Best laptop for programming in 2021: top picks for coders, developers and sysadmins
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(Image credit: Future)

Consider more than just raw power when looking at the best laptop for programming. Storage, speed, and a comfortable keyboard are just as vital if you’re coding on a laptop. Look past the clock speeds, cores, and threads, when searching for the right laptop for you.

It’s true that you’ll need one of the best processors for the best programming and coding laptop, but a speedy machine also means speedy memory and storage, like one of the best SSDs. When you’re coding and testing, the last thing you want are any potential bottlenecks. And, a swift laptop will save time when loading and running your projects. That not only means time saved but a streamlined workflow.

Also, they might not be the first things that come to mind but make sure the laptop has a great screen and comes with the best keyboard you can find. You don’t want the display to strain your eyes after hours of use. And, you don’t want to deal with an uncomfortable keyboard when you’ve been typing for long periods of time.

Don’t worry if that sounds like a lot to keep track of. We’ve collected our favorites for the best laptop for programming to help you get the right one for you. Whether you’re looking for a Windows 10 machine, a macOS, or even some of the best Chromebooks, we’ve got you covered.

(Image credit: HP)

1. HP Spectre x360 (2021)

The best laptop for programming in 2021

Specifications

CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7

Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: 13.3″ FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS BrightView micro-edge WLED-backlit multitouch – 13.3″ diagonal 4K (3840 x 2160) UWVA BrightView micro-edge AMOLED multitouch

Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+Gorgeous design+Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid

Fans can get noisyPricey

The HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 laptop had a big refresh for 2021, and the boost in specs, with 11th-generation Intel Core processors and Intel Iris Xe graphics, along with the impeccable 2-in-1 design and pristine gem-cut chassis, 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 impressively long battery life, which means that you’re getting one of the best laptops on the market, hands down. As such, it’s also the best laptop for programming right now.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360 (2021)

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

A stunning laptop for programming

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1

Graphics: Integrated 7-core /8-core GPU

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) 2,560 x 1,600 LED-backlit display with IPS technology

Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61cm; W x D x H)

Reasons to buy

+Silent to use+Amazing battery life

Reasons to avoid

No new designFanless design could impact performance

The new Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) isn’t just the best laptop Apple has ever made, it’s one of the best laptops for programmers. Thanks to the revolutionary ARM-based Apple M1 chip that powers the new MacBook Air (Apple has ditched Intel for these new laptops), this is a stunning achievement: a thin and light laptop that offers great performance, while also offering incredible battery life. Easily managing over 11 hours on a single charge, this is a laptop you can easily carry around with you at work or school. Its screen is gorgeous and the new and improved keyboard means you can happily code away for hours on this thing. 

Read the full review: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Image credit: Lenovo (Image credit: Lenovo)

3. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme laptop

Great power, massive price tag

Specifications

CPU: up to 8th-generation Intel Core i7

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti with Max-Q design

RAM: up to 64GB

Screen: 15.6” FHD (1920 x 1080) – 15.6” 4K UHD HDR (3840 x 2160) multi-touch

Storage: up to 1TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+So much power+Glorious 4K screen+Great user experience

Reasons to avoid

HeavyExpensive

If you have the funds for an unstoppable workhorse, then Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme mobile workstation is the best laptop for programming for you. This gets our vote as one of the best Lenovo laptops for many reasons. It has several configurations on hand, depending on your needs and budget, but 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.

Read the full review: ThinkPad X1 Extreme Mobile Workstation

(Image credit: Apple)

4. MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

An incredibly powerful workstation

Specifications

CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9

Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M – Radeon Pro 5500M

RAM: 16GB – 64GB

Screen: 16-inch Retina display with True Tone

Storage: 512GB – 8TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+Stunning 16-inch screen+New and improved keyboard

Reasons to avoid

ExpensiveLimited to four Thunderbolt 3 ports

When you’re looking for the best laptop for programming, especially if you’re developing software for macOS, you’re eventually going to find yourself looking at the MacBook Pro. And, the new MacBook Pro, with its powerful processor and heaps of RAM, is the fastest MacBook that the Cupertino tech behemoth has ever birthed. As thin, light and sleek as ever, this doesn’t feel like a 16-inch behemoth. If you’re worried that this was going to be bulky and awkward to use, don’t be. Yet, despite its svelte frame, you’re still getting that extra real estate on that stunning display, as well as the latest and greatest components behind it. Apple then rounds those out with amazing (and loud) speakers and a much, much better keyboard. This is truly the best MacBook for content creators, designers and other creative professionals.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

(Image credit: LG)

5. LG Gram 17

A super-light 17-inch laptop for programming

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7

Graphics: Intel Iris Plus

RAM: 16GB

Screen: 17-inch 1600p (2,560 x 1,600)

Storage: 2 x 512GB SSD

Reasons to buy

+Lightweight design+Beautiful screen+Long battery life

Reasons to avoid

U-series processorNot very rigid

Usually when you’re going for a 17-inch laptop, you have to give up any notion of portability. Typically laptops of this size are these gigantic bulky things, packed with the most powerful components to attract creative professionals. However, while the LG Gram 17 abandons the full-fat H-series processors for Intel Ice Lake Ultrabook-class chips, it makes up for that by being a 17-inch laptop that’s as light as a 13-inch one. 

