7 things to consider when buying a laptop as a programmer

There are a ton of laptop brands and models, from super-powered desktop replacements and gaming laptops to thin and light ultrabooks, and expensive MacBooks to budget Chromebook models.

While some models are explicitly marketed for certain industries and uses, like business, creative, student, and gaming, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a laptop specifically designed for programmers.

So, if you’re looking for a new device to do your coding with, take a look at the essential features programmers expect from a laptop.

1. Display

The laptop screen is an important thing that a programmer must consider. That’s because it’s what you’ll be looking at almost 99% of the time when you’re working. So, don’t settle for just any screen. Here are some things to consider when choosing a device.

Large integrated screen

an XPS laptop with a 16x10 screen

If portability isn’t an issue for you, try to get the largest monitor possible. This is because smaller screens mean you have less space to work on. It also means that text, icons, and other UI elements will be smaller, leading to more eye strain.

Also, programming uses a lot of vertical space. That’s why you’ll love 16:10 screens. While most laptop screens today feature a 16:9 aspect ratio, there are some options available that allow you to have the former.


Also, touchscreens or 2-in-1 laptops don’t have much use for programmers. They’re not worth the extra cost unless you plan to use your computer for other purposes.

External display support

programmer with multiple screens and a laptop

Most computers also allow you to connect at least one external monitor via HDMI. This is useful, especially for those who have multiple windows open simultaneously for references. However, the lag between the small built-in screen and a larger external monitor can make it difficult for you.

So, if you want to connect two or more external monitors to your computer, you need to make sure it supports it. Most entry-level and mid-range devices allow you to connect a single display via HDMI.

You should have a Thunderbolt 4 connection that supports DisplayPort technology next to the HDMI port if you want more. With this, you can attach two screens and use them simultaneously.

Related: How to connect multiple display monitors using your laptop

2. Processor

AMD processor and Intel processor side by side

As with any application, it is always better to have a powerful processor. However, we recognize that not everyone has an unlimited budget. So when choosing a processor, you have to weigh a few options.

Are you using multiple apps simultaneously, with multiple instances of each app? Do you work with tons of data and spend hours compiling it? If so, you need to prioritize core count over raw processing power. But if you’re focusing on just one piece of software, a processor with a high clock speed might be worth it.

But no matter what kind of programming you do, you should get a mid-range chip at the lowest. Indeed, entry-level options, such as the Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3, may struggle to complete the tasks you need to complete on time. This will cause a lot of frustration for you as you stare at your laptop waiting for it to finish compiling.


Laptop RAM lying on a table

Whether you’re buying a laptop for office work, programming, or gaming, today’s recommended minimum RAM is 8GB. That amount will barely get you through, and if it’s within your budget, you should still get a 16GB option.

If you went with the 8GB option, your laptop should be able to be upgraded to 16GB or more in the future, at the very least. Avoid models that have soldered RAM because you have to buy a new laptop to upgrade it.

4. Storage

If you want your computer to run fast, you need to make sure it has an SSD. This will keep your laptop running fast and fast no matter what your task.

In 2022, 256 GB is the bare minimum for computers, but it’s still better to have a 512 GB or larger SSD. If you have to settle for a combo SSD and HDD combo, you should settle for at least a 256GB SSD where you can keep your operating system, apps, and work in progress.

This way, when you compile code, you’ll get things done faster. You can then keep your archived files and such on the slower hard drive.

5. Operating system

macOS Big Sur on a Windows 10 PC

Your choice of operating system will depend on the type of programming you do. Do you mainly work with Mac systems? Or do you also compile programs for Windows? Do you prefer Linux systems or do you need to work with all types of operating systems?

If you work with macOS, you should probably choose an Apple product. The company currently has a wide range of offerings, from the MacBook Air M1 to the 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max. So be sure to pick one that fits your budget.

But if you prefer Windows PCs, you have unlimited options. Likewise, you have endless choices with Linux, as you can pretty much install it on any device. Nevertheless, some manufacturers offer laptops with a pre-installed Linux operating system, so you can choose that one instead.

Related: Dual Boot vs. Virtual Machine: Which is Right for You?

However, you can also create a multi-boot system that can run both Windows and Linux or Linux and macOS. You can also use Wine to run Windows on your Mac, although newer M1 Macs use a different processor architecture, which may affect emulation.

6. Keyboard

mechanical keyboard on wooden desk

This device is one of the most underrated by programmers. Although not as glamorous as CPUs or monitors, you will appreciate a decent keyboard as a programmer. This is because you will probably spend over 90% of your time typing on it.

Keyboard layouts vary from user to user as some prefer a full size layout while others prefer the keyless design. Either way, you need to pick one that appeals to you. However, you also need to consider typing experience.

Although you can’t customize the keyboard on a laptop, you should be careful if you buy an external keyboard. There are different types of switches and keycaps, and you should test them out before choosing one.

Related: The best ergonomic keyboards to improve computer comfort

7. Battery Life

A laptop with 97% battery life.

If you’re always on the go, you might want a laptop with a battery that will last you all day. Some of the current reigning champions in this category include the Apple M1 MacBook Pro, Lenovo ThinkPad X1, and HP Envy 14.

Besides battery life, consider a laptop that accepts Power Delivery. This way you can use a power bank to charge it up while you’re on the road.

On-the-go programming is the new normal

If you’re the type of programmer who can work anywhere, you’ll appreciate a powerful programming laptop with you. This way you can work efficiently wherever you are.

So, if you are a freelance programmer or your company allows you to work outside, you can really call yourself a digital nomad. Additionally, COVID-19 has made working from home more popular than ever.

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