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Is MacBook Pro good for programming? While this question seems straightforward, its subjective nature renders a simple yes or no impossible. Is the device good? Of course, a MacBook Pro is an impressive display of engineering.
But can the MacBook Pro function as your primary laptop for programming? Is it the best option for programming? While the answer to the former question is a resounding yes – the MacBook Pro is great for programming – the latter query is more nuanced. Although it is subject in large part to opinion, we’ll do our best to give you the facts and let you decide for yourself.
Let’s get started.
Apple’s forte is designing sleek, top-of-the-line hardware, and the company’s best-performing portable device is the MacBook Pro. Let’s look at different hardware considerations.
MacBook Pros have always been some of the best-performing laptops on the market. Apple insists on using bleeding-edge technology, often favoring performance over the convenience of legacy support.
Not only was Apple the first company to use Thunderbolt technology, but it was also the first to abandon optical drives and USB-A ports. Apple has continued the trend with the decision to shift from Intel processors to their own ARM-based chips called Apple Silicon (M1).
ARM-based architecture has achieved three of Apple’s primary goals:
- More efficient CPUs
- More internal control over hardware with less reliance on third parties
- A tighter architecture integration with Apple’s iOS and iPad OS devices
About Apple’s M1 Processor
Although we anticipated a performance drop in favor of lower power consumption, Apple proved us wrong. The M1 processor, Apple’s first generation of in-house CPUs, has only increased performance while simultaneously reducing energy usage. Perhaps we should come to expect this type of innovation from Apple, but they seem to have done the impossible.
As of this writing, the M1 Max is the best processor available for MacBook Pros. Since its introduction, Intel has edged out the M1 Max in terms of performance, but at the cost of twice the power consumption.
Unless Apple changes its course, you can count on the MacBook Pro ranking near the top of the list of fastest portable computers on the market. So, if performance is your sole concern, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a MacBook Pro.
When it comes to memory (RAM), the MacBook Pro holds its ground as a reliable choice for programming. Apple’s commitment to high-performance hardware extends to the memory specifications of their devices. While the question of whether the MacBook Pro is good for programming may be subjective, its impressive memory capabilities cannot be ignored.
The MacBook Pro offers various memory configurations, starting from 8GB and maxing out at 96GB (the most recent models). Having sufficient RAM is important for running programming tools and applications smoothly. A minimum of 8 GB is recommended, but more RAM can provide better performance for complex tasks.
With ample RAM capacity, the device ensures smooth multitasking and efficient handling of resource-intensive software. Whether you’re running complex IDEs, virtual machines, or working on large-scale projects, the MacBook Pro’s memory prowess will keep your programming endeavors on track.
Storage is a crucial consideration for programmers, as it directly affects the ability to store and access project files, databases, and development environments. Fortunately, the MacBook Pro excels in this area, aligning with Apple’s commitment to top-of-the-line hardware.
With generous storage options, including solid-state drives (SSD), the MacBook Pro offers fast and reliable data access. The storage capacity will depend on your needs, but at least 256 GB is recommended. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a maximum storage of up to 2 TB, which is ample for programmers.
Whether you opt for standard storage capacities or choose to upgrade to higher tiers, the device ensures your programming workflow remains seamless and efficient.
If you’re a programmer chained to your desk all day, battery life may not be important to you. But for those who require or desire mobility, the new MacBook Pros will survive a full working day.
Of their 2021 MacBook Pros, Apple claims programmers can “compile up to four times as much code in Xcode” on a single charge. Although it’s a rather ambiguous statement, MacBook Pros with M1 chips do have the best battery life of any laptop computer on the market.
The next closest laptop on Tom’s list is the Asus Zenbook 13 OLED at nearly 15 hours. That sounds good until you realize the Zenbook sports a Ryzen 7 5700u, a processor that the M1 Max crushes in performance tests. Say what you will about Apple, but with the M1 chips up their sleeve, nothing on the market beats the performance per wattage of Apple Silicon.
In 2012, Apple launched its Retina displays in the MacBook Pro models. It was a thing of beauty, with the most crisp visuals on a laptop at that time. Since then, Apple has kept up its legacy of gorgeous displays, leading up to its most recent MacBook Pro models.
