The Best Cheap Programming Laptop When Money is Tight

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Cheap Programming Laptop

Lack of funds got you on the hunt for a cheap programming laptop?  You came to the right place.  Whether you’re a programming student, a professional or just building something revolutionary in your spare time, a laptop will help you program your ideas into reality.  But a good programming laptop isn’t just about sheer power.  The right combination of components will help increase your workflow.  There’s a lot of things to check off the list to ensure you end up with the right system.  But don’t worry.  We rounded up the best laptops available now and a guide to help you prioritize the specs.

IN A HURRY?  HERE’S OUR TOP PICKS…

   CPURAMSTORAGE 
1.HP Pavilion 15Intel Quad-Core i5-1035G1 8GB256GB SSDView
2.Acer Aspire 5Intel Quad-Core i5-10210U8GB512GB SSDView
3.HP Spectre x360Intel Quad-Core i7-8565U 16GB512GB SSDView
4.Microsoft Surface Pro 7Intel Quad-Core i5-1035G4 8GB128GB SSDView
5.Google PixelBookIntel Dual-Core i7-7500U16GB512GB SSD View
6.Asus Chromebook Flip C434Intel Dual-Core M3-8100Y 4GB64GB eMMC Flash StorageView

Cheap Programming LaptopReview

1. HP Pavilion 15

The HP Pavilion brand of notebooks has a component list that strives to be many things for many types of users.  So, what does it have to offer someone just starting out with basic programming?

BUILD:  As a mid-range line of laptops, the HP Pavilion 15 ditches some of the premium features of the Envy series notebooks to be more affordable.  And one such feature is a light weight:  It’s a little heavier than most Ultrabooks at 4.17-pounds.  However, it’s still light and slim enough to carry around.

DISPLAY:  The textured lid opens to reveal a 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution screen.  But low maximum brightness and poor color reproduction means you’ll want to flex those coding skills in well-lit environments. 

SPECS:  Power delivery comes from a 10th generation Intel Core i5-1035G1 CPU.  You also get a generous helping of memory with 8GB of RAM as well as a speedy 256GB SSD, and integrated Intel UHD Graphics G1.  That’s enough performance to complete several lines of codes without hiccups.

KEYBOARD:  Inputs include a full-size, island-style keyboard with an integrated numberpad – Keystrokes feel shallow but they have a crisp and satisfying snap.  The Clickpad is large and supports multi-touch gestures with integrated left and right mouse buttons.

PORTS:  Port options include a USB Type-C port, two USB 3.1 ports, HDMI, Ethernet and a headphone/mic jack combo.  You also get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth(R) 5 connections.

BATTERY LIFE:  You get all-day endurance of around 8-hours.

Pros:

  • good hardware for office or schoolwork
  • powerful Ice Lake Core i5 CPU
  • excellent input devices

Cons:

  • lackluster display
  • flimsy feeling lid

2. Acer Aspire 5

Another excellent option for the programmer on a tight budget is the Acer Aspire 5.  As an ­all-around laptop, it’s designed to handle almost anything you can throw at it.

BUILD:  The Aspire 5 series continues the tradition of serving as proof of Acer’s ability to produce budget laptops with solid components.  The lightweight chassis is made of plastic.  So, while the laptop is well-built.  There’s notable flex on the underside of the keyboard deck and lid.

DISPLAY:   The brightness level of the matte 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display is low compared to similar notebooks.  Color reproduction is also not one of the laptop’s strong points.

SPECS:  But this is the A515-54G-53H6 configuration which relies on the brand-new Comet Lake hardware:   Inside is a 10th Gen Intel Core i5-10210U CPU and 8GB DDR4 RAM.  Combined with a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD and a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce MX250 with 2GB of GDDR5 vRAM, you’ve got enough power for game development and graphics programming.

KEYBOARD:  There’s a usable number pad squeezed into the backlit keyboard.  The brightness levels are indistinct, and the keys have a somewhat spongy feel.  But key clatter is quiet.  The Clickpad is large, but it’s hard to know if you’ve made a click.

