Which is the best macbook for programming?

aurelkurtula profile image aurel kurtula ・1 min read

My macbook pro (from early 2011) just broke. I thought it was a RAM issue but it's not. I have a feeling it might not be worth repairing. In short I want a new laptop.

I would really love to get the cheapest macbook this time round (with the plan of going all out few years down the line). But, I have no clue when it comes to what different spec might mean.

Is macbook air a good laptop for programming? At the moment I'm all about node development, but regardless of what programming language I explore (say mobile development) is it a good laptop?

The cheap version is £949 (fantastic price)

1.8GHz Processor
128GB Storage
1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz
8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 memory
128GB SSD storage1
Intel HD Graphics 6000

The other version is £1099

1.8GHz Processor
256GB Storage
1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz
8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 memory
256GB SSD storage1
Intel HD Graphics 6000

I have a strong feeling the storage of 128GB is too small.

I still want to get an apple product but would love to go as cheap as possible, but still not regret it

Any suggestion is greatly appreciated

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aurel kurtula


I love JavaScript, reading books, drinking coffee and taking notes.


Editor guide

Dell XPS 13 developer edition is the best for programming


Only the 4K-model. The FullHD matte screen model have a "feature" called something like Dynamic Brightness or Dynamic Contrast. It lowers the background light when there's a predominantly dark picture on the screen, which is probably nice for movies, but terrible for reading light text on a dark background.

The "feature" can be disabled from Windows on the 4K system, but not on other system-combinations.


That has been fixed since the beginning of this year.

Nice, and about time!
Not that I don't believe you, but do you have a source?

Sure thing! Have the straight link to the patch here :)

That's probably why we haven't seen anyone complaining about this issue lately

Nice! I bought a Dell XPS 13 FHD last year, but returned it due to the screen issues... ended up buying a Macbook Pro on Black Friday instead (fix weren't available then).

I downloaded the patch and extracted this the PanelFWConfig.ini from the root of the exe-file. As far as I can see, it lists the compatible models:

QHDDBCOnFolder = 9343\DP_Rework_ToolV17 - CABC on
QHDDBCOffFolder = 9343\DP_Rework_ToolV17 - CABC off

QHDDBCOnFolder = 9350\DP_Rework_ToolV17 - CABC on
QHDDBCOffFolder = 9350\DP_Rework_ToolV17 - CABC off
FHDDBCOnFolder =
FHDDBCOffFolder =

QHDDBCOnFolder =
QHDDBCOffFolder =
FHDDBCOnFolder = 9550_5510\FHD_DBC_enable
FHDDBCOffFolder = 9550_5510\FHD_DBC_disable

QHDDBCOnFolder =
QHDDBCOffFolder =
FHDDBCOnFolder = 9550_5510\FHD_DBC_enable
FHDDBCOffFolder = 9550_5510\FHD_DBC_disable

QHDDBCOnFolder = 9350\DP_Rework_ToolV17 - CABC on
QHDDBCOffFolder = 9350\DP_Rework_ToolV17 - CABC off
FHDDBCOnFolder = 9350\NT71395 FHD CABC on
FHDDBCOffFolder = 9350\NT71395 FHD CABC off

QHDDBCOnFolder = 9365\QHD_DBC_enable
QHDDBCOffFolder = 9365\QHD_DBC_disable
FHDDBCOnFolder = 9365\FHD_DBC_enable
FHDDBCOffFolder = 9365\FHD_DBC_disable

QHDDBCOnFolder =
QHDDBCOffFolder =
FHDDBCOnFolder = LGDANX2602\LGD_DBC_ON_20170915
FHDDBCOffFolder = LGDANX2602\LGD_DBC_OFF_20170915

That's basically all the recent models, except the newest one, which I believe is already patched out of the box.


As I recently mentioned in another thread, my favorite MacBook Pro's is the late 2015 model. Anything from late 2013 to late 2015 is great and if you can find a refurbished model it'll last you for quite some time without giving up any performance!


If I can't find one the current MacBook Pro is good right? I was thinking of saving bit of cash only if it was possible.

Also would there be a way to connect my VGA monitor to these MacBooks (I'll ask them at the store but just wondering)


It's good without a doubt, I just like the old ones better myself. For those you can get a displayport to VGA adapter as well.


