I’m asked about the best laptops for freelancers a LOT.
I’m asked “which laptop should I buy?” – a LOT.
After over 20 years of doing IT consultancy work, I must have been asked these questions thousands of times.
I have to be honest – they’re not questions I particularly enjoy answering.
That’s because they’re WAY more complicated questions 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!
All that said, in this article, I’ve listed what I consider to currently be the best laptops for freelancers, as of November 2022.
- Windows vs. Mac: Which is Best for Freelancers?
- The Best Laptops for Freelancers: What to Consider
- The Best Laptop for Freelancers (and the Best Apple Laptop for Freelancers!)
- The Best Windows Laptop for Freelancers
- The Best Budget Laptop for Freelancers
- Budget Laptops Notable Mention: The MacBook Air M1
- High Performance Laptops for Freelancers
- The Best High Performance Apple Laptop for Freelancers
- The Best High Performance Windows Laptop for Freelancers
- Warranties and “Plan Bs”
I’ve also included some general guidance to help you understand all the specifications, facts and figures. Choosing something based on your OWN requirements is much more sensible than having somebody just pick something out for you.
I’ve also addressed, with as little bias as possible, the ever-running Mac vs. Windows debate.
New laptops come out all the time. As such, I regularly update this article to reflect new models.
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 Plus.
- The best Apple laptop for freelancers is the MacBook Air M2 (2022).
- My overall top laptop recommendation for freelancers is the MacBook Air M2 (2022).
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 also have a Windows machine for gaming and certain tasks. I’m certainly not blindly devoted to Apple.
My 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. 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.
It’s also important to think about which software “ecosystem” you’re already invested in. If you already have an iPhone (and perhaps an iPad) and use iCloud, there are considerable benefits to using a Mac alongside it. All the photos you take on your phone just appear on your Mac, you can use Facetime on any device, and you can easily synchronise everything from passwords to browser bookmarks across all of your devices.
Conversely, if you work with clients who are heavily invested in Microsoft tech, such as SharePoint and OneDrive, a Windows machine will integrate that bit better.
Windows vs. Mac Pricing
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 to them.
Graduate to the more desirable Windows laptops and you’ll soon see prices that are closer or equal 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 generally hold their value 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.
Windows vs. Mac: Pros and Cons
- 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 configuration – 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
- Apple’s new M series processors have changed the game. While Intel and AMD are catching up, the performance and battery life from even Apple’s more “low end laptops” is astonishingly good.
- Generally excellent build quality.
- 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.
- The Apple ecosystem can feel a little overbearing at times.
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 it to do as a general freelancer.
But what do I mean by “general freelancer?” Really I mean anything other than a programmer, musician, 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.
What to Look For in a Laptop
Generally speaking, these are the key things I would look at:
This is the trickiest thing to learn about. But for those with standard requirements, it’s probably the thing least worth worrying about.
There are lots of confusing model numbers out there, but the main Intel ranges are the i3, i5, i7 and i9. They get more powerful (and expensive) as you step up the range. AMD’s Ryzen processors are similar, with the same 3, 5, 7 and 9 distinction.
AMD Ryzen processors are being seen more and more these days, and they broadly tend to offer a little more bang for the buck than the Intel equivalents.
As a general rule, if you’re choosing a Windows machine, an Intel i5 or Ryzen 5 series chip is a good mid-range option in a laptop for freelancers.
Next up are Apple’s M series processors. Released in 2020, these “systems on a chip” were a game-changer for Apple and the wider industry, delivering blistering fast performance, silent running and insane battery life.
The original Apple M1 remains a very powerful and capable processor, but has now been joined by the M1 Pro, the M1 Max, and the recently-released M2, which is found in my own choice of the current best laptop for freelancers, shown below.
A direct comparison between Apple’s own processors and those from Intel and AMD is difficult, with so many different models and variations. However, it’s fair to say the Apple’s chips, even at the low end, readily compete with the performance of all but the most powerful processors from competitors. Unless you have really demanding requirements, all of Apple’s M series processors are very fast indeed.