PORTS:  I/O connections include one USB Type-C port, two USB 3.1 ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, and the latest generation 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6.

BATTERY LIFE:  All this formidable performance and you get an internal battery with an 8-hour runtime, which is better than average.

Pros:

  • sleek chassis
  • monstrous power
  • fantastic battery life

Cons:

  • the display is a let down

3. HP Spectre x360

If you prefer the flexibility of a convertible laptop for programming and coding, the HP Spectre x360 is one of our favorites with a gorgeous design and top-notch features.

BUILD:  It has a luxurious design that’s stunning to behold in Dark Ash silver with copper luxe accents.  The chassis sports sleek diamond cut edges and a keyboard deck that isn’t affected by the laptop’s small footprint.

DISPLAY:  The 15.6-inch 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2560) touchscreen is surrounded by super slim micro-edge bezels.  It comes with HP’s Active Stylus.  And while it’s ridiculously colorful and sharp, we’re have to report that it’s annoyingly dim.

SPECS:  This unit comes packed with Intel’s 8th generation, Whisky Lake Core i7-8565U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD and a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card that delivers solid performance.  It’s just one of the best convertible laptops for programming.

KEYBOARD:  If you have big hands, you’ll love that the keys are nicely spaced with a good amount of travel and a pleasant click.  The matte palm rest is soft with a smooth, responsive integrated Clickpad.  And off to the right is a fingerprint reader for security.

PORTS:  The port selection is great for a 2-in-1, including one Thunderbolt 3 port, one USB Type-C, one USB-A port, HDMI, a headphone jack802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.

BATTERY LIFE:  Considering that this laptop comes with a 4K display and dedicated graphics, the 7-hour runtime is not bad.  But expect less when programming.

Pros:

  • gorgeous 4K panel
  • comfortable keyboard
  • good battery life

Cons:

  • display needs to be brighter

4. Microsoft Surface Pro 7

You’ll never find a better detachable version of a 2-in-1 for programming.  The 7th iteration of the venerable Microsoft Surface Pro features a lot of drool-worthy features worth considering.

BUILD:  Ultra slim and light, the magnesium-alloy design feels high quality and it’s relatively compact and sleek.  The often-imitated built-in kickstand allows 165 degrees of range to offer the versatility of a studio and tablet.  The detachable keyboard is expectedly a little flimsy but easily attaches to the bottom of the device magnetically maintaining the laptop’s status as one of the best detachables.

DISPLAY:  The 12.3-inch 10-point touchscreen remains un-changed with a 2736 x 1824 resolution.  It’s just as sharp, vibrant and responsive as before.  But the bezels seem thick for a laptop of this price.

SPECS:  2x faster, it’s elevated by worthy upgrades like an Ice Lake 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G4 CPU, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and integrated Intel UHD G1 graphics to compile code efficiently.

KEYBOARD:  The adjustable backlit keyboard has deeper travel and a bouncier feel for a surprisingly comfortable typing experience.  And the touchpad tracks very smoothly with a fingerprint reader for secure login (Use the keyboard on a hard, flat surface for the best experience).

PORTS:  Another worthy upgrade is a USB Type-C port (sorry, no Thunderbolt 3).  The only other port is USB Type-A, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth.

BATTERY LIFE:  The big performance gains means battery life is limited to around 6 hours.

Pros:

  • snappy “Ice Lake” Core i5
  • USB Type-C port
  • sharp display
  • robust battery life

Cons:

  • limited port selection

5. Google PixelBook

The price might be jarring.  But the Google PixelBook isn’t just a Chromebook.  It’s the high-performance Chromebook with useful horsepower to match the Microsoft Surface and MacBook devices for programming.

BUILD:  The convertible design adapts to whatever you’re doing.  At 2.5-poounds it’s lighter than many Chromebooks in its class.  And while not rugged, the brushed aluminum unibody design is durable.

DISPLAY:  The nearly Quad HD 2400 x 1600-pixel resolution on the 12.3-inch screen is stunning.  Not only is it colorful but it’s bright with plenty of detail; one of the best displays on any portable computer. 

