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Best laptop for programming in 2021

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Included in this guide:

A woman with a laptop in a coffee shop.
(Image credit: Unsplash)

The best laptop for programming needs to be a portable machine. But it also needs to offer a comfortable keyboard, speedy performance, and plenty of storage. And, while cores, threads, and clock speeds are important, they shouldn’t be the first thing you consider.

Getting one of the best processors is still important for programming and coding but having a fast machine has as much to do with getting lightning-quick memory and speedy storage, such as a quality SSD. You don’t want one of these to create a bottleneck when you’re working, after all. A laptop that’s fast will offer a streamlined workflow as well as saving you time when loading or running projects. 

It may seem counterintuitive but you’ll want the best keyboard and screen you can afford. An uncomfortable keyboard will make it harder to get your work done and a screen that strains your eyes will result in you ending your day with a headache. And, you don’t want to have to put up with an uncomfortable experience or fork over for better peripherals later on if you don’t have to.

That might seem like a lot to keep in mind when shopping, but we’ll make it easy for you. We’ve gathered our top choices for the best laptop for coding and programming so you can find the best one for you without too much hassle. And, some of them are quite reasonably priced, costing just a little more than the best laptops under $500

No matter if you’re looking for a Windows 10 machine, a macOS, or even some of the best Chromebooks, we’ve got you covered. Here then are what we think are the best laptops for programming.

Best Laptop for programming 2021

MacBook Pro 14 against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

Mightily impressive

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1 Pro 8-core – M1 Max 10-core
Graphics: Integrated 14-core – 32-core GPU
RAM: Up to 64GB
Screen: 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Storage: Up to 8TB
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant performance+Best screen on a laptop
Reasons to avoid
-Screen may be a bit small for some

The MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) is brilliant for creative workflows, but it’s terrific for programming as well. Taking the MacBook Pro to the ultimate level, this M1 Pro- or M1 Max-powered laptop absolutely blows the rest away with breathtaking power, an equally breathtaking battery life, and an XDR display with 1600 nits of peak brightness. The SD card slot, an HDMI port, and three Thunderbolt 4 ports help ensure that you have all the peripherals you need.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021)

(Image credit: Google)

2. Google Pixelbook Go

The best Chromebook and laptop for programming

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core m3 - Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) or 4K LCD touchscreen
Storage: 128GB - 256GB eMMC
Reasons to buy
+11-hour battery life+Amazing ‘Hush’ keyboard+The best Chromebook
Reasons to avoid
-No biometric login-Chrome OS only

The Google's Pixelbook Go is the best Chromebook money can buy right now, and it's also a fantastic laptop for programming. Coming with a more affordable price tag than its predecessor, the Pixelbook, Google's latest Chromebook still packs plenty of the premium features the original came with, including an amazing battery life, and one of the best keyboards we've used on a laptop - an important consideration when looking for a laptop for programming in.

Sure, it doesn't use Windows 10 - instead it runs Chrome OS - but for most programmers, especially web developers, this won't be an issue. You can also install Linux on this thing as well, which makes it an even more versatile laptop for programming.

It features some impressive specs for a Chromebook, which ensures that Chrome OS positively flies on this device, and puts its performance on par with many of the more expensive Windows laptops and MacBooks.

Read the full review: Google Pixelbook Go

(Image credit: HP)

3. HP Spectre x360 (2021)

Best overall laptop for programming

Specifications
CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe 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
Reasons to buy
+Powerful Intel Whiskey Lake processors+12-hour battery life+Thin, light, and portable
Reasons to avoid
-More powerful than some users will need

The HP Spectre x360 (2021) 2-in-1 laptop had a big refresh for 2021, and the boost in specs, with 11th-generation Intel Core processors and Intel Iris Xe graphics, along with the impeccable 2-in-1 design and pristine gem-cut chassis, means that this version is at 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 (2021)

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

A stunning laptop for programming

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1
Graphics: Integrated 7-core /8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) 2,560 x 1,600 LED-backlit display with IPS technology
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+11-hour battery life+Lightweight for carrying+Silent to use
Reasons to avoid
-Hardware refresh rather than new design

The new Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) isn't just the best laptop Apple has ever made, it's one of the best laptops for programmers. 