Not to be confused with storage (below), your laptop’s RAM is the fast memory that it uses to multitask and do all the things you ask of it.
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 a little more fast and “snappy.”
Some manufacturers still sell base-level and budget laptops with just 128GB of storage – sometimes even less. (Notably, Apple has recently stopped offering just 128gb, and about time too – I’ve spent a LOT of time helping clients clear space on 128gb drives in order to keep everything working!)
128gb is unlikely to be enough storage in the long term. I would personally suggest going for a minimum of 256GB.
(If you want to find out how much you’re using now, you can always total up the data on your existing machine – I have over 100GB in storage used for music alone!).
Keep in mind that certain activities generate big files – think photography, music, and video production. You may not be doing any of those things now, but if you suspect you might in the future, then buy for what you might need then.
The above is particularly important for Apple laptops, and the majority of the more sleek and attractive Windows laptops. They don’t have user-replaceable parts, so if you don’t specify enough storage (or RAM) at the start, you can’t upgrade it later.
SSD vs. HDD
Most laptops come with solid state disks (SSDs) these days, 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.
If you’re buying a new budget laptop, I strongly recommend ensuring you buy one with an SSD. If not, it WILL feel slow.
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 up 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 Laptop for Freelancers (and the Best Apple Laptop for Freelancers!)
Apple MacBook Air M2 (2022)
I’ve had the pleasure of setting up a couple of these for clients recently, and have no hesitation in recommending them as my best laptop for freelancers.
The MacBook Air M2 brings a modern new design to the ever-popular MacBook Air range. While the Air was given a new lease of life with the release of the M1 processor, the design had started to look rather dated. The M2 fixes that, with a sleek new look that’s available in a range of four new colours. (PRO TIP: The blue “Midnight” colour looks gorgeous, but is a major fingerprint magnet).
The M2 runs silently (it has a fanless design), the battery lasts for even the longest working day, and the machine can handle all the multi-taking and day-to-day work you may wish to throw at it.
If you do heavy design and video work and have really demanding requirements, you may wish to consider a Pro (see below) – but for 95% of freelancers, this is the Apple laptop to buy.
The Best Windows Laptop for Freelancers
Dell XPS 13 Plus
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.
Since becoming an Apple fan, it’s taken a lot to “turn my head” when it comes to Windows laptops. But several years ago (in my guise as an IT consultant) I visited a client site to set up a new XPS 13, and I was rather impressed.
Both that laptop, and the product range itself, has stood the test of time, with the XPS 13 winning plenty of “best laptop” accolades. However, like the MacBook Air, it began to look rather dated.
That’s all been fixed with the launch of the new Dell XPS 13 Plus.
The XPS 13 Plus comes at a price that puts it firmly into “Apple territory”, but you get a lot for your money. The design is stunning and incredibly modern, although some may find the “invisible” touchpad to be a little “form over function”.
Like all of Dell’s laptops, there’s a wide range of specs available, but the base spec with an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a (generous) 512GB SSD should please most freelancers. This specification also puts it into a similar price range as the M2 MacBook Air. (I would personally throw in a little extra for a touch screen and an extra 8GB of RAM).
The XPS 13 Plus’ bold new design has already earned plenty of praise and positive reviews. It’s a great choice for those who want a Windows laptop but with the visual “wow factor” of an Apple device.
The Best Budget Laptop for Freelancers
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2
The definition of a “budget” laptop has shifted in recent years. An increase in the cost of parts, along with supply issues, has nudged prices up. Budget is no longer quite as budget as it once was.
I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s laptop range, and the Surface Laptop Go 2 is a great way to get good build quality, ergonomics and usability at a (relatively) affordable price.
You have to be a little bit careful with the specifications on this one. The bottom of the range model has only 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The vast majority of freelancers will struggle with this – especially the RAM – so it’s worth upgrading to the one of the two higher specs.
This is a lovely machine that will be a pleasure to own. It has a great (touch) screen and a great keyboard – and looks more expensive than it is.
