop with only 4GB RAM may take longer to process. However, it can still get the job done in most basic jobs.
As the jobs get more complex in emulators and virtual machines and simply massive projects, it’s usually best to choose a laptop with upwards of 8 – 16GB of RAM or more.
Choosing the best programming laptop for you
As mentioned, there are several variables to consider when looking at a programming laptop. First and foremost, where do you plan on using this device? If your primary use will be at a desk, plugged into a whole setup with an external monitor(s), keyboard, and mouse, things like screen size and keyboard matter a little less. However, those elements become more important if you use this laptop at a coffee shop, on the train, at multiple workspaces, or even on the couch. Let’s break it down a little bit;
Focus on the laptop’s internals for laptops that will be used with peripherals. This includes the processor, RAM, and internal storage. Everything else can be enhanced with desk peripherals, i.e. a nice keyboard, external storage drives, a quality display, etc.
For laptops that will be used on the go frequently or consistently, elements such as the keyboard and screen, as well as the trackpad and storage, become very important as that will be your full workstation.
Which laptop for programming is best for you?
When choosing the best laptop for programming, start by considering your basic requirements. You’ll want to consider the laptop’s battery life. An all-day battery means you won’t have to lug around a charger everywhere. But if you’re mostly going to have your setup in one place, then a lower battery capacity will be fine too. If you work with many space-consuming files, opt for a laptop with high storage. Otherwise, you’ll have to carry an external hard drive around with you as well. Lastly, look for the connectivity ports, security features, display, and pricing.
How we tested the best laptop for programming
To test the best laptop for programming, we’ve looked at various aspects, like CPU, GPU, portability, storage, and design. We evaluated their overall performance and what kind of users they’d be best suited for. We analyzed their battery lives, security features, and display, and checked if they included additional accessories. We also considered their connectivity ports, weight, and pricing, among other things.
Read more on how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar (opens in new tab).