The Best Cheap Programming Laptop When Money is Tight


Lack of funds got you on the hunt for a cheap programming laptop?  You came to the right place.  Whether you’re a programming student, a professional or just building something revolutionary in your spare time, a laptop will help you program your ideas into reality.  But a good programming laptop isn’t just about sheer power.  The right combination of components will help increase your workflow.  There’s a lot of things to check off the list to ensure you end up with the right system.  But don’t worry.  We rounded up the best laptops available now and a guide to help you prioritize the specs.

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Cheap Programming LaptopReview

1. HP Pavilion 15

Last update on 2021-10-24 at 05:06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The HP Pavilion brand of notebooks has a component list that strives to be many things for many types of users.  So, what does it have to offer someone just starting out with basic programming?

BUILD:  As a mid-range line of laptops, the HP Pavilion 15 ditches some of the premium features of the Envy series notebooks to be more affordable.  And one such feature is a light weight:  It’s a little heavier than most Ultrabooks at 4.17-pounds.  However, it’s still light and slim enough to carry around.

DISPLAY:  The textured lid opens to reveal a 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution screen.  But low maximum brightness and poor color reproduction means you’ll want to flex those coding skills in well-lit environments. 

SPECS:  Power delivery comes from a 10th generation Intel Core i5-1035G1 CPU.  You also get a generous helping of memory with 8GB of RAM as well as a speedy 256GB SSD, and integrated Intel UHD Graphics G1.  That’s enough performance to complete several lines of codes without hiccups.

KEYBOARD:  Inputs include a full-size, island-style keyboard with an integrated numberpad – Keystrokes feel shallow but they have a crisp and satisfying snap.  The Clickpad is large and supports multi-touch gestures with integrated left and right mouse buttons.

PORTS:  Port options include a USB Type-C port, two USB 3.1 ports, HDMI, Ethernet and a headphone/mic jack combo.  You also get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth(R) 5 connections.

BATTERY LIFE:  You get all-day endurance of around 8-hours.

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2. Acer Aspire 5

Last update on 2021-10-24 at 07:36 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Another excellent option for the programmer on a tight budget is the Acer Aspire 5.  As an ­all-around laptop, it’s designed to handle almost anything you can throw at it.

BUILD:  The Aspire 5 series continues the tradition of serving as proof of Acer’s ability to produce budget laptops with solid components.  The lightweight chassis is made of plastic.  So, while the laptop is well-built.  There’s notable flex on the underside of the keyboard deck and lid.

DISPLAY:   The brightness level of the matte 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display is low compared to similar notebooks.  Color reproduction is also not one of the laptop’s strong points.

SPECS:  But this is the A515-54G-53H6 configuration which relies on the brand-new Comet Lake hardware:   Inside is a 10th Gen Intel Core i5-10210U CPU and 8GB DDR4 RAM.  Combined with a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD and a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce MX250 with 2GB of GDDR5 vRAM, you’ve got enough power for game development and graphics programming.

KEYBOARD:  There’s a usable number pad squeezed into the backlit keyboard.  The brightness levels are indistinct, and the keys have a somewhat spongy feel.  But key clatter is quiet.  The Clickpad is large, but it’s hard to know if you’ve made a click.

PORTS:  I/O connections include one USB Type-C port, two USB 3.1 ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, and the latest generation 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6.

BATTERY LIFE:  All this formidable performance and you get an internal battery with an 8-hour runtime, which is better than average.

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3. HP Spectre x360

Last update on 2021-10-24 at 08:10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you prefer the flexibility of a convertible laptop for programming and coding, the HP Spectre x360 is one of our favorites with a gorgeous design and top-notch features.

BUILD:  It has a luxurious design that’s stunning to behold in Dark Ash silver with copper luxe accents.  The chassis sports sleek diamond cut edges and a keyboard deck that isn’t affected by the laptop’s small footprint.

