I’m surprised by how often I’m asked for advice on the best laptops for freelancers.
To be completely honest, it’s not a question I’ve ever particularly enjoyed answering. Over years of doing IT consultancy work, I have been asked “which laptop should I buy?” literally hundreds of times.
It’s a WAY more complicated question than most people seem to realise. It’s like asking “what car should I buy?” without telling me anything about how much you have to spend, how many miles you plan to drive, or even how many seats you need!
Despite this, I’ve decided to try to suggest some of the best laptops for freelancers in this article. Let’s start with a TL;DR for those who don’t want to read the entire article:
Generally speaking, based on my own experiences, these are my main recommendations:
- The best Windows laptop for freelancers is the Dell XPS13 (2020 Model).
- The best Apple laptop for freelancers is the MacBook Air (2020).
If you read the rest of the article, you can find out exactly why I’ve chosen these particular laptops, and find some other specific recommendations and alternatives. For example, I’ve provided some ideas if you have a low budget, or need something with super-fast performance.
People get very passionate about which laptops are the best, especially when it comes to the choice between Windows and Mac. Let’s start off with a discussion about that:
Windows vs. Mac: Which is Best for Freelancers?
The choice between Apple and Microsoft is one that fiercely divides opinion. I’m going to put it straight out there that I am a Mac user nowadays, but for many years I was firmly committed to Windows.
I’d also like to make clear that I think I can be properly subjective about this. I have technical qualifications from both Microsoft and Apple, and although a MacBook Pro is my “daily driver,” I sometimes switch to using Windows entirely, and do so with a completely open mind.
The first point, and it’s an important one, is that it’s pretty unlikely that any freelance work will require you to choose one platform over the other. File compatibility is rarely a problem nowadays, a lot of software is in the cloud anyway, and even Microsoft’s own Office 365 is fully compatible with both platforms.
As such, it really does come down to personal preference, and a lot of this will be around which operating system you are most used to: Windows or MacOS. They both do various things in different ways, and switching between the two involves a learning curve. If you already feel you are a “power user” of either operating system, switching to the other WILL slow you down until you adapt.
One thing Windows fans frequently cite as a reason to criticise Apple is pricing. Apple’s products are not cheap. Although prices have come down a bit recently, it’s definitely possible to buy new Windows computers for less money. That said, the laptops at the “budget” end of the scale typically have a distinctly “budget” feel about them.
Graduate to the more desirable Windows laptops and you’ll soon see prices that are a lot closer to Apple’s for equivalent specifications. This is more and more the case these days.
Another thing to take note of is that Apple laptops typically hold their value very well. It’s quite feasible to expect to get a considerable amount of money back if you resell and upgrade after three or four years. Windows machines simply don’t hold their value in the same way.
Other Key Points
As this article is about the best laptops for freelancers, I don’t want to turn this into an endless Microsoft vs. Apple debate. Instead, I’m just going to finish up this section with my general thoughts on the pros and cons of each platform.
- Far more choice – both in models and manufacturers.
- More economical options.
- The Windows operating system is more familiar to many.
- Some Windows laptops are user-upgradable (although many no longer are nowadays).
- Lots of scope for custom configurations – Windows tends to let you do things how YOU want.
- The operating system is less stable and refined – things DO crash more often.
- More issues with security / privacy / viruses. (Macs are not immune, but Windows machines are more of a target).
- Integration with mobile devices is much less refined.
Apple Mac Laptops
- Generally excellent build quality. Although Apple had some serious issues with keyboards, these have been rectified in newer models.
- Second-hand MacBooks hold their value.
- Macs tend to “just work” – so long as you’re willing to do things “the Apple way.”
- An overall feeling of quality: Apple products FEEL premium, and their screens, touchpads and other components are often best in class.
- Great integration with iPhones, iPads etc. making it seamless to work across multiple devices.
- Pretty good customer care and support, especially if you’re near an Apple store.
