Choosing the Ideal MacBook for Programming: Factors to Consider

Choosing the best MacBook for programming involves considering factors like performance, portability, budget, and specific needs such as graphics capabilities or display size. Finding the right balance among these aspects ensures a seamless coding experience tailored to individual preferences and requirements.
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Choosing the Ideal MacBook for Programming: Factors to Consider - W3Tekno

Defining the best MacBook for programming can indeed be subjective, as each individual may have their own personal preferences. With over a decade of testing and reviewing MacBooks, we can confidently state that any current Apple laptop is more than capable of handling the requirements of most programmers. However, there are several factors to consider when selecting the right MacBook for your needs.

Apple laptops offer everything we look for in a programming laptop, without necessarily requiring us to invest in the latest and most powerful models like the 2023 M3 Pro or Max MacBook Pros. Choosing the best one for you boils down to considerations such as size, portability, budget, and other potential uses for the machine, all of which we'll analyze below.

Apple MacBook Air (M3, 2024) - The best MacBook for programming on the go

Apple MacBook Air (M3, 2024)

The best MacBook for programming on the go
Specifications
  • CPU: Apple M3
  • Graphics: 8- to 10-core GPU
  • RAM: 8GB-16GB
  • Screen: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display
  • Storage: Up to 2TB
  • Reasons To Buy
  • Light and compact
  • Powerful M3 processor
  • Cheaper than MacBook Pro
  • Reasons To Avoid
  • Smaller screen
  • GPU not as powerful as on MacBook Pros
  • At the top of our pick for this new 2024 MacBook Air is the 15-inch model, as we've already mentioned. We gave it a higher programming rating because of the additional screen real estate, which makes coding more comfortable for us. However, if you're looking for something more portable, we believe our top pick's traditional 13-inch sibling is the best option.
    In our tests, we discovered that the specs and performance are pretty much the same and the battery life is only slightly less (we were able to watch more than 16 hours of video). Code compilation is made easier thanks to the M3 chip, and the screen is 25% brighter than the 2021 Air (see our cheap pick below), making it more suitable for use in direct sunlight. Plus, the laptop supports MagSafe, making it simple and safe to plug and unplug the power cable. The best part is that it's really light and thin for those who want to program on the go. It's also quite affordable in our opinion.

    Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3 Pro, 2023) - The best MacBook for programming if you're also a content creator

    Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3 Pro, 2023)

    The best MacBook for programming if you're also a content creator
    Specifications
  • CPU: Apple M3 Pro 12-core – M3 Max 16-core
  • Graphics: Integrated 19- to 38-core GPU
  • RAM: Up to 96GB
  • Screen: 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Storage: Up to 8TB
  • Reasons To Buy
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Potential to configure to massive specs
  • Larger screen for coding, plus ability to power two external displays
  • Reasons To Avoid
  • More expensive than smaller MacBooks
  • Larger size makes it less convenient to carry around
  • If you want a MacBook that can do much more than programming, and you also want the biggest screen possible on a MacBook, the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) might be the best option for you. It's pretty much identical to the 14-inch device second on our list, except it has a bigger screen and a bigger battery. It's only available with Apple's M3 Pro or M3 Max CPUs.

    This is the perfect tool for those who want to display code on a bigger screen. Since it's only compatible with the Pro or Max chip instead of the regular M3, the power level given is excessive for programming only, but anyone who also works with video editing or 3D work will appreciate it.

    One of the main advantages is the MacBook Pros' brighter displays, which make working in direct sunlight more pleasant. In addition, we appreciate that the M3 Pro chip can drive two external displays, which is advantageous for some programming approaches because the base M3 chip can only drive one.

    It can also be configured with up to 64GB of RAM and 8TB of storage, making it an all-around monster laptop. Battery life is the best of all the MacBooks. Although Apple claims that a full charge can last about 14 hours, we observed that a basic internet task can last up to 22 hours. Unfortunately, this MacBook is somehow the most expensive due to the customization possibilities available.

    Apple MacBook Air 15-inch (M3, 2024) - The best MacBook for programming overall

    Apple MacBook Air 15-inch (M3, 2024)

    The best MacBook for programming overall
    Specifications
  • CPU: Apple M3
  • Graphics: Integrated 10-core GPU
  • RAM: 8GB, 16GB, 24GB
  • Screen: 15.3-inch Liquid Retina display
  • Storage: 256GB - 2TB
  • Reasons To Buy
  • Powerful M3 processor
  • Cheaper than MacBook Pros
  • Big screen in a relatively slim and light body
  • Reasons To Avoid
  • Size may not suit everyone
  • For coding, we think a larger screen is more comfortable, but there's always the trade-off of less mobility. We believe that 2024's new MacBook Air 15 strikes the best possible balance. Although the 15.3-inch screen isn't the largest on a MacBook (the 16-inch Pro ranks lower on our list), we thought it offered enough workspace. Meanwhile, the laptop is very light and thin for a 15-inch device. While not as practical for traveling or commuting as the 13-inch MacBook Air, it can still be used for those purposes.

