Best Laptops for Programming, Development and Coding in 2016
If you’re coming from the IT field and are a programmer, web developer, coder or whatever you like to call yourself, the environment you work in is a very important aspect of your daily toils.
By environment, I don’t just mean the place where you sit 8 hours and code, I also mean the machine you’re using to deliver your work. If you’re using a crappy laptop that hangs whenever you run a script you just wrote, maybe it’s time for a change.
We’ve built this guide to address the need for better laptops for web development and coding.
What are the key factors you should be looking for?
We will be discussing a few key aspects like specs and keyboard for a coding laptop, since this is the tool you’ll most use when writing code.
Let’s first run through the basic specs of a decent laptop for a programmer.
Processor (or CPU)
The CPU is perhaps the most important spec. This will determine just how many processes you can run at a time without problems. A multi core processor will allow you to have a good setup that can run most things.
Try to aim for a Core i5 or Core i7 laptop, with CPUs from either the 5th or 6th generation in the Intel family.
Now if you’re doing web development on windows, chances are you’ll be running XAMP for the Apache server and MySql and these count as processes. You will’ also run a some sort of code editor like Sublime Text, and a browser to check upon your latest changes.
These are at least three processors right here, so you should consider a laptop that can handle this the very least.
You should also consider install Ubuntu, since it’s a bit more lightweight for development than Windows, or, if you’re an apple fan, then you’re in luck since their operating system is an UNIX based system, and it’s perfect for development purposes right out of the box.
Multitasking is something we do quite often in the coding and development world.
When you’re scripting , you’ll most likely run at least two processes. One is the code editor and another one would be the terminal. Depending on the complexity of the script and whether you’re programming in a multi-threaded way, a good processor can have a big impact on performance.
RAM (or system memory)
RAM is another aspect that’s on par with the processor. The more you have, the better your processes will run. This means that you can multi-task more efficiently.
Your aim here would be a laptop that comes equipped with at least 4GB of RAM, if not more. 16GB would be the best case scenario.
GPU (or graphics card)
A dedicated video card is the least of your worries if you’re doing web development. If you want to be both programming and playing games on your laptop, then it becomes an important factor, since modern games require a dedicated graphics card. If this is the case, you should check our “best gaming laptops for 2016” article, where we’ve cherry-picked a few top notebook models for gaming purposes.
For purely web development work, you should be able to simply use the integrated GPU most modern processors come with. A good example are is the Air notebook series from Apple. They usually don’t carry a dedicated graphics card, yet they’re the top pick for coders.
Like we mentioned earlier, the keyboard is super important. Sure, you could get away with using an external keyboard and never look back. An external keyboard is not an option if you want a machine that’s portable. Your first thought should be to buy a laptop that’s already equipped with a good keyboard. Do proper research and figure out if your laptop keyboard should be minimalistic or carry a full key set (like the ones with an included numpad).
Hard Disk Drive or SSD?
The hard drive is another aspect to take into account. Most projects are not so heavy on the capacity side, but they require fast read and write performance, so a regular hard disk drive is something that’s not recommended here. You should focus on finding a laptop with an SSD drive, since these can outperform regular HDDs by a factor of 10:1.
Sure, these are more expensive, but why not spend a bit more and suffer way less from having to deal with an underpowered development laptop?
Screen and Expansion
Most developers work in a single screen environment, but but if you want to be more efficient, you’ll think about opting for a multi-screen environment.
Picture this scenario: you are doing development work on a new website, and need to write code and check how your site looks in the browser at the same time. This is quite frustrating in a single screen environment. Now think about the second scenario: you’re working using a secondary display with your laptop, so you write code on the laptop screen and check the changes on the browser window located on your second display.
This means you’ll be using a two screen setup and you don’t have to hit Alt+Tab at all. You’re keeping the most important two things right a glance. The work and the feedback. You make a small change and it’s reflected in the browser which sits right next to your laptop. No more need to switch from one view to another.
