What Is the Best Mac for Developers in 2020?
Ever wondered why programmers use Macs? So did we. We’ve talked to our developers and found out why Macs are so great for programming—and not only on macOS and iOS. In this article, we’ll talk about the best Macs for app and web development and the best configurations of MacBook Air and MacBook pro for coding. We’ll also cover the minimum tech specs a computer should have for you to code comfortably.
Before we start
To make sure any programming app runs smoothly on your Mac (whatever Mac it is), it’s necessary to keep it optimized at all times.
Get MacKeeper and let it do your dirty work—it will ensure all your apps and systems are up to date, help you manage Mac startup processes, and control your Mac’s memory usage.
Here’s our personal ranking of Macs for programming:
- Absolute best: MacBook Pro (16-inch or 13-inch)
- Best alternative: MacBook Air (2020)
- Best desktop computer: 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display
Why choose a Mac for app development?
Just a few years ago the IT world was dominated by Windows-based computers. However, Apple machines have been steadily gaining popularity among developers in recent years. Why did programmers suddenly get so into Macs?
In a nutshell, the answer lies in the Unix command line. Most of the currently existing servers and file systems are built on top of Unix, so the Unix-based OS X / macOS is now everyone’s favorite. You can also benefit from macOS cross-platform compatibility and easily run both Linux and Windows.
On top of everything, the architecture of any Mac is exceptionally attractive. However, some models are more suited for coding than others—let’s see what the essential features are in the next section.
Recommended system requirements
First of all, it’s important to keep your Mac up to date—not just for coders, for any user. But programmers will especially benefit from it, since some essential software, such as Xcode, only works with the latest versions of the operating system.
Other specifications of high importance are listed below.
Having a large screen with a high-definition Retina display is important for app development. It’s likely that 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.
A 27-inch iMac with a 5K Retina display is the number one candidate in terms of screen size and quality resolution. The pixel-dense screen with 500 nits of brightness will make small letters and numbers of code look pleasantly smooth and pretty much perfect.
However, is a 27-inch screen really worth the money for a programmer? Not so sure about that. After all, nothing is preventing you from plugging in one or two separate displays to a smaller and more affordable MacBook Pro, or even an Air. You save money and you gain portability—what’s not to love.
When it comes to GPU, that’s not an important specification in programming unless you’re creating something very graphics-heavy, so we’re not covering that here.
Having a processor that is powerful enough to manage all of the essential app development software is crucial. It doesn’t have to be the best one on the market—a Mac Pro with its 28-core beast would definitely be an overkill. However, you want to make sure that you’re getting the best value for money.
In general, you don’t need to get anything too fancy. A dual-core i5 or even an i3 will suffice, even though you will benefit from a faster processor with more cores. If you’re running the latest versions of Xcode, i5 is the minimum requirement. However, if you use an IDE, a virtual machine, or work on a graphics-heavy project, you’ll need a Core i7 and substantially large RAM.
Unless you are working in game development, you shouldn’t be concerned about your graphics card. The default option that comes with any up-to-date Mac will do a perfectly fine job for creating an app.
RAM and storage
Of all the things that we have listed so far, random access memory is the most important. Xcode alone is very RAM-heavy, and along with other apps getting any work done will be a real struggle.
Currently, the minimum amount of RAM you need for a comfortable coding experience is 8GB. Older MacBooks that have 4GB are out of the picture unless you manage to upgrade their RAM and install the latest versions of macOS. Ideally, you should be looking at 16GB and more to create a safety net for future updates.
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.
Software development tends to be energy-costly. Consequently, battery life is something you shouldn’t ignore. Luckily, new generations of MacBooks offer up to 12 hours of battery life, particularly the 2020 MacBook Air. If you are into vintage and would rather buy an old or a second-hand model, be prepared to charge your laptop frequently and remain tied to your desk.
Make sure that your Mac has enough ports so that you can connect all of your peripherals. As a coder, you might want to use an external display, a keyboard, a mouse, or a flash drive. Some models of MacBook only have a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, such as the 2020 MacBook Air—in this case, you would need a USB hub. In contrast, a big desktop computer such as a 27-inch iMac has four USB-C ports and two Thunderbolt 3s.
The best Macs for software development
MacBook Pro for app development
Both the 2019 16-inch and the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro are the ideal options for app development. In both the devices portability and light weight are combined with a powerful processor, high-definition Retina display, 8GB RAM, and 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports.
The new 13-inch MacBook Pro that arrived in 2020 will be a good solution for those who like the latest technological advances and don’t mind the smaller screen size. The base model has a 1.4GHz quad-core 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor which can be upgraded to a 2.0 GHz quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i5. Base 8GB RAM can be expanded to 16GB and 256GB storage can be boosted up to 512GB. The price range for this model is from $1,299 to $1,799.
Let’s compare it to the 16-inch MacBook Pro. This model replaced the 15-inch Mac in 2019 and has much better specs. The 2.6GHz 6-core 9th Gen i7 processor can be upgraded to a 2.3GHz 8-core 9th Gen i9, 16GB RAM and up to 1TB storage. The price range here is from $2,399 to $2,799.
Overall, although the 16-inch Pro has much better specs, the 13-inch one is enough for all of your programming needs.