DISPLAY:  The 15.6-inch 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2560) touchscreen is surrounded by super slim micro-edge bezels.  It comes with HP’s Active Stylus.  And while it’s ridiculously colorful and sharp, we’re have to report that it’s annoyingly dim.

SPECS:  This unit comes packed with Intel’s 8th generation, Whisky Lake Core i7-8565U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD and a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card that delivers solid performance.  It’s just one of the best convertible laptops for programming.

KEYBOARD:  If you have big hands, you’ll love that the keys are nicely spaced with a good amount of travel and a pleasant click.  The matte palm rest is soft with a smooth, responsive integrated Clickpad.  And off to the right is a fingerprint reader for security.

PORTS:  The port selection is great for a 2-in-1, including one Thunderbolt 3 port, one USB Type-C, one USB-A port, HDMI, a headphone jack802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.

BATTERY LIFE:  Considering that this laptop comes with a 4K display and dedicated graphics, the 7-hour runtime is not bad.  But expect less when programming.

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4. Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Last update on 2021-10-24 at 13:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

You’ll never find a better detachable version of a 2-in-1 for programming.  The 7th iteration of the venerable Microsoft Surface Pro features a lot of drool-worthy features worth considering.

BUILD:  Ultra slim and light, the magnesium-alloy design feels high quality and it’s relatively compact and sleek.  The often-imitated built-in kickstand allows 165 degrees of range to offer the versatility of a studio and tablet.  The detachable keyboard is expectedly a little flimsy but easily attaches to the bottom of the device magnetically maintaining the laptop’s status as one of the best detachables.

DISPLAY:  The 12.3-inch 10-point touchscreen remains un-changed with a 2736 x 1824 resolution.  It’s just as sharp, vibrant and responsive as before.  But the bezels seem thick for a laptop of this price.

SPECS:  2x faster, it’s elevated by worthy upgrades like an Ice Lake 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G4 CPU, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and integrated Intel UHD G1 graphics to compile code efficiently.

KEYBOARD:  The adjustable backlit keyboard has deeper travel and a bouncier feel for a surprisingly comfortable typing experience.  And the touchpad tracks very smoothly with a fingerprint reader for secure login (Use the keyboard on a hard, flat surface for the best experience).

PORTS:  Another worthy upgrade is a USB Type-C port (sorry, no Thunderbolt 3).  The only other port is USB Type-A, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth.

BATTERY LIFE:  The big performance gains means battery life is limited to around 6 hours.

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5. Google PixelBook

Google Pixelbook (i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB)

  • Meet google pixelbook, the high performance chromebook. It’s the first laptop with the google assistant built inches press the google assistant key on your keyboard or say “Ok google” to get started. The google assistant is always ready to help
  • Features 7th gen intel core i7 processor, 16gb ram and 512gb for storage. The long lasting battery delivers up to 10 hours of use and it’s fast charging so you can get 2 hours of use in 15 minutes
  • 4 in 1 design adapts to whatever you’re doing with laptop, tablet, tent and entertainment modes. Access to favorite apps including google drive, g mail, YouTube, ever note, slack, infinite painter, light room, rob lox and many more
  • Pixelbook’s super thin and lightweight design measures 10.3 millimetre and weighs 2.45 pounds. Features a 12.3 inch 360 degree touchscreen display, a sleek aluminum body, corning gorilla glass and a backlit keyboard
  • Powered by chrome OS with automatic software updates so you’ll always have the latest virus protection. It starts up in less than 10 secs, stays fast throughout the day, and won’t slow down over time

Last update on 2021-10-24 at 07:36 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The price might be jarring.  But the Google PixelBook isn’t just a Chromebook.  It’s the high-performance Chromebook with useful horsepower to match the Microsoft Surface and MacBook devices for programming.

BUILD:  The convertible design adapts to whatever you’re doing.  At 2.5-poounds it’s lighter than many Chromebooks in its class.  And while not rugged, the brushed aluminum unibody design is durable.