    When the 15-inch MacBook Air was released, it came as a bit of a surprise as it seemed to go against the idea of Air. But after using the laptop, we realized that it made perfect sense as it made very good use of the available space (just like the 13-inch version without a fan). We discovered that the size of the laptop improves its use on our lap and prevents the screen from shrinking.

    While the laptop's larger screen makes it easier to work in multiple windows and visualize more code at once (or display your code in a larger size) than on smaller MacBooks, some users may find it annoying that the M3 chip can only handle one external display (you'll need an M3 Pro device to handle two external displays). The dimensions of the trackpad and keyboard were also found comfortable for extended use, and we liked the click and travel of the scissor switch keys. We believe the device's middle-of-the-road mix of power, affordability, size and mobility make it perfect for programming, but other people may prefer a larger or smaller device.

    Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023) - The best Pro for a balance between size, power and price

    Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023)

    The best Pro for a balance between size, power and price
    Specifications
  • CPU: Apple M3 (or M3 Pro / Max)
  • Graphics: Integrated 10- to 40-core GPU
  • RAM: Up to 128GB
  • Screen: 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Storage: Up to 8TB
  • Reasons To Buy
  • Reasonably priced
  • Part of the newest range of MacBooks
  • Compact build offers balance between screen size and portability
  • Reasons To Avoid
  • Some programmers will prefer a larger screen
  • Starting configuration may lack the power for other types of work
  • The MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023) is an ideal combination of mobility, price and power, making it our top MacBook choice for programming in general. Released in November 2023, this 14-inch MacBook Pro is the first model to use a base M chip (M3 in this case) rather than a Pro or Max chip. Choosing this base model, which has more than enough power for programming, makes it cheaper than previous MacBook Pro 14 versions.

    Our tests proved what a beast this machine is, and we especially appreciated the incredibly bright display (up to 1,500 nits) - perfect for writing code for long periods of time. The brightness also offset any potential issues with the bright screen, and we didn't have any issues with visibility. The 14-inch remains big enough to avoid eye strain when the screen is this impressive, and portable enough to throw in a bag when needed. However, there's always the 16-inch available if you need more space.

    Of course, with these new MacBooks, the possibilities are almost endless if you want extra power, memory or size. If you use your laptop for much more than programming, you can get up to 128 GB of RAM by choosing the M3 Pro or M3 Max processor instead of the standard M3.

    Apple MacBook Air (M1 2020) - The best MacBook for programmers on a budget

    Apple MacBook Air (M1 2020)

    The best MacBook for programmers on a budget
    Specifications
  • CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU
  • Graphics: Integrated 7- to 8-core GPU
  • RAM: 8-16GB
  • Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina display
  • Storage: 256GB-2TB
  • Reasons To Buy
  • Great price
  • Silent fanless running
  • Compact and comfortable to use
  • Reasons To Avoid
  • The newer MacBook Air above has a brighter screen with more pixels per inch.
  • If you're a developer on a limited budget and don't want the extra processing power of other MacBook models, MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is still a great option.

    The 2020 MacBook Air continues to strike the ideal balance between performance and affordability. Even at its full price, it's the cheapest MacBook you can get brand new, although sometimes there are sales. During our tests, we were pleased with the laptop's speed and flawless operation, and we were able to use it for more than a full day on a single battery charge.

    Another advantage is the fanless design of the M1 MacBook Air, which ensures quiet operation. Although the M2 chip has replaced the M1, it still provides excellent performance, especially when compiling programs. If you need a laptop for programming and general productivity, this MacBook will do the job. Not an ideal option if you want to do image or video editing.

    How To Choose The Best MacBook For Programming

    When choosing the best MacBook for programming, you basically need to decide what your priorities are. Every MacBook has a display that works well in different lighting conditions and more than enough power for programming. So it comes down to price, size and whether you want enough power for things that require more effort.

    We believe that MacBook Airs are the best MacBooks for programmers in general, as they are more affordable, lighter and still have enough power. Our favorite choice is the latest 15-inch MacBook Air (M3), which we think is more enjoyable to code on because of its larger screen. On the other hand, if mobility is your top concern, you might want the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro or the 13-inch M3 MacBook Air. MacBook Pros have brighter screens than Airs, which can be useful when working outside in bright light.

    Is a MacBook good for programming?

    MacBooks are, in our opinion, the perfect computers for programming. They're powerful, have great battery life, and have bright, sharp retina displays that show text clearly - all critical features if you're coding on the go. There's currently a wide range of MacBook sizes available, from the more affordable 13-inch MacBook Pro and Air to the more powerful and larger 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, and there's even a 15-inch MacBook Air.

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