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Best Laptops for Software Development in 2021

Hello Dev World Blog
A dev trying to learn what I can from others while trying to share knowledge to hopefully help other devs as well
Originally published at hellodevworld.com ・5 min read

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So, I often get asked what the best computer for doing software development is and I kind of hate that question because the answer is it depends. Are you only going to use it for software development? What else do you want to do on it? What operating system do you want? What kind of development are you going to be doing? So ya. It depends and arguably you could do development from just your phone. Nothing special needed. However, I will do my best to make a top 5 list of best laptop choices for software development (in no particular order).

1. MacBook Pro 13”

Okay so this is a hot topic but I love using a MacBook for development. I’ve been using them for years and never had issues. It’s also a must-have if you are doing ruby development as you may run into issues with it on a PC. The reason I say a 13” MacBook Pro is because the 16” versions don’t have the M1 chip yet. It is on its way but not out yet. When that comes out I will be updating this for that instead. You can never have too much real estate when developing especially for web developers. If you are looking to do App development and want to support apple devices an iMac or MacBook Pro will be a must-have as you need them to compile your apps and release them to the store. If you are a game engineer the screens on the MacBooks are incredible and with the new M1 chips you shouldn’t have any issue with processing power although they may run a little hot. I also get the higher RAM and storage because I would rather have more and not need it than need it but not have it.

2. Razer Blade 15

If you are leaning more towards a pc the razer blade 15 with a RTX 3070 is a great choice. I love this laptop because is a beast and super portable. I used to have this laptop for traveling because I liked that I could do work and gaming on the laptop. If you want a lot of power in a small laptop this is a great choice. The screen is also amazing. It also has plenty of processing power for the game developers and a great screen for them to work on. If you are doing .NET development (not core but anything other than core) you will want to opt for a PC as you won’t be able to do it on a mac. Again I opt for the higher ram and if possible get more storage. I also opt for the 3070 instead of the 3060 because I use it for gaming and would rather have the power than not. The extra power is also a must if you are going to be doing game development or video processing.

3. Asus ROG Zephyrus

This is actually the current laptop that I have as my travel laptop. It is such a beast of a computer for a great price. It isn’t too heavy and has enough power for gaming as well as web development. If you want the best screen around this isn’t the best choice you get a lot for your money with this laptop. You get a great amount of storage and RAM in a small laptop for around $2000. I have last years’ version and since then they have unfortunately raised the prices I think due to the expense of the new graphics cards but I still think this years’ is a great choice for a great price. They do have a cheaper option with a 3060 instead of a 3070 personally I think it’s worth the extra for the better graphics card but I also play some graphics-intensive games. Again if you are doing .NET development (not core but anything other than core) you will want to opt for a PC as you won’t be able to do it on a mac.

4. Surface Pro

I have always found surface pros really interesting. At this point, they are a great very portable option. However, they are more like tablets which bother some people. They do run the full Windows OS and can definitely handle web development. I wouldn’t choose this if you are a game developer as I don’t think it would have enough processing power. But if you are looking for a lightweight very portable option for development definitely check one of these out! One these I actually opt for the cheaper options because you won’t be using this for much more than web development or basic web browsing and I don’t think it’s worth the extra cost for the upgraded version with more RAM and storage as the lower version can handle everything you’d be doing on it. Again if you are doing .NET development (not core but anything other than core) you will want to opt for a PC as you won’t be able to do it on a mac although visual studio (the full IDE) does take a good amount of processing power usually so if you will be doing this I would consider the upgraded version of the surface

5. Dell XPS 15

If you are a .Net developer or work in a PC shop you will most likely have used this before or may currently be using it. Say what you will about dell but I never had issues developing on an XPS. They are a super solid option if you are doing web development as they are plenty powerful but don’t have all the bells and whistles that you pay extra for in other computers. I don’t think they are the best option for gaming devs or people who want to also use their laptops for gaming but if you just want to use your computer for development this is a very solid and cheap option.