DISPLAY:  The nearly Quad HD 2400 x 1600-pixel resolution on the 12.3-inch screen is stunning.  Not only is it colorful but it’s bright with plenty of detail; one of the best displays on any portable computer. 

SPECS:  Although it runs only ChromeOS and Android, the PixelBook features a 7th generation Sky Lake Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD for storage and integrated Intel HD 615 graphics.  And it features TPM technology to encrypt your most important data. 

KEYBOARD:  The backlit keyboard is among the best you’ll find on any laptop, period.  Along with the rubberized palm rest, it’s so comfortable you won’t mind typing for hours.  The edge-to-edge glass Clickpad provides accurate and smooth tracking and a solid feel to each click.  Unfortunately, the Google Assistant-powered Pen costs extra.

PORTS:  Connectivity options include two USB Type C ports, a headphone/mic jack, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. And un-like Chromebooks of the past, you’re not limited to apps from the Chrome Web Store.

BATTERY LIFE:  Battery endurance is shorter than the average at only around 7-hours.  But it does come with impressive fast charging technology.

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6. Asus Chromebook Flip C434

Sale

ASUS Chromebook Flip C434 2-In-1 Laptop, 14″ Full HD Touchscreen 4-Way NanoEdge, Intel Core M3-8100Y Processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC Storage, All-Metal Body, Backlit KB, Chrome OS- C434TA-DSM4T, Silver

  • 14 inch Touchscreen FHD 1920×1080 4-way NanoEdge display featuring ultra-narrow bezels (5mm thin) around each side of the display that allows for a 14 inch screen to fit in the body of a 13inch laptop footprint.
  • The FHD display has a durable 360 degree hinge that can be used to flip the touchscreen display to tent, stand, and tablet mode.
  • Powered by the Intel Core m3-8100Y Processor (up to 3.4 GHz) for super-fast and snappy performance. If you use a ton of tabs or run lots of apps, this has the power to get it all done with ease.
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM; 64GB eMMC storage and 2x USB Type-C (Gen 1) and 1s Type-A (Gen 1) ports plus a super bright backlit keyboard.
  • The lightweight (3lbs) all-aluminum metal body makes the C434 both durable and beautiful for a timeless look that will never go out of style.

Last update on 2021-10-24 at 07:36 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you’re an Android developer but you want to go even cheaper on your programming device.  The Asus Chromebook Flip C434 is better than its Chromebook Flip C302 predecessor.

BUILD:  The a sleek all metal body can easily be mistaken for a pricier ZenBook Ultrabook.  Two sturdy chrome hinges help you “flip” the Chromebook into different modes.

DISPLAY:  Open the C434 and you’ll find the 14-inch Full HD touchscreen surrounded by ultra-narrow NanoEdge bezels.  But while it’s sharp, bright and vivid.  The glossy panel is reflective.

SPECS:  Admittedly, the ChromeOS isn’t as nice for programming as Windows or the MacOS.  But equipped with an Intel Core M3-8100Y CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB eMMC storage, you’ve got plenty of oomph to satisfy your programming needs.  

And like the PixelBook, you get access to the Google Play store and its Android apps.  So, now you can get Microsoft Office apps like Outlook.

KEYBOARD:  The ErgoLife hinge lifts the backlit keyboard for a more comfortable typing experience.  Key travel is short but provides a solid typing experience.  The touchpad is a bit “jumpy” but responsive.

PORTS:  A super thin chassis means there’s not that much room for ports.  Still you get the essentials like two USB Gen 1 Type-C ports that both support charging, one USB Gen 1 Type-A port, a microSD card and headphone jack.

BATTERY LIFE:  The C434 extends its predecessor’s already respectable runtime to another hour so you get almost 10-hours of programming on a single charge.

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Last update on 2021-10-24 at 05:06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Cheap Programming Laptop Buying Guide

A cheap programming laptop needs to tick a lot of boxes based on the programming language you’re using – It’s a broad field and there are many programming languages used for coding.  As such, your laptop needs to be adequately speced to not only work with the programming language. 

