How To Choose A Laptop When You're A Software Developer
So you’ve either decided to go into software development, you’ve been doing software development for a while and you’ve decided to pickup a laptop, or you want some insight into what might be some good options for your next computer. There are various reasons to want a personal laptop:
- Your current company may have stipulations on allowing you to work on side projects on their equipment
- You may be leaving your current job and need a laptop between jobs
- You may be a college student or entering a bootcamp and want to get a decent laptop to get you going in your studies and career
- You are looking into becoming a freelancer and eventually leaving your current full-time job
Whatever your reason for arriving here, I hope I can provide some guidance in choosing your next laptop. Now I’m going to cover a broad range of prices so that depending on your budget there will be something for you to choose from.
I'll be Homeless if I Spend Too Much Budget
Price range: $100 to $400
If you can find a computer in this price range that will be sufficient for your needs then I say go for it. I will warn you, however, that this price range will contain computers that may have a few limitations:
- The specs are lackluster. These computers will most likely contain less than 8GB of RAM, have 128GB of storage, or the processors will be less performant than newer processors
- The computers are older. These computers may have issues with the battery life, cracked screens, the CPU’s and SSD’s are slowing down, or other various technical issues with the hardware
If you are thorough in your search, though, you may be able to find a diamond in the rough. Here is a listing I found for a Surface Pro 3 with 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and an i5 processor: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 - Silver, 256 GB $310
As you can tell from the description, however, the battery has low cycles so that is something to watch out for.
Here is another potential diamond in the rough: a 2013 Macbook Air for only $399. Just make sure you are aware of potential wear and tear on the computer, though. This is a note from the seller on the condition of this computer:
Fully Functional — Fair Condition — Will have cosmetic wear including scratches, dents, possible brighter areas or halo on LCD, light scratches or scuffs on LCD. Bottom may have heavy wear. All of our computers include a working magnetic charger cord and a battery confirmed to have at least 80% original charge capacity.
I Can Go Out to Eat Occasionally Budget
Price range: $400 to $1000
Here we start getting into nicer computers. These computers are going to carry you through thick and thin. A hardware issue occurring will be a rare exception.
For ninety-five percent of software developers, I recommend a Macbook. I usually run Linux on a Lenovo laptop but I don’t recommend that for everyone. In fact, I’d probably recommend my younger self to just use a Macbook. Why do I recommend them?
- A large portion of the developer community uses Macbooks. That means you’ll be able to quickly do a google search and find an issue that you run into. This also means that a lot of the software you run or want to run will be supported on a Macbook.
- They are great computers. Macs are reliable, they look great, no other computer can compare when it comes to the trackpad, the operating system is user friendly, and they retain their value well
Note #1 — I personally would recommend buying from a location (whether that is Amazon, Best Buy, Ebay, Swappa, etc.) where they allow you to return the computer within a certain time frame.
Note #2 — The only brand of computers I recommend for software developers are the following:
I recommend these computers because these are the brands developers actually use for work. In all my years of work I’ve only seen these brands. I haven’t seen Asus, Toshiba, Samsung, Sony, HP, or any other brand of computer. Stick with what is tried and true.
I’m only going to list Mac and Lenovo computers to keep the list brief. Unless you have certain requirements for your laptop, e.g. you want to have a Surface Pro for drawing capabilities, a Dell, Lenovo, or Surface will be interchangeable. If you find through your research you like the Dell XPS or the Surface then go ahead and buy one of those; they will serve you well.
So here are my suggestions in this price range, in ascending price order:
- Macbook Air — $500 — 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, i5 processor, 11.6" screen. If you are dead set on getting a Macbook in this price range be warned that 4GB is stretching what you are able to accomplish.
- Lenovo T470 — $595 — 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, i5 processor, 14.6" screen. You’ll notice that you can get a lot more bang for your buck outside of the Macbook ecosystem. That isn’t a dis on Apple’s product, just know that they come at a premium. Make sure to check the new & used section of this listing for the better pricing.
