How to Choose a Development Laptop

Development Laptop

Developers have specific needs with their systems. If you are a developer, or have been considered giving programming a try, then you will need the right equipment for the job. Choosing a development laptop may seem like an arduous task, but really it’s not unlike choosing any other laptop.

By following the steps highlighted below, you should be able to select a laptop that is perfect for your development needs.

Step 1: Your Needs and Budget

Development Laptop

The first step is determining what your development needs are and how much you have to invest in a laptop for your coding. After all, if you don’t establish what you really need, there’s a good chance you will pick up a laptop that simply won’t do what you need it to do.

For example, what type of development are you doing? Do you develop mobile apps for smartphones such as Android or iOS? Are you created a custom application for your business? Are you a web developer? Each one of these styles of development require different resources and hardware. If you are an established developer, this will be easy. But if you are new to the world of development, this could be more difficult.

Once you know what you are going to develop, it’s time to go about setting your budget. While you can get away with developing on almost any type of laptop, I promise you will have a much better development experience on one of the more higher end machines with faster hardware, graphics, and decent displays.

Step 2: Choose an Operating System


Now it’s time for you to choose what operating system you will be using for your programming. In some cases, this choice may be made for you. If you are developing Windows apps, for example, chances are you are going to need a Windows computer to help you test it properly. But, if you are creating mobile apps or web apps, in many cases this comes down to personal preference.

There are four main operating systems to choose from today. Let’s look at each one briefly.

Microsoft Windows

Outside of the Android mobile operating system, Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system in the world. That means that there are more application choices out there for developers as well as some of the best support, especially for commercial grade software. This is also a great option to choose if you are shopping on a tight budget, as you will find it on a wide range of laptops at all possible price points.

Apple macOS

A powerful operating system with its roots in UNIX, Apple’s macOS looks great, is easy to use, and has a host of applications designed to help you program. Still, it can only be loaded on Mac laptops and desktops, and you will have to pay a premium price to get one. Still, because of its open source roots and strong community, it’s easy to use this one for your programming needs. Unless, of course, you plan on developing apps for the Windows platform.


Linux almost single handedly powers the Internet today, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most popular. It also doesn’t mean it’s the easiest to use. In fact, it is arguably the most difficult to use. However, because of its open source policies, it’s easy to find apps for every aspect of your programming needs. It’s also one of the most powerful laptop and desktop operating systems in the world. If you want to have full control of your system, the ability to tweak and customize virtually everything about your operating system and you don’t the extra work and learning curve, this is one of the best development options available today.


This browser-based operating system is actually built on Linux, but it is much more streamlined and simple compared to the other operating systems on this list. Unlike other operating systems, the apps you will run are actually web based and far more limiting compared to other options. Still, if you are developing web apps or even creating apps for Chrome or ChromeOS, this could be a viable, although somewhat limited, option.

Step 3: Determine Your Specifications

Development Laptop

And now for the fun part. Your laptop’s specifications will determine its performance and whether or not it will run the applications for your programming needs.


At the heart of your computer is your processor. If you have spent any time in the world of information technology, you know there are more choices than we could possible count or even highlight in this article. However, for my money, I would use a seventh or eighth generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor for the task. These chips will give you some of the best speeds possible on laptops today, and should be able to execute your code flawlessly.

To be fair, pretty much any 64-bit processor will do the job, but not all x64 processors are created equally, and I would just completely avoid any of the basic Atom or Pentium processors out there today. Stick with the i-series line and you should have more than enough CPU power for your development tasks.

Hard Drive

There are two factors here that you need to consider when you are looking at hard drives.

  1. Hard Drive Size – When you are coding, your will be storing all the files for your project on your computer, at least in many cases. You also may need to run a few developer virtual machines for testing purposes. That means you are going to need a lot of storage on your drive.


  1. Hard Drive Speed – Because you will be constantly saving your code, opening many different apps, and even processing and testing your development project, you are going to need a hard drive that is fast.

There are two main types of hard drives – the HDD and the SSD. The HDD drives feature mechanical, moving parts whereas an SSD stores data on microchips much like a memory card. The HDD drives are larger, but slower than their SSD cousins, although SSD sizes have been getting larger. HDDs are also cheaper than SSDs and this has yet to really change. If possible, i would buy the largest SSD my budget would allow to give you the best balance between both worlds. If you have to save a little money, look for a 7200rpm HDD as they are much faster than many other budget hard drives out there.


