The 5 Best MacBooks For Computer Science Students in 2023

MacBook Pro is shown with the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.

Here are the best MacBooks for computer science students you can buy right now.

The best MacBooks for computer science students are powerful enough to handle the computationally intensive coursework that such studies require, while still being light and efficient enough to carry through a day of classes without running out of juice on you mid-lecture.

This used to be a tricky combination to find, especially at a price that fits into a student’s budget. However, recent advances in mobile CPU and GPU tech have brought a bumper crop of laptops to market that are light, long-lasting, and beefy enough to tackle most computer science projects.

Today’s best coding MacBooks are often particularly well-suited to tackling computer science coursework because they’re built with powerful CPUs, and lots of memory and storage. It’s all in the name of running powerful applications and making them look as flashy as possible, of course, but many modern computer science applications have similar demands.

So read on for our curated list of the best MacBooks for computer science students, which should help make your buying decision a little easier. Of course, you should always contact your school’s computer science department first to see what they recommend for your specific coursework and areas of study.

To choose among the best MacBooks for computer science students, we started with extensive personal experience: All the MacBooks here have been road-tested and reviewed in some way. Then, we added in-depth research by cross-referencing third-party reviews with specs sheets, first-party benchmarks and user experiences. Rest assured, we know the ins and outs of all these machines, so you can choose the perfect one for you.

1. Apple MacBook Air With M2 Processor

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2 with 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU | Display: 13.6-inch, 2,560 x 1,664 pixels, 500 nits | Memory: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery life: Up to 18 hours | Weight: 2.7 pounds (1.24kg) | Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches | Colors: Silver, Space Gray, Midnight, Starlight

Why it’s The Best MacBook For Computer Science Students

If you’re looking for a durable laptop model that can accompany you for many years of studying computer science, the M2 MacBook Air is an excellent choice.

This is one of the best looking computers Apple has made and it works brilliantly. The new M2 MacBook Air is amazingly slim and light. The tapered edges of previous Air laptops are replaced with a flat lid and base. The keyboard is comfortable, responsive, and has a full-height row of function keys (the previous models have shorter keys). The display is bigger at 13.6-inches, and brighter too. Performance is very fast, though if you plan to use especially demanding apps for extended periods, you may be better off with a MacBook Pro. There’s no fan in this model, meaning it’s especially quiet in use, but if programs push it too hard, it throttles performance. Still, for most people, this is the Goldilocks laptop—a perfect storm of portability, performance, and price.
The improved webcam makes a noticeable difference and the return of MagSafe, Apple’s cool recharge system with a magnetic connector that detaches safely if someone trips on your cable, is very welcome. Battery life is a full day, so you may not have that cable plugged in all the time anyway. If there’s a downside, it’s that the audio is not as immersive as on recent Apple laptops, though the addition of Spatial Audio capability means some content can still sound great. Finally, the new colors are great, especially Starlight.

Pros:

  • Dazzlingly light
  • Extensive battery life
  • Fast performance

Cons:

  • Average audio
  • Pricier than the last-gen model

2. MacBook Air With M1 Processor

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 with 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU | Display: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,664 pixels, 400 nits | Memory: 8/16GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery life: Up to 18 hours | Weight: 2.7 pounds (1.24kg) | Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.16-0.63 inches | Colors: Silver, Space Gray, Gold

Why it’s The Best MacBook For Computer Science Students

If you’re working on a budget, the earlier version of the MacBook Air is the perfect choice and is the most affordable laptop Apple makes. It lacks the latest design, but it’s still a handsome laptop and it comes in three colors which are subtly different from the new Air. Similarly, though the M2 Air beats it for weight and size, it is still an exceptionally thin and light machine. With its ideal size and weight, you can quickly bring M1 MacBook Air to the lecture hall, library, practice office, or anywhere you want.

The display is detailed and attractive, beaten only in size and brightness by the newer Air.

It was when Apple moved from Intel to its own processors that the big performance uptick arrived for this line. It has the first-generation Apple M1 chip, which is not as fast as the new M2 but still highly responsive and efficient enough to deliver great battery life. It beats the new Air in terms of audio quality, with the upward-facing grill speakers delivering great sound. The webcam, however, pales in comparison to the M2’s camera. The lack of connections (just two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 sockets) may mean you’ll need a dongle for extra peripherals, especially as there’s no MagSafe here, so you’ll need one USB-C for charging. While the new Air offers more, it also costs $200 extra—this is far from a consolation prize: It’s a fantastic laptop.

Pros:

  • Great price
  • Fast and effective
  • Thin and lightweight

Cons:

  • Only two USB-C ports
  • Below-par webcam quality

3. Apple MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch)

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 Pro with 10 core CPU, 16-core GPU| Display: 16.2-inch, 3,456 x 2,234 pixels, 1,000 nits, 1,600 nits peak for HDR | Memory: 8GB | Storage: 512GB | Battery life: Up to 21 hours | Weight: 4.7 pounds (2.1kg) | Dimensions: 14.01 x 9.77 x 0.6 inches | Colors: Silver, Space Gray

Why it’s The Best MacBook For Computer Science Students

Studying computer science, you will often have to deal with algorithms and complex software. To work at the highest level, your laptop needs to have a powerful enough processor. 16-inch MacBook Pro is such a laptop model.

