Are Laptops Good For Coding? (Explained)
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- Laptops are great for coding and enable developers to work from anywhere.
- Both Windows laptops and Macbooks are good for coding. But Macbooks are Unix-based and have better support for Open Source software.
- A decent laptop is required for coding but it doesn’t need to be hugely powerful or expensive.
As a programmer myself and having used both Windows laptops and Macbooks for programming, I feel I can give an informed answer to this question and provide you with some valuable insights.
First, here’s the short answer:
Laptops are great for coding and provide developers with the flexibility to work from anywhere. They can be used to code websites, develop mobile applications and even server-based services.
So, although laptops are good for coding in general, some are definitely better suited to coding than others!
Can I do coding on any laptop?
In short, yes, you can do coding on any laptop. Writing source code only requires you to have a text editor, which all laptops have.
But, source code needs to be compiled and built or interpreted, depending on the programming language.
Even coding in PHP or Python requires only a basic laptop.
But, if you’re coding using languages such as Java or C-Sharp, you may need a laptop that is more powerful.
Can you code on a cheap laptop?
Coding on a cheap laptop is possible, but that doesn’t mean you need to skimp on quality.
Instead, you can pick up a relatively cheap Macbook from marketplaces such as eBay.
Cheap, low-quality laptops can be a source of frustration for you as a developer, especially if you have to wait a while whilst your software builds!
You will also find yourself fixing issues with your laptop rather than concentrating on coding.
Cheap laptops also tend to have inferior keyboards and the trackpads often aren’t that great.
You may experience display issues over time such as dead pixels and strange colors appearing.
Can you code on an old laptop?
Whilst you can code on an old laptop, it’s not recommended.
If you’re running a lightweight Operating System and editing source code using a simple text editor, you might be okay,
But, it’s likely that modern programming tools and IDEs will run extremely slowly.
This can become frustrating and could hamper your learning and motivation.
Why do you need a good laptop for programming?
A good laptop is required so that you can write software without having to wait a long time for programs to load and your software to build.
A good laptop also means:
- You won’t be constantly fixing issues with the laptop itself which can be very demotivating as a developer.
- You’ll have peace of mind knowing that the cause of your coding issues is not with the laptop itself!
Developing software is not an easy task to begin without having to deal with laptop and/or environment issues.
Instead, you should think of a laptop as an investment in yourself. A decent laptop will help you feel more inspired to put out your best work.
Getting a laptop such as a Macbook or a decent Windows model can also give you confidence knowing that many industry professionals are using the same tools as yourself.
Do you need a powerful laptop for coding?
A powerful laptop is not required for coding, but it does need to be decent enough to be able to multitask without overworking the CPU.
Whilst a gaming laptop would be considered an overkill for coding, a surface laptop would probably struggle if you’re using a heavy weight IDE such as Intellij.
My previous laptop was a HP-Envy with an Intel i7 processor with 16 GB RAM.
Even with this spec, when I was running Intellij, it was sluggish. But then I added an SSD and it took the performance to another level.
Since then, I’ve been coding on a base model 13-inch Macbook Pro. It has an Intel i5 processor, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD.
Occasionally I can hear the fan when running Intellij and Docker but I’ve never seen it struggle or slow down.
The bottom line is, get a reasonable modern laptop with at least 8GB RAM and an SSD and you will have no problems.
Is i3 enough for coding?
An Intel i3 CPU is enough for front-end coding and development, but may struggle to run resource intensive IDEs.
Is an i5 or i7 better for programming?
An Intel i7 is better and faster than an Intel i5. But an Intel i5 processor is adequate for most programming tasks.
Is 16gb RAM enough for programming?
Yes, 16GB RAM is more than enough for programming. In most cases, 8GB RAM is fine if you have an SSD.
Are Apple laptops good for coding?
Apple laptops are excellent for coding. In fact, I don’t know a developer that doesn’t code on an Apple Macbook.
