Top 3 Laptops for Software Engineering Students and Professionals in 2021

There seems to be a separate class of devices for every niche these days, be it business, gaming, or software development. Now, is there really much that separates them? As it happens, these divisions and sub-divisions are more than just gimmicks. There are significant differences between how these laptops are designed, powered, and priced, depending on the intended market.

What Should You Expect from a Software Developer’s Laptop?

A lot depends on the use case scenario since software engineering itself is an extremely broad field. For example, if you are about to join, or are in the process of joining a Masters in Software Engineering online program, you will learn and practice software verification & validation, software testing, MSA & cloud infrastructure system programming, advanced level coding in Java for developing enterprise-grade applications, and so much more. Therefore, your laptop selection should prioritize:

  • Processing power, aka performance
  • Keyboard quality

Design can take a backseat here because you will be pursuing this course online, which means that you don’t have to worry too much about carrying it around. This is a big advantage as well, as trying to integrate looks and goods is what hikes up the price of a laptop. Concentrate almost entirely on performance and quality, because you do not need a laptop that looks fancy, costs a lot, but can’t run a video rendering software and an integrated development environment (IDE) side-by-side.

Then again, not everyone is looking for the same thing, as not everyone has the same requirements. What if you are someone who needs to run around a lot due to the nature of your job? If that is indeed an unavoidable stipulation, then the design must also take precedence. The solutions will be more costly, but thanks to the industry’s ever-increasing ability to shrink hardware components, it is possible. With both outlooks in mind, we have curated a small list of competent software engineer’s laptops next.

Dell XPS 15: 2020 Edition

The 2020 version has the following customizable specs which make it an ideal choice for most software engineer and students out there:

  • 10th generation Ice Lake Intel Core i5 to i7 CPUs are available
  • Choice of GPU ranges between the in-built Intel Iris Plus Graphics to a GTX 1650 Ti
  • RAM capacity ranges between just 8GB to a massive 64GB, but at least 32GB RAM is a must
  • Perfect screen size at 15.6” but skip the expensive 4K (3840 x 2400) display in favor of FHD+ (1920 x 1200)
  • Touchscreen capability is likely unnecessary, and you can save money by not opting for one
  • Superb keyboard with 1mm travel keys and a high-quality touchpad makes it perfect for those long coding sessions
  • Impressive battery life, but only if you opt for the FHD+ display

The mid to high-range configurations of the Dell XPS 15 are perfect for coders, including those that need to travel around a lot. However, if you can settle for a smaller display, go with the Dell XPS 13 instead. This one is not, however, the best laptop for developing, testing or playing games. The Dell XPS 13/15 will start to show its limits if you have plans of running resource-intensive 3D modeling software resources.

HP Spectre x360: 2021 Edition

A stunning, yet powerful 2-in-1 laptop that’s designed to be more productive than being gimmicky. If you were looking for a decently priced coder’s laptop that looks great and feels superlight without sacrificing too much, check out the HP Spectre x360: 2021 Edition’s specs next:

  • Choice between 11th gen Intel Core i5 or i7, Whiskey Lake CPUs
  • 16GB RAM (do not get the 8GB variant)
  • 3″ 1080p IPS, multitouch display (the available 4k option does not make sense at 13.3”)
  • Intel Iris Xe GPU is surprisingly powerful for an integrated chip

The Dell XPS 13 or 15 still proves to be a better choice for most, especially since there is such a big price difference. This one will appeal more to professionals coding on the go, as style with substance is the main appeal here.

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020

The MacBook Pro has always been an excellent programmer’s laptop because of Apple’s unmatched integration of in-house hardware-software integration. Rest assured that irrespective of how it may look like on paper, the software-hardware optimization will allow you to get performance out of the MacBook Pro 2020 that is impossible to squeeze out of a similarly powered Windows laptop. However, that brings us to the most important question: should you buy a MacBook Pro 2020 with an Intel Core i7 CPU or an Apple M1 chip?

In terms of CPU and GPU performance, the M1 is significantly better, but only if you are comparing older-gen core i7 CPUs, and not the latest generation Whiskey Lake i7 CPUs. Now, here is the conundrum: if you want a MacBook pro for your programming needs, you cannot get an 11th gen Intel processor in it, as Apple does not use those anymore. If the MacBooks did have them, though, they would be significantly faster and better in almost all aspects, but especially while using professional-grade AI applications. Check out the comparison and if it matters to you, just go with any one of the several 11th Gen Windows laptops that will soon become more available.

Even with the M1 chips, the MacBook Pro is significantly better than its predecessors in every possible aspect. Just check the main highlights below:

  • Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU & an 8-core GPU proves to be quite decent in handling almost anything
  • 16GB RAM is the model to get, even if it is a MacBook pro
  • The 13.3” 2560 x 1600 crisp and clear panel isn’t the brightest, but that should not be a problem for any coding purposes
  • Storage offered ranges from 256GB to 2TB SSD, although the previous model offered up to 4TB of internal storage

Finally, if you are into a line of programming that requires running and testing the most resource-intensive software programs out there, opt for a desktop instead. After a certain threshold, it makes no sense in buying a laptop for tasks that were clearly meant for desktops. You will be able to customize and assemble your own PC, and they are so much more cost-effective.