The company’s latest MacBook Pro models feature the Liquid Retina XDR Display. As cool as the name sounds, it’s pure marketing speak. XDR stands for Extreme Dynamic Range (XDR sounds much better than EDR) and is meant to convey that the display surpasses the HDR standard in terms of brightness and contrast.
Quite honestly, it’s difficult to cut through all the marketing hype to get to the actual specs, but the MacBook Pro displays continue to pass the eye test. In fact, Alex Wawro, senior editor of Tom’s Guide, called the Liquid Retina “one of the most beautiful screens I’ve ever seen in a laptop.”
Both the 14-inch and 16-inch 2021 MacBook Pros sport 254 pixels per inch at 3024 x 1964 and 3456 by 2234 resolutions, respectively. (For reference, the 4K resolution is 3840 x 2160).
If you have to have 4K resolution, pass on the latest MacBook Pros. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with the impressive levels of brightness, contrast, and the number of colors in the MacBook Pro display.
Keyboard and Trackpad/Mouse
The keyboard and trackpad/mouse are essential components of any programming machine, and the MacBook Pro leaves no room for compromise in these areas. Apple’s meticulous attention to detail and ergonomic design principles shine through when it comes to input devices.
The MacBook Pro boasts a comfortable and responsive keyboard, allowing programmers to type effortlessly for extended periods. The keys provide satisfying tactile feedback, enabling precise coding and reducing the likelihood of typing errors.
Combined with excellent key travel and a well-spaced layout, the MacBook Pro’s keyboard enhances the overall programming experience.
In addition, the trackpad/mouse on the MacBook Pro offers precise tracking, multi-touch gestures, and intuitive navigation. While we’re comfortable with just about any touchpad, no PC matches the smoothness and responsiveness of Apple’s trackpad.
Its large surface area provides ample room for fluid interactions, empowering programmers to seamlessly navigate through code, switch between applications, and perform intricate maneuvers with ease.
The design legend Jony Ive might be gone, but Apple’s legacy of sleek design continues. Because of Apple’s status in the PC industry, design decisions will always face increased scrutiny. Yes, Apple has had its fair share of blunders (here’s looking at you, Butterfly Keyboard). But overall, MacBook Pro design decisions are well-conceived.
One advantage Apple has over its competitors is complete control of both hardware and operating system, so it can integrate hardware elements with OS functionality, including function keys and charging, to name two.
Having the right tools is essential for developers to unleash their creative potential. When it comes to choosing a reliable platform for coding, the MacBook Pro stands as a strong contender, offering a robust hardware foundation that complements the intricate demands of software development.
However, the true power lies not only in its exceptional hardware but also in the wealth of software resources available to programmers. With a seamless integration of macOS, Xcode, and an array of versatile programming tools, the MacBook Pro proves itself as a formidable companion in software development.
Let’s learn about it in detail.
The biggest question looming over Macintosh computers for programmers is support for various programming languages and integrated developer environments (IDEs).
Before 2015, we might have steered developers away from macOS. But in 2015, Microsoft released Visual Studio Code, its code and text editor for Mac OS X (as the operating system was still called back then). A year later, Microsoft released its full-blown IDE, Visual Studio, for macOS.
Visual Studio enables native C# and .NET development on the MacBook Pro, one of the last barriers for programmers looking to switch from Windows to macOS. While you can program in C# and .NET framework, you still need an actual Windows instance to test the compiled code.
But consider this: it is possible to run Windows on macOS. The reverse is not possible, as you cannot install macOS on non-Apple hardware, without some hacking wizardry. So, if you need to program for iOS or macOS, you’d be out of luck with a non-Apple laptop.
You can write code for almost every popular programming language, including Java, Python, R, PHP, C, and of course, Apple’s own Swift.
With all of this in mind, remember that Windows is still the most popular operating system among programmers. A 2021 Stack Social survey shows 30% of professional programmers use macOS while 41% use Windows. So, if you want to go with the plurality of developers, choose a device running Windows instead of a MacBook Pro.
Some other software features of macOS are as follows:
- Xcode: Apple’s official Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for macOS, which supports various programming languages including Swift, Objective-C, and C++. It includes code editing, debugging, and performance analysis tools.
- Terminal: macOS provides a Unix-based command-line interface known as Terminal. It allows developers to use the command line, run scripts, and execute various Unix commands.
