Best laptop for programming in 2020: top picks for coders, developers and sysadmins

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Buying the best laptop for programming is more than just going for the one with the most horsepower. And, it’s not necessarily going to be the most expensive. There are a few things to look for beyond just the power, like its speed and storage.

Having one of the best processors inside your machine is important for compiling your code. It’s easy to get caught up in all the variations of cores, threads and clock speeds, but you’ll want to go with the quickest one you can buy. RAM is almost as important, with 8GB of memory being the bare minimum these days. Storage can also be a potential bottleneck, so grabbing one or two of the best SSDs can greatly improve your workflow and save time with loading and running the projects you’ll be working on.

While you’re at it, you should also invest in one with the best keyboard, as there will be lots and lots of typing. You don’t want something that’s fatiguing or hard to use when you’ll be spending hours on it. Lastly, find one with a display with a high enough resolution for you and that’s easy to use for long work sessions without straining your eyes.

With all these things in mind, we’ve rounded up our selection of the best laptops for programming to help you find the best device for your needs.




Best laptops for programming - at a glance

  1. HP Spectre x360
  2. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme laptop
  3. HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 2-in-1
  4. MacBook Air (2020)
  5. MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
  6. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
  7. Google Pixelbook
  8. Asus Chromebook Flip C436F/C436FA
  9. Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch)
  10. MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)

HP Spectre x360 (2020)


(Image credit: HP)
1. HP Spectre x360


The best laptop for programming in 2020


CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus 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

VIEW DEAL
Stylish and high-quality finish
Great all-around performance
Battery life takes a hit
Can run hot at times

The HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 laptop has had a big refresh for 2020, and the boost in specs, with 10th-generation Intel Core processors and Intel Iris Plus graphics, along with the impeccable 2-in-1 design and pristine gem-cut chassis, means that the new version has shot straight to 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 (2020)


Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme


Image credit: Lenovo (Image credit: Lenovo)
2. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme laptop


Great power, massive price tag


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

So much power
Glorious 4K screen
Great user experience
Heavy
Expensive

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


HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 2-in-1


Image credit: TechRadar (Image credit: Future)
3. HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 2-in-1


The best business laptop just got better


CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 32GB | Screen: 14-inch diagonal BrightView LED FHD (1920x1080) – UHD (3840x2160) | Storage: 128GB – 2TB SSD

Nifty design and stylus
Great performance
Plenty of ports
Battery life disappointing
Expensive
Uneven anti-glare display

The EliteBook x360 1040 G5 is, without a doubt, the “apex predator of the business world.” It’s not the perfect machine, but it’s got plenty of features that make up for its flaws. It boasts many excellent features in its handsome-looking chassis, as well as plenty of ports, a port that works wonders and impressively audio. Simply put, it’s fit for the professional who demands seamlessness and power at work, making it the best laptop for programming.

Read the full review: HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5


MacBook Air (2020)


(Image credit: Apple)
4. MacBook Air (2020)


New and improved for 2020


CPU: Intel Core i3 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Storage: 256GB – 2TB PCIe-based SSD | Dimensions: 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61 cm

Lower price of entry
New 10th generation processors
Improved keyboard
Screen colors a little muted
Battery life only OK
Webcam still just 720p

Apple’s thinnest and lightest MacBook is back in 2020 with a vengeance. Not only has it fixed a lot of the complaints with its predecessors – namely, that problematic keyboard is now gone, replaced by a drastically improved keyboard. Thanks to improved hardware for better performance and an affordable price, the 2020 MacBook Air is a brilliant laptop for programming on. It keeps that same light and slim design which means it's easy to sling into a bag and carry around with you, but it also has enough oomph to make programming on it a joy.

Read the full review: MacBook Air (2020)


MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)


(Image credit: Apple)
5. MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)


An incredibly powerful workstation


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

Stunning 16-inch screen
New and improved keyboard
Expensive
Limited 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)


Microsoft Surface Pro 7


(Image credit: Microsoft)
6. Microsoft Surface Pro 7


A great tablet for programmers


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)

USB-C finally
Now with Wi-Fi 6
Overall loss in battery life
USB-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


Google Pixelbook


Image Credit: TechRadar
7. Google Pixelbook


The best Chromebook for Programming


CPU: 7th-generation Intel Core i5-i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615 | RAM: 8-16GB | Screen: 12.3" LCD 2400x1600 (235 ppi) | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB SSD

Beautiful design
Awesome keyboard
Chrome OS not as refined as other operating systems

Yes, a Chromebook (or two) has made our best laptop for programming list. That’s because Google Pixelbook is powerful (and beautiful) enough to contend with the Surfaces and MacBooks of the world. Admittedly, the ChromeOS is not as good a place to program as Windows or macOS. However, the Pixelbook’s support of Android makes it a must-own laptop for any Android developer. The fact that this laptop succeeds the now discontinued Google Chromebook Pixel, which was designed by and for Google’s own developers, should give it some street cred in the eyes of coders.

Read the full review: Google Pixelbook

  • This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Surface Pro.

Asus Chromebook Flip C436F


(Image credit: Asus)
8. Asus Chromebook Flip C436F/C436FA


A whole lotta hits


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

Superb performance
Premium build and features
Impressive keyboard
Subpar speakers
Erratic touchpad
Touch 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


Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch)


Image Credit: Microsoft
9. Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch)


The most powerful 2-in-1 laptop in the world


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

Very good battery life
Powerful
Pricey
No 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)


MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)


(Image credit: Apple)
10. MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)


Worth the upgrade at the highest configuration


CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – 10th-generation Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 | RAM: up to 32GB | Screen: 13-inch Retina display with True Tone | Storage: 256GB – 4TB SSD

Improved specs (on some models)
Larger capacity SSD for starting model
New keyboard is great
Entry-level model still has 8th gen Intel CPU
You still only get Thunderbolt 3 ports

The MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)’s entry-level model may miss out on some of the lineup’s new toys. However, going for the higher-end configurations will get you new (and powerful) Intel processors and improved RAM speeds for better performance, all packed in the 13-inch incredibly svelte body. Apple rounds it all out with that incredible Magic Keyboard from the new 16-inch, finally getting rid of that problematic keyboard. Even if you don’t go for the 10th-generation Intel Core configurations, you might still appreciate the fact that all models come with more storage capacity for the same price as their predecessors.

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

Michelle Rae Uy also contributed to this article.

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