Be careful if you want a 2016 model on refurb. Many problem with the Keyboard. He's under guarantee so Apple replace it with the new version of keyboard 2017 but its a little bit annoying.


I would have bought a refurbished, but at the time the only refurbished models were still more than my MBA 2017.


I'm a loony and I have the Macbook with the CD drive in it still. Got it in 2015. I like programming on it.

I had a Macbook Air a while back too, but there were some things I didn't like about it:

  • Mine didn't have a backlit keyboard, so be careful when you get one that yours has a backlit keyboard if that's something you want.
  • The SSD didn't really have much space... I felt like I needed to get an external hard drive to make it worth it.
  • The lack of ports drove me crazy.

If portability is your concern then the retina MacBook Pro's aren't too bad still. Not as thin as an Air but still pretty portable.

If pricing is your concern, you could try to get a Mac Mini? You could reuse any of the peripherals you had with your old Mac but in a desktop form? New ones are only like $500 so that could be a good cheap option?


At the moment price is my concern.

Did you code with MacBook Air , are there any problems in that area ? As the 3 problems you mentioned I can live with.

I haven't even considered Mac mini



I did work with a Macbook air 11'' as a web developer and didn't had any troubles. The major issue for me was the 4gb of ram in mine. It was limiting but I could get stuff done. And while working I would have an external monitor because 11'' was too little for full time working. But for doing things on the go, it was awesome.

Oh yea, I forgot how little RAM mine had! Lol

I have the external monitor and an external drive and the current model of MBA has 8gb ram so I really can't see why people are saying is bad choice


Writing code wasn't bad honestly, but the limited space made it difficult for me to have all the SDKs and tools I'd want to develop with installed all at once.

Did you have the 126gb one. I'm thinking of getting the 256gb. Plus I have external harddrive and use git obviously.

I feel like am getting mixed reviews and I have no idea whether I should get the Air or tighten my belt and get the pro


I'll just say that the lack of escape key is, in fact, annoying.


But then how do you exit vim? How do Apple users live like this?!?!


Remap jj as esc ? I like it..


Remap caps lock? Why haven’t you done this yet?

But then how do I spam? Removing keys from the keyboard is madness, MADNESS I say!


2016+ Macbook Pro Escape <3


What about a refurbished model?

Sometimes you can find great deals on a 1, 2 or 3 year old mac with high specs costing less than the equivalent new model.

Also, check this: marco.org/2017/11/14/best-laptop-ever


The macbook air is wholly underpowered for development work unless your doing basic markup and styling. Anything that requires a build process or compiling and you are waiting a very... long... time...

I hate to respond with an answer outside the bounds of the original question but:
1) MacBooks are crap for the price; your paying for a glowing apple on the lid and a replace if broken warranty
2) Unless your doing Windows, Linux OS is the way to go. It is what will be running any server logic anyways.
3) For the price, you can get MUCH better hardware + warranty.

Checkout Dell's Latitude business offerings (do not get an inspron, those things are crap). dell.com/learn/us/en/555/campaigns...

IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad's are also very solid contenders. certification.ubuntu.com/certifica...


I would agree on some points. I personally know the desktop environment for the Macs better so changing to a better system suited for development would probably slow me down for quite a while.

That being said, I do a lot of PHP development, some front-end, and some Java. Compilation does take some time, but I’ve seen a lift with some of the newer, fancier compilers which can do partial compilation. For webpack, it’s been good, and for Scala, it’s also been decent.

One caveat to your point above that has helped Mac dudes like me is the use of virtualization. My company (and all home projects) use Docker or Vagrant to normalize our PHP and front-end environments, so mirroring the server hasn’t been a big challenge. But you’re definitely right to prefer the Linux boxes especially with Docker stuff since the Linux OS doesn’t lie to you and actually sandbox all the Docker containers and restrict memory/resources.