- Homebrew: A package manager for macOS that makes it easy to install and manage additional software packages and libraries.
- Code Editors: You can choose from various code editors like Visual Studio Code, Atom, Sublime Text, or JetBrains IDEs (e.g., IntelliJ IDEA, PyCharm) for writing code in different programming languages.
- Version Control Systems: Tools like Git and Mercurial are commonly used for version control in software development. They integrate well with macOS and various code editors.
- Virtualization/Containerization: Software like Docker or virtualization tools like VirtualBox or VMware Fusion allow you to create virtual environments or containers to run different operating systems or setups for testing and development purposes.
Perhaps the most significant deterrent to buying a MacBook Pro is its hefty price tag. All that innovation, performance, and sleek design come at a premium and then some.
Apple’s strategy is to cater to people willing to pay a steep price to get good quality. You can get similar performance from a Windows laptop for a lower price, but you will sacrifice battery life, performance, and a top-notch display. But if you’re on a budget, these are probably sacrifices you can live with.
While the MacBook Pro is a popular choice among programmers due to its sleek design and reliable performance, it does have some limitations that you should consider:
- Limited upgrade options: MacBook Pro laptops have limited options for hardware upgrades. In most cases, you cannot upgrade the RAM or the storage after purchase, which can be a limitation if you require more resources in the future.
- Higher cost: MacBook Pro models tend to be more expensive compared to other laptops with similar specifications. If you’re on a tight budget, you may find more affordable options that still meet your programming needs.
- Lack of compatibility: Some programming tools and software may have better compatibility with other operating systems like Windows or Linux. While macOS does support a wide range of development environments, it’s worth checking if the specific tools you need are fully compatible with macOS.
- Limited gaming capabilities: If you’re interested in gaming alongside programming, the MacBook Pro may not be the best choice. While it can handle some casual gaming, it’s not designed to be a gaming laptop and may not support the latest graphics-intensive games.
- Dependency on dongles: The recent MacBook Pro models have switched to using Thunderbolt/USB-C ports exclusively, which may require the use of dongles or adapters to connect older USB-A devices or HDMI displays. This can be inconvenient if you have multiple peripherals or external monitors.
- Keyboard reliability: In the past, some MacBook Pro models faced issues with the keyboard, specifically the butterfly mechanism. While Apple has made improvements with the introduction of the Magic Keyboard, it’s worth considering the reliability and comfort of the keyboard for your programming needs.
- Limited customization: The MacBook Pro’s hardware and software are tightly integrated, which can limit customization options. If you prefer to have more control over your system and want to experiment with different hardware configurations, you may find other laptops more suitable.
These limitations are not exhaustive, and the suitability of a MacBook Pro for programming ultimately depends on your specific requirements and preferences. It’s always a good idea to evaluate your needs and consider alternative options before making a purchase.
1. Are Intel MacBook Pros good for programming?
Yes, Intel MacBook Pros are suitable for programming with their reliable performance and sleek design.
However, they’re not as efficient as M1 Macs, have limited upgrade options, lower battery life, and potential compatibility issues with certain tools should be considered.
2. Is the MacBook Air good for programming?
Although you can use MacBook Air for programming, it may have limitations compared to MacBook Pro models, such as lower processing power and fewer upgrade options.
However, unless you’re working on intensive projects, like AI or Machine Learning, or need high graphics horsepower, the MacBook Air should suit your needs.
3. Is the MacBook Pro 13 good for programming?
Yes, the MacBook Pro 13 is generally considered a good option for programming. It offers a balance of performance and portability, making it suitable for various programming tasks.
One obvious limitation is the smaller screen size and many users find a 13-inch screen to be too small to be productive. But it supports up to four external displays.
Is the MacBook Pro a good machine for programming? Yes. Is it necessary? No, unless you plan on writing software specifically for Apple’s platforms. Although MacBook Pro is an excellent piece of hardware, it’s a luxury for most. Few coders will ever need the full performance it can deliver.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. If you can stomach the high price tag of the MacBook Pro, Apple’s high-end laptop really is an excellent choice for professional programmers.
Have you written code on a MacBook Pro? Do you recommend it? Let us know in the comments below.About Andrew Gilmore