The best MacBook for programming is an ideal device for coding on. Apple’s range of MacBooks combine powerful components and thin and light designs – so for coders who travel a lot, or want flexibility with where they work, then these are great choices.
There are actually quite a few different MacBook models available to buy in 2022, but some of them are better for programming than others (if you don’t want an Apple-specific list, head over to our best laptops for programming guide).
So, what makes a MacBook good for programming? First, you’ll want something with a great screen that will make coding on for long periods of time comfortable. The good news is that all modern MacBooks come with some of the best screens you’ll find on a laptop – and they come in a range of sizes as well.
You’ll also want a comfortable keyboard to write on. Apple’s history in this regard is a bit less impressive, with older MacBooks having keyboards that didn’t feel great to type on – and sometimes were even prone to failure. Things have improved considerably with recent MacBooks coming with new keyboards that feel much better to type on – and crucially don’t break as easily.
There needs to be enough processing power to compile code quickly and run simulations and demonstrations to test out your projects, and the new breed of MacBooks offer just that, running Apple’s new M1 and M2 chips, which offer superb performance.
To help you find the best MacBook for programming depending on your needs and budget, we’ve put together the following guide to help you choose. Want something different? See our guide to the best laptops for graphic design.
The best MacBook for programming
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The MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) is in our view the best overall MacBook for programming. It has basically everything you want, including a choice of hugely powerful M1 Pro and M1 Max chips from Apple, which makes compiling even the most complex code a breeze, while
may be the best student MacBook for you. It’s lighter and more compact than the 16-inch device but provides almost all of the same specs, with only battery life being slightly lower.
You get the same choice of processors, same ports and the same 1,600 nits of peak brightness as with the 16 inch but with a smaller screen. That makes the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) more comfortable for use out and about, for example in class or in a cafe. When we tested it, our reviewer found it performed brilliantly for everything from 3D modeling to image editing and video editing – we got instantaneous results when doing complex tasks in Cinema 4D. We also got an impressive 11 hours of web browsing from the battery.
Read our full MacBook Pro 14-inch review to learn more.
The MacBook Air (M2, 2022) is Apple’s latest laptop, and comes with the new M2 chip, which gives it a power boost over the 2020 model (see below).
It’s lighter and more compact than the previous MacBook Air, despite having a larger screen (13.6-inch). The screen is 25 per cent brighter, and the laptop also has MagSafe support, which means plugging and unplugging the power cable is easy and safe. We found battery life to be superb (we got over 16 hours of video playback when we tested it).
The M2 chip makes light work of compiling code, and the extra screen space makes it a joy to code on. If the 14-inch MacBook Pro is too expensive, and offers a level of performance that you just won’t need, then we strongly recommend the new MacBook Air instead.
See our full MacBook Air (M2, 2022) review for more details.
The first two MacBooks above are great for programming on, but they are also very expensive. If you’re a coder on a tighter budget who just does not need the kind of horsepower the other MacBooks offer, then the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) remains an excellent choice.
The 2020 MacBook Air still hits the perfect sweet spot between value and performance, as it’s the cheapest MacBook you can buy new, and it now often has a discount since the release of a new MacBook Air in July 2022. In our tests, we were impressed by how fast and smooth the laptop is in use, and we got well over a full day of use on a single battery charge.
Another benefit of the M1 MacBook Air is that it’s fanless, which makes it silent in use. While the M1 chip has been succeeded by the M2, it still offers fantastic performance, especially when compiling code. Sure, there’s more powerful MacBooks out there, but none of them come close to providing the value that the M1 MacBook Air does.
See our full MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review for more details
If you liked the look of the 14-inch MacBook Pro above, but felt that the screen was a little bit too small, then the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) will be a great choice. As with the 14-inch model, this comes with a choice of Apple’s powerful M1 Pro or M1 Max chips.
It basically offers the same level of performance as the 14-inch model, but with a stunning 16-inch mini-LED screen. For people who find looking at lines of code on a larger screen more comfortable, then you’ll love this device.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro also boasts the best battery life of any MacBook. Apple says that you should get around 14 hours of web browsing from a charge, but we’ve seen more like 17 hours for basic online work. You can also configure it up to 64GB of memory, up to 8TB of storage, making it a supremely powerful MacBook. While it may be a bit overkill for many programming tasks, it’ll mean you don’t have to worry about upgrading for a long, long time.
See our full MacBook Pro 16-inch review for more details.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) is a great MacBook for programmers who need more power than the MacBook Air, but don’t need the power (or can’t afford) the MacBook Pro 14-inch.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch is essentially the entry-level model for the MacBook Pro, and packs an M2 chip, which is more powerful than the M1 but not as fast as the M1 Pro or M1 Max that comes with the MacBook Pros above.
Like the MacBook Air (M2, 2022), this excels at code compilation, and offers enough raw power to emulate various devices to help you test your apps and games while you work on them.
Unlike the MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with a fan, and while this makes it a bit more noisy (though still impressively quiet), it means it can work for longer periods with heavy workloads without overheating.
Read our MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) review for more details.