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The best laptops for programming

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

A laptop with a four-core processor is best, given all the code-crunching and everything else running in the background. On the memory front, programmers should have at least 8GB of RAM, though 16GB or higher is ideal.

If you’re developing games, consider a laptop with a discrete GPU. Even outside gaming, programming tools that rely heavily on graphics could benefit from a discrete GPU, though the integrated graphics in Intel’s eighth- and tenth-generation CPUs may suffice.

That all said, here are our picks for the best laptops for programming so you can get straight to work.

The best

Dell XPS 15

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 find them loaded with Ubuntu on the Developer Edition models.

The XPS 15 falls short of our desire for a discrete graphics chip but makes up for that shortcoming with the latest Intel processors, lots of speedy storage, and a QHD+ screen with one of the thinnest laptop bezels you can find. If you need something with some graphics prowess, upgrade to the XPS 15, which comes with integrated Intel UHD Graphics, though Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650 4GB GDDR5 can be configured for $250.

On this model, you’ll find Intel’s 9th Gen Core i5-9300H processor and integrated graphics powering a 15.6-inch touch-capable screen at 3,200 x 1,800. Backing the processor is up to 32GB of LPDDR3 system memory clocked at 2,666MHz and up to 512GB of storage on a speedy SSD.

All of this is crammed into a lightweight design that measures no more than 0.66 inches at its thickest point and weighs a mere 4 pounds. The 2020 model starts at $1,273.

The rest

Surface Book 3

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Microsoft serves up two sizes of its Surface Book 3, but here we chose the larger 15-inch unit. Technically, the device is detachable, though the keyboard’s unique hinge acts like a 2-in-1 supporting laptop, tent, stand, and tablet modes. The Surface Book 3 also supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen and Surface Dial peripherals.

The Surface Book 3 is built on Intel’s 10th Gen Core i7-1065G7 processor and Nvidia’s discrete GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q chip (6GB). 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 — 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 at $2,300. But for those who need extra space, you can configure the Surface Book 3 with a 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD. Powering this laptop is a battery promising up to 17.5 hours of video playback.

Razer Blade Studio Edition

Razer Blade Studio Edition

Built with professionals in mind, the Razer Blade Studio Edition is sleek, powerful, and professional in appearance. 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, with a starting weight of 4.88 pounds.

With this laptop, Razer provides four set configurations based on screen size and type: 13.3 inches with a 4K resolution and touch, 15.6 inches with a 4K OLED screen (no touch), 15.6 inches with a 4K OLED screen with touch, and 17.3 inches at 4K with touch.

Under the hood, the hardware depends on these four configurations. Processors range between 9th and 10th Gen Intel Core i7 chips, while the discrete graphics range from the GTX 1650 TI Max-Q to the RTX 2080 SUPER Max-Q. There’s also a professional variant in the 15.3-inch 4K OLED with Touch configuration: Nvidia’s Quadro RTX 5000 Studio Edition.

Other notable hardware includes up to 32GB of RAM, up to 1TB of storage, Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, three USB-A 3.2 Gen2 ports, and a built-in IR HD webcam supporting Windows Hello.

Apple MacBook Pro 16

MacBook Pro Touch Bar

For fans of Apple, you can’t go wrong with the MacBook Pro and all the power crammed into the 16-inch model.

Apple’s MacBook Pro is served up in two sizes, with the 13-inch starting at $1,299, but here we chose the larger 16-inch unit with the $2,399 set configuration. For that price, you get the Silver or Space Gray model packing Intel’s 6-core 9th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and AMD’s Radeon Pro 5300M discrete GPU (4GB). If that’s not enough graphics prowess, it can be configured with the meatier Radeon Pro 5600M GPU. The base model also includes 16GB of RAM and 512GB on a speedy SSD.

Other notable features include four Thunderbolt 3 ports (charging, DisplayPort, USB 3.2 Gen2), a 720p FaceTime HD camera, a backlit keyboard, Bluetooth 4.2, and Wireless AC connectivity. The audio consists of two stereo speakers with a high dynamic range, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a three-mic array, and support for Dolby Atmos playback.

The battery promises up to 30 days of standby time (10 hours of movie playback).

Google Pixelbook

For those who prefer a Linux-based option with easy third-party software integration, built-in security and virus protection, and automatic updates, Google’s Pixelbook is calling your name. Users can have their cake and eat it too by running Chrome OS and Android apps alongside sandboxed Linux desktop programs.

Google’s Pixelbook features an older 7th Gen i5 or i7 processor, a 12.3-inch display with 2400 x 1600 resolution, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and a 10-hour battery that delivers two hours of run-time on 15 minutes of charge. The default amount of storage is 128GB, though you can configure up to 256GB or 512GB if needed.

Google Pixelbook can be deployed in four different modes, including tent, tablet, entertainment, and laptop. For those interested in drawing or other apps that require a stylus, the Pixelbook Pen provides natural drawing, note-taking, and other functions. The Gorilla Glass and aluminum exterior reduce the overall weight and help cool the laptop.

Google’s Pixelbook starts at $999.

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