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Shopping for the best laptop for web developement

As a developer with a diverse background in IT and web development, I prefer to purchase a solid laptop that will serve me for 5-7 years rather than replace it every 1-2 years. This is because it takes me week or more to install and configure all the software, to tweak the registry and get things working just the way I need and like it. It’s been getting better since I discovered Ninite and Chocolatey but I still prefer not to do it any more than I have to. Another advantage is that, by the time I am through with a laptop and ready to replace it, it is still good enough for me to pass on to a typical non-programmer user for browsing the web, email, social media, watching videos and typical computing tasks. With this in mind, here is my advice for shopping and buying the best laptop for web development.

The best laptops for Web Developers

If you are earning a living with this tool, go for a business class laptop. They are not only built better but are also more reliable that consumer class machines. However, if you are a student on a tight budget, you may need to compromise. Just make sure they are compromises that you an live with.

The Macbook Pro is probably the most versatile laptop on the market. You can run OS X (which runs on Unix), Windows and even Linux if you really wanted to. You can also develop for iOS AND Android apps. These machines are physically well-built though there are many stories around the Net relating to the reliability of the electronics. If you are not sure what you will be working on, this is probably the most flexibility option. I don’t personally use or have ever used a Macbook Pro but know many web developers who love these machines.

I have actually been using Thinkpads for over a decade. Every time I go out shopping (I really do my homework), the best option has always ended up being Thinkpads. The Lenovo Thinkpad P series is a true workhorse and therefore one of the best option.

Thinkpads are not usually on the bleeding edge of technology. However they are solid and often well thought out machines. After using them for a while, you start to realize the rational behind many of the choices that go into their design… except for the trackpad which was terrible for a while but has improved considerably in the last few years.

If you are a student on a tight budget, look for a used 2.4 GHz Thinkpad with i5 (dual core) or i7 (quad core), a screen resolution of  1600 x 900 or higher and 8 GB of memory. Add an SSD drive to it and this machine perform just about as well or even run circles around many of the low-end laptops sold today.

Regardless of whether you are shopping for a new laptop or a gently used one, whether you end up with a laptop made by Lenovo, Dell, HP, Acer, Samsung, Apple or other brands, here are some of the features you should be checking out when making an informed choice.


Quality: Typing on a poor quality keyboard will actually slow you down and result in more typos. There is nothing like working on the legendary high quality keyboard found on a Lenovo Thinkpad in my opinion. They just feel great and, if I am going to be typing 8-15 hours a day, I want my fingers to be happy.

Lighting: Don’t forget lighting for the keyboard. Programmers often work until it’s dark outside. A well lit keyboard can be less disturbing to those who are sleeping than having a bright light on. Try typing on a perfectly flat keyboard with the lights off. It’s a lot harder than one might think. Get good overhead or back lighting for your keyboard.

Layout: If you live in Canada, note that most laptops sold in this country seem to have the multilingual keyboard layout with the bigger inverted L shaped enter key (and some keys shuffled around). If you are used to a US keyboard layout, look for it specifically. Make sure that you are comfortable with the keyboard layout and notice the differences.

Finally, make sure that you can activate the function F1-F12 function keys by default. Although most of the world rarely uses these keys, developers use them all the time and it quickly becomes a pain to have to press the Fn key in addition to one or more keys in order to activate functions keys. Some manufacturers have even removed keys that I feel are essential for developers such as the cursor keys, home, end, delete, backspace, depending on the laptop, and now require you to do fancy gymnastics with your fingers and the Fn key in order to use some of these.

In-Store Testing: Go to a store and type a page of text on various makes and models of laptops. After doing this on a few computers, you will quickly realize that not all keyboards are the same. The right keyboard can actually increase your accuracy.

External keyboard: Some people have their favourite keyboard that they live and breathe by. If that is you, having Bluetooth or enough USB ports to connect an external keyboard or wireless dongle will be something to consider.

Personally, I really like the TrackPad TrackPoint Keyboard II. It works with Windows and Android, and can switch between two devices – one using the included wireless dongle and the other over Bluetooth. It does not include a trackpad or numeric pad, but it is nice and small, and includes a TrackPoint so that I don’t need a separate mouse for my secondary laptop.


Don’t just look at it, try it out. Is it responsive? Can you scroll with it? Is it multi-touch? Does it have physical mouse buttons or are they just part of the trackpad? Try dragging and dropping something. Try right clicking.

