The best laptops for programming in 2021

Included in this guide:

Two Dell XPS 15 laptops back to back with their screens open


XPS 15 (2020)

Macbook Air with the M1 chip, facing forwards with the screen open and a colourful desktop showing


MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

LG Gram 17 (2021) thin and light laptop with the screen open, showing Windows 10 interface


Gram 17 (2021)

The Huawei MateBook 13 laptop with the screen open showing Windows 10 interface and the Start menu


MateBook 13

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) with the screen open showing a colourful macOS background


MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Surface Laptop 4 with desktop wallpaper and white background


Surface Laptop 4

HP Spectre x360 (2021) 2-in-1 laptop with screen open showing the Windows 10 desktop


Spectre x360 (2021)

Two Dell Inspiron 14 5000 laptops, one with the screen open showing a photo of the beach, the other one is closed


Inspiron 14 5000

Lenovo ThinkPad P1 laptop open with the desktop showing


ThinkPad P1 (Gen 2)

Pixelbook Go with the screen open showing the Chrome OS desktop


Pixelbook Go

Best laptops for programming: woman at laptop

Picking the best laptops for programming doesn’t have to be complicated, as on this page we’ve rounded up the top laptops you can buy for coding on in 2021.

No matter if you’re a professional programmer, or you enjoy coding for fun, on this page there will be the ideal laptop for you.

So, what makes a good laptop for programming on? You’ll want plenty of power, and that means having a modern multi-core processor from Intel, AMD or even Apple. That’s right, since the launch of the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13-inch last year, Apple makes its own M1 chips for its laptops, and it’s proved to be an excellent move, with M1-powered MacBooks offering excellent coding performance.

You’ll also want plenty of RAM to help you multitask. While coding itself in an integrated development environment (IDE) application doesn’t require that much computing power, the more powerful the laptop you use, the faster it will compile your code when your testing it out, for example. If you need to do lots of compiling, then the time saved with a fast laptop can mount up, giving you more time to take on more projects, or kick back and relax.

The best laptops for programming should also have large high resolution screens that are comfortable to work on for long periods of time. The higher the resolution, the more code you can see at once, which cuts down on scrolling.

A great laptop for coding will also come with a brilliant keyboard that’s comfortable and responsive, as you’re going to be typing out a lot of code on it. Also, if you’re doing game development, then you’ll want a laptop that can play your game while you test it, so a laptop with a graphics card is worth considering.

Also, it’s a good idea to complement your laptop with some top accessories too. Check out our guides to the best keyboard, the best mouse and best monitor

With Black Friday 2021 coming on November 26, we should see some excellent deals for the laptops on this page start to pop up, so now’s a perfect time to shop around, and our built-in price comparison tool can help you find the very best prices.

The best laptops for programming available now

01. Dell XPS 15 (2020)

The best laptop for programming overall


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The Dell XPS 15 (2020) is in our view the best laptop for programming right now. As with previous XPS laptops, this 15-inch beauty combines a stunning design, excellent build quality and some of the most powerful mobile components you’ll find in a laptop.

It’s thin and light, which not only means this looks and feels like a premium laptop for programming on, but it’s also comfortable to carry around with you as well. It’s high resolution 15.6-inch display is great for working on, and with high-end processors (and even graphics cards in some configurations), the Dell XPS 15 can compile code incredibly fast – making it ideal for programmers. Plus, if you go for a model with a GPU by Nvidia, you can test out your games while coding them.

Perhaps best of all, its battery life is excellent, which means you don’t have to be tethered to a desk if you want to use this powerful laptop.

A renewed laptop for programming


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

After a much-needed refresh, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) brought a number of great updates that make it one of the best laptops for programming.

While the 13-inch MacBook Pro (also on this list) is more powerful, the thinner and lighter (and more affordable) MacBook Air now comes with the same Apple-made M1 chip as the the Pro, which means it’s no slouch when it comes to programming.

Best of all, the new MacBook Air is the same price as the previous model, so you’re getting a noticeable boost in performance and battery life for no extra money!

The power of the M1 chip speeds up the time it takes to compile code – which will have a big impact on your workflow. The new MacBook Air is also as portable as ever, with a seriously lightweight design that makes it easy to carry around with you – and perfect for programmers who do a lot of travelling. 