*Bonus MSI Stealth

I have always been a huge MSI fan. My first laptop was an MSI and lasted over 5 years. They are a little more pricey but they have great customer service and are built really well. This MSI laptop will be able to handle anything and everything and is definitely a great investment especially if you are a game developer or would like to play games on this laptop as well. They do have cheaper versions of this laptop with similar specs. But, these are the specs I would go for especially if you are doing any gaming. If you don’t care a lot about refresh rate or playing a lot of processor-heavy games you can definitely go with the cheaper version though and they are still a great choice.

I hope this helps you when deciding on your next laptop you really can’t go wrong with any of the options just keep in mind the type of development you want to do and what else you may want to do on the laptop.

Discussion (50)

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leob profile image
leob • Edited

You haven't said much about OS, the implicit choice here seems to be between OSX and Windows (although the latter isn't explicitly mentioned) ...

What I was wondering about - what's the best option for someone who prefers Linux - does it always mean you buy a laptop with Windows preinstalled, and then you wipe it (or you make it dual boot), or are there laptops on the market without an OS preinstalled?

(a quick Google search shows that yes, laptops without an OS are available, it's just they're more hard to find, and they probably aren't sold by "grade A" suppliers, they're a bit more obscure brands - and no idea about the quality ... Microsoft and Apple don't necessarily have a superior product but they do have better marketing)

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aghost7 profile image
Jonathan Boudreau

You can buy Lenovo or Dell laptops with Linux preinstalled. There are also other companies which specialize in Linux laptops such as System76. Personally I have a System76 laptop and I'd say its a pretty good experience.

When buying a laptop without Linux, you're always risking that the drivers won't work properly. Companies such as Dell and System76 make sure the hardware will work correctly with Linux.

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leob profile image
leob

Ah cool, so it's in fact a lot better supported than I thought ...

Well actually I've installed Linux (mostly Ubuntu) on quite a few laptops, after wiping Windows or even dual boot - didn't have a lot of problems with drivers, I think Ubuntu is fairly complete with that, and it's getting better all the time - back then I still had to search and look for drivers and download them somewhere, or even compile from source, but I think nowadays that'll be rarely necessary anymore.

Even installed Ubuntu on a Mac a few times, what an adventure, that's a time consuming "hobby", but yeah even that worked.

But, it's good to hear that nowadays there are also well supported laptops available, with Linux preinstalled, from reputable manufacturers!

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aghost7 profile image
Jonathan Boudreau

You might not necessarily have your wifi not work at all, but I've seen glitches in generic drivers (scroll not working sometimes, etc).

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leob profile image
leob

Yeah that would be annoying ... I thought that components and peripherals (and drivers) were so standardized nowadays that this might be a thing of the past, but I'm not doubting what you say ...

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vdsmartin profile image
Martin Vandersteen

For basic things such as Wi-Fi adapters, keyboards, touchpads, it mostly is a thing of the past.

There are still issues with Fingerprint readers or other more "specific" components though ! Still worth it to me ;)

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ralphbrooks profile image
Ralph Brooks

Love Linux, but sometimes I need to use MS Word. Lucky for us, you can get a laptop with Windows and install Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (because all good things deserve a sequel). WSL2 allows you to use Ubuntu on windows.

I loved it so much, I even put together a quick video on how to do this installation at : courses.whiteowleducation.com/courses/machine-learning-mastery/lectures/30614920

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leob profile image
leob

Yeah WSL is pretty good I've heard ... an alternative would be to run Linux, and then run Windows under it via VirtualBox, if you need to use MS Office?

OTOH I'm using OpenOffice and I believe it gets me 90% of the way there with MS Office compatibility ...

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ralphbrooks profile image
Ralph Brooks

This definitely gets into the issue of a use case. If you are doing edge computing or something like that, then you are most likely using Linux. For me, if I am developing, then I have 20 browser tabs open, MS Word is open, and I have WSL2 running docker containers in the background. Also, it looks like Microsoft is starting to support Linux GUI .

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leob profile image
leob • Edited

Sounds good ... Microsoft seems to move in the right direction, they're no longer Steve Balmer's "evil empire" (Developers!!! Developers!!! Developers!!!!!!!!!)