The 16-inch MacBook is a beast thanks to the M1 Max chip, which pushes graphics performance on the Mac to a whole new level. On top of that, its amazing redesign helps improve its display (everyone will get over the notch, trust us), with thinner bezels than ever. That screen, too, is better than ever, with mini-LED technology and improved picture quality thanks to fantastic contrast and a 120Hz refresh rate for excellent smoothness.

And that’s just the start of the story. The 2021 MacBook Pros see a realignment on ports for MacBooks, moving back from the "USB-C or bust" situation of the past 5 years. Now, you’ve got HDMI-out for connecting to displays and an SD memory reader for pros with real cameras. Apple’s basically put the "pro" back in MacBook Pro. Oh, and that Touch Bar? The little OLED strip of a touch screen? It’s been ripped out, likely because it never got to the point where the simple physical function keys (F1-F12) would be better.

Pros:

  • Stunning display
  • Outstanding performance
  • Apple’s design at its best

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • No Touch Bar

4. Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch With M2 Processor

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2 with 8 core CPU, 10-core GPU | Display: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, 500 nits | Memory: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery life: Up to 20 hours | Weight: 3.0 pounds (1.4kg) | Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56 cm) | Colors: Silver, Space Gray

Why it’s The Best MacBook For Computer Science Students

Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch With M2 Processor is one of the few MacBooks that can help you handle the heaviest tasks, including multitasking.

This 2022 laptop is identical to 2021 13-inch MacBook Pro, so the design, though good, is no longer cutting-edge. It’s identical save for one important feature: The processor. It has a more powerful version of the M2 chip than the one that comes as standard in the new MacBook Air (it has a GPU with 10 cores, where the default Air M2 has seven cores), which improves the performance. Like the other Pro models, a cooling fan means it can run at pace and for longer than the Air.
It is the only MacBook with the Touch Bar, which is a controversial addition for some, but also has many admirers. Essentially, it replaces the row of function keys with a thin touchscreen, whose functions change according to context: Email address suggestions in Mail, previous web pages in Safari and so on. It’s a very effective system but not very widely supported by developers.
Like the Air (old and new), there are two USB-C ports but, this being the older design, there’s no MagSafe on board. Audio sounds good here thanks to a combination of upward-facing grill speakers and Spatial Audio compatibility. The display is not as good as the other Pro laptops but a deal-breaker for some is that there’s no cut-out at the top to house the webcam which sits in the wider bezel. That’s a 720p model, by the way, so not the best.

Pros:

  • Searingly fast performance
  • Long battery life
  • No notch in display

Cons:

  • Pricier than the Air
  • Older design
  • No MagSafe

5. Apple MacBook Pro 14-Inch

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 Pro with 10 core CPU, 16-core GPU| Display: 16.2-inch, 3,024 x 1,964 pixels, 1,000 nits, 1,600 nits peak for HDR | Memory: 8GB | Storage: 512GB | Battery life: Up to 17 hours | Weight: 3.5 pounds (1.6kg) | Dimensions: 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches (31.26 x 22.12 x 1.55 cm) | Colors: Silver, Space Gray

Why it’s The Best MacBook For Computer Science Students

The workload that a computer science student needs to handle can’t be challenging for the Apple MacBook Pro 14-Inch.

If you don’t need the extra real estate of the 16-inch Pro or simply can’t run to the price of that machine, this is an excellent MacBook for computer science student. It has the same outstanding high-contrast, super-bright display as its bigger sibling. The miniLED backlighting makes watching a movie a joy, and the speakers ensure it sounds good too. On the other hand, the 14.2-inch size makes this laptop that bit more manageable. It also has the customization options that only this and the bigger Pro do: Storage up to 8TB and RAM up to 64GB.
Performance matches that of the 16-incher, which features the most potent Apple-built chips yet in a MacBook. Choose from the fast M1 Pro and even faster M1 Max. Oh, and it has MagSafe (including an attractive braided cable), plus three USB-C connectors, an HDMI port and an SDXC card slot. Those last two are exclusive to the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. Battery life here is up to 17 hours—way more than the M1 MacBook Air’s 12 hours but shorter than the others in the range. And, of course, there’s that handsome new look with a bigger Apple logo on the lid and the words “MacBook Pro” stenciled on the base.

Pros:

  • Blazing speed
  • Latest design
  • MagSafe

Cons:

  • Notch in display
  • Battery life not Apple’s best

How we test the best MacBookss for computer science students

To find the best MacBook for computer science student we run every machine through a rigorous suite of benchmarks and real-world tests to gauge how it will perform during everyday use.

We measure the average brightness and color quality of each laptop’s display using our in-house light meter and colorimeter. For general performance, we run our machines through tests that include Geekbench 5 (CPU performance), as well as various 3DMark tests to measure graphics capabilities. We also run a file transfer test to measure how fast a machine’s hard drive is, and a custom battery test that has the machine browse the internet over Wi-Fi until it runs out of juice.

Plus, we run the graphics benchmark test in Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm to get a sense of how well a laptop can handle basic games.

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