Which is the best Mac to learn programming and coding: Buying advice for Mac coders

Buying a Mac to learn coding and programming is hugely valuable and a great idea. But choosing a Mac for coding isn't easy.

Which Mac should I buy to learn coding and programming?

Learning how to code is a great idea: programming and coding is an increasingly important skill to acquire. And coding and programming are increasingly part of the school curriculum, so it's something to consider when buying a Mac for your family - which Mac would be best as a machine on which to learn coding?

The first thing we'll say is this: get a Mac over all other kinds of computer. Trust us on this. If you want to learn to code, you want to buy a Mac. Read our guide: Why programmers think Macs are best for coding.

We have lots of guides to learning to code, and you can discover a lot by reading our Complete guide to coding & programming on Mac article.

See also:

Best Mac buying guide 2016
Best MacBook 2016: Find out which Mac laptop is best for you
Best Mac for students 2016: Which Mac should you buy for university?

Best Mac for coding: Power requirements

Best Mac for learning programming and coding

The good news is that you don't need a powerful, expensive Mac to learn programming.

Many newcomers think that because programming is an advanced part of computing, they need an advanced computer. Actually, the opposite is true. Programming enables you to work closely with the hardware of a computer, and as a novice you're unlikely to place any demands on it.

Advanced app developers may have bigger requirements. See our Best Mac for app development feature if you already know how to program, and are looking to develop apps professionally.

But newcomers don't need a high-end Mac. Learning to code is much less demanding than using software developed by professionals. Compared to other activities, like video editing or playing video games, coding is an absolute featherweight when it comes to hardware demands.

In fact, the activity you do around coding, such as watching video clips on training sites and using interactive websites like Codecademy, are all going to be more demanding than coding itself.

Coding doesn't have heavy data requirements either. Apple's Xcode developer environment takes up a hefty 10GB of storage space, but that aside the programs you write will tend to be quite small.

So you don't need speed, and you don't need storage. What do you need to learn coding on a Mac?

Read next: Mac mini vs MacBook Air: Which is the best cheap Mac?

Best Mac for coding and programming: Types of Mac

Which is the best Mac to learn programming and coding: Apple Swift

Apple currently offers six different types of Mac (three laptops, three desktops):

MacBook
MacBook Air
MacBook Pro
Mac mini
iMac
Mac Pro

You can learn to code on any of these machines, but each one offers different advantages. The first question is whether you want to learn coding on a desktop or laptop.

Both are valid choices. Coding requires focus and concentration, so working on a desktop in a quiet room is a good idea. But you can do that just as well on a laptop, and still take your Mac with you when you need to work on the move.

Laptops are more expensive than desktops. The cheapest desktop (the Mac mini) starts at £399 while the cheapest MacBook is the MacBook Air (£749).

Best Mac for coding and programming: Best laptop for learning to code

The new MacBook is a stylish machine, and its Retina display is gorgeous. But it is expensive and small.

The MacBook Air is a more cost-effective choice, offering a little more power for less money. We use a MacBook Air 11-inch to code, and it runs just fine. The additional screen estate on the 13-inch model is a good investment, though.

The MacBook Pro 15-inch is the best choice. The extra screen estate makes it easier to view two or more windows at the same time. This is handy for learning as you'll often have a text editor, or IDE (Integrated Developer Environment) open alongside a web browser or PDF document displaying a tutorial.

We are currently waiting for Apple to announce a new MacBook Pro range though, and expect the new model to have a flash interactive LED function bar. So right now is not a good time to buy a MacBook Pro, if you can hold out until after October 2016 you'll have much better options all around.

Best Mac for coding and programming: Best desktop for learning to code

Best Mac for learning code

One thing developers have in common, is that they all value large screens (and having lots of screen estate). You'll often find developers using two, or three screens at the same time.

With this in mind we're going to rule out the Mac Pro. It's expensive for what it offers anyway, but for a beginner learning to code the Mac Pro is a vast expensive and absolute overkill.

That leaves you choosing between a Mac mini and iMac. There's a big price difference between the two, and if you have a spare monitor, keyboard and mouse we see no problem with the entry-level Mac mini for learning to code.

If you want to other tasks, like run design software or play games then it's better to upgrade to the mid-range Mac mini model. It has a much faster processor.

If you don't have any of the parts required for a Mac mini, then it's better to get an iMac. Buy the entry-level 21-inch or 27-inch Retina display is our advice. The larger screen is gorgeous and well worth the money.

Best Mac for coding and programming: Conclusion

You can learn to code on any Mac, so the best Mac you can afford is the one to get. But don't feel pressured to buy the latest Mac. In fact, you can pick up a pretty good deal on the refurb store. We've been seeing entry-level Mac mini computers for £339 lately, which is a great entry point for newcomers.

If we had to pick any Mac to learn to code with, it'd be the iMac with 27-inch Retina display. The huge screen estate makes it easy to run many programs at once. It has all the power you need and is a joy to behold.

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By Lucy Hattersley

Macworld U.K.
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