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Searching for the Ultimate Development Laptop

First published on December 3, 2015

Update #1: I’ve written another short article (dated 2016-04-12) comparing the latest models, focusing on the processor specs. But I’m still waiting for the MacBook Pro refresh.

Some say it’s a futile quest. But I’m going to try anyway. I’m going to find (or at least pick) the perfect laptop for software development.

I’m currently writing this article from a 2013-era Lenovo ThinkPad W530. And it is a beast. It’s actually quite a performant laptop with a decent keyboard and screen. But it’s big and it’s heavy. Even the latest W-series models are just too big. I put this laptop in the class of “desktop-replacement” instead of “portable” - it’s not one I would choose for myself or, frankly, recommend.

I’m looking for a key balance of power and portability.

Dell Latitude E5450

The Dell Latitude 5000 Series has been a laptop I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in the past. Particularly the 14 inch model, which is currently the E5450. The 15 inch model is too large for my preferences (and why does a laptop need a number pad anyway!?). Some people may enjoy the extra portability of a 12 inch display, but for me 13 or 14 inches is the sweet spot.

Of course, Dell’s website is absolutely terrible in terms of actually trying to customize the configuration I want.

But let’s look at the specs. I generally max everything out.

Here is the official spec sheet (hopefully the link doesn’t expire too soon).

It’s worth comparing the 14” model to the 15” model. For reference here are the specs to compare. If you notice, it has the exact same internal specs! You just get a bigger screen, but at the same resolution!

Note that the Latitudes now have HDMI output instead of DisplayPort. Personally I find this a drawback as HDMI is really intended for consumer electronics while DisplayPort has many other capabilities (display chaining, etc.).

Dell also makes a 7000 series, considered an “ultrabook”. It appears that you can get similar specs but without a dedicated graphics card. And it’s only marginally thinner and lighter (13.3 x 9.12 x .80 inches and 3.5 lbs). Ultimately it does come with an added cost.

Lenovo ThinkPad T450s

Apples-to-apples comparison suggests that I should look at the ThinkPad T series. Specifically the T450. Note that there is a T450s, but it has only 1 DIMM and thus a smaller max-memory. It’s kind of a weird laptop.

Here is latest Product Specification Reference which lists everything about every ThinkPad. Which is great for comparing.


So it’s basically the same as the Dell Latitude 5000 series. Except with DisplayPort instead of HDMI. And there is no option for dedicated graphics card.

Lenovo also has a 15” T550, which again like Dell, is the same laptop but with a bigger screen.

Apple MacBook Pro 13” Retina

Apple is interesting when compared to the traditional laptop vendors. They generally don’t allow for customization. Instead, you can “upgrade” the CPU/RAM/disk at the time of purchase.

They make a 13” and 15” display model. But let’s look at the 13” specs:

It’s small, light, sleek. That comes at the cost of not being able to upgrade the memory or hard drive after purchasing. There is a lot less configurability. But the specs are in-line with what you would want.

The 15” model has similar specs, but it’s quad-core and has the addition of a dedicated graphics chipset. It’s priced about $500 more. It is really attractive looking. It’s obviously bigger and heavier. But the dedicated AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics and quad-core graphics is appealing. Compared to Dell and Lenovo, the 15” model actually offers a compelling reason to get the bigger model.

Unfortunately consulting the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide suggests waiting a few months for the new model.

Windows and .NET Development on a Mac?

I proposed this question on reddit here and here. And I got a lot of good feedback.

This is definitely a gray area and I’m still unsure. Fortunately, new MacBook Pro models aren’t expected for another few months so I have time to do further research before I decide to purchase.

Other Choices?

I know I only covered three vendors, and there are plenty of others. But what other vendor out there makes Laptops suitable for business and software development?

I do plan on updating this article as I receive new information. And I may publish a followup review after I decide and purchase.

If you have opinions or comments, please leave them below!


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