Some people, like me, prefer to use the little red trackpoint in the middle of Thinkpad keyboards (also available on some Dell models) but hey, I understand that everyone has a preference.

External mouse: This may not be very important to you if you use a good quality wireless mouse such as the top rated Logitech MX Master 3 mouse, in which case the trackpad may not be important at all. However I think it still is because I don’t always carry my mouse with me (think meetings).


If you don’t need to compile Java or .Net, or need to run a local web server or virtual machine, 8 GB should do just fine. Otherwise go for 16 GB. Like to open lots of tabs and run MS Teams and other communications software, go for 32 GB. If you do end up ordering your computer with just 8 GB of RAM, make sure it is just one memory module and that you can add another module at a later date. Otherwise you may need to remove one or both of your 4 GB memory modules to bring it up to 8 or 16 GB in the future. Also compare the price of the laptop with less memory and adding 3rd party memory vs getting it fully loaded. You may discover that you can save quite a bit of money by doing an post-sales upgrade yourself.

Just in case you were considering it, don’t even look at a laptop that has less than 8 GB of memory. You will quickly regret it. When I upgraded from 8 GB to 16 GB in my most recent upgrade, I thought for sure that I would be set for a while. Right, that while lasted about 4 weeks before I had outgrown 16 GB and found my laptop swapping to the SSD.

Thin and lite: If you are going for an ultrabook, get the most memory you can possibly afford right from the get-go as you cannot upgrade the memory in most, if not all, of these modern laptops.


I can’t be objective here anymore — Hi, my name is Michael and I admit that I am an SSD drive junky. I am so used to these that it is actually painful to go back to an HDD these days. When you run out of memory, swapping memory to disk also has much less of an impact.

How much space will you need? What ever that number is, double it or you will very likely run out of disk space over the lifespan of the computer.

Recommendation: My research has also shown that Samsung Evo and Evo Pro SSD drives to be much more reliable over the long term than others than other brands in the consumer market. Otherwise, plan on replacing your SSD drive every 2-3 years to ensure it doesn’t fail.


Minimum i5 — don’t even look at an i3! Choosing between an i5 vs i7 really depends on the type of programming you will be doing. The only time you should consider an i7 is if you are looking at a quad-core for better performance. A dual core i7 is more expensive and provide little performance gain over dual core i5. Intel is the standard on both Windows and, until recently on Apple OS X laptops.

What about AMD? If something doesn’t work, will you ever feel confident that the problem isn’t the result of you wanting to save a few bucks? Being able to rely on my tools is paramount to me. I know people who shop at the other end of the pricing spectrum and they are forever wondering why their computers aren’t reliable.

With that said, AMD has made a real comeback with the introduction of recent Risen CPUs. If you must skimp to safe a few dollars in order to get the features that could really make a big difference (like RAM and SSD), you may consider one of the high performance AMD Risen CPUs.

Video chipset

If you are going to be developing games, you’ll want a faster video chipset. If you are just doing web development, the Intel video built into a CPU will do just fine and is much more likely to be supported in the future than niche high performance video chipsets. I made that mistake once. It was fine until I upgraded the operating system and discovered that the manufacturer didn’t come out with updated drivers. That said, if you play games in your time off, it might be worth spending a couple of hundred dollars for a computer that will address both your needs for work and play.

That said, my laptops have always been pretty solid over the years — except when I start installing games on them. Might just be a coincidence but I’m just saying that I noticed a pattern. As long as I keep games off my laptop, I very rarely seem to have problems with it. Be concious of what you install on your laptop. If you just want to try trial software out, do it in a virtual machine and only install it on your computer’s operating system when you feel confident with it. That’s what trial software is for… to try it.


I recommend a minimum of 1600 x 900. Anything less and you will always feel like you don’t have enough space on the screen to work… even if you have a second display. I made that mistake once. I was lucky that it was possible to upgrade the display on my Thinkpad by just replacing the LCD. That’s not always possible. Seriously consider 1920 x 1200 or better. You can always reduce the resolution but you can’t always raise it. While glossy screens are fun to watch, matte anti-glare screens are much easier on the eyes especially over many hours. A wide horizontal and vertical viewing angle is also a god send. Personally, my ideal screen is 15″ but I know a lot of people who like the portability of laptops with a 14″ screen… if you also have a nice big 23+ inch external monitor to work on most of the time. Other factors to consider include brightness (brighter and better contrast is needed if you are in a very bright environment) and colour gamut. Some might say that colour gamut isn’t that important however, the day you have two screens connected and notice that blues and reds look purple and orange on your other screen, you’ll be wishing you had a laptop with a better screen gamut to be sure which colour you are using. When you know you are seeing the right colours, you can feel safe telling others that it’s their screen that is displaying the colours wrong. Finally, there is the issue of touch screens. Touch interfaces may not be perfect yet but they are definitely on the books for the future. Tablets, smartphones — if you want to make sure your websites work with these technologies, it is probably wise to get a laptop with touch screen if you can afford it.