Thanks to the revolutionary ARM-based Apple M1 chip that powers the new MacBook Air (Apple has ditched Intel for these new laptops), this is a stunning achievement: a thin and light laptop that offers great performance, while also offering incredible battery life. 

Easily managing over 11 hours on a single charge, this is a laptop you can easily carry around with you at work or school. Its screen is gorgeous and the new and improved keyboard means you can happily code away for hours on this thing. 

Read the full review: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

5. Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch)

A powerful 2-in-1

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+One of the most powerful 2-in-1 laptops+Quiet, fanless design
Reasons to avoid
-No Surface Pen included

The Microsoft 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)

(Image credit: Apple)

6. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Apple’s little MacBook Pro gets a big refresh

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory
Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 LED-backlit Retina display
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+13-hour battery life+Powerful M1 chip+Can run iOS apps
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive than other featured MacBooks

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) may not have gotten a massive design overhaul, but what it lacks in that department, it makes up for big time in performance and battery life thanks to Apple’s groundbreaking M1 chip. 

This MacBook Pro has the longest battery life in a MacBook, in fact, allowing you to use it for programming for hours on end without having to worry about stopping to find a charger. 

The M1 chip is no slouch when it comes to performance, either, so compiling and testing code is extremely quick as well. If you have the budget for it, this is a programming laptop that will last you for years.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: LG)

7. LG Gram 17

A super-light 17-inch laptop for programming

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus
RAM: 16GB
Screen: 17-inch 1600p (2,560 x 1,600)
Storage: 2 x 512GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Very lightweight design+14-hour battery life+Beautiful 17" screen
Reasons to avoid
-Not the fastest processor

The LG Gram 17 abandons the full-fat H-series processors for Intel Ice Lake Ultrabook-class chips, and makes up for that by being a 17-inch laptop that's as light as a 13-inch one. 

This all means you can get a gorgeous 17-inch 1600p display in a laptop that weighs just 2.98 lbs (1.35kg). So, for programmers who need nice, big screens to work on, this is a fantastic choice, and you can comfortably carry it around with you wherever you go.

When you couple that lightweight design with the fact that the battery lasted more than 14 hours in our testing, you have the recipe for the perfect laptop for programming on.

Read the full review: LG Gram 17 r

(Image credit: Lenovo)

8. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme laptop

Great power, massive price tag

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Extreme mobile workstation+Multiple configuration options+Robust carbon-fiber and aluminum package
Reasons to avoid
-More power than some users will need

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 laptop 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.

The only negative? You get what you pay for, and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme comes with a price tag to match its power.

Read the full review: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

(Image credit: Asus)

9. Asus Chromebook Flip C436F/C436FA

A whole lotta hits

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Superb performance+Premium build and features+Cheaper than the Google Pixelbook+Thin and lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Touchpad and the touch display not as accurate as rivals

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/C436FA is perhaps one of the very few examples of these out there, with its combination of superb power, terrific feature set, premium build, but a price tag that’s cheaper than its rivals. 

This makes the Asus Chromebook Flip C436F/C436FA perfect for web developers who need a powerful machine.

Read the full review: Asus Chromebook Flip C436F

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Rebirth of the Surface Pro

Specifications
CPU: Up to 11th-gen Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: Up to 32GB LPDDR4x
Screen: 13-inch PixelSense Flow display
Storage: Up to 1TB
Reasons to buy
+Faster processors+Gorgeous new design
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive

The Surface Pro 8 comes with an all-new design, but it boasts internals that are faster than ever – just the ticket for all your demanding coding needs. It’s not just, therefore, ideal for illustrators, graphic artists and other creative professionals. There are other things to love here as well, like the two Thunderbolt 4 ports and 2-in-1 design. Its bigger screen with a 120Hz refresh rate is also a nice upgrade, giving you more space to spread out for a more seamless workflow. The higher price is going to get in the way for some, but it might just be worth it for pros.

Read the full review: Surface Pro 8

Matt Hanson

Senior Computing editor

Matt (Twitter) is TechRadar's Senior Computing editor. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. If you're encountering a problem or need some advice with your PC or Mac, drop him a line on Twitter.