The M1 chip isn’t just powerful – it’s also efficient – which means the new MacBook Air has a brilliant battery life as well.

03. LG Gram 17 (2021)

The best large-screen laptop for programming


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

If you’re after a large-screen laptop to do your coding on, then the LG Gram 17 (2021) is the perfect choice. It has a gorgeous screen that’s high resolution and large, giving you plenty of workspace. However, this is a laptop that proves you don’t have to sacrifice portability and comfort for screen size, as it’s impressively light. This means you can comfortably carry it around with you – perfect for anyone who travels a lot.

It’s also got one of the best battery lives we’ve seen in a Windows 10 laptop, mainly thanks to the new Intel 11th generation hardware that’s powering this new laptop for 2021. So, you can work anywhere you like, safe in the knowledge that the battery will easily last you a whole work day – and longer.

04. Huawei MateBook 13

For portability, performance and price, this is a brilliant all-rounder


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The Huawei MateBook 13 is one of the best laptops for programming, especially for coders on a budget. Huawei is perhaps best known for its excellent smartphones, which won over critics by offering the kind of features and build quality you’d expect from more expensive competitors, and it’s done the same with its laptops.

For a (relatively) modest asking price, you’re getting all the power of a Core i5 or Core i7, a crisp, bright, high-resolution 13-inch display, and loads of SSD storage.

If you’ve been eyeing up Apple and Dell laptops in this roundup, but find them too expensive, then the MateBook 13 is a fantastic alternative.

What’s more, it’s super portable too, weighing just 1.3kg and less than 1.5cm thick.

A brilliantly powerful laptop for programming on


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The latest MacBook Pro from Apple is a brilliant laptop for programming on. It features Apple’s own M1 chip, like the new MacBook Air, and this allows it to run apps with ease, and compile code quickly.

It’ll run your programming tools without any issues, and it comes with the Touch Bar across the top of the keyboard, giving you quick access to tools and shortcuts, and can dramatically speed up your workflow.

Perhaps best of all, it comes with an improved keyboard that’s not just more reliable than the previous model’s keyboard, but is also much more comfortable to work on.

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) also boasts the longest battery life ever seen in a MacBook. We’ve tested it ourselves and it’s seriously impressive, allowing you to work all day and still have battery life left.

Windows programming on Microsoft’s own hardware


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

If you’re a programmer working on Windows 10 apps in particular, then the Surface Laptop 4 could be the best laptop for you. As it’s made by Microsoft, this is a brilliant showcase for Windows 10, so you can be sure your Windows apps run perfectly on the operating system. With Windows 11 now out, you can upgrade for free, and as you’d expect from a Microsoft device, the new operating system works brilliantly on it.

This recent model comes with a choice of new 11th generation Intel Core processors, or AMD’s finest mobile CPUs, as well as up to 32 GB and a speedy SSD, which makes this an excellent laptop for even most intense of programming tasks.

Best of all, it has one of the longest battery lives we’ve seen in a laptop, which allows you to work out and about without worrying about being plugged into a wall socket.

07. HP Spectre x360 (2021)

The best 2-in-1 laptop for programming


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The HP Spectre x360 (2021) 2-in-1 laptop had a big refresh for 2021, and now packs some of the most impressive mobile hardware money can buy right now. This means new 11th-generation Intel Core processors, along with Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, which makes the HP Spectre x360 an absolute beast when it comes to programming.

It’s not just a powerful programming laptop, it’s gorgeous as well, with a 2-in-1 design and gem-cut body that’s thin, light and easily portable.

It’s got a great battery life, so you can comfortably work on it all day without worrying about having to plug it in. The 2-in-1 design means you can use it like a traditional laptop, but you can then fold the screen back and use it as a tablet as well. It offers a level of versatility that many of the other devices on this list lack.

08. Dell Inspiron 14 5000

A great laptop for programming if you’re on a budget


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 is a great all-round laptop for programming, and it costs a lot less than many of the laptops on this list, but without skimping on features or performance.

So, it’s got a high resolution Full HD display, a quad-core processor and fast SSD storage, all of which means this is a dependable laptop that will keep up with any of your demands while you’re programming.