SPECS:  Although it runs only ChromeOS and Android, the PixelBook features a 7th generation Sky Lake Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD for storage and integrated Intel HD 615 graphics.  And it features TPM technology to encrypt your most important data. 

KEYBOARD:  The backlit keyboard is among the best you’ll find on any laptop, period.  Along with the rubberized palm rest, it’s so comfortable you won’t mind typing for hours.  The edge-to-edge glass Clickpad provides accurate and smooth tracking and a solid feel to each click.  Unfortunately, the Google Assistant-powered Pen costs extra.

PORTS:  Connectivity options include two USB Type C ports, a headphone/mic jack, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. And un-like Chromebooks of the past, you’re not limited to apps from the Chrome Web Store.

BATTERY LIFE:  Battery endurance is shorter than the average at only around 7-hours.  But it does come with impressive fast charging technology.

Pros:

  • beautiful looks
  • solid speed
  • bright, vivid display

Cons:

  • pen sold separately

6. Asus Chromebook Flip C434

If you’re an Android developer but you want to go even cheaper on your programming device.  The Asus Chromebook Flip C434 is better than its Chromebook Flip C302 predecessor.

BUILD:  The a sleek all metal body can easily be mistaken for a pricier ZenBook Ultrabook.  Two sturdy chrome hinges help you “flip” the Chromebook into different modes.

DISPLAY:  Open the C434 and you’ll find the 14-inch Full HD touchscreen surrounded by ultra-narrow NanoEdge bezels.  But while it’s sharp, bright and vivid.  The glossy panel is reflective.

SPECS:  Admittedly, the ChromeOS isn’t as nice for programming as Windows or the MacOS.  But equipped with an Intel Core M3-8100Y CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB eMMC storage, you’ve got plenty of oomph to satisfy your programming needs.  

And like the PixelBook, you get access to the Google Play store and its Android apps.  So, now you can get Microsoft Office apps like Outlook.

KEYBOARD:  The ErgoLife hinge lifts the backlit keyboard for a more comfortable typing experience.  Key travel is short but provides a solid typing experience.  The touchpad is a bit “jumpy” but responsive.

PORTS:  A super thin chassis means there’s not that much room for ports.  Still you get the essentials like two USB Gen 1 Type-C ports that both support charging, one USB Gen 1 Type-A port, a microSD card and headphone jack.

BATTERY LIFE:  The C434 extends its predecessor’s already respectable runtime to another hour so you get almost 10-hours of programming on a single charge.

Pros:

  • sleek, premium design
  • vivid touchscreen
  • longer battery life than the PixelBook

Cons:

  • finicky touchpad
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Cheap Programming Laptop Buying Guide

A cheap programming laptop needs to tick a lot of boxes based on the programming language you’re using – It’s a broad field and there are many programming languages used for coding.  As such, your laptop needs to be adequately speced to not only work with the programming language. 

But it needs to communicate with the compiler, interpreter, local server and code editors among other things.  Since it’s not just about sheer power, below is the ideal configuration of a laptop for programming.

OPERATING SYSTEM

Windows and the MacOS are the most widely used operating systems for programming.  Windows is the most preferred because the platform supports many programming languages.

Apple ecosystem development programs like Objective C and Swift require Xcode which is only available on Macs for the time being.  Linux is another fine option, especially if you’re a developer coding in Python, Ruby on Rails and PHP.  (These programs work well on Windows too.)

CPU

Time is of the essence.  You need a fast and efficient processor to execute codes in the least amount of time.  Whether you’re developing a website or a mobile app, you’ll need a laptop with a powerful processor.  Prioritize the ones that offer a quad-core CPU or higher.  It will help you load your code editors faster and compile and build your projects quickly, which will save you a lot of time.

A quad-core i5 CPU will suffice for most programming work.  But for something as intense as game development and programming graphics, laptops powered by at least a quad-core i7 processor will serve you well. 

However, if you just need a laptop to tinker with a few programming projects at home.  One with an Intel Core i3 processor will save you a lot of coin and still be able to get the job done.  But to future proof your investment, you still want a laptop with at least a Core i5 processor.