But it needs to communicate with the compiler, interpreter, local server and code editors among other things.  Since it’s not just about sheer power, below is the ideal configuration of a laptop for programming.

OPERATING SYSTEM

Windows and the MacOS are the most widely used operating systems for programming.  Windows is the most preferred because the platform supports many programming languages.

Apple ecosystem development programs like Objective C and Swift require Xcode which is only available on Macs for the time being.  Linux is another fine option, especially if you’re a developer coding in Python, Ruby on Rails and PHP.  (These programs work well on Windows too.)

CPU

Time is of the essence.  You need a fast and efficient processor to execute codes in the least amount of time.  Whether you’re developing a website or a mobile app, you’ll need a laptop with a powerful processor.  Prioritize the ones that offer a quad-core CPU or higher.  It will help you load your code editors faster and compile and build your projects quickly, which will save you a lot of time.

A quad-core i5 CPU will suffice for most programming work.  But for something as intense as game development and programming graphics, laptops powered by at least a quad-core i7 processor will serve you well. 

However, if you just need a laptop to tinker with a few programming projects at home.  One with an Intel Core i3 processor will save you a lot of coin and still be able to get the job done.  But to future proof your investment, you still want a laptop with at least a Core i5 processor.

RAM

Think of RAM this way:  the more of it you have, the more programs you’ll be able to run simultaneously.  And the easier it will be for your system to switch between running applications.  What would that mean for you and your projects?

Heavier programs will require more memory.  And this area could be a potential bottleneck.  More RAM on your laptop will help run local servers, compilers, code editors and web browser efficiently and simultaneously. 

Now this doesn’t mean you should spend all your money on just this area alone.  8GB of RAM is enough to get you started.  But if the kind of programming you’re into is something like game development, graphics programming, CNC programming or any of these big boys, you’re going to need at least 16GB of RAM; maybe more.

HARD DRIVE

If you’re serious about programming, don’t even waste your time with MHDs (mechanical hard drives).  Among other things, they’re un-forgivably slow for this kind of work.

SSDs (solid-state drives) are faster by some margin.  SSDs significantly increase the overall speed of the laptop.  Which means a faster compile time and quick opening of code editors along with other software.  Put another way, an SSD increases your workflow.

Plus, it helps boot up your laptop and loads your saved projects faster so you can get to work on your great ideas immediately.  The extra performance boost alone makes an SSD more than worth it.

GRAPHICS CARD

You don’t need a dedicated graphics card for programming.  We’ll say it again, programming doesn’t require discrete graphics.  The new integrated GPUs from Intel and AMD are more powerful than ever before.  Which means they can run most of the programs your laptop will use for coding with no problem.

If you’re still not convinced or you would also like to use your laptop for playing a few PC games on your down time.  An entry-level card from NVIDIA or AMD with 2GB of vRAM should be sufficient.  But for game developing or any other intense coding that demands more horsepower from the GPU.  A laptop with a dedicated graphics card is a non-negotiable.

WEB CAMERA

For video conferencing with clients or your classmates and professor, you’ll need a laptop with a good web cam.  At the time of this writing many laptops still only come with a 720-pixel web camera.  While it’s still the current standard, you get a lot of visual noise which makes them a bit frustrating to use. 

The good news is we are starting to see more laptops that offer a web cam with 1080p.  Unfortunately, they’re exclusive to high-end systems which cost a pretty penny.  You could always hook an external web cam to your laptop; you can easily find a good one with clear picture and sound for less than a hundred bucks on Amazon.

KEYBOARD

We don’t need to tell you that programming and coding involves a lot of typing.  You, my friend, need a comfortable keyboard with keys that offer plenty of travel to keep your fingers from getting fatigued.  And a smooth, responsive touchpad goes a long way to ensure you don’t accidently click on things you didn’t mean to click.