Honestly I wish I could have the best of both worlds (for me) and get a MacBook with 32 GB of RAM, a 3 TB hard drive, and the latest, greatest Intel chipset that would rival any other serious development machine for under $4k. Who knows, if they can’t get their shit together and build a machine specifically for devs, maybe I’ll break down and join you on the dark side! ;)

Edit: I’ve considered recently abandoning the entire Apple ecosystem since it feels like every product and OS on offer by them has gone downhill a bit in the past few years. Maybe someday I’ll become more fed up and move on.


I look forward to seeing you join the dark (console) side :).


As far I know I wouldn't recommend you to buy an Air version if you're a programmer, I mean I think that Air version is like a LITE version of a macbook, I bought the last macbook pro lately(yes, the one with the touch bar), and until now I felt very comfortable with it, the SO(High Sierra) is very stable and the hardware have pretty much nothing wrong(except for a little detail with the battery, since when you're programming for iOS for example, and therefore you have to keep the XCode opened, seems like the macbook lose energy quicker than usual).

IMHO if you have the money, and you wanna make a great inversion, I'd recommend you to buy a macbook pro with touch bar, however, if you are running low on cash, macbook either 2015 or 2016 version would do the trick for you.

Hope I could help you.



How about 2014 (Apple MacBook Pro 11,2/i7 4770HQ/16GB Ram/256GB SSD/15"). I found it for £860


Sounds like a good offer, what about the notebook state ? How many charge cycles got ?

Is graded as B (if that's what you mean)


I bought the 2017 MBA, i7, 128GB SSD and 8GB and uses it for web dev. No problems at all. A MBP was way out of my price range. For disk space, most of my stuff is in the cloud or git, so 128GB is plenty for my needs.


That's what I thought, all my important work is git and all entertainment and the like is external drive.

Do you have any regrets?

I'm in a bind. Everyone (I think everyone) that has a MBA says is good, everyone else says is crap.


I wanted to buy a MBP but it was out of my price range. The one thing I made sure of though was getting an i7. I took less disk space to get the i7. I was worried about it only being 8GB of RAM, but it's all good. The only thing that I would have liked is touch ID, but that's with the touch bar which is not on MBAs. I paid for an app to do that though. Unlox, unlox.it.

The current MBA is i5 (1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor) I don't know what it means but ...


I've been using MBAs for almost 10 years now for Java programming and academic research. I love them! Very light and portable and the port for SDHC camera cards is handy. I'm currently on my third.

I always plug into a bigger monitor when possible. The 13" screen is usable when travelling but not good for serious work.

But I'm about to upgrade to an MBA for the extra grunt. I recently watched a colleague's ThinkPad load the Eclipse IDE in about a third of the time and compile twice as quickly as my MBA. 8 GB RAM is not enough and the low processor speed really shows.

So I'm going to compromise convenience (I'll feel the extra weight when cycling into work every day) for performance. The larger 15" screen might make a difference when working on the road as well.


I guess it all depends on how long you want to keep this thing going.

You can always buy the cheaper version with 128gb of storage and purchase a external hard drive with it.

Then you can keep your shelved projects on the external hard drive while keeping your active projects on your laptop's solid state drive.

This would keep the cost of your laptop down if you are looking to upgrade in a year or two. Why invest a bunch into this one?


That said, if you plan on using this laptop for 4+ years, I would definitely go for the 256gb model as our programs will probably increase in size, and your ambitions may lead you to more intensive programming that would require larger project folders and more processing power. On that same note, you may want to get a 16gb of memory as well over the 8. But don't worry about that if 16gb is significantly more because 8gb should be fine.


I was thinking of going with 256gb but MacBook Air though. And my MacBook Pro had 8gb ram and it was just fine. I'm just wondering whether I'll regret going with Air rather than pro


I purchased an Air two years ago over the Pro, and I have been pretty happy with my decision. Granted, I got a maxed out MacBook Air. My only feeling of regret is that I'm not on the latest and greatest and that I'm using what people call a dead product line. But I get over it because it works well enough for what I need for the next three or four years.


I had Macbook AIr model of 2013, with 8gb of memory and 128 gb ssd. didn't had any problems programming ruby + js. Everything was running smooth and quick. One major plus of it against macbook pro of similar year was weight! It really makes the difference.
When I switched project I had to use Windows with Parallels. There I had 2 problems:

  • windows VM was too big(around 60gb) so I used external SSD first and then replaced internal ssd for 256gb model
  • was kind of slow if you install resharper and 4gb memory was not enough for running semi big project.

