Best laptops for programming in 2024

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Looking for the best laptops for programming? Our team of reviewers put top devices from Apple. Dell, and more, to the test to see which are the stand-out models for coding. 

A good programming laptop tends to combine lag-free performance with comfortable keyboards and screens that let you write, run, and test code without fatigue. For us, when reviewing laptops for coding, we're looking for that cosmic blend of power, portability, and reliability that means the laptop is ready when you are, in the home, office, campus, or on the commute. 

Our reviewers have tested hundreds of the best laptops, best business laptops, and even the best laptops for engineering students for a wide-range of personal and professional uses. So, if you need a laptop for programming and coding, we'll show you what are the must-have features and what to avoid.  

During our testing process, we compared specs and benchmark tests to see which programming laptops can really handle the workload. We conducted real-world battery life tests, assessed design, dimensions, portability, screen and picture quality across a range of Windows, Apple, and Chromebook laptops for computer programmers.  

Quick list

Best laptop for programming overall

MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) in a studio with screen showing website

(Image credit: Future)
The top choice

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2 Pro 10-core – M2 Max 12-core
Graphics: Integrated 16-core – 30-core GPU
RAM: Up to 96GB
Screen: 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Storage: Up to 8TB

Reasons to buy

+
New M2 Pro and M2 Max chips
+
Almost 20-hour battery life
+
The best screen on a laptop

Reasons to avoid

-
Screen may be a bit small for some
-
Expensive

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 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 our full MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) review

Best Windows laptop for programming

A Dell XPS 15 2022

(Image credit: Future)
Powerful performance across the board

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-12700H
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti Mobile
RAM: 16GB DDR5
Screen: 15.6-inch 3.5K (3,456 x 2,160p), 60Hz, OLED, 400 nits, non-touch
Storage: 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Gorgeous design
+
Great to type on
+
Powerful performance
+
Outstanding battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Won't double as a gaming laptop
-
Starts expensive and price soars with better specs

“Laptop perfection” is how we described the 2022 iteration of the Dell XPS 15. High praise for the sleek, solidly built device, with its brushed CNC aluminum chassis and comfortable carbon fiber palm rests that make it a joy to type on. 

Performance is excellent, the Windows machine running on 12th-gen Intel chips and up to RTX 3050 Ti graphics. With portability in mind, we were also impressed with the all-day battery life - a feat we thought impossible on an Intel Alder Lake chip. 

However, the portable nature of the device is offset by a serious lack of connectivity. With three USB Type-C ports, there isn't much room for much else, especially USB Type-A peripherals. So you may need to carry a separate docking station if you want to connect a lot of devices. 

As an alternative, you could opt for the 2023 model. But during our tests, we felt it fell short compared to its “perfect” predecessor. 

Read our full Dell XPS 15 (2022) review 

Best Surface laptop for programming

(Image credit: Future)
A Surface with 5G mobile internet

Specifications

CPU: 12th Gen Intel Core i5 – Microsoft SQ 3
Graphics: Intel Xe Graphics – Microsoft SQ 3 Adreno 8CX Gen 3
RAM: 8GB - 32GB
Screen: 13-inch 2880 x 1920 PixelSense Flow Display
Storage: 128GB – 1TB removable SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Big responsive screen
+
Built-in 5G option
+
Faster processors

Reasons to avoid

-
ARM introduces some system compatibility and stability issues
-
You'll pay extra for the keyboard and pen you want and probably need

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. In other words, this is an ideal laptop for programmers on the move - for example, a freelancer or someone working across multiple locations and field offices. It also comes with the new Windows 11 operating system pre-installed and one of the best webcams we’ve used on a laptop. 

On the other hand, the machine is ARM-based, so it won't run apps like Adobe Creative Cloud. For solid programming work, however, the CPU and RAM ensures an easy performance. 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 our full Surface Pro 9 5G review 

Best lightweight laptop for programming

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) on a white desk in a studio

(Image credit: Future)
Slim, sleek, and lightweight

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2 (8-core)
Graphics: Integrated 10-core GPU
RAM: 16GB Unified LPDDR5
Screen: 13.6-inch, 2,560 x 1,664 Liquid Retina display (backlit LED, IPS, 500 nits brightness, wide color P3 gamut)
Storage: 1TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Great new design
+
Very good performance
+
Long battery life
+
Larger screen

Reasons to avoid

-
Much more expensive than previous model
-
New colors are a bit tame
-
Previous model is much better value

If portability is most important when looking for a programming laptop, Apple’s slimline, lightweight Macbook Air is absolutely worth consideration. It’s so good, in fact, we named it the best Macbook overall. 

The laptop’s impressive M2 chip delivers optimal performance and long battery life for when you’re on the go. In fact, our benchmark tests showed real similarities between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13in when it comes to performance. Yet, a sleek new design offers a larger, brighter screen than its 13in predecessor. 

So, think of it as an upgrade to the Macbook Pro 13in and it starts to make a lot of sense as a device. In practice, we found the laptop thin, light, and completely silent when in use - although expect the fans to kick in under seriously heavy workloads, like 8K video editing.

It’s not the cheapest laptop for programming by any means. However, the Macbook Air’s premium price-tag reflects the premium performance, portability, and, of course, Apple’s always beautiful aesthetics. Newer Macbook Air models are available, but we found they just don’t compare to the M2 2022 model.

