What is the best laptop to buy for programmers?

I'm running Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server, and occasionally Photoshop CS2.


I just got a new Thinkpad T61p and I love it. I mostly program for 'nix based systems so I'm currently running Fedora 9 on it (vista is dual-booted...), and it runs quite well.

Vista runs decently also (4GB of ram help. I would recommend getting it with a single 2GB dimm from Lenovo and buying a second one from Crucial, since it is quite a bit cheaper to do so.); it even gets over four hours of battery life with the ThinkVantage battery utility.

At work I've used Macbooks on and off (I've been doing SysAdmin, so I have to play with the systems I've administered). Macs can be wonderful for 'nix programming, I have friends who love them, and with bootcamp Vista can run wonderfully. One of the people in our office (a Mac centric office...) used Windows primarily, so it had to be usable. See if you can find a friend who has done this... it's at the very least amusing to see.

I've also heard good things about some of the Dell lines. A friend of mine has an older light weight Dell XPS laptop which runs XP that he likes.


I noticed a high number of respondents who claim to use a MacBook Pro, and given how much they cost (here in New Zealand at least), if I can afford one, I'd far prefer to spend the money buying one good non-Apple laptop instead, plus a good NAS (with good hard drives) for my backups, a good UPS, and a good network switch. :-D

I have a Compaq Presario F573AU. I got this because it was a Killer Deal some months ago (read: cheap as dirt), for which I then proceeded to upgrade the RAM (4 GB) and hard drive (250 GB, though I can easily get larger ones now). After all the upgrades, I can still get two more computers with identical configuration for about the same price as a MacBook Pro. :-)

I'm not actually advising people to buy any specific brand or model as such (I loved Michael's suggestions by the way), just that I'm not afraid to "go the cheap route". I really don't agree with the approach of buying the latest model out on the market (sorry Terry), that's just burning your money. I believe in a certain amount of pragmatism when it comes to choosing a new computer.


I personally use a Macbook 2.0 with 4GB of RAM and 250GB HDD. I use Leopard as my main OS and parallels running Vista in a 2GB virtual machine for my development. It's been the most stable and best development environment I have worked with in the last 8 odd years. Now if Parallels can just finish 64 Bit guest support I will be satisfied.


+1 for the Lenovo Thinkpad. I'll be getting my fourth Thinkpad in the next few months. The thing is a tank. Smack it up, flip it, rub it down (oh no!) it can take the damage. The new specs on the T & W lines (T400, T500, W500, W700) are pretty impressive. Engadget just did a preview on the new W700 notebook. It had a 17" monitor, Quad Core CPU, up to 8 GB of RAM, 1 GB of video mem, a digitizer built in and a partridge in a pear tree.

Engadget Link: Lenovo intros the monstrous ThinkPad W700, and we get our hands all over it (updated with Wacom video demo)


Surely the most important thing is the keyboard. It could have the nicest screen, or dual 250GB drives, or the longest battery life, but if makes your fingers bleed after typing on it for 10 minutes, none of that shall matter..

I would also argue computers are so powerful now, worrying about the particular specs is pretty much useless now (although as people have stated, the more memory the better)

As for me personally, I use a Macbook Pro - I like their keyboards, and the touchpad is utterly brilliant compared to every single Windows-based laptop I've ever used. I would probably have got the Macbook, but the integrated graphics cards are useless (it's my primary machine for the foreseeable future, so I do gaming and video editing stuff on it).

If there's one thing I don't like, is that I chose a glossy screen. Don't get a glossy screen if you can avoid it: The "extra contrast" it boasts is trivial compared to all the annoyances like glare, finger-prints and such..


The hard drive speed is a very important point. Usually when you buy a laptop you'll get a 5400 RPM drive or lower shipped with it. That's quite slow for a development computer. If you want to be able to build your solution quickly, you want to get a hold of a 7200 RPM disk.

