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Category: Gear

Best Developer Laptop 2020

I had a big shock this week. I changed my MacBook battery, and then 2 days later, the battery failed. In the middle of a client project. Yikes.

But it got me thinking: No developer should ever depend on only one laptop. So I’m laptop searching. Also I’m ready to go hardcore and start working Linux primarily.

So what makes a great developer laptop? And what’s the best pound for pound machine to get right now? This is my breakdown.

The Specs

If we aren’t talking machine learning, then developer laptop requirements are pretty simple:

  • A ton of RAM. IDEs, containers, and testing applications running at the same time means memory. 16GB is so 2019, aim for 32GB.
  • A 15″ screen
  • Thunderbolt 3. Because docking quickly and charging through just one cord is really nice

So those requirements are pretty easy to hit, where the price tag shoots up is if your work involves machine learning or VR. For machine learning, some people say why bother with the GPU when you can do most of that processing in the cloud, but with VR you need the hardware with you.

So for ML specifically, we’ll add these specs:

  • A ton of storage. At least 1TB for storing datasets.
  • Powerful graphics. Definitely from NVIDIA because of CUDA. GTX or RTX line.

The Results

I went down the rabbit hole on this one and looked at a lot of different machines. Branded products like the Microsoft Surface line, and then vendors to cater to the Linux only crowd like System76, and then I checked out what the gaming community had to offer. I came to a few conclusions. First, that $1600-$1800 is the sweet spot for horsepower and cost, and second, that MSI seems to have the best options.

MSI Prestige 15

This thing is killer. 4k screen, 10th gen i7 CPU, Thunderbolt everything, GTX 1650 graphics.

MSI Creator P65

This thing pretty much has it all:

  • 4k display
  • 9th gen i7 processor
  • 32GB of RAM
  • 1TB SSD
  • RTX 2060 graphics card, so really powerful

The only minor drawbacks I could find with this one is that it’s going to have a little less battery life than the Prestige 15 on account of the higher horsepower, and also because of the higher power requirements, it still uses a power brick instead of charging through the USB-C Thunderbolt port, but what can you do? It’s a generation older than the Prestige 15, but it has more graphical horsepower of VR, ML, and games.

System76 Oryx Pro

This last one I think is an honorable mention is the System76 Oryx Pro. You can get it configured whatever way you want, and it has a couple interesting features. First of all, I get the impression that it makes switching between internal graphics and the hardcore graphics easier than going into BIOS, which is kind of nice, get a little extra battery life. It’s also a native Linux machine. So it arrives out of the box with Linux installed. You don’t have to figure out dual boot settings or wipe the machine.

Super configurable, but charges through a brick instead of Thunderbolt.

Conclusions

Basically I think any developer is well served to have 2 machines around: a $1000 MacBook of some kind with 16GB of RAM, and a Linux machine that happens to have Windows on it if you want to play games.

The MSI Prestige 15 I think is the best overall choice. Powerful next generation everything and still reasonable graphics power in a laptop form factor.

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