As a developer, you are going to need quite a bit of RAM. Think about it. Not only do you need enough RAM to test the applications you are developing, but you also need to run the tools to develop the app. This could mean running multiple virtual machines or testing environments, so you will need plenty of RAM that’s up to the task of powering these environments.

  • 8GB – This is most common in many laptops today and for many tasks is really considered the standard today. However, for a developer, it may not be enough. When you combine the RAM needed not only for your development but also your testing, you could find your laptop falling short. But, if you are doing simple web development, it may be passable, but I still wouldn’t recommend it.
  • 16GB – Today, 16GB is considered more the standard of high-end machines. You will find this amount of memory on many gaming machines and even productivity desktop replacements. This is the number that I believe you should shoot for when buying a development laptop. It should give you more than enough to develop any type of application, but it won’t be very future proof.
  • 32GB – In most laptops, this is the most amount of memory you will find today. Personally, this is the amount that I would install in my own laptop. Sure, 16GB will do the trick, but you will notice a difference if you double that amount and it also means that your laptop will last you longer as the demanding needs of software grows.


Your display is critical to any developer. After all, you need a display that’s large enough to display everything you need for development, including your application and your code. For that reason, I don’t recommend the smaller, 13-inch, displays on the more portable laptops. Instead, I would go with a 15-inch or 17-inch display for your development. This will give you enough room to run everything you need, with the right resolution, of course.

Speaking of resolution, you may be tempted to save a few bucks by going with a 720p display, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The fact is you need plenty of screen real estate to be able to read your code, run your test environments, and demo your app. You will find that everything will feel cramped if you go with a low resolution. For development, I would recommend a Full-HD 1080p resolution at a minimum, although you may want to consider a 4K display, as well.


The type of graphics you will need will depend largely on what you are developing. If you are creating a standard desktop app or doing light web development, graphics won’t be that important, meaning you should be fine to only use an integrated graphics chip on your laptop. These are quite common and can save you a ton of money on your laptop.

However, if you are doing anything that makes heavy use of graphics, video, or 3D development, you need to ignore any laptop with integrated graphics. You are going to need dedicated graphics. Like processors, not all of these are created equal. For my money, I would go with an Nvidia 10-series graphics card for this task. One of these cards should give you more than enough power for your graphics development.

Keyboard and Trackpad

We tend to focus so much on the internal hardware of laptops, that often the keyboard and trackpad are forgotten. But ignoring these two components can be a huge mistake. Think about it. How many hours are you going to spend using the keyboard and trackpad?

Now I’m sure most of you will plug in an external mouse, so that means the trackpad isn’t as important, but you still need one that works well if your mouse is unavailable. But what’s even more important, is the keyboard. The keyboard on your laptop needs to be sturdy, rugged, and ready to be used for hours at a time. Now, it’s tough to give recommendations here, as keyboard feel and use is largely a matter of personal preference. I prefer the larger, mechanical keyboards you find on my high-end gaming laptops, myself. But everyone has their own opinion here. Test them, if possible, and find a keyboard that feels right to you before you buy.

Step 4: Evaluate Comfort

Development Laptop

I realize that this may seem unimportant to many of you, but think about it for a minute. You will be sitting at this laptop for hours on end coding your next big project. Don’t you think that comfort should be a factor? Ultra-slim and small laptops may be great when it comes to portability, but for long stretches of use they can do a number on your hands and eyes. Larger laptops may be tougher to carry with you, but provide larger keyboards and bigger screens to make it easier for you to use.

In the end it comes down to your needs and personal preference. If you need a laptop to take with you for short coding sessions, then a smaller one that doesn’t provide as many comforts still could be the best solution. If, however, you plan on using this laptop as your main coding machine, then you may want to consider a larger option with more room for your hands and larger screens for your eyes.

Final Thoughts

Buying a the best laptop for programming and all your development needs doesn’t have to be difficult. By following this easy to use guide, you should be able to identify exactly what you need in a development laptop so you can select a laptop that is perfect for your development needs.

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