RAM

Think of RAM this way:  the more of it you have, the more programs you’ll be able to run simultaneously.  And the easier it will be for your system to switch between running applications.  What would that mean for you and your projects?

Heavier programs will require more memory.  And this area could be a potential bottleneck.  More RAM on your laptop will help run local servers, compilers, code editors and web browser efficiently and simultaneously. 

Now this doesn’t mean you should spend all your money on just this area alone.  8GB of RAM is enough to get you started.  But if the kind of programming you’re into is something like game development, graphics programming, CNC programming or any of these big boys, you’re going to need at least 16GB of RAM; maybe more.

HARD DRIVE

If you’re serious about programming, don’t even waste your time with MHDs (mechanical hard drives).  Among other things, they’re un-forgivably slow for this kind of work.

SSDs (solid-state drives) are faster by some margin.  SSDs significantly increase the overall speed of the laptop.  Which means a faster compile time and quick opening of code editors along with other software.  Put another way, an SSD increases your workflow.

Plus, it helps boot up your laptop and loads your saved projects faster so you can get to work on your great ideas immediately.  The extra performance boost alone makes an SSD more than worth it.

GRAPHICS CARD

You don’t need a dedicated graphics card for programming.  We’ll say it again, programming doesn’t require discrete graphics.  The new integrated GPUs from Intel and AMD are more powerful than ever before.  Which means they can run most of the programs your laptop will use for coding with no problem.

If you’re still not convinced or you would also like to use your laptop for playing a few PC games on your down time.  An entry-level card from NVIDIA or AMD with 2GB of vRAM should be sufficient.  But for game developing or any other intense coding that demands more horsepower from the GPU.  A laptop with a dedicated graphics card is a non-negotiable.

WEB CAMERA

For video conferencing with clients or your classmates and professor, you’ll need a laptop with a good web cam.  At the time of this writing many laptops still only come with a 720-pixel web camera.  While it’s still the current standard, you get a lot of visual noise which makes them a bit frustrating to use. 

The good news is we are starting to see more laptops that offer a web cam with 1080p.  Unfortunately, they’re exclusive to high-end systems which cost a pretty penny.  You could always hook an external web cam to your laptop; you can easily find a good one with clear picture and sound for less than a hundred bucks on Amazon.

KEYBOARD

We don’t need to tell you that programming and coding involves a lot of typing.  You, my friend, need a comfortable keyboard with keys that offer plenty of travel to keep your fingers from getting fatigued.  And a smooth, responsive touchpad goes a long way to ensure you don’t accidently click on things you didn’t mean to click.

DISPLAY

While we’re on the subject of comfort, programming is a largely visual activity as you’ll be staring at your screen for hours.  You want that to be a pleasant experience, don’t you? 

You need a laptop that offers good resolution.  Make sure the laptop you choose comes with anti-glare coating to minimize reflections.  IPS will help so you don’t have to stare at the screen dead-on when working.  These two features alone will go a long way in minimizing symptom like eye strain caused by prolonged coding sessions. 

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m a front-end developer.  What kind of CPU should I be looking for?

A back-end developer will likely need to install the local server and set up virtual machines, which will require a robust processor to handle the workload.  Front development isn’t as resource heavy; you’ll do well with an Intel Core i3 or Core i5.

How much memory do I need for hybrid mobile development?

If you work with programs like Android Studio and XCode, you’ll need a minimum of 8GB of RAM.  But to give you more head room we recommend 16GB.

To Sum Up

A programmer like you uses lines of code to create all kinds of computer programs and mobile apps.  You even work to analyze the needs of your clients to create technical solutions that solve problems.  To do all that, you need a great laptop.  But it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.  The HP Pavilion 15 is an excellent choice for beginners because it boasts a 10th gen Core i5 and a powerful integrated graphics card.  We like the Acer Aspire 5 because it offers similar specs and an entry-level discrete graphics card from NVIDIA.  Not only does the HP Spectre x360 look luxurious, but the luxury extends inside with robust hardware.