DISPLAY

While we’re on the subject of comfort, programming is a largely visual activity as you’ll be staring at your screen for hours.  You want that to be a pleasant experience, don’t you? 

You need a laptop that offers good resolution.  Make sure the laptop you choose comes with anti-glare coating to minimize reflections.  IPS will help so you don’t have to stare at the screen dead-on when working.  These two features alone will go a long way in minimizing symptom like eye strain caused by prolonged coding sessions. 

Cheap Programming Laptop Brands

HP

One of the oldest electronics brands, HP has very strong reviews, stellar designs, impressive innovations, top-notch value and selection.  All of which has helped it go head to head with the best laptop brands in the world.  The latest laptops take design cues from their contemporaries to raise standards even higher.  These notebooks are fast, powerful, and supported by a very competent customer service.  Innovations include an AMOLED version of the Spectre x360, which delivers a brighter and more vibrant display than the standard version.

ACER

This is one of the largest manufacturers in the world and their laptops are extremely popular among budget users for a reason.  Acer continues to offer one of the best overall selections around, with mainstream and gaming options catering to every budget.  You get Chromebooks that are available from just $150 as well as 2 in 1s.  But they also produce high-end gaming laptops like the Predator series and premium notebooks.  You get what you pay for, and Acer laptops are usually the best value for the money.  Their most popular line is the E series and Aspire notebooks like the amazing Aspire 7.  Support for their notebooks leaves plenty to be desired, though. 

MICROSOFT

While offering a solid lineup of laptops and tablets, Microsoft improves its selection by adding the budget-friendly Surface Go.  The Surface Book 2 with one of the best battery endurance times also helps this brand earn a spot on many top 10 lists.  They take a best of both worlds approach to deliver formidable laptops like the Surface line.  They don’t offer Chromebooks.  But you can choose from many 2 in 1 laptops.  Not all the company’s offerings are amazing, however.  But as Microsoft continues to establish itself as competitive brand, we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

GOOGLE

Chromebooks are probably best known for exclusively using the ChromeOS.  While you won’t see the Google laptop brand on any top 10 lists.  The speedy and attractive PixelBook is one of the best Chromeooks around.  With a premium design and the long-anticipated access to the Google Play store and its Android apps, the company has worked hard to make the PixelBook perfectly suited for business class travelers.  And now with the introduction of the Google PixelBook Pro, it will be interesting to see how this iteration stacks up against its predecessor in the years to come.

ASUS

The design of these laptops is always impressive, and you get a wide selection of products to choose from.  The most popular line is the VivoBook, and you can easily find Chromebooks and 2 in 1s here.  Innovations include:  a ScreenPad and ErgoLyft hinge.  If nothing else, what earns Asus the #1 spot on many laptop brand lists is the fantastic all-around capabilities of their laptops.  From the thin and light ZenBooks, to affordable Chromebooks and powerful gaming machines like the ROG Zephyrus S, this brand earns the top spot on our list too.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m a front-end developer.  What kind of CPU should I be looking for?

A back-end developer will likely need to install the local server and set up virtual machines, which will require a robust processor to handle the workload.  Front development isn’t as resource heavy; you’ll do well with an Intel Core i3 or Core i5.

How much memory do I need for hybrid mobile development?

If you work with programs like Android Studio and XCode, you’ll need a minimum of 8GB of RAM.  But to give you more head room we recommend 16GB.

Last update on 2021-10-24 at 05:06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

To Sum Up

A programmer like you uses lines of code to create all kinds of computer programs and mobile apps.  You even work to analyze the needs of your clients to create technical solutions that solve problems.  To do all that, you need a great laptop.  But it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.  The HP Pavilion 15 is an excellent choice for beginners because it boasts a 10th gen Core i5 and a powerful integrated graphics card.  We like the Acer Aspire 5 because it offers similar specs and an entry-level discrete graphics card from NVIDIA.  Not only does the HP Spectre x360 look luxurious, but the luxury extends inside with robust hardware.