I personally code on a Macbook Pro on a daily basis and have zero complaints.
The trackpad on a Macbook is, in my opinion, the best on the market. It performs better than trackpads I’ve used on Windows laptops.
And I actually prefer it to using a mouse.
In terms of performance, I have never had my Macbook slow down and sometimes have Docker running, two or three instances of Idea Intellij and many tabs open in a Chrome browser.
Of course, running all these programs does tend to run the battery down quite a lot.
But perhaps one of the biggest advantages of a Macbook is that they are Unix-based. This means they run most, if not all, Open Source software.
Probably the most useful and essential tool for a software developer is the Macbook terminal.
It’s fantastic for running open source tools and building software.
You can also connect to other computers and servers using Secure Shell (SSH) which is built into the Operating System itself.
Can you code on a Windows laptop?
Yes, you can code on a Windows laptop, and I did so myself for many years, before I switched to a Macbook.
I personally used a Windows 10 HP-Envy laptop for many years to write Java software and Android Applications.
One of the main reasons for switching was Docker. At the time, Docker didn’t run as well on Windows and so I had to switch.
However, since then Docker’s support for Windows has vastly improved.
The use of Open Source software is also possible using Windows. But it is better supported on Unix-based Operating Systems.
But, if you’re developing software specifically for Windows, coding in a .NET language such as C-Sharp, or doing game development, then I would absolutely recommend a Windows laptop.
Are Chromebooks good for coding?
Chromebooks are good for programming front-end applications and backend applications using lightweight runtime environments such as NodeJS.
But they generally aren’t powerful enough to run heavy weight applications such as Intellij or Visual Studio.
Neither would I recommend one for developing Android applications.
But, for coding front-end applications using frameworks such as React, they are more than adequate.
You can enable ‘developer mode’ on a Chromebook which gives you access to the shell and you can enable the ‘Linux Development Environment’.
This gives you access to Linux command line tools and enables you to install IDEs such as VSCode.
The downsides to using a Chromebook are:
- It can take some time to get things set up.
- Chromebooks can also be a little slow when building larger projects.
But if you’re new to coding, your projects are likely to be quite small. So this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
For an interesting insight into development on a cheap Chromebook laptop, check out the video below:
Are gaming laptops good for coding?
Gaming laptops are great for programming and are often powerful enough to handle almost any programming task with ease.
Running multiple IDE’s, building software and having many Chrome tabs open all at the same time makes light work for a gaming laptop.
But, if you intend to use a gaming laptop for the sole purpose of coding, they’re an overkill.
Developers don’t often require the processing power that gaming laptops are known for.
That being said, if you are developing using Artificial Intelligence/Machine learning and wish to train your own Neural Networks, you will benefit from the processing power that a gaming laptop has to offer.
Are Alienware laptops good for programming?
Alienware laptops can handle almost any programming task with ease as they tend to have powerful CPUs, powerful GPUs, SSDs and lots of RAM.
This includes building/compiling software and even computationally expensive tasks such as training neural networks.
Some Alienware laptops also have 17-inch screens which is useful when programming.
The extra real estate enables you to comfortably edit two files side-by-side.
The downsides to using an Alienware laptop is that they’re quite heavy and bulky to carry around.
It’s beneficial, as a developer, to have a lightweight laptop that you can easily carry around and use whenever and wherever.
Macbooks Vs Windows Laptops for coding
These days, programming can be done on either platform.
But the platform developers choose often comes down to personal preference and the type of programming work that they do.
Here are some things to consider when choosing between a Windows laptop or a Macbook for coding.
- Great support for Open-Source software tools such as Docker.
- Macbooks are UNIX-based and run most Linux-based software. Mac users are therefore already familiar with the environments found on web servers, database servers etc which are also based on UNIX.
- Macbooks have native support for a ‘terminal’ which can be used to write programs, run programs, call other programs, process files, and has built-in Secure Shell (SSH) for logging into other computers/servers.