- Add-ons are expensive too – everything from extra memory to AppleCare extended warranties.
- Sometimes prone to hardware issues – although this is improving.
As you can see from the list above, choosing between Windows and Mac is very much an individual thing, and far from black and white. For what it’s worth, when my main job was fixing computers and doing heavily techie stuff, Windows suited me more. Since I’ve been using computers for more creative pursuits, Apple is a better fit for me. Your milage may vary.
The Best Laptops for Freelancers: What to Consider
Generally speaking, it’s easy to get FAR too hung up On GBs and Ghzs. Unless you’re digging right down into the very cheapest laptops out there, you’ll struggle to find a mid-range machine that won’t do everything you need to as a general freelancer.
But what do I mean by “general freelancer?” Really I mean anything other than a programmer, professional photographer, or video editor.
Essentially, if you’re in an industry where you need more of a “performance” laptop, the chances are you will already know what kind of specification you need to be aiming for. That said, if these are areas you plan to move into as part of your future career, it can make good sense to go for something more “high end” in order to future-proof your setup.
Generally speaking, these are the three key things I would aim for:
MEMORY (RAM): Go for 8GB as an absolute minimum, and 16GB if you plan to do anything much with video editing (or fancy doing some gaming in the evenings). 32GB is a luxury if you’re just doing “general” work, but it will potentially make the laptop feel more fast and “snappy.”
STORAGE: Although most manufacturers sell base-level laptops with 128GB of storage, I would personally not suggest less than 256GB. (You can always total up the data on your existing machine – I have over 100GB in music alone).
SSD: More expensive laptops come with solid state disks (SSDs), but some budget models still come with cheaper hard drives. These have moving parts, and are considerably cheaper, however they are MUCH slower. If you’re used to using a laptop with a conventional hard drive, moving to something with an SSD feels like a huge upgrade.
A Word on False Economies
As a freelancer, it’s quite likely that a laptop is the main tool of your trade. As such, I firmly believe it’s not something to skimp on.
Yes, I know there are lots of tempting-looking laptops out there for just a few hundred Dollars / Pounds, but I’ll tell you what’s usually wrong with them:
- Poor quality keyboards, touchpads, screens.
- Nasty plastic build quality.
- A lack of durability.
- Usually the worst possible warranty provision (that can leave you without a machine if anything goes wrong).
- “Home” versions of Windows, which lack professional features like full disk encryption. (Read our article on keeping data safe for more on that).
- Lots of unnecessary pre-installed software that slows them down.
Cut back on premium coffee, get a 0% finance deal, or simply save some money – and buy a DECENT laptop. The best laptops for freelancers do cost a little more, but it’s a huge false economy to try to run a business using something cheap and nasty.
The Best Apple Laptop for Freelancers:
The best laptop for freelancers who wish to use the Apple MacOS platform is the 2020 MacBook Air 13 inch. It’s a considerable improvement on the 2019 model and is now more affordable too.
In 2019, Apple dropped the price and improved the spec, adding the fantastic “TruTone” display that was previously only available on the more expensive MacBook Pro. Then in 2020 there was another specification “bump” – as well as the best news of all:
The 2020 MacBook Air was one of the first new Apple laptops to use a new-generation keyboard. This is significant, because the company had huge issues with the previous “Butterfly” keyboard, leading to class-action lawsuits, and a tough and frustrating time for many loyal apply customers (including me, as I ranted about here).
WIth keyboard issues resolved, we’re back to a reliable and desirable laptop that does everything right. It’s light, it’s capable of everything most users need to do and – let’s be honest, it’s very pretty.
If you like Apple products, I can’t imagine you being unhappy with this. My wife uses the 2019 model and her only issue is the keyboard – this one solves that issue too.
The Best Windows Laptop for Freelancers:
It’s much harder to choose the best laptop for freelancers when it comes to Windows. There are tons of different manufacturers making them, including the giants like Dell and HP.
