If you need to get a new laptop for programming or coding purposes and are uncertain where to start, this short guide will help you find the perfect setup for your needs.
For web developers, there are really two main paths they need to go through. If you're doing front-end web development, then you'll need a basic machine that can run a text editor and a browser to check your progress. For back-end developers things get a bit more complicated. You will need a laptop that can handle multiple tasks simultaneously like running a browser, a local server and the code editor. These might not seem like a lot, but they do require a lot of system resources so make sure you pick a laptop that's up to the task.
For game, 3D or mobile app development you'll need a high performance laptop that can render everything in real-time. Think about getting a gaming laptop if you'll be doing this type of work. Mobile app developers will often need to run a simulation of their app running in the mobile operating system, which can take a lot of system resources.
Let's have a look at some of the specs recommended for each of these types of development work.
The processor is the heart of your computer and by the number of cores and threads it boasts, it determines how many processes you can run well in parallel.
For front-end development work, you should be able to get away with a laptop that uses either a Core i3 or Core i5 dual-core processor. Back-end and mobile app developers should aim at least for a Core i5 quad-core processor, Core i7 being the best choice.
RAM or system memory helps the CPU process everything smoothly. The more your laptop carries, the better. Front-end work implies about 4-8GB of system memory installed, since you'll probably use a code-editor like Sublime Text and one or more browsers to check up on your work.
Mobile, game and back-end developers should opt for something with a bit more kick. The minimum amount of RAM should be in the 12-16GB range. This is to make sure that all your applications run smoothly together.
Hard Drive or SSD?
Every laptop needs to store and retrieve information. This is done by the storage device installed. Here you have two choices: either get a laptop with a regular HDD, that will typically cost a lot less, or get a laptop that comes with an SSD. An SSD is the newer type of storage option that doesn't rely on spinning disks to store information and can be about 10-12 times faster than a regular hard disk drive.
For front-end development work, a regular HDD should be enough, but you can always look for hybrid drives which incorporate a bit of SSD technology into a regular HDD. These are a bit faster than regular hard drives and don't cost quite as much when compared to SSDs.
For any type of programming that's above front-end development, it's recommended that you get a laptop that carries an SSD. This will speed up boot times and everything you run on your computer.
This is yet another thing you will have to think about. While Windows is perhaps the most popular operating system today, it's not quite the best choice when all development fields are concerned.
For web development you should try coding in a Linux-based OS, like Ubuntu. Mac OS also works with Windows being the last on this list. This is because you need to install different third-party software like XAMPP on Windows if you're going to do back-end work. You will have to install some of these as well on Ubuntu, but the process is much more streamlined.
The laptop screen is another factor that's important to take into account. With so many resolutions available today, it's hard to pick a laptop that's just right for programming.
Front-end developers will need a laptop that carries a screen with a higher than average resolution, since they'll need to test if their websites are responsive on a lot of resolutions. For back-end developers, this is less important. But what's true for both of these categories is the need for a secondary monitor. This can speed up development time quite a lot, since you don't constantly need to switch between applications when coding and checking the output.
While most developers sit at their desk when coding with the computer plugged-in, should you feel the need to code on the go, then make sure you get a laptop that's got a great battery life.
Macs are typically great at battery life, with their Air series going up to even 12 hours of battery life on a single charge.
The thing is, the more powerful hardware a laptop carries, the more battery life will be sacrificed. This is because powerful hardware eats up a lot of electricity. Most computers nowadays have devised ways of counter-acting this by dimming the display, throttling down the processor when the computer isn't used and so forth.
If you're sure you need a laptop with a great battery life, that's also powerful but don't want to pay through the nose for a MacBook, then you should invest in a secondary battery that you can take with you when you're on the move.
In conclusion, if you've run through all these aspects, you should have a pretty clear picture in your head of what your next laptop should be like.