- Lenovo T490 — $750 to $850–8GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, i5 processor, 14" screen. Now this is a newer model and depending on where you buy it you can get it between $750 and $850. If you look at the used & new section you can get the computer used for about $750. If you go to the Lenovo website and if they are having a special going on you can get the computer new for $750. The benefit of purchasing on Amazon is that you can get your computer quicker with a prime membership and be able to return it for free within 30 days, if necessary. I’ve found that Lenovo takes a week or two to get the computer delivered to you.
- 2019 Lenovo T470 — $850–16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, i5 processor, 14" screen. This jump in price is mainly due to having twice the amount memory. This computer will be able to handle ninety percent of developer workloads.
- Macbook Air —$958–8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, i5 processor, 13" screen (2017 model). If you check the used & new section there is a used, prime version for about $640. I do like the Macbook Airs. The lightness of the laptop along with its capabilities are definitely worth considering.
- Lenovo T490 — $899 to $996–16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, i5 processor, 14" screen. With 16GB of RAM and double the storage space, this is a great value. This computer will be able to handle ninety-five percent of developer workloads.
I'm a Baller Budget
Price range: $1000 and up
In this budget category we have a bit more discretionary spending and can afford a higher performing laptop. I’ll again re-iterate that for 95% of developers I recommend getting a Macbook. They are developer friendly, user friendly, you can develop just about anything on them: front-end, back-end, and android and iOS apps. If you want to develop iOS apps then a Macbook is a requirement.
- Macbook Pro —$1043–8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, i5 processor, 13" screen. Here we finally find our first Macbook Pro. This is a 2016 model and though it has an i5 processor, this version is a lot faster than your typical Macbook Air.
- Lenovo T590 — $1300–16GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, i7 processor, 15.6" screen. The difference between the T4xx series and the T5xx series is that the T5xx series has a larger screen. You’ll notice that this laptop’s screen size is 15.6" vs the 14" screen of the T4xx series. You’ll also notice a few other specs went up, in addition to the screen size: this laptop has a terabyte of storage and the i7 processor. I consider this laptop to be the best value of all the PC laptops on this list.
- Macbook Pro — $1700–16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, i5 processor, 16" screen. The big jump in price from the previous Macbook Pro is due to the doubled amount of RAM, doubled amount of storage, and the three inch increase in screen size. I consider this to be the best value Macbook laptop.
- Lenovo P53 — $1900–64GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, i7 processor, 15.6" screen. This also includes a webcam and fingerprint scanner. This is a beast of a laptop. With 64GB of RAM you’ll be able to have at least ten chrome tabs open while slack is running, maybe even an IDE too! I am currently running a P50 workstation with 48GB of RAM that my company provided me and I am a big fan. This laptop will be a bit heavier so take that into consideration as well. I wouldn’t recommend the touchscreen, however, as the screen doesn’t seem to be as bright.
- 2019 Macbook Pro — $3500–32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, i9 processor, 16" screen. Here we start getting into Apple’s heavy hitters. As much as I like this computer I recommend Apple’s next Macbook Pro…
- 2019 Macbook Pro — $3599–64GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, i9 processor, 16" screen. For $100 to $200 more than the 32GB RAM Macbook Pro you get twice as much memory. If I had to choose between the two Macbook Pro’s I would for sure choose this one. With 64GB of RAM you’ll be able to handle multiple, heavy workloads for development.
While I am a big fan of PCs and the value they provide for their price points, I still recommend developers getting a Macbook. They are great computers! You will have plenty of support in terms of usability of software and diagnosing any computer issues that may come up. They are reliable and retain their value well. I still have a 2010 Macbook Air that my wife uses for her basic use cases.
If you liked this article and found it helpful in your search for a laptop, give me a clap down below. When you do purchase your computer, put a comment below of what computer you ended up getting and how it has been working out for you.
If you are curious as to how I ended up being a software developer, you can check out my origin story here.
Also published (behind a paywall) here.
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