Best laptops for programming and coding in 2022
There are so many factors to consider when choosing the perfect computer for a programmer or software developer. We break them down and offer suggestions to suit different preferences
As IT professionals know very well, a good laptop is unmatched in delivering the best quality of work. Of course, a tablet and desktop PC also have distinct qualities. However, there is nothing quite as useful as having the comfort of a high-powered computer that is also easy to carry around. Hence, although the other two devices are useful, it’s the humble laptop that is like no other hardware.
Programmers, coders, software developers, and engineers are professions that depend greatly on the quality of a laptop. From keyboard and port options to processing power and the type of operating system, several factors come into play when choosing the perfect laptop for a professional programmer or coder. Even display size should be taken into account – after all, can you imagine trying to find a coding error on the 7.1 x 4.3-inch screen of a GPD Pocket laptop?
However, the most important quality when searching for the best laptop for programming and coding is its ability to make work not feel like work. This means that the perfect device needs to combine all the most helpful features with being a pure pleasure to use – without constant lagging, heavy lifting, or bad design.
Taking all of these issues into account can seem like an overwhelming task when you have limited time to find a new laptop. Hence, IT Pro has collated some of the best offerings on the market, based on the most common programming, coding, software development, and engineering needs.
The size of the display will make an enormous difference to certain developers. More specifically, it will matter more to those with smaller external displays, or no external displays at all.
If using a laptop, most programmers opt for at least one external monitor in addition to their laptop’s built-in screen for maximum productivity. However, some programmers own multiple external displays and don’t need to have their laptop open at all, having it simply act more like a mobile tower computer rather than an all-in-one workhorse.
Laptops typically come in sizes ranging from 13 inches to 16 inches, but the short answer is bigger is better in nearly all cases. Looking at multiple lines of code between project files can be tricky on smaller screens and running a simulator on the same window can make for an uncomfortable experience if coding just on the laptop itself.
If you go for a smaller display, make sure you have a good amount of screen estate in your overall set-up, such as one or two external 27-inch displays. They don’t need to be expensive, 4K panels – programming values space over resolution.
Type of keyboard
There are so many factors that differentiate one keyboard from the next, and what keyboard is considered best can be quite subjective. The type of key switch, size of the keyboard, and how much you can customise it also come into play so, above all else, it’s worth getting hands-on with a variety of keyboards before you buy to find your favourite type of configuration.
What’s more objective, though, is the need for a comfortably sized keyboard. Key switches come in myriad different styles but keyboard sizes typically have just the two: keyboards with number pads and those without them. You will often find the number pads on laptop keyboards go unused in programming and they can, in certain installations, offset the keyboard away from the centre of the display, which can be off-putting if using the laptop’s keyboard to type regularly, rather than an external board.
Key switches also vary significantly between laptops and keyboard manufacturers. Membrane keys are most commonly found on less expensive office keyboards while mechanical keys come in different sensitivities and levels of tactile and audible feedback. The latter are trendier but are found less commonly on laptops and need to be thoroughly tested before buying as they can be an acquired taste.
Processing power and storage
Software or web development isn’t typically the most compute-heavy workload when compared to job functions that involve things like video editing and running data analyses, for example. Regardless, the likelihood of having multiple applications running at the same time, as is the case in most office environments, will demand high-performance hardware such as CPUs and RAM to get the job done efficiently.
It’s also worth considering the amount of storage space you will need and the type of storage required. We recommend going for as much storage as you can afford and choosing solid state drives (SSDs) over traditional hard drive disks (HDDs).
SSDs have historically been much more expensive than HDDs but prices have dropped considerably in recent years and the slightly pricier type of drive will allow you to access the files you need at lightning speed, comparatively speaking.
Our picks for best computers for programmers
Below you can find some of our top picks for programmers choosing their next computer. Each one has its unique selling point and a reason why it will be favoured among different individuals.
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
Best Mac for programming and coding
MacBook Airs have been Apple’s answer to the ultra-portable notebook for several years now, but with the addition of the company’s in-house processor, the M1 chip, they are now serious contenders for professional workloads too.
All that extra power gained in recent years has not raised the price of the series of notebooks either. Starting at $999, the MacBook Air will suit almost all programmers, coders, and software developers, with all major IDEs able to run on it without any issues.
If you’re a mobile developer using the Swift or SwiftUI programming languages, you'll need a Mac to program for Apple’s ecosystem, as Xcode is not available on other operating systems.
|8-core 3.2GHz/2.1GHz Apple M1 chip with 8-core GPU|
13.3in 2,560 x 1,600
304 x 212 x 16.1mm
Price when reviewed: £1,374
Read our full Apple MacBook Air M1 review for more information.
Dell XPS 15
Best for those looking for high quality
Dell’s XPS range has always been the main rival to Apple’s line of MacBooks and for good reason. The XPS line consistently packs incredible performance into a small, aesthetically pleasing form factor which also brings with it a stunning display, every time.