Something like this (I'm not familiar with american computer web shops, but newegg seems quite popular) would probably give you a valuable speed increase on your builds. That drive has a size of only 60 GB, but if you need more than that, you could invest in an external USB drive to house all of your other data.


I got my new work-laptop yesterday - a Dell XPS M1530 - and I'm loving it. The only problem with it is that there is missing x64-drivers on Dells site, so if you want to run 64-bit OS you'll have to do some detective work.


Without immediately going to brand names, I think the key factors to look at are display size and RAM. You'll want to be able to see as much code/debugging data as possible without having to constantly scroll back and forth. In addition, getting the extra RAM put into the system will help with loading your IDE of choice and the supplemental programs with it. I don't think the CPU is as important unless you're doing some MASSIVE projects and the graphics card can stay midgrade since you're not gaming on it.

That said, I've been on Dell Inspirons for my last 2 systems (9200, now 1721). Having the 17" display was key for me, as well as getting some good RAM and CPU cycles out of the system. The graphics isn't top of the line, but will play a few games that I like. You can also pick up a refurbished one for a great price from the Outlet and they have yet to do me wrong.

EDIT: Gah! Curse you Michael Stum and your god-like typing abilities!!!! Everything I was thinking and more in less time 8^D


For me it must have some ability to run dual screens. Using the on-board screen and one (DVI if possible) external screen is OK. Sometimes the offset in heights of the screens and native resolutions was hard to get used to.

Even better would be two external screens (on board disabled and using an external keyboard as well). I managed to do this with a Thinkpad and a docking station. The best! I liked having a dual screen workstation setup at your primary desk - but still being able to pick-up the laptop and work anywhere.

The downside is that I worked a lot less with the machine undocked - so I never really became proficient with the laptop's keyboard and touchpad. Also, the on-board LCD was lower res then the external screens - so I always had to fiddle with docking windows in my IDE, font sizes, etc when not docked.

Also, in-general the on-board LCD screen of a laptop is a concern. My Dell e1705's big beautiful WUXGA glossy screen is great for games/video... but text rendering kinda sucks (at least black-on-white text). Viewing angles are not the best as well.


I personally use a Macbook Pro - fast running Windows and has ability to be used for iPhone coding - if not I am a big fan of the XPS series by Dell.


:-) Well, at least I agree with you that the Dell Laptops are usually worth a look. While Dell's packaging is... erm... "legendary" and Carbon neutral, the Laptops are usually quite good price/performance wise, unless you pick the entry level models.

Another point: Glare vs. Non-Glare Displays. I was actually going to buy a Macbook, until I realized that Apple is only delivering the Macbooks with Glare Screens, and the MacBook Pros only in 15" and above, which means that it's not an Alternative to me (13.3" Non-Glare plx plx!!), but maybe someone has better experience from a programming perspective?


I agree with Michael Stum's advice but I would add a docking station and a large external display, keyboard and mouse. The laptop's display works as a secondary screen for email, documentation etc while the external display provides the workspace.


I'm quite happy with my Lenovo/IBM ThinkPad...


I've personally been a fan of the Dell Latitude line. D430 for very small light portability, D830 for a larger screen and keyboard, and the D630 for a nice balance between the two.

Don't forget to get as much RAM as your budget allows, multi-core CPU is a must (the speed however is all relative), and get the fastest and biggest hard drive available.


Get the latest, widest, baddest MacBook with Boot Camp and VMWare Fusion (for running Windows and Ubuntu).


++ for Macbook Pro. In addition to Crunchy Mac Goodness(tm), I have vmware with these virtual machines:

  • Ubuntu Server with Oracle and a LAMP stack
  • Ubuntu Desktop for testing
  • XP for my database admin software that's windows only. and Peggle!

vmware is awesome for doing database development... you do all sorts of things like test your delete and obliterate code, and when you're done you click the "revert to snapshot" button and it's ready to go again.