Optimal specs for the 13-inch model:
- 2.0GHz quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU
- 16GB RAM
- 512GB SSD
Optimal specs for the 16-inch model:
- 2.6GHz 6-core 9th Gen i7 CPU
- 16GB RAM
- 512GB SSD
If you would like to have a bigger screen when you’re at your desk, get an external monitor. Don’t rush and buy the Pro Display XDR—there are a lot of affordable options that match its quality.
|13-inch MacBook Pro 2020 Specs|
Basic: 1.4GHz quad-core 8th Gen Core i5
Configurable to: 2.3GHz quad-core 10th Gen Core i7
Configurable to: 32GB
Configurable to: 4TB
13.3-inch IPS Retina 2560x1600 px
Up to 10 hours
Ports and peripherals
Two to four Thunderbolt 3
MacBook Air for app development
MacBook Air has always been a topic of controversy among creatives. It’s kind of borderline meeting the requirements for most professional users, including coders. What did we learn about Air?
The new 2020 release introduced to the world the most powerful Air yet. The tiny 1.27 kg laptop is equipped with an impressive 1.1GHz quad-core 10th Gen Core i5 processor with a Turbo Boost option up to 3.5GHz. 8GB built-in RAM (can be configured to 16GB) is combined with 512GB of SSD storage in addition to two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 13.3-inch Retina display with True Tone. All of this in a cheapest MacBook you can buy—price ranging from $999 to $1,299.
Overall, we can say with confidence that this is a solid option for casual to medium-level app development and will serve you well—just like Apple products always do.
Optimal specs for MacBook Air:
- 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU
- 16GB RAM
- 512GB SSD
|13-inch MacBook Air 2020 Specs|
Basic: 1.1GHz dual-core Core i3
Configurable to: 1.2GHz quad-core Core i7
Configurable to: 16GB
Configurable to: 2TB
13.3-inch IPS Retina 2560x1600px
Up to 12 hours
Ports and peripherals
Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
iMac for app development
If you spend most of your time working at home, you might be looking for a stationary computer. In this case, it’s also worth investing in a device with a large display. Apple has got your back with a 27-inch 5K Retina display iMac.
The base model has 3.1GHz 6-core 10th Gen Core i5 processor with a Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz 8GB of on-board RAM that can be configured to 32GB, 1TB fusion drive, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and 4 USB-C ports. The price ranges from $1,799 to $2,299.
Compare it with the 21.5-inch iMac—the base model has a dual-core processor, which is a no-go for programming. A slightly more expensive variant has a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th Gen Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM (configurable to 32GB), 1TB hard drive, and a Retina 4K display as opposed to 5K. It costs $1,299 or $1,499 for a slightly more advanced model.
The 27-inch model is slightly more expensive for something that only adds 6 extra inches to the screen, but if you decide to purchase the smaller iMac instead you will have to swap the hard drive for an SSD and upgrade RAM, adding extra expenses. Is it really worth it?
To sum it up, an iMac is an excellent choice for someone who doesn’t move around for work and prefers sitting at the desk.
Optimal 27-inch iMac specs:
- 3.1GHz 6-core 8th Gen Core i5 CPU
- 16GB RAM
- 512GB SSD
|27-inch iMac Specs|
Basic: 3.1GHz 6-core 10th Gen Core i5
Configurable to: 3.6GHz 10-core 10th Gen Core i9
Configurable to: 128GB
Configurable to: 8TB
27-inch Retina 5K 5120x2880, configurable to nano-texture glass
Ports and peripherals
SDXC card slot, 4 USB-A, 2 Thunderbolt 3, 1 Gigabit Ethernet
Mac vs. PC for software development
Both Macs and PCs are great for software development. When choosing the best computer 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.
Pros of coding on a Mac:
- Macs are less susceptible to malware (although not completely virus-free)
- Programs native to Apple don’t slow down the performance of a Mac
- Macs are based on Unix, so they are more suitable for creating back-end web server code
- Macs can run all major operating systems including Windows, Linux, Android, etc.
- Apple offers great service and support
Cons of coding on a Mac:
- Macs are usually more expensive than PCs
- macOS is not the most popular operating system
- There aren’t many third-party tools available on Mac
Pros of coding on a PC:
- PCs’ hardware can be easily customized
- There are a lot of third-party tools for graphics, debugging, and profiling
- Windows has a lot of Linux functionality
- There are more software programs, games, and utilities for Windows because of the number of users
Cons of coding on PC:
- Windows devices are manufactured by companies other than Microsoft, so quality is not always guaranteed
- Running macOS on PC creates an unstable environment that can interfere with your app development process
- You can’t run Xcode on PC, so it’s impossible to develop macOS and iOS apps on non-Apple computers
These are the major pros and cons of both platforms. To avoid getting the wrong device, look out for cross-platform and hardware compatibility to avoid disruption to your work.
How to Optimize your Mac for Programming?
Having chosen a perfect Mac for your coding needs, it's high time to pick an app that will do all the routine tasks for you. By routine, we mean cleaning, optimization, and taking care of security and privacy too.
For you to code interruption-free, MacKeeper will be in charge of clean up space on Mac from accumulated junk files, duplicates, logs, and caches. It can even suggest deleting apps that haven't been used for a long time (read more: how to delete Anaconda from Mac or uninstall Java from Mac). In addition, it will keep your apps updated at all times for the seamless work of your Mac.
Finally, to fully focus on programming, let security and privacy tools in MacKeeper shield your Mac from viruses, online threats, or email breaches. Besides, you can use a built-in VPN to surf more securely or access websites that are geo-blocked.
You can go for any type of Mac depending on your needs—a powerful MacBook Pro, a super-light MacBook Air, or a stationary iMac with a big screen. Regardless of your choice of tech, always make sure to have the latest version of macOS installed on your computer to be able to run Xcode and avoid security threats.
Is 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 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 is if you don’t embark on anything too heavy. For more intense projects that need additional tools, consider investing in 16GB or more.
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 with 8GB RAM and 256GB of SSD memory will suffice. As for screen size and resolution, aim for a 13-inch Retina display to get the best coding experience.