The latest 15-inch model is up there with the very best MacBook rivals and the display is one of the standout features. A stunning 4K OLED panel displays everything in crisp detail but it does impede battery life. In IT Pro's tests, the machine managed a little more than seven hours when rivals last markedly longer. However, developers don't often do any lengthy work on batteries. Programmers are usually stationed at a desk, hooked up to multiple external monitors and mains power, but it's something to consider, nonetheless.
Another key selling point for the XPS 15 is its fantastic performance, which was just shy of the scores posted by desktop workstations, as well as its upgradability in the memory and storage departments.
Intel Core i7-1180H
15.6in, 3840 x 2400 touchscreen
354 x 230 x 18mm
Price when reviewed: £2,040 exc VAT
Read our full Dell XPS 15 review for more information.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Best for those looking for a top 2-in-1
Unlike many 2-in-1 machines on the market, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is truly fit for business. One of the best devices of its kind that IT Pro has ever tested, the tablet-cum-laptop offers decent performance and 17-hour battery life to boot.
The real business benefit is its omni-capability - it functions not only as a tablet and a laptop but also as a bespoke presentation system thanks to its clever Stage mode. So whether it's building the next big feature for your application or website, or presenting your hard work to the higher-ups, the device is versatile enough to bring solid performance in many working setups.
The performance of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is good, but don't expect it to be beating the MacBook Pros or the Dell XPS 15 any time soon, however, it should be plenty suitable for programming. Running real-time simulators for tasks like app development may degrade the performance a little though, so if that's a core part of your workflow then perhaps consider something more powerful.
Intel Core i7-11370H
14.4in 2,400 x 1,600 touchscreen
323 x 228 x 19mm
Price when reviewed: £2,399
Read our full Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review for more information.
Asus Chromebook CX9 (CX9400CE)
Best for those who need a Chromebook with style
Chromebooks aren't often the first option that's likely to spring to mind for developers looking for a work machine, but increasing Linux support in ChromeOS is making it a more and more feasible option. If you are looking for a Chromebook for coding, then you can do much, much worse than the Asus Chromebook CX9.
Being among the more expensive Chromebooks available on the market, you would expect strong performance and it does indeed deliver, but not in excess. The performance is solid, but there are other far more powerful laptops on the market that are worth considering if pace is your priority. That said, in our tests, we ran into no issues running multiple applications concurrently and what's more, the CX9 runs quietly and cool.
The battery life on the CX9 is fine. It beats a lot of the high-powered machines in this list but not by a considerable margin with a score of 10hrs 47mins, and many programmers will favour power over battery life given the task at hand. Still, it's a highly capable device that delivers decent performance, all bundled into a strong and light chassis. If it has to be a Chromebook, then make it this one.
Intel Core i7-1165G7
14in 1,920 x 1,080
322 x 205 x 16mm
Price when reviewed: £1,084
Read our full Asus Chromebook CX9 (CX9400CE) review for more information.
Razer Book 13
Best for those looking for a near-perfect all-rounder
Renowned for its dominance in the gaming space, Razer's first attempt at a business-focused laptop does away with the gimmicky gaming features (RGB lighting is still an option, though) and delivers outstanding performance that lends itself perfectly for programming.
We struggled to find a fault with the Razer Book 13 in almost any metric when we reviewed it in 2021. Everything from the premium build quality, and the hardware performance, all the way to the keyboard which struck an ideal balance between mechanical and muted switches, was superb.
The Razer Book 13 even bucks the trend when it comes to battery life. With no noticeable trade-off between performance and longevity, the machine ran for 10hrs 48ins in our tests - much longer than the XPS 15 - making it perfect for the typical working day.
Intel Core i7-1165G7
13.4in 1,920 x 1,200
296 x 199 x 15mm
Price when reviewed: £1,317 exc VAT
Read our Razer Book 13 review for more information.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga
Best for those seeking a joyous typing experience
This list wouldn't be complete without a ThinkPad - the business notebook. This isn't simply a check-box inclusion, though, the keyboards on ThinkPads have traditionally been a delight to use and the X1 Titanium Yoga's is no exception.
The breed of users who seek out excellent typing experiences will appreciate the fast, crisp buttons on the X1 Titanium Yoga's keyboard, and the actuation is so fast the keys practically bounce back after being pressed. The device is slim and light too while keeping a sturdy chassis. Weighing in at just over 1kg, it's among the lightest in its product category and remained quiet and cool throughout our time with it.
We must say that the X1 Titanium Yoga's performance leaves much to be desired, and the trackpad that sits under the fantastic keyboard disappointed with a rough coating and required too much force to click. For this reason, programmers may want to opt for something a little more capable of heavy workloads.
Intel Core i7-1160G7
13.5in 2,256 x 1,504 touchscreen
298 x 232 x 11.5mm
Price when reviewed: £1,814 exc VAT
Read our full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga review for more information.
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