I used a Dell e1505 for a long time, it was basically dell's initial shot at the Macbook Pro. The thing I can't stand about it is the lack of portability. six pounds sucks to carry around. It doesn't seem like much, but it's equivalent to having to carry around a fat physics text book everywhere you go, and that just sucks. What ever you do get I suggest picking it up, maybe at a local BestBuy or something, and feeling how it ways for you.

Also try typing before buying. I really dislike the keyboard on the MacBook Pro, while I love the keyboard on the Macbook/MacBook Air. I like my Dell's keyboard, but find the IBM T61 too cramped. It's all personal preference so make sure you comfortable typing on it.


Macbook Pro!

I run VMWare on mine occasionally when I need to run visual studio, and you can always reboot into windows for heavy things and gaming.


It's say Lenovo/IBM Thinkpads have the best keyboard - bar none. Then see Dell's Latitude series - they too have the "programmer's" keyboard layout.

As for keyboards tactile feedback, I happened to own HP nx6125 (nee Compaq) and I really liked it - but I don't know what HP has been up to lately. My Dell Latitude D620 keyboard is very nice. I was too cheap to buy Lenovo though - so I have no data on their recent offerings.

I bought Dell D620 (15" 1920x1200 screen) and a docking station (has a DVI-D port) - so that I could hook up 24" monitor. Was a pretty good development machine for a few years, still is. I guess I would by next 'top of the line' Dell business-line laptop again, if I was in market for new machine. Or maybe would try Lenovo.

I would love to try Macbook Pro, but I can't understand how it does not have dedicated home/end pgup/pdown keys.


I've got a dell XPS 1530 and it just eats up Visual Studio / SQL Server / Virtual Machines.

It can get a little warm, but aside from that I would have no hesitation getting it with a core 2 duo, 4 gb ram and if you can splash the cash, a solid state drive.


I prefer the Macbook to the Macbook Pro. It's smaller, lighter, and I prefer the keyboard. I have a large external display and a Mighty Mouse.

As others note, running Windows in VMWare is fine for most purposes. In fact, I'd recommend that developers use VMWare for practically all development. Use the "raw machine" only for games or other performance-intensive activities.


I have a ThinkPad T61p as well, however mine is the 17" model. I really enjoy it, I'm running linux on it and it has lots of screen space.


I run a Dell XPS M1730 with Vista 64, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD, 250 GB 7200 RPM disk. Works well as a desktop replacement and drives an external 30" monitor with no problems.

A look at the promised new precision 17" laptop specs announced here is something I would consider if buying a laptop today (16GB, Quad Core, 1TB disk, Displayport graphics card cabable of two external 30" monitors)


Apart from what others have posted, i'd say it's important to get one with an integrated video card, as opposed to a dedicated, battery-power sucking one that you don't really need.

And as much RAM as you can afford, the rest is really just personal preference.


I have found this thread very helpful as I'm a MS developer looking to get a Macbook Pro here shortly. I'm waiting for the model refresh in the next month before I buy. It's interesting to see the divide between VMWare Fusion and Parallels for virtualization. It's also interesting to see how many people use the VM solution rather than using boot camp.

I've had many desktops (retail and home built) and laptops and I've never had a system that's as stable as my Mac. I can't wait to get a Macbook Pro soon and switch over my primary development to that.


I am using Toshiba A200 and it is keeping me good company...neat keyboard...good speakers for a laptop...runs Vista well on a 2GB Ram with VS2008...and not very expensive either...about 1400US$


I very much recommend any Thinkpad. I've replaced a newer machine with a second hand Thinkpad, and the perfect keyboard and superior build quality are so addictive, I rarely even find my way back to the desktop. Very nice machines.


I'll add another vote for the macbook pro, I use it for Java and web development in osx, and visual studio through a boot camp partition and it works great, faster than my windows pc!