My recommendation is refubrished/used macbook pro 2015. It's reasonable price and have all the ports needed.

I currently own macbook 2016 with touch bar, and I'm pretty sure touchbar and 4 usb-c ports are not worth the money.
In any case Retina is a must for programming needs


I can't seem to find a used macbook pro, would you recommend the current macbook air


Only if you budget can't stretch. After trying retina, I think it's a must for a programmers or other people who work a lot with text


It depends a lot!

Are you a web developer? In this case you don't need to worry a lot about how powerful is your CPU but you will need a big screen. Unless you plan to work most of the time with an external monitor. I've seen a lot of Ruby on Rails developers programming with the Macbook 12" or the MBA 11". They have the editor on the laptop screen, and the browser on the external monitor.

If you are going to work with a compiled language and use an IDE, you should probably go for the better CPU you can afford. Probably, a MBP.

As for RAM memory, I would not but less than 16GB. You know... Slack...


Dude, you need way more than 128GB of storage for ANY kind of development.

Think about OS, General files, various projects and git repositories, NPM/Yarn caches (big), Docker or VirtualBox images, the Mac OS sleep image, possibly mobile backups, etc.

You will feel the constraints of a 128 GB hard drive very, very fast. At the minimum I would suggest getting something with 512 GB.

Onto processor, I would recommend getting the fastest i7 you can get. Consider all the processing power you’ll need for Chrome, webpack, WebStorm (or whatevs) to index all your project files, and you’re looking at pushing that thing to its limits already.

I just upgraded from a Late 2012 MacBook Pro Retina with an i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 128 GB hard drive. It was a great machine for many years, but in the last two or three years it started to really show its shortcomings and development started getting harder and harder. I had to spend a lot of energy backing things up, using DaisyDisk to clear caches and delete temporary things. Constant notifications that I was running out of space, and general sluggishness became the norm.

For the money you’re considering spending, I would seriously recommend doing some shopping for a decent Late 2015 model on eBay. There are some very solid refurbished Intel i7/16GB RAM/512GB Storage machines out there. I bought one last fall for $1,100 USD. It was the last generation of the MacBook Pro Retina with the real keyboard, MagSafe adapter, and Force Touch trackpad. I decided not to move to the newest body style after deciding that ports, MagSafe, and the larger (deeper) keys were probably superior to that tiny thing they are shipping now.

Don’t skimp on your machine if you can help it, because you don’t want to be replacing it in a year!


I've been working on my MacBook Air 13,3" since like 2 years and it is really awesome. It's the mid 2012 model with 8gb of RAM and 128gb SSD (so i have an external drive too). I've been developing in RoR on it and it have never disappointed me, actually i compare this machine to the other brands that some of my teamates have like dell or hp and it is very well compared to them even with almost 6 years old.


I currently own the Macbook Pro 13" 2017 with minimum specs: 128GB of storage + 8GB of RAM, and my storage usage is about 80-85Gbs after installing all the tools I use (Rider (.NET IDE), Android Studio, IntelliJ IDEA, VS Code, Docker, MySQL, DataGrip, NodeJS, and other regular apps).

Your concern about 128GBs actually makes sense. Due to college, I need to use some Microsoft tools and using Parallels to have a decent experience left me with about 3-5GBs left of storage (which is about the same if when I tried running other VM players). This is my specific scenario, so I think you should be good if that is not one of your needs.


I am using a Macbook Pro 2012 13" Unibody since its released. I recommend this model due to its ability to install a secondary HDD/SSD by replacing the optical DVD drive with a caddy which you can get easily. The ports aren't really outdated as well with 2 3.0 USB, Ethernet and TB 10GBPS/MDP. You can upgrade it unofficially to 16GB RAM if needed although it is overkill for programming. There's i5 and i7 variant for you to choose as well.

I've installed a Samsung 850 Pro 256 GB and a 2TB WD Black (removing the optical) for time machine backup and storage. You could even install a Bootcamp on the HDD if needed. With that said, my MBP broke down a month ago after 5 years of use due to an overheat reaching 90+C that somehow melted some soldered parts on the logicboard. At that moment, I definitely have the choice of getting a new laptop either a Mac or a PC, but in the end I decided to replace the logicboard just so I can continue work on this magnificent laptop.


