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Swislok-Dev
Swislok-Dev

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A Programmer's Laptop

How to choose a laptop for coding

Everyone has a different criteria when trying different laptops. For coding, many different factors are to be considered. Rather than place a list of items to consider first, I'll explain my journey through a few laptops I've owned and tried first hand.

Here are some things to consider

Coding Begins

When I first started coding I was using a Lenovo Yoga 2. I had a nice screen, but due to the glass touchscreen it was heavy. I looked up different laptop manufacturers and was settling on Lenovo.

The Lenovo ThinkPad is highly regarded as the best typing experience and that lineage started before Lenovo with the IBM ThinkPad.

I found myself a T460, a 14 inch display with a nice keyboard. For the next two years used this with Windows for coding in Python. I was happy in general, but when I started web dev bootcamp, was wanting a larger screen for working with multiple windows (as is the case for most web dev).

It's Too Big?

I later found myself looking at the 15 inch models of ThinkPads and got a T590, 15.6 inch display with a full keyboard including num pad. While I liked the larger screen for placing on a desk, most of my coding was done on my lap in my car during break time at work.

This became a problem as the extra size was becoming uncomfortable. I was able to get things done at home via the compatible dock for it with an extra monitor. I was then again wanting a different laptop with a 14 inch display on it.

I tried a few other 15 inch laptops, but the result was all the same. Cramped in small spaces, too much space taken up on the desk.

Docking Solution

The dock was a Lenovo dock that attached directly to the laptop which required it to lay down rather than stand up.

The dock was expensive and was determined to keep using this dock, but wanted the smaller screen size.

I came across the T14 by Lenovo which had an improved processor in it and the experience was really great. The dock was starting to become the issue. I really enjoyed the display now and processor speed along with a better integrated GPU which allowed very fast web page rendering along with some creative work on the side.

I then went a got a System 76 laptop which was branded as their "thin and light". I was almost 100% happy with this laptop. It was super light, almost 2 pounds, great display, larger than normal battery, physical dimensions made it able to be hauled anywhere with no issues and I made use of a new dock that required a USB type C cable for docking.

The problem with this was the keyboard. It was awful. Keys felt like something found on a toy and the arrow keys were so tiny you could press 3 directions at once.

Thin and Light

To get back to center I found a T470 which was familiar in all ways to the T460, just better internals (CPU, SDD, 16GB of RAM). This had a USB type C port which allowed me to maintain my current docking solution.

I really like the weight of the System 76 laptop and was on Lenovo's website again for their thin and light model, X1 Carbon.

This model just received an update and was seemingly everything that I could have wanted. Once I received this one I had everything. Great CPU, plenty of RAM, blazing fast SSD and a different aspect ratio of 16:10 which allows more vertical space; good for reading more lines of code.

Controversy Ensues

I finished my bootcamp with the X1 Carbon thinking I was going to keep this laptop forever. I had been running Linux for my time at the bootcamp and everything seemed perfect.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, during this time Apple had been doing some great things in terms of their Macbook lineup with the advent of the M1 (Apple Silicon) chip.

The chip offered beyond better performance than any other laptop and twice the battery life as well.

At this point I had covered everything about a laptop to consider other than the screen resolution. My past laptops had a 1080p display as that offered a balance of decent clarity and battery life.

Higher resolutions = more pixels = more battery used.

The M1 Macbook Air offered a higher resolution screen and better battery life which was very appealing now. It too had an aspect ratio of 16:10. The screen size was a little smaller (13.3 inches), but with a higher resolution comes a couple of trade-offs:

  • Clarity for coding
  • UI elements aren't skewed

So I got it.

I've been using the M1 Air every since and has everything a coder like me would need for my use case.

Things to Consider

Now is the list of my criteria when seeking out or seeing a new laptop on the market for how I would need it.

  • Display size
  • Aspect ratio
  • Battery life
  • Keyboard feel
  • Keyboard layout
  • Physical size
  • Weight
  • Docking solution

Hopefully this will help for some things to considered and what I've gone through for making a purchase for yourself in the future.

Make sure to try before you buy, buying and selling laptops can be quite tiresome!

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