Last year I recommended a model from Microsoft themselves, but their latest laptop range is more lacklustre. This year, I’m recommending a Dell – the XPS 13.
The XPS range is increasingly sought-after, and this model with a 13.4 inch screen is a great all-rounder. It’s speedy, the screen is great, and it all comes in a very light and rather attractive package.
Battery life could be better, but you should still get six hours between charges. It’s also a bit of a shame the price seems to edge up with every new revision. But this is a great laptop that freelancers should be very happy with. It deserves it’s many “best laptop” accolades.
The Best Budget Laptop for Freelancers
Like many laptop manufacturers, Acer has started to use cheaper AMD processors in low-end machines recently, instead of those from Intel.
You don’t have to understand what that means, beyond the fact that it means more laptop for your money. The Acer Swift 3 is my pick for the best budget laptop for freelancers this year.
The Swift 3 feels much more solid and “premium” than most laptops at this price range, and it’s thin and sleek too. You get a lot of specification for the money, with a 512GB storage option surprisingly low down the range – something you can pay lots of extra for with more high-end brands.
There are a few compromises, such as weak speakers, but no deal-breakers. This machine ticks all the important boxes discussed above: enough storage, enough RAM and a fast SSD drive, to ensure everything feels snappy.
An affordable laptop that works well and doesn’t look cheap – what more could you need?
High Performance Laptops
As discussed above, if you need a high-performance (i.e. more expensive) laptop, you will probably already know.
All the laptops above will handle email, web browsing, social media and basic entertainment without breaking a sweat. However, if you throw heavy video editing at them, or try to edit lots of huge photo files, they will start to stutter and struggle.
With that in mind, here are the best laptops for freelancers who need a bit of extra performance.
We’re definitely in “premium” territory here, and the prices match up. There are serviceable CARS you can buy for less than the cost of Apple’s most high-end laptops! But you get incredible performance for the money.
These are the machines people are using for everything from running huge businesses to producing the latest movies.
In many ways you “get what you pay for,” and you certainly do with the 16 inch MacBook Pro.
This is definitely a machine you will know that you need. Unless you have money to burn, it’s definitely overkill for browsing the web, email and word processing. But if you want the best of everything – from a class-defining screen to speakers that sound unbelievably good – accept no substitute!
The 13 inch model has always been the star of Dell’s XPS range, but recent updates have seen the larger 15 inch model gain some big accolades too. If you’re after top performance and prefer Windows to Mac, I recommend the new 2020 Dell XPS 15.
While Dell’s prices do seem to edge up year-on-year, you can still get mindblowing specs for slightly less mindblowing prices than Apple charge. However, we’re talking about a premium performance laptop here, so you’re certainly not looking at cheap!
The XPS 15 is stunning to look at and a delight to use.
I have provided links to the best laptops for freelancers that I recommend, and these will take you through to Amazon. Please remember, however, that laptop models frequently change and that the links could become invalid or redirect to alternative products, especially if you’re not in the USA. If you choose to purchase, make sure you carefully check specifications and prices.
Warranties and “Plan Bs”
Choosing a laptop isn’t only about selecting hardware and specifications. It’s also important to look at what kind of warranty you get.
Usually, an initial warranty will last for a year, and will often be a “return to base” guarantee. This means sending the laptop in or taking it to a store if something goes wrong. This can be hugely inconvenient if it happens when you have a deadline to meet.
As such there are several things you should to consider:
- Upgrading your warranty to something longer (usually three years), using AppleCare or similar.
- Upgrading to an “on-site” warranty, so somebody can come to you (if available).
- Having a second machine that you can easily switch to if your main one is out of action. This could be an older computer. The key thing is that it works, and that you have a means to start working on it quickly if necessary.
These things are really important – so please don’t forget them in the excitement of buying a shiny new laptop!
Did you enjoy this best laptops for freelancers feature? If so, have a look at our computer tips for freelancers article while you’re here.