Check out system76 galago pro. If you're comfortable with linux - this thing is a beast.

I'm using a version that costs around 1,1k and it has:
4ghz proc
32gb ram
250gb ssd

You also have an option for a lot bigger primary storage and to add a second hdd/sdd.

On the downside the body is a lot more flimsier than a macbooks (plastic with aluminum finish), the trackpad is meh and the bezels are quite big. That said, I'd still take this baby over a macbook anytime.


I code on a MacBook Air I bought in winter of 2012 and it still works brilliantly. Except the 128gb hard drive is way too small. Definitely get the laptop with the larger ssd hard drive. I have to store all of my photos, music, and videos on separate hard drives.


I have a MacBook air from 2013 (13inch 8gb RAM Core i5), and it is still going strong. Little slow here and there (I have a desktop at work) but it definitely gets the job done.

Anything with at least 8gb ram (for them chrome tabs and IDE) with decent storage space will be more then adequate for your needs!


UK Apple refurbs: apple.com/uk/shop/browse/home/spec...

Our lead dev had been developing on a macbook air for a while, seemed to be more than fine even when compiling swift+obj-c projects. He only replaced it very recently since his the battery crapped out and wanted a shiny new toy :)

I'd say 128gb is too small but SSDs are only getting cheaper, you could probably get 250gb external SSD for <=£200 if you decide you still need more. (I forget, do MBA have SD cards? They would be a nice expansion option too if you don't want to carry an SSD around).


I have external hard drives that might help me with that problem


128GB storage is definitely too small. Otherwise nothing terribly wrong with the air as long as you don't need more than 8GB RAM, which quite honestly you don't. If you did you'd have figured it out on the last laptop.

A couple of different companies offer SD cards that are designed to fit flush with the side of the laptop. E.g.: Transcend JetDrive lite. So for $100-200 you can keep an extra 256GB as an "external" drive that happens to sit within the laptop. This storage is relatively slow, but for a lot of things like documentation, e-books, itunes library, photos library, and any old cruft that you don't quite want to get rid of, etc -- it's perfect. If you don't need it day 1, at least it's a way to breathe some life into a laptop rather than outgrowing it entirely.

There are also USB drives that fit (nearly) flush with the case and would offer the same sort of benefits, albeit with the loss of a precious USB port.


If I go with MBA I'm going to go with 256GB because I know for a fact that 128 will do my heading. Even with 256 I am saving a lot of money.


I've been using a 2016 MPB (non-Touchbar) since that model launched and I'm about fed up with it. Mostly with the keyboard. The extremely shallow travel is uncomfortable and (for me at least) very typo-prone. Another issue is the new arrow-key shape; the left and right keys are now full-height, which looks nice in pictures but in practice makes it harder to feel out what key you're on when you move your hand over there. Which, again, is exacerbated by the shallow keys, because they barely stick out from the base to begin with. Finally, the keys themselves are very brittle, with tiny clips, and are likely to break if you try and take them off, so don't let any dust or other detritus near it. The keyboard is fused to base in such a way to make any repairs nearly impossible without replacing most of the computer. Thankfully it hasn't come to that, but I've lost confidence that it will hold up as long as my other Apple laptops have.

I will definitely not purchase another laptop that has this keyboard, and I'm more and more tempted to jump the Mac ship entirely. It's that bad.


I've developed using XCode for years on a late 2012 13" MBP.

Recently I "upgraded" to a 2014 15" MBP. The extra screen real estate is lovely. I spend considerably less time twiddling and resizing code/property/tree/storyboard panes. My recomendation to you - get 15" if you can.


Get a Macbook pro with as much RAM as you can. You won't regret it.


MacBook Pro 2017 2.9 GHz 16GB Ram, 512GB SDD, 4Gb Ram Video


I’m using a late 2015 model, and an external hard drive for additional storage, it works wonders


Dell XPS 13 dev edition with LINUX (Ubuntu)!


i'm using MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015), dear lord i'm in love.