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author

Ya totally fair I was thinking about that when going to sleep last night. In my experience getting one with windows and wiping it is the best route as getting one without an OS is hard and it’s super easy to wipe and switch :) Linux takes less processing power than windows and you likely won’t be doing much gaming on it although more games are becoming available on Linux but generally you would be using Linux for work and not much else so you can definitely opt for the lower end of the laptops unless for some reason your work needs a lot of processing power and you are right Linux is great I have it on 1 of my computers and love it lol

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wkrueger profile image
Willian Krueger

productivity-wise, windows is just better. It will get more things out of your way.

Didnt use to be like that, but now support for little things got better, and for the worst cases you can just slap incompatible things in docker containers.

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leob profile image
leob • Edited

TBH currently I'm using Mac OSX, not Linux, so that might make my arguments less compelling (because I suppose that Windows and OSX are seen as "on the same level"), but I've used Ubuntu in the past and found it a great experience, not missing anything ...

What then are the things that Windows gets "out of the way"? Unless you're talking about cases where you need 100% compatibility with stuff like MS Office and such, but otherwise I wouldn't know what I'm missing if I'm using Ubuntu ... regarding productivity, I never really liked Microsoft's UI/UX experience, for me the usability level of their products is low :)

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wkrueger profile image
Willian Krueger

Basically Linux gets in the way because it is constantly breaking something (besides missing the decent tools like PS or MS Office), or sometimes missing basic setup. Also, when you talk about drivers and peripherals, you get higher chance of getting unsupported. (for instance, my laptop comes with a power tweak software on windows). Talking about power, last time I checked, the power management for laptops on linux continues... weird, when non existing out of the box. Even Windows Vista already had better power management.

If you never had to fix weird problems on linux for sh*t that should just work, consider yourself lucky.

I dont know what you talk about UX. All OSes have the same UI for years. File managers and app search are all the same. Default gnome ubuntu side bar is hideous. Default ubuntu gnome app search is horrible. It only changes from the norm if you use something more geeky like a tiling window manager etc.

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leob profile image
leob • Edited

Gnome Classic (yes, Gnome Classic please, not that Unity thing which they're promoting on Ubuntu) looks just fine to me, but maybe I'm a bit more tolerant to that kind of stuff ...

I've used Linux for years and it was solid and reliable, so I have no idea what you're talking about when you say "Linux is constantly breaking something". It's more than 10 years ago since I last used Windows, but how many times has a Windows upgrade screwed things up badly? Too many times to count.

You may be right about some things like a higher chance of drivers missing or hardware not supported, but there are companies you can purchase laptops from with Linux preinstalled, and they will make sure that the hardware and the drivers work (including power management), meaning it's not really an issue then ... same situation as when you're buying a PC or laptop with Windows preinstalled.

And personally I don't use MS Office or Photoshop, so for me that's not an issue either (but obviously that's depending on personal needs and preferences then). If ever I'd occasionally had to use that kind of thing then VirtualBox worked well (with a "developer version" of Windows that's free to download).

Now for the upsides of Linux over Windows:

  • performance: Linux is way way way less of a memory and CPU hog, it runs rings around Windows performance wise ... it simply means that you'll be left with tons of usable RAM and disk, compared to Windows on the same hardware

  • for devs who prefer to work with the command line (which are many): Linux shell and terminal are vastly superior (even when taking into account improved Linux support under Windows via WSL)

  • the ability to install software and perform other (admin) tasks via the command line rather than having to do everything via a GUI is worth a lot to me (but again that's down to personal preference I suppose)

But I'll readily admit that I'm biased - I dumped Windows more than 10 years ago, switching to OSX and to Linux, and haven't looked back ever since ... whenever I'm forced to use a Microsoft product I notice that I dislike it a lot - and having to endlessly click around Windows config dialogs whenever someone asks me to "fix their PC" is something I hate with a vengeance, and try to avoid at all cost.

(Windows is the only OS that I've used which manages to have problems with something as basic as connecting to a Wifi network - I'm not kidding you, it happened to me AGAIN just a week ago with someone's PC - and no, I'm not going to waste my time fixing that, I told that person "sorry but this is Windows, life is short and I'm not ever going to waste my time again with this MS crap")

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wkrueger profile image
Willian Krueger • Edited

Yeah windows is not immune to driver issues (it actually happens a lot, which usually culminates in blue screens, bad wifi etc). And yeah you can buy a System76 (but why when you can buy an M1?)

