The best laptops for programming

Dell XPS 13 9370 review | Hero shot from the side of young woman using the laptop
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There’s a lot to consider when shopping for the best laptop for programming. You don’t want to take out a bank loan for the device you need, but you certainly don’t want to rely on a snail to get the job done.

You’ll want something with a four-core processor is ideal given all the code crunching and everything else running in the background. On the memory front, programmers will need at least 8GB of RAM — although 16GB or higher is ideal. If you’re developing games, you’ll even want to consider a laptop with a discrete GPU. Even outside gaming, programming tools that rely heavily on graphics could benefit from a discrete GPU although the integrated graphics in Intel’s seventh- and eighth-generation CPUs may suffice.

There’s a lot to consider, but here are our picks for the best laptops for programming.

The Best

Dell XPS 13

how the xps 13 beat odds and became best laptop in world dell cover

Many programmers simply love Dell’s XPS ultrabooks. They’re thin and light and pack enough horsepower to get the job done. You can even get them loaded with Ubuntu if you’re into that sort of thing. It falls short of our desire for a discrete graphics chip, but it makes up for that shortcoming with the latest Intel processor, lots of speedy storage, and a QHD+ screen with one of the thinnest bezels you can find on a laptop. If you need something with some graphics prowess, upgrade to the XPS 15, which comes with a GTX 1050 Ti.

On this model you’ll find Intel’s eighth-generation Core i7-8550U processor and integrated graphics powering a 13.3-inch touch-capable screen with a 3,200 x 1,800 resolution. Backing the processor is 16GB of LPDDR3 system memory clocked at 1,866MHz, and 512GB of storage on a speedy PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD. All of this is crammed into a lightweight form factor that measures 0.60 inches at its thickest point and weighs a mere 2.7 poundsThe 2017 model starts at $800, while the new version starts at $1,000.

Amazon

The Rest

Surface Book 2

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Microsoft actually serves up two sizes of its Surface Book 2, but here we chose the larger 15-inch unit. Technically the device is a detachable although the keyboard’s special hinge acts like a 2-in-1 supporting Laptop, Tent, Stand, and Tablet form factors. The Surface Book 2 also supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen and Surface Dial peripherals.

As the specifications show, the Surface Book 2 is based on Intel’s eighth-generation Core i7-8650U processor and Nvidia’s discrete GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip. That means the device isn’t just great for programming but should perform well playing the latest games in a Full HD resolution with high detail settings. It’s the GTX 1060 6GB variant too meaning there’s lots of dedicated video memory to handle large textures.

For this configuration and price, we’re locked to 16GB of system memory and a 256GB SSD. But for an extra $400 you can configure the Surface Book 2 with a 512GB SSD or pay an extra $800 for the 1TB SSD. Powering this laptop is a battery promising up to 17 hours of video playback.

Microsoft

Razer Blade

Razer Blade 2017 review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Razer Blade is built for PC gamers, manufactured by a company that focuses on gaming hardware and peripherals. But programmers love this device given it’s sleek, powerful, and rather professional in appearance. That said, there’s not a lot of visual bling as seen with other gaming laptops, and it’s thin too, measuring just 0.70 inches thick. The starting weight is 4.10 pounds.

With this laptop, Razer provides two starting points: One with a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and one with a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution. Your storage options depend on these screens: 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB with the Full HD option, and 512GB or 1TB with the UHD option. All three storage selections rely on PCIe NVMe M.2 stick-shaped SSDs for fast boot and program load times.

Backing this screen is Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ processor, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 discrete graphics chip for mobile, and 16GB of DDR4 system memory clocked at 2,400MHz. The keyboard supports Razer’s Chroma lighting platform packing 16.8 million colors, meaning any connected Chroma-supported Razer device will synchronize its colors and lighting effects with the laptop.

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Razer

Apple MacBook Pro 15

MacBook Pro Touch Bar

For fans of Apple, you can’t go wrong with the MacBook Pro and the power packed in the 15-inch model.

Apple’s MacBook Pro is served up in two sizes starting at $1,299, but here we chose the larger unit with the $2,399 set configuration. For that price, you get the Silver model packing Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ processor and AMD’s Radeon Pro 555 discrete graphics chip. This GPU is based on AMD’s Polaris 21 chip and is equal in performance with Nvidia’s competing GeForce MX 150 and the laptop version of the GT 1030. If that’s not enough, you can upgrade the GPU to the Radeon Pro 560.

Other notable features include four Thunderbolt 3 ports, one of which can be used for charging the device. You also get a 720p FaceTime HD camera, a backlit keyboard, Bluetooth 4.2, Wireless AC connectivity, and a battery promising up to 30 days of standby time (10 hours of movie playback). Audio consists of two stereo speakers with high dynamic range and a headphone jack.

Apple

System76 Oryx Pro

Best Linux laptops

Okay, so maybe you don’t want Microsoft, Apple, or Google peeking at your workload. Linux is the obvious departure from the big three, and in this case, System76 supplies its in-house Pop! OS Linux variant along with Canonical’s highly-popular Ubuntu 16.04.4 LTS build. If you’ve never heard of System76, the company launched in 2005 and solely focuses on Linux-based laptops, desktops, and servers. That said, if you’re on the market for a new Linux-based device, System76 is the place to start. 

Although the Oryx Pro product page showcases a 15.6-inch option, the “design and buy” button only lists the 17.3-inch screen. Here you’ll see various components you can throw into this laptop, such as the discrete GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip with 6GB of dedicated memory or the heftier GTX 1070 with 8GB of dedicated memory. Either way, the display supports Nvidia’s G-SYNC technology for smooth, tear-free visuals if you’re sneaking in gameplay on the side.

According to the specifications, this Linux-based laptop includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports, three USB-A 3.1 Gen1 ports, an SD card reader, an Ethernet port, HDMI output, and two Mini DisplayPort outputs. 

System76

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