I also use a Dell XPS M1530 laptop running Vista, and I'm utilizing a similar set of tools as the OP (Visual Studio 2005 & 2008, SQL Server 2005, Dreamweaver, etc.) I find the machine to be very stable; all my previous laptops had crashed or encountered weird problems. This Dell machine has been the best investment I've made in hardware so far. I would recommend it readily. I'll very likely stay within the Dell product line when I go to replace it.

As a total product plug aside from this, may I also recommend LaCie's 1TB external hard drive...the one that's flat black with a design by Neil Poulton. It's where I'm housing a lot of my projects and it is FAST.


I like this Gateway 6860FX. Large 17" screen, a keyboard that resembles a normal one, close enough at least, though had to get used to yet another layout of arrow keys, home end etc. Lots of memory, fast. Didn't look at exactly what CPU etc - everything available today is plenty fast enough for me. Runs linux (Ubuntu and Arch) just fine, all devices ok. One factor tipping me toward this one - it looks cool. Black with rust orange trim around the keyboard. Most laptops look drab. Gotta have fun and style if i'm going to sit at this machine all day.

On the downside, shorter battery life, a bit heavy to carry around - but then i meant to use it as a desktop replacement not a notebook for everyday coffee shop use.


I vote for any Lenovo T Series Notebooks. Every single one of them kicks ass.

They main reason is they have non-glaring displays. (and they were the last company to cancel out 4:3 displays - I've got one of the last (T61p))

They also have reasonable battery life. (5-10 hours depending on the configuration). They are very durable and beautiful (imo).

And they have the trackpoint, which I also like very much.


I use a MacBook Pro running Vista 32bit, booting directly into a bootcamp partition. Rarely boot into the Mac OSX. Doing dev work with vmware is possible but painful due to minor sluggishness after a few hours of working in that environment. I would not recommend the MBP running Vista/VS2008 under vmware for fulltime work.

The builtin keyboard for the Macbook Pro lacks home, end, pgup and pgdn keys. This makes working without an external keyboard/monitor painful.

Running native Vista and external keyboard and monitor, the MBP works wonderfully as a dev machine. Works with 30" monitors requiring dual-link DVI.


Personally what I'm looking as an ideal laptop for programmer would be a big screen (17") with a big resolution (like WUXGA, 1920x1200). But it should remain fairly light.

Performance has to be good (correct CPU, lots of RAM, fast hard-drive), but it's not the primary criteria. Graphic card doesn't matter, should actually be integrated maybe, to save power.

Somehow in the PC world there doesn't seem to be anything that matches these. When going into the 17" world, it's either gaming machines or machines for graphic designers or photographs, and they are all monsters (see the Lenovo W700, it even has pen tablet).

Only one that seems to get close is the MacBook unibody 17", ok, but it's sad not to have another choice.

Notebook review forums have a thread on the topic what laptop get close to the macbook 17", and there isn't :(


I use a core 2 duo 5500 with 2Gb RAM (and 15,4 inches) and vista buissness it is working fine ( i won't change it soon it is more than enough for now ) BTW i do ASP.NET development with (VS2008 and SQL Dev edition !)


It seems it is Macbook Pro vs Thinkpad... as it should be :)

My main machine is a 15" 1 1/2 yo T61p that is still as good as new : fantastic keyboard, good 3d capabilities and great screen, decent speed for all modern applications, the closest thing to a thoughbook in term of sturdiness.

If you are really tight on budget you can get one of these for cheap, maybe they are a bit old on specs, but it more than makes up in terms of comfort.

I have also a very old 12" iBook G4 (my sis' old computer :)) that I use for iPhone development, and I love it as well, it's my first Mac and despite being quite lousy in terms of speed and build quality compared to the Lenovo (it is an entry-level 4-yo machine...) the awesomess of Mac Os and the small form factor makes it very pleasant to use it as a programming machine.

I have been admiring several times the new MB Pros and they must be some great pieces of hardware to work with, making the future choice of replacing my workstation very tough...