Ive used linux a while ago, but I also play games in this machine, so dual-booted. When I noticed I was managing to do all my dev work just fine, Ive never logged back in linux. Yes you can game on linux (ive done it), it runs fast, but its linux, its quirky, it has bad support.

I dont feel performance issues on windows, while in linux the UI frequently does not even run at 144hz for some reason (when moving windows, scrolling etc). I never have issues after the PC sleeps/hibernates, bluetooth and connected devices work great, the UI do change sound outputs is great. Face recognition login works out of the box. Discord on windows is not bugged...

While linux uses less memory, when you get to swap land even the mouse freezes, which is ridiculous. When windows swaps you dont even notice it. Id pick linux for an old computer (windows 10 really sucks for old computers) but I got no reason to use it in this PC.

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leob profile image
leob • Edited

Gaming is often a reason for people to prefer (or even require) Windows ... well it shows that this is really down to personal preference and requirements - and everyone's experience with these systems or OS-es seems to be different, whether in a positive or in a negative way ... I think what's most important is that we have options, alternatives - what I wouldn't like is if we'd have ONLY Windows, or ONLY Mac/OSX, or ONLY Linux for that matter ... I would certainly dislike a monopoly, choices and options are a good thing.

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darrentmorgan profile image
darrentmorgan • Edited

I'm using the m1 mac. My first ever mac after 31 years on "pc's". Bar the lack of some compatibility issues with packages and such, even with all of those headaches, m1 is hands down the best laptop I've used. Period.

I'm not gaming, not doing anything crazy. It's sleek, portable and some days I don't even plug it in to charge.... WTF... I was preparing to move some files from one of my windows laptops and I had both open. I was using my m1 and the "pc" laptop was sitting IDLE on a cooling stand and it's fan was going 100%. My m1 hadn't even spun the fan up.

I've never really liked working on laptops before now, but often I find myself on the couch doing some work because it's just so nice to use. I'm not an apple fanboy, far from, but the m1 is night and day compared to other "pc's" laptops I've used.

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raibtoffoletto profile image
Raí B. Toffoletto

I'm a regular linux guy and not a apple fanboy, the only product I have is an iPad Air (and love). But if I had to buy a laptop TODAY, it would be a m1 MacBook air, kinda hard to beat in power consumption vs performance. Also, the reports I've seen, arm linux vms run fine, so any package is not ported on homebrew maybe on linux.

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darrentmorgan profile image
darrentmorgan

Yeah I agree with all of this. My main system is dual boot Linux Ubuntu (recently moved to mx linux) and win 10.

The only slight issues I've had have been with pyenv. There are some work arounds, however it's just a bit painful when you just want to work on a project but end up troubleshooting packages / setting up envs on different systems.

With all that said, I would choose the m1 over anything on the market right now.. it's just a great little combo. I love how the airport magnet to the screen.. I'm sounding more like a apple fan boy each day.

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williambl profile image
Will BL

Surprised no ThinkPads came up in this list - you can get ex-corporate ones for super cheap. I'm using an e470 with upgraded RAM and new battery, total cost ~£170? Compiling things takes a while, but it's never felt slow. Battery life is amazing, and Linux support is great.

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andreidascalu profile image
Andrei Dascalu

What about System76? Those are awesome, quite on par with Razer Blade and somewhat cheaper even when throwing in gaming video cards.

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elischei profile image
Eli H. Schei

You have mentioned the Surface pro, but I can also recommend the Surface book series (i have a Surface book 3) - which is more like a laptop, but you can still detatch the screen and use ut as a tablet :)

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author

Nice I totally forgot about the surface books I haven’t had much experience with them glad they are a good option though!!

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safinghoghabori profile image
Safin Ghoghabori

I want to buy a new laptop, above described laptops are super amazing BUT they're out of mu budget.

So please can you suggest me a laptop about 60k price? My work includes Coding and Web development(React,Node) only(no gaming, editing or etc)

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author • Edited

ya for sure! not really sure what your budget is but this macbook air i think would be more than fine for just development and web browsing: amzn.to/3vluoHS

you could prob get away with this one but may need an external hard drive: amzn.to/3gxNIwd

same with this one amzn.to/3cGU2jC

I am not a huge fan of lenovo but plenty of people love them and this is a pretty good deal as well: amzn.to/2Tz3E9o

hope this helps!

