What’s the Best Mac for Developers in 2021?
If you’re a coder looking for a Mac, you’ve got a fair few different models to choose from. But which is best for you depends on what you’re coding. Graphically demanding apps require a decent graphics card, and integrated graphics may not be able to keep up. You’ll probably want a good processor, though, plenty of RAM, and enough storage for all your projects.
But is raw power all that matters? Check out our guide to the best Macs for developers, and find out.
Before we start
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Here are our top Macs for programming:
- Best overall Mac: 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019)
- Best desktop Mac: 27-inch iMac (2020)
- Best Mac on a budget: Mac mini (2020)
Why choose a Mac for app development?
Although many developers work on Windows PCs, Apple machines have been steadily gaining popularity among developers in recent years. This is at least partly down to the Unix command line. Most servers and file systems are built on top of Unix, so the Unix-based macOS is a natural choice.
You can also benefit from macOS cross-platform compatibility and easily run both Linux and Windows. On top of that, the architecture of any Mac is exceptionally attractive.
Choosing the best Mac for coding
Perhaps the most important factor in coding is RAM. Xcode alone is very RAM-heavy, and when you combine it with other apps, you’ll soon find you need a lot of memory to keep everything running smoothly. You might even have to manually stop processes to free up RAM.
Currently, the minimum amount of RAM you need for a comfortable coding experience is 8GB. Ideally, you should be looking at 16GB and more to create a safety net for future updates. Note, however, that the newer M1 Macs top out at 16GB, but because they handle RAM in a different way to Intel Macs, that’s actually plenty.
A large screen is helpful too. It’s likely you’ll be using at least three windows simultaneously. A big display is what you need to fit all of them on the same screen and eliminate the need to constantly switch. Of course, you can always plug in external displays, so even a smaller MacBook might be good enough.
If you like to use lots of separate monitors, you should know the M1 Macs only support up to two displays at once. So that’s one external display for iMacs and MacBooks, and two for Mac minis. There are ways around this, but it’s not natively supported.
You need a reasonably good processor, but any of the currently available Macs will be good enough. But you also don’t need a Mac Pro with its 28-core beast, because that would definitely be overkill.
As for storage, you don’t need much for programming, although we do recommend that you opt for a solid-state drive rather than a hard drive. That will make working with apps and files much faster.
Finally, make sure your chosen Mac has enough ports for everything you need. Some newer Macs only have a couple of USB-C ports, so you may need adapters and hubs for programming.
16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) — best overall Mac for development
Apple desktop machines are great for programming, but it’s hard to beat the flexibility of a MacBook. And while the 13-inch Intel and M1 Macs are both powerful enough, they’re a little smaller than we’d like for our marathon coding sessions. So the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) is perfect.
This model replaced the 15-inch Mac in 2019 and has much better specs. The starting specification has a 2.6GHz six-core i7 processor, with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. You can upgrade all of these specs massively, though, taking the price from $2,399 to well over $6,000.
The sheer size of the 16-inch MacBook brings an inevitable weight penalty with it. At 4.3 pounds (2kg), it’s far from light. But aside from having a nice big screen, it also gives you a bigger keyboard, which is ideal for programming.
In terms of external displays, you can connect up to two screens with 6016x3384 resolution. Or you can connect up to four 4096x2304 screens instead. Plus the MacBook has its own display, so if you’ve got plenty of choice.
|16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) specs|
Basic: 2.6GHz 6‑core Intel Core i7
Configurable to: 2.4GHz 8‑core Intel Core i9
Configurable to: 8TB
Configurable to: 64GB
16-inch Retina IPS
Up to 11 hours
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
27-inch iMac (2020) — best desktop Mac for app development
While MacBooks are perfect for many coders, if you do most of your work in the same place, then a desktop machine might be the best option for you. And they don’t come much better than the 27-inch iMac.
The base model has a 3.1GHz six-core Core i5 processor with a Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt 3 ports and four USB-C ports. The price starts from $1,799.
The big screen, of course, gives you plenty of room for all your app windows. But if you need extra displays, you can hook up two 4K external monitors or one 5K monitor. It’s not as much as the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but it will still give you three potentially large displays, so you’re unlikely to run out of screen space.
You might also want to check out the 24-inch iMac (2021). It’s smaller, and it uses the M1 processor, but it’s also cheaper too.
|27-inch iMac (2020) specs|
Basic: 3.1GHz six-core Core i5
Configurable to: 3.6GHz 10-core Core i9
Configurable to: 128GB
Configurable to: 8TB
27-inch Retina 5K 5120x2880
Ports and peripherals
SDXC card slot, four USB-A, 2 Thunderbolt 3, one gigabit Ethernet
Mac mini (2020, M1 version) — best Mac for programming on a budget
If your budget is tight and you don’t want a second-hand or refurbished Mac, then the Mac mini (2020) is your best choice. It uses Apple’s impressive new M1 processor, which makes it more than powerful enough for the majority of coding.
The 8GB of RAM is sufficient too, as are the integrated graphics. You might want to upgrade the SSD from 512GB to something more generous if you save a lot of large project files. But you also use external storage devices instead, if you want to save even more money.
As we’ve mentioned, M1 Macs don’t natively support more than two displays. But with the Mac mini, you get to choose the size of both of them. That means you can plug in two large monitors and get as much space as you need for all your programming apps.
The portability of the Mac mini could be an advantage too. It’s not as handy as having a MacBook, but it’s fairly easy to unhook a Mac mini, pop it in a bag and start working on it somewhere else.
|Mac mini (2020, M1 version) specs|
Apple M1 Chip
Eight-core integrated GPU
8GB unified memory
Configurable to: 16GB
Configurable to: 2TB
Two Thunderbolt 3
Mac versus PC for software development
Both Macs and PCs are great for software development. When choosing the best Mac for coding, we recommend considering the tools you like to use and their compatibility with both Windows and macOS. You should think about the type of language and framework that you work with.
How to optimize your Mac for programming?
A Mac that’s full of junk files is not going to be a good Mac to code on. With MacKeeper, you can clear out unnecessary files in just a few clicks.
How to clean junk files using MacKeeper:
1. Select Safe Cleanup
2. Click Start scan
3. Select what you want to clean up, and then click Clean junk files
Is the MacBook Air good for programming?
In many cases, the MacBook Air will be fine for programming. It’s powerful enough for medium-level app development, and it’s also lightweight enough to carry with you everywhere for spontaneous coding sessions.
What’s the best Mac for software development?
The best Mac for software development is the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019).
It comes with a 2.6GHz six-core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB storage. If you can live with a smaller screen, then consider the 2020 MacBook Pro, which has a powerful M1 chip under its hood and a battery suitable for long coding sessions.
Is a Core i5 enough for programming?
Depending on the type of coding you practice, you might want to invest in a Core i7 processor or go with a cheaper Core i5. For example, a front-end web developer that only uses a text editor and a browser on an everyday basis will do just fine with an i5.
Is 4GB of RAM enough for coding?
Generally speaking, 4GB RAM is not enough for most tasks required in modern-day programming. You’re looking at 8GB minimum to run Xcode alone, and that’s if you don’t embark on anything too heavy. For more intense projects that need additional tools, consider investing in 16GB or more. Note, though, that M1 Macs only offer 16GB, but that’s plenty, because they handle memory differently.
Do you need a powerful computer for coding?
As a programmer, you don’t need a powerful computer at all. A quad-core i5 processor or an M1 chip with 8GB RAM and 256GB of SSD memory will suffice. As for screen size and resolution, make sure you have a display that’s bigger enough for all your apps. Or think about a Mac that supports enough external monitors.