- Open-Source software such as NodeJS, Ruby On Rails, NPM are built with Mac users ‘in mind’.
- Macs are required to develop iOS apps.
- Macbooks are fast and don’t slow down with time.
- Macbooks tend to have a better build quality than Windows laptops.
- Trackpad works very well.
- Great battery life.
- Great for programming for Windows and programming in languages such as C-Sharp or any .NET language.
- Often required for game programming
- No native support for SSH.
- Windows has a ‘command-prompt’ which is based on MS-DOS. Also has a ‘PowerShell’ terminal.
- Windows has a tool called ‘Windows Subsystem for Linux’ which allows developers to run a GNU/Linux environment on Windows.
- Windows laptops depreciate quicker than Macbooks.
- Some Open Source software can be difficult to get running on Windows laptops.
- Windows requires you to download ‘Python’ and ‘PHP’ in order to run programs in these languages.
What laptops do programmers use?
According to a poll on StackOverflow, most developers use Windows.
And I suspect that many of those developers will be using laptops because many companies now offer hybrid working. Having a laptop gives developers the ability to work wherever they like.
But, it’s important to keep in mind that some developers may still choose to use desktops PCs or iMacs.
Here’s the results. There were 57,814 responses in May 2021:
- 41.2% of professional developers use Windows.
- 30.04% of professional developers use MacOS.
- 25.17% of professional developers use Linux-based Operating Systems.
- 3% of professional developers use Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).
- 0.14% of professional developers use BSD.
What features must a laptop have for coding?
Here are some of the things that I consider to be important when using a laptop for coding:
- Good battery life. This is a big one for me. I like to code anywhere and everywhere. I want to be able to use my laptop for extended periods of time without having to plug in all the time.
- Solid-State Drive (SSD). This will speed up any laptop regardless of how much processing power and memory it has. It made a huge difference to the performance of my Windows 10 HP-Envy laptop.
- High resolution display. This is useful when programming because it gives you additional real estate. A full-HD or 4K display means you can view and edit two source code files side-by-side. This is particularly useful if you’re doing Test Driven Development (TDD).
Those are the ‘must-haves’. But some ‘nice to haves’ are:
- Good keyboard.
- Good trackpad.
- Good processing power (Intel i5 and upwards).
- Plenty of RAM (8GB+).
What laptop do you need to code Android apps?
If you wish to code Android apps, you’ll need a decent, modern laptop to be able to run Android Studio and the emulator smoothly.
A laptop with an Intel i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and an SSD hard drive should be more than adequate.
What laptop do you need to code iOS apps?
To develop iOS apps, you’re going to need either a Macbook Air or a Macbook Pro.
A base model Macbook will be fine but aim for at least 8GB of RAM and an SSD hard drive.
If you’re buying new, go for the new ‘M1’ chip. Otherwise, an Intel i5 CPU will be sufficient.
Best laptops for coding
The best laptop for coding, in my opinion, is the Macbook Pro or the Macbook Air.
For most people, this would be a base model 13-inch with the M1 chip, 8GB of RAM and 256GB Solid State Drive.
Macbooks are known for their build quality. The battery life on them is great and the trackpad is the best I’ve used on a laptop, meaning a mouse is not required.
The downside is that they’re expensive. But they’re built to last and Macbooks do hold their value well over time.
If you’re looking for a Windows laptop which is comparable to a Macbook Air, I recommend the Dell XPS 13.
The display is 13-inches, full-HD (60Hz) and has excellent build quality. It is thin and light too so perfect for portability.
The keyboard and trackpad are great too, though not on par with a Macbook.
In terms of price, it’s $849.99 and for that you get an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.
The newer models are more expensive at $1,219.99 for what is largely the same spec.
Robert Anderson, the founder of Tech Parasol, had a keen interest in tech from a very young age. He studied Electronic Engineering at University and then went on to become a Software Developer. He launched Tech Parasol in 2021 to share his knowledge with the aim of making tech easier to understand for everyone.