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thormeier profile image
Pascal Thormeier

I'm using a Lenovo Legion with Arch Linux running on it, and can only recommend. Linux runs pretty well on Lenovo machines to begin with (I even once heard that most Linux distros are tested/developed on Lenovos, no guarantee on that, though...), the gaming specs allow for several VMs, IDEs and othe resource hogs to run smoothly at the same time and it boots up in a matter of seconds. I know a lot of people running on Lenovo Yogas as well, Manjaro or Ubuntu are also possible options. Only "downside": getting the RGB keyboard backlight running is a bit painful :D

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

As you say, it really depends what kind of development you're doing.

I have three machines here, a 3rd gen i7 PC, a 2nd gen i5 laptop and a 2020 MBP. There's nothing I can't do that I need to do any of them, and the i5 is a decade old. It didn't cost me anything, because someone wanted rid of it. The desktop PC is a mishmash of parts but probably cost about $4-500 in your money units all told. It's not a laptop, but it has two 24" monitors and a properly keyboard and mouse, so...

The "best" computer for someone is always going to be a value decision.

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coderslang profile image
Coderslang: Become a Software Engineer

Air >>> Pro

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author

I had an air for a while and for web development especially with small apps it worked great! And for travel was amazing I didn’t even know it was in my bag! I just prefer my pro because i like the bigger screen and I use it for more than just work and the air isn’t great with handling big applications but with the new m1 chip could definitely be a different story

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coderslang profile image
Coderslang: Become a Software Engineer

I got the M1 Air as soon as it was out and I can't be happier. It's cold as ice, silent and the battery life is mindblowing. A huge upgrade from my 15 inch Pro.

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author

Nice ya the m1 chips are a game changer for sure I’m actually getting an iPad now for the first time since they came out cause of the m1 lol

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hasnaindev profile image
Muhammad Hasnain

I am using Dell XPS. I absolutely love the display! Occasionally play some old coop games with friends too like The Forest.

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andrewrgarcia profile image
Andrew Garcia • Edited

Very cool. ASUS makes reliable computers in my experience.

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sanidz profile image
sanidz • Edited

Thinkpads for Windows environment because of - quality, durability, customisation and ECC memory.
If you are on a budget buy refurbished t530 or t430.
If you want light small stuff, x1 carbon.
Dont care about the monies, want portability and casual gaming, x1 extreme with undervolting and repasting is the best choice.

Cons for other:

  1. macs with m1 dont support windows
  2. razer blade is expensive and could have issues
  3. Asus has quality issues - heat
  4. Surface has soldered ram & sensitive to dirt
  5. XPS - too aggresive heat and power throtling, charger cant charge fast enough
  6. MSI - same as asus
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xedinunknown profile image
Anton Ukhanev • Edited

I wouldn't consider Win vs Mac vs Nix much of a critical choice nowadays. My primary desktop OS is Windows, and has been that way for 99% of the time. I am very familiar with it, I like PC gaming very much, and I don't want to move from it. But I develop software, specifically for the web, and it's just so much more convenient to do this under Nix: the tools are amazing, and this is likely going to be the environment where my software will be run. There being many others like me, Microsoft did us all a nice, and added WSL. Suddenly, this is no longer a choice I have to make: WSL2 allows me to have Linux natively, and that brings LXC which enables Docker. And if you can Docker, you can whatever. As a result, I have 0 tools installed in my Win10 desktop OS (apart from the IDE, which of course runs and looks much better in the native OS); and yet all the tools I need are available to me at least as conventiently as before. The WSL environment is the perfect place to contain things like Git, which is usable for every project, and which is required for the tooling I use (like PHPStorm). Every project I start gets a Docker environment configuration which contains all of the pre-requisites for that program, and I can deploy an app atomically and with extreme ease and reliability. Modern tooling like IntelliJ software integrates with WSL (such as to run Git), and allows for remote interpreters (including inside Docker containers), which it connects to in order to run PHP and tools built with PHP (like Composer). Because all of the configuration in the Docker environment is known (you configure it, and simply commit it to the project), it becomes possible to also ship the IntelliJ project configuration with the source (like on Github), and any contributors immediately get the same environment like myself, which allows them to gets started without delay, and without having to re-configure their environment every time they switch to a different project. Here's an example of a template for such a project:
github.com/Dhii/php-project