Read our full Macbook Air (M2, 2022) review 

Best 17-inch laptop for programming

(Image credit: Future / Alex Cox)
For when you need a big screen

Specifications

CPU: Octa-core AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX 3.3GHz (4.9GHz boost), 16 threads
Graphics: 12GB AMD Radeon RX 6850M XT (discrete), AMD Radeon 680M (integrated)
RAM: 32GB DDR5 @ 4800MHz
Screen: 17.3” 3840 x 2160, 120Hz, 3ms refresh
Storage: 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Pin-sharp design with clever cooling
+
Fantastic performance
+
Excellent, generous screen

Reasons to avoid

-
AMD Advantage spec is quite pricey
-
Slightly limited battery when gaming
-
Heavy, bulky chassis

For a programming laptop with a large screen, the Alienware m17 R5 AMD Advantage is hard to beat. 

When we tested out the machine, we found it to be a beast of laptop for gamers - and that means it has all the top-end specs you need to code without performance issues. In our benchmark tests, we quickly discovered the device sliced merrily through almost everything we threw at it, and its high-resolution screen looked magnificent while doing it.

Design-wise, it’s a stunningly well-constructed laptop, the chassis is tough, with just the right amount of RGB lighting and some very clever design touches, like the clever cooling paths and well-laid out ports. The keyboard feels great, although the lack of numpad may put off some. It’s even upgradeable, up to a point. 

If there are downsides, it’s the m17’s weight - the price paid for a solidly built laptop with a 17in display - and its unspectacular battery life. Here, portability comes second to performance. For an Intel-based 17in laptop for programming, the Dell XPS 17 is an excellent alternative. 

Read our full Alienware m17 R5 AMD Advantage review 

Best mobile workstation for programming

(Image credit: Future)
Performance over portability

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

+
Extreme mobile workstation
+
Multiple configuration options
+
Robust carbon-fiber and aluminum package

Reasons to avoid

-
More power than some users will need
-
Heavy
-
Battery life could be better

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 for many reasons, available in a variety of configurations. 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? This is far from a budget choice. As a full mobile workstation, this is for professionals, with a business focus. But 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 our full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review

Best Chromebook for programming

(Image credit: Future)
An enterprise-level Chromebook

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i5-1245U with vPro
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: 8GB LPDDR4x-4266
Screen: 13.5-inch QHD+ display
Storage: 128–512GB

Reasons to buy

+
Outstanding performance
+
Optional security features
+
Beautiful display

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive for a Chromebook
-
Enterprise security is a premium feature

The best Chromebook 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 one of the best laptops for programmers regardless of the task. Thanks to this raw power, this Chromebook is phenomenal for programming. The Elite Dragonfly Chromebook has the option of 5G/LTE connectivity. Programmers on the go, then, will get a lot of value from those faster mobile connections. Additionally, the comfortable keyboard is great for all-day use.

HP's 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

Best laptop for programming: FAQs

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 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 the best thin and light laptops for better portability, such as one of the best Ultrabooks.

All in all, programming laptops focus on a few main components. Regardless of the brand, if these four elements are high in a laptop, there's a good chance it will perform well as a programming laptop.

  • Processors
  • RAM
  • Keyboard
  • Storage speed

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?

The Macbook Pro is our pick for best programming laptop - and the Dell XPS 15, Microsoft Surface 9 Pro, and Macbook Air are all worthy contenders, as are the others in our round-up. We've tested, reviewed, and rated all of these machines to ensure they perform well and deliver what you need.

Generally, the newest and best laptops 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 does the best laptop for programming need?

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.

How to choose the best laptop for programming

When choosing which laptop for programming is best for you, there are several variables to consider. 

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. If a good keyboard is important, it's worth noting that the best Lenovo ThinkPad laptops are renowned for their excellent keyboards and overall typing experience - having owned several ThinkPads, we can confirm this first-hand.  

If you'll be using your laptop around campus, the office, at a coffee shop, on the train, at multiple workspaces, or even on the couch, then you'll need a device like the best rugged laptops, built to withstand everyday travel or the best UltraBooks, which won't weigh you down on the go.

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. In our tests, we've been very impressed with the battery life of the best MacBook Pro laptops running the M2 chip, but plenty of Windows laptops for programming can last all-day. 

If you work with many space-consuming files, opt for a programming laptop with high storage - and pair it with the best cloud storage for increased file security. 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.

Focus on the laptop's internals for laptops that will be used with peripherals. This includes the processor, RAM, and internal storage. Laptops are notoriously low on port selection, so if you plan on connecting lots of peripherals like the best keyboards for programmers or the best monitors for a dual set-up, check what options are available to you. The best laptop docking stations are portable hubs that can help you connect to a range of devices both at home and on-the-go. 

For programming 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. You'll also want to decide whether you want a Windows, macOS, or Chromebook device - as all offer very different experienced and capabilities. 

How we test the best laptop for programming

We've tested hundreds of laptops and computers for business use, from the best laptops for video editing to the best video editing PCs, to help you find the device that's right for you. 

Our testing process is rigorous. Whether we're exploring the ins and outs of the best laptops for photo editing, or assessing the pros and cons of the best workstations, we use a combination of tasks to see how each device compares to the competition - and what it offers users. 

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:

  • BatteryBar
  • YouTube playback
  • GeekBench
  • CrystalDiskMark
  • Novabench
  • 3DM Timespy
  • Browserbench Speedometer 2.0
  • Passmark

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.

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.

Steve Clark
B2B Editor - Creative & Hardware

Steve is TechRadar Pro’s B2B Editor for Creative & Hardware. He explores the apps and devices for individuals and organizations that thrive on design and innovation. A former journalist at Web User magazine, he's covered software and hardware news, reviews, features, and guides. He's previously worked on content for Microsoft, Sony, and countless SaaS & product design firms. Once upon a time, he wrote commercials and movie trailers. Relentless champion of the Oxford comma.

With contributions from