But if you’d rather stick with only a single screen environment, you should consider using Ubuntu. Aside from the lower footprint on the hardware side, this OS comes with workspaces and a simple switch between those is all you need when you need to check upon your work. This means a simple Ctrl + Alt + Arrow command can switch to another Desktop that’s ready to be crammed with additional application windows.
My own setup includes a laptop and a monitor, but I’m also using workspaces to put terminals which run processes like the development server and whatnot on a separate workspace.
This way I only have to deal with the code and the end result and worry less about interfering applications (or terminal windows).
Here are a 6 of the laptops for programming we recommend for 2016:
Apple MacBook Air 13.3-Inch – Lightweight and Powerful Laptop
Like we mentioned earlier, Macbooks are perfect companions for programmers. The Air series is very portable, comes with a powerful Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a fast 128GB SSD.
These notebooks come with the Apple OS X Yosemite, which is a UNIX based operating system, making them perfect for development work.
If you’re implementing web designs, this is another reason why you should use a Macbook. Their screens render true colors, without distortions, so you’ll know exactly how you next website will look like.
Another great feature is the 12 hours battery life, which means you can take it anywhere if you get bored of the office scene.
Microsoft Surface Book – Best Portable Web Development Laptop
The Surface Book from Microsoft is another great addition to this list. Aside from being incredibly portable, weighing just 3.48 pounds, it comes with a modern operating system (Windows 10) installed.
It’s also capable of projecting to a secondary display wirelessly, so you don’t need extra cables and what not to extend your virtual working environment. It’s got a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. Also, it uses an NVIDIA dedicated graphics card, that makes it good for gaming too.
The high resolution of 3000 x 2000 is just perfect if you’re working on making websites responsive for different screen types. This way you can view how a website behaves on a whole subset of different resolutions.
The 12 hours battery life means it’s ultra portable, so you can take it to work in different places, where there’s not necessarily a power socket.
System76 Oryx Pro – Best Overall Programming Laptop
The Oryx Pro from System 76 is a very powerful laptop that runs Ubuntu 15.10 right out of the box. It’s a Linux laptop, which you’ll notice straight away when you’ll look for the Windows key (there is none).
It carries a Core i7 processor (4 cores – 8 threads), 32GB of RAM and two SSD drives, with 120GB and 250GB respectively.
There’s also a dedicated GeForce GTX 970M graphics card with 3GB of VRAM and 1280 CUDA cores. Now this might seem like overkill for a programmer’s computer, but it’s really not. If you’re working with a lot of virtual environments or anything that’s demanding on the hardware, then this is the perfect beast to tackle such a situation.
ASUS ZenBook UX305 13.3-Inch Laptop
The most impressive feature of the Asus ZenBook UX305 is its QHD+ screen, which renders a resolution of 3200 x 1800. The panel is IPS, so it’s a perfect choice for web developers that want to make sure that the design of a web app matches what the final client is going to see.
Should performance be concerned, you’ll be glad to know the ZenBook comes with a 6th generation Intel Core M3-6Y30 processor, 8 GB of system memory and a super fast 256GB SSD.
The notebook body is slim and it’s made from strong aluminum. Even though it’s a rugged build, it’s also a portable computer.
Lenovo Ideapad Y700-15-Inch Touchscreen Laptop
We’ve decided to include the IdeaPad Y700 as well into this list, since it’s got loads of hardware features which make it perfect for development work.
There’s also a 4K LED touch screen mounted on the thing, so you’ve got expanded input options. On the hardware side, you’ll come across a Skylake CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD.
It comes with Windows 10 preinstalled, so you don’t have to worry about getting an operating system for your laptop.
The Gigabybe P35Xv5-SL3 is perhaps better suited for gaming purposes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be one hell of a programming laptop. It’s got a massive battery capacity, which means extended battery life.
A Core i7 processor ticks at the core of this thing, along with 16GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M graphics card which allows you to play modern games.
You will also find a HDD + SSD combo, totaling 1.25TB storage capacity.
Let us know what your favorite laptop is and if you’ve got any suggestions in the comments section below.