Most quality laptops should get you through an 7-8 hour day these days. It only becomes important if you are going to be away from a power source for extended periods of time. That said, keep in mind that after a while, the battery won’t be able to store as much power and will likely only last half that time or less. Bonus if the battery can be replaced without having to send it out for service.


You are probably going to have external speakers or wear headphones anyway so don’t worry about this too much. Do listen closely to the computer sound. Make sure there is no distortion. When testing, listen to both music and to sounds. Noisy chips in the computer and SSD drives, and annoying noisy fans can really get on your nerves after a few hours. While fans do make some noise, it’s the solid state chips that really surprise me as sources of noise since I changed to an SSD drive. Also make sure that there is no sound coming from the laptop when the speakers are muted.

External Connectivity

Don’t even look at a laptop that doesn’t have USB 3.0 connectors and at least one USB-C if not more, preferably at least 3. The days of USB 2.0 are long past. You will live to regret it.

Having a standard size HDMI is nice because you will rarely need adapters but DisplayPorts tend to be more versatile. You can always get a DisplayPort to HDMI adapter. VGA is on the way out so get HDMI or DisplayPort if possible.

An audio jack is nice but as soon as you get tired of the wires getting tangled, you will likely start looking at wireless alternatives like Bluetooth.

Bluetooth is so convenient to connect to so many different devices these days such as mouse, keyboard, speakers, headphones, smartphone, other computers, displays and more, so make sure it is included. Believe it or not, some laptops still do not.

WiFi, G/N/Dual AC WiFi and Wifi-5 and 6 are now standard. G should always be included for backwards compatibility and Dual AC for the future.

Optical drives are no longer worth including for the limited number of times you need it these days. Get an external DVD/RW drive instead if you really think that you will you need it.

Biometric Scanner (a.k.a. Fingerprint reader)

I tend to log in and out of many websites several times in the course of a workday. Many developers keep all their passwords in Word documents which is hopefully at least password protected itself. However what stopping anyone from peering over your shoulder as you look at your list of passwords on the screen? When used together with a password manager like Roboform, a finger print scanner can not only save you the time it takes look up and type your passwords dozens or even hundreds of times a day, it will also reduce any chance of people learning your passwords as they watch over your shoulder while you type. Your manger or clients will also feel better about trusting you when they realize that you don’t type any passwords in plain view of other people. Tip: Make sure the password manager you intend to use works with the fingerprint scanner built into your laptop. True, there are USB fingerprint scanners but how long do you think it will take before someone just pulls that baby out and walks away with it?  Better to have it built-in.

Docking Station

This is optional but I find it very convenient if I need to regularly disconnect and reconnect all the peripherals plugged into my laptop. Some docking stations just connect to a single USB 3.0, 3.1 or USB-C plug on most laptops while your whole laptop can sit in others (like with a Thinkpad). The later has the added bonus of putting your keyboard on a slightly more comfortable angle and often comes with its own power supply.

Power supply (a.k.a. power brick)

Check out the size of the power supply, especially if portability is important to you. Some laptops literally have a power supply almost the size of a real red brick. If you don’t check before you buy, you might be surprised at the size of it when you open the box. Also, if you do need to travel once in a while, it can be well worth purchasing a extra power supply that you can keep in your bag. This has saved me on many occasions from arriving at work just to realize that I forgot my power supply.


If you are going to be making money using this machine, don’t skimp. In the long run, it’s worth spending a little more on tools of your trade, whether it is hardware or software as your choices affect your productivity, how happy you are to go to work and how comfortable you will be. Clients will also judge you by the professional equipment you use.

Is a quality professional computer really that expensive of an investment when you consider that it will be used to generate potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars over its lifetime? Compare the price of a $3,000 laptop to your total income over the next 5 years. Then take the $3,000 laptop and divide it by 5 years and then again by 365 days and realize that it is only costing about $1.65 per day.

You probably spend more on coffee every day. Have one latte less and get yourself some professional grade tools.

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