Sure, it doesn’t boast the premium style of its more expensive competitors, but if you’re on a tight budget, and you want a laptop that will do everything that you need it to, and you don’t care about visual flair or features that you’re never going to use in your day-to-day programming, then this is definitely a laptop worth considering.

09. Lenovo ThinkPad P1 (Gen 2)

Professional-grade premium performance


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

If you’re after a laptop to take your programming to another level, then the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 is worth considering.

This seriously powerful workstation laptop offers professional-grade Xeon processors, with up to six cores, an Nvidia Quadro T2000 graphics card and up to 64GB of memory.

You can stuff it with up to 4TB of nVME SSD storage, and opt for a 15.6-inch 4K display that’s not only touch-sensitive but colour-accurate too. It’s a great general-purpose workstation, capable of all kinds of visual design work and heavy lifting processor-intensive tasks. 

Of course, it works great for coding as well. That’s partly thanks to Lenovo’s excellent keyboard design, but in general, the ThinkPad P1 is superbly built, including a semi-rugged chassis that can survive light knocks, and a very healthy selection of ports.

10. Google Pixelbook Go

An excellent Android development platform capable of running full-fat Linux


Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

For Android developers, a Chromebook might seem a natural choice for the best possible integration with Google’s software and services, with full support for running Android software natively. However, many Chromebooks are designed to be highly affordable, with lower-spec features and performance suffering to bring the price down.

The Pixelbook Go is an upgrade from more basic models, designed to compete with the bigger laptop manufacturers. It still runs ChromeOS, which supports Google’s Android Studio development tools, but the hardware is right up there with a standard Windows laptop. You can also run Linux apps as well.

The Pixelbook Go is certainly the best Chromebook ever made. It packs some impressive hardware, including an Intel Core i7 processor, a choice of 8GB or 16GB RAM and a large and vibrant 1,920 x 1,080 screen or 4K touch screen if you really want to show off.

This all makes it a fantastic laptop for programming on, with performance that matches most Windows 10 laptops, but with an incredibly long-lasting battery that means the Pixelbook Go will keep on going even after many Windows 10 laptops give up the ghost.

Best laptops for programming: What to look for

Programming can be done on many different types of machines but many programmers want something more than just a basic laptop. While you don’t necessarily need a powerhouse of a laptop to code on, if you need to compile your code, and test out the games you’re working on, for example, then you’ll want a laptop with plenty of RAM and a modern multi-core processor. They are able to compile code much more quickly. And, the less time you have to spend waiting for your laptop to complete complex tasks, the more time you have to do other things – such as take on more projects.

Screen size is really important when selecting one of the best laptops for programming. You’ll get more on a 15-inch screen than a smaller one, for example, so it’s easier to read through code and make GUI adjustments. Of course, with a bigger display you sacrifice portability. 

Also consider getting an Intel Core i5 processor as a minimum – that level of power isn’t exceptional but it will guarantee you enough performance, especially if you’re doing things like working with complex website layouts that have a lot of background code. Large, complex programs compile faster with a faster processor.

Graphics can also be key depending on the development work you’re doing. If you’re working with game development in an environment such as Unreal Engine or Unity then you need to consider the graphical requirements of those apps. Don’t miss our round up of the best graphics cards if this is something you might need. 

And remember it’s a good idea to use an operating system that’s aligned with your goals. Want to develop in Xcode for the iPhone, iPad and Mac? Then you’re going to need a Mac.

Plus, the faster your laptop can compile code, the less time you’ll be spending waiting around, and that can mean you’re more productive, and are able to take on more projects.

The best laptops for programming are essential tools for any developer that wants a powerful machine to work on, while also being portable enough that they can take it out and about with them, and work almost anywhere.

Meanwhile, you may also want to see our guide to the best laptops for Photoshop and best laptops for graphic design.

How much RAM do I need for coding?

If you’re looking for a laptop for coding on, then you’ll want to make sure it comes with plenty of RAM. The more RAM a laptop has, the better it is at multitasking, so you can have multiple apps running at once.

It’ll also help you compile your code quickly, while also letting you test and run your apps and games. The faster you can do this, the more productive you’ll be.

So, we recommend at least 8GB of RAM for coding on a laptop, but ideally you should go for 16GB, or if your budget can stretch to it, 32GB. That’s only necessary for seriously heavy workloads, however.

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