As for the laptop itself, I have Razer Blade Pro 17, and it's very good for both gaming and development (and I guess for everything else too, therefore). The only complaints I have:

  1. Runs very slow when unplugged. I understand that this beast needs juice, but isn't the juice in the battery? Even on the exact same Performance power plan settings, it slows down considerably as soon as it is unplugged. So much so that there's visible stuttering, and things like face unlock takes like 5-7 seconds to work.
  2. Small battery. A surprizingly small battery for such a powerful laptop, it only realistically gives a couple of hours of low-intensity work - like applications stuff, movie, etc.
  3. Doesn't work well with my JBL TUNE600BTNS headphones. Intermittent robot voice, automatic misconfiguration of input and output channels, etc.
  4. Doesn't go to sleep when it should. Nowadays, it just never switches off on its own, even at night.

That said, I guess at least some of those issues are due to the somewhat esoteric setup I have (WSL, Docker, Discord, etc). I use 3 virtual desktops, and each one typically has quite a few Chrome tabs open, not to mention the IDE, entertainment stuff like Spotify and Youtube, various messengers, steam, time tracking and project management software, etc etc. Also, as I research and understand the problems deeper, I am able to circumvent them much more easily - like shutting down WSL when I'm not using it in order to save power (this also sometimes remedies its insomnia), or manually selecting the sound i/o channels when they get mixed up by the OS or specific applications. As soon as it is plugged in, though, everythin works lightning fast. Overall, this is an excellent product, and IMO is the most powerful portable PC solution that doesn't look like a toy (yes, I'm looking at you, Alienware). It is very expensive, but not as expensive as the top range Macs (sometimes considerably cheaper). Highly recommended despite the problems I listed. In fact, since it is apparently impossible to ship anything with a LiIo (or any other volatile) battery to my country, I had to order it 3 times, waited 10 months, and paid out of my butt for all that stuff, but even despite the fact that a newer model came out a couple of months after I got mine, making it instantly obsolete and thus causing a price drop, it was totally worth the wait.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Microsoft, IntelliJ, Razer, or any of the other brands, companies, or organisations that I have listed, in any way whatsoever.

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jankapunkt profile image
Jan Küster

Why not Lenovo?

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author

Fair question I have had a lot of issues in the past with Lenovo especially with the screens they have issues with their screen connections getting detached or just go bad my parents also had issues with their webcams and mother boards for theirs and their customer service is a mess but I have had friends who have had good ones just not a computer company I would put on my top 5 list

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jankapunkt profile image
Jan Küster

That's interesting because they were defacto standard for business Laptops not long ago.

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syaufy profile image
SYAUQIZAIDAN KHAIRAN KHALAF

Thanks man, im looking for new laptop and u came 🎇

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pypdeveloper profile image
pypdeveloper

What about System76 I have never used them but they seem like descent laptops.

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author

i have also never used them but a few people mentioned them going to have to do some more research and get one to try it out lol

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corentinbettiol profile image
Corentin Bettiol

The Thinkpad T14 (amd) is a beast, and it's very useful for CPU-intensive development.

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whimsyniche profile image
Victor D

MSI Stealth G series are pretty good

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hellodevworldblog profile image
Hello Dev World Blog Author • Edited

Also a GREAT option my first laptop was an MSI and lasted 5 years :) can’t believe I forgot them maybe I’ll add a bonus #6 😜 good call

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xavierhazzardadmin profile image
XavierHazzardAdmin

I feel like you shouldn't recommend laptops for others. What's important is explaining what specs are good and why that is.

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pr0f3ss0rst3ph profile image
Stephon Fraser

Just add the M1 MacBook Air to that list. That's my current device and it's awesome!

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ruthvikraja_mv profile image
Ruthvik Raja M.V

Mac is best

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drsensor profile image
DrsEnsor

For ops and terminal guys who crazy about cli and tui workflows, cheap netbook or Chromebook is more than enough.