This all 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 wherecever you go.

When you couple that lightweight design with the fact that the battery lasted more than 14 hours in our testing, you have the recipe for the perfect laptop for programming on.

Read the full review: LG Gram 17

(Image credit: Microsoft)

6. Microsoft Surface Pro 7

A great tablet for programmers

Specifications

CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i3 – i7

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics – Iris Plus Graphics

RAM: 4GB – 16GB

Screen: 12.3” PixelSense Display

Storage: 128GB – 1TB

Connectivity: 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 (2 x 2 MIMO), Bluetooth 5

Camera: 8MP rear-facing, auto-focus camera (1080p HD); 5MP front-facing, 1080p HD camera

Weight: 1.7 pounds (771g)

Size: 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches (292 x 201 x 8.5mm; W x D x H)

Reasons to buy

+USB-C finally+Now with Wi-Fi 6

Reasons to avoid

Overall loss in battery lifeUSB-C isn’t Thunderbolt 3

The seventh iteration of Microsoft’s award-winning product may not be the generational leap many Microsoft tablets have been waiting for, but it offers some improvements from its predecessor. This 2-in-1 tablet aimed at pros has received impressive gains in power, making it more capable than ever as a laptop alternative. Also, it now boasts a USB-C port and Wifi 6 connectivity. With its quad-core processors and plenty of RAM, you’ll be able to compile code quickly and efficiently, even when you’re on the move. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to pay extra for the Type Cover – you’re not going to want to get any coding done on a touch screen, trust us.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro 7

(Image credit: Google)

7. Google Pixelbook Go

The best Chromebook for programming

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core m3 – Intel Core i7

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: 13.3-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) or 4K LCD touchscreen

Storage: 128GB – 256GB eMMC

Reasons to buy

+Incredible battery life+Amazing ‘Hush’ keyboard

Reasons to avoid

Iffy pricing at mid- to- high-endNo biometric login

Google’s Pixelbook Go is the best Chromebook money can buy right now, and it’s also a fantastic laptop for programming. Coming with a more affordable price tag than its predecessor, the Pixelbook, Google’s latest Chromebook still packs plenty of the premium features the original came with, including an amazing battery life, and one of the best keyboards we’ve used on a laptop – an important consideration when looking for a laptop for programming in.

Sure, it doesn’t use Windows 10 – instead it runs Chrome OS – but for most programmers, especially web developers, this won’t be an issue. You can also install Linux on this thing as well, which makes it an even more versatile laptop for programming.

It features some impressive specs for a Chromebook, which ensures that Chrome OS positively flies on this device, and puts its performance on par with many of the more expensive Windows laptops and MacBooks.

Read the full review: Google Pixelbook Go

(Image credit: Asus)

8. Asus Chromebook Flip C436F/C436FA

A whole lotta hits

Specifications

CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i3 – i5

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics

RAM: 8GB – 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3

Screen: 14” LED-backlit Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 display

Storage: 512GB / 256GB / 128GB PCIe® NVMe 3.0x 2 M.2 SSD

Reasons to buy

+Superb performance+Premium build and features+Impressive keyboard

Reasons to avoid

Subpar speakersErratic touchpadTouch display not accurate enough

Premium Chromebooks occupy their own space in the laptop market, bridging that gap between powerful traditional laptops and super lightweight Chromebooks. And, the Asus Chromebook Flip C436F is perhaps one of the very few examples of these out there, with its combination of superb power, terrific feature set, premium build and a price tag that’s cheaper than its rivals. That makes this portable perfect for web developers who need a powerful machine.

Read the full review: Asus Chromebook Flip C436F

(Image credit: Apple)

9. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Apple’s little MacBook Pro gets a big refresh

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU

Graphics: Integrated 8-core GPU

RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory

Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 LED-backlit Retina display

Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Dimensions (H x W x D): 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56 cm

Reasons to buy

+Huge battery life+Great performance+Can run iOS apps

Reasons to avoid

Still lacks ports

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 big time in performance and battery life thanks to Apple’s groundbreaking M1 chip. It has the longest battery life in a MacBook, in fact, allowing you to code for hours on end without needing to be plugged in. The M1 chip is no slouch when it comes to performance, either, so compiling and testing code is extremely quick as well. If you have the budget for it, this is a programming laptop that will last you for years.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Image Credit: Microsoft

10. Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch)

A powerful 2-in-1

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7

Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 – Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: 13.5-inch 3,000 x 2,000 PixelSense Display with touchscreen

Storage: 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB PCIe SSD

Reasons to buy

+Very good battery life+Powerful

Reasons to avoid

PriceyNo Surface Pen included

The Surface Book 2 is an excellent choice for any coders out there, as Microsoft has crafted one of the most powerful 2-in-1 laptops on the planet. After all, it boasts components powerful enough to handle pretty much everything you could throw at it – including some light gaming in your down time. If you’re looking for a larger display, there’s a 15-inch model, which also features beefier components – albeit at a higher price tag.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch)

Michelle Rae Uy also contributed to this article.

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