Budget Laptops Notable Mention: The MacBook Air M1
At the time of writing, Apple are still selling the M1 MacBook Air.
This has the “old” MacBook Air design, which may be off-putting to some. But it’s still a MacBook, and still more than powerful enough for most day-to-day tasks.
Its price perhaps doesn’t quite place it in the “budget” category – but with frequent discounts, it’s well worth considering if you really want a Mac, but don’t want to spend a huge amount.
High Performance Laptops for Freelancers
As discussed above, if you need a high-performance (i.e. more expensive) laptop, you will probably have some specialist knowledge of the kind of thing you want.
All the laptops above will handle email, web browsing, social media, productivity and basic entertainment without breaking a sweat – and a lot more besides.
However some freelancers need more than that. You may wish to consider one of the laptops below if, for example:
- You run a LOT of different applications at once.
- You have a need to drive multiple external displays.
- You work in video, music, photography or graphic design.
- You’re a programmer or IT support specialist.
Of course, you may also want to get something special for the sheer joy of it. If you want the best display, the best build quality, the fastest possible speeds, and the most enjoyable user experience – and you can afford it – don’t hesitate to get the best laptop available to you.
In fact, I’d go so far as encouraging it. I would personally rather spend a lot of money on a laptop than on a car. I spend way more time on my laptop than I do in the car! There’s much to be said for truly enjoying using a machine. It makes you more productive and more motivated.
The next laptop on the list is the one I have, and I relish picking it up to start work every morning. To me, that makes it worth every penny.
The Best High Performance Apple Laptop for Freelancers
MacBook Pro 14 Inch
The MacBook Pro 14 Inch divided opinion when it was launched, due to its rather “retro” design. Larger and (arguably) less sleek than its predecessor, some people (including me) were initially uncertain about its look.
After giving in and buying one, I’m a true convert. The previous MacBook Pro, which I had for several years, was the first Apple product I was far from happy with. It had a terrible “butterfly” keyboard which was so prone to failure that it resulted in Apple settling a class action lawsuit. It also ran so hot that the fan sounded like a plane taking off.
Apple clearly set out to right all of those wrongs with the 14 Inch MacBook Pro. It’s slight bulk makes sense, as it’s enormously fast and powerful, but consistently quiet and cool to the touch. It has a fabulous keyboard, a screen so stunning that it ruins all other screens for you, and even good quality speakers and a “studio standard” internal microphone. Having people hear you clearly on Zoom calls is no small thing as a freelancer. Since having this laptop, I’ve stopped bothering to plug in my external microphone.
The MacBook Pro 14, as standard, sports an M1 Pro processor, 16GB of RAM, and a really fast 512GB SSD. It’s possible to spec it up with an M1 Max processor and more RAM and storage. However, I bought the base model and it’s proved more than adaquete for my fairly demanding requirements (in my spare time, I DJ and produce music, and it does everything without breaking a sweat – I don’t think I’ve even heard the fan!)
You may perhaps wonder why I’ve recommended the 14 inch model. There is a larger 16 inch for those that want or need it. For me, however, 14 inch is the sweet spot between usability and portability.
The best news of all is that – at the time of writing – the MacBook Pro 14 inch is often found at a discount. Highly recommended.
The Best High Performance Windows Laptop for Freelancers
Dell XPS 15
The Dell XPS 15 is a rather different laptop to its smaller 13 inch sibling (recommended above). This is a proper “all bells and whistles” workhorse of a machine, with a design that represents evolution and not revolution since I included it in my last round-up.
It’s an attractive beast. The mosaic-style carbon fibre body looks suitably expensive, and there’s a wide range of high-spec (touch and non touch) screens to choose from. There ARE lots of models and configurations out there – this will definitely tick a box for the power users, but could be overwhelming for others.
Just like the MacBook Pro above, Dell’s chucked in lots of high end components including a great keyboard and decent speakers. The webcam isn’t great, which is perhaps the one thing that lets it down.
All in all though, 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 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 my article on improving your computer skills.
There are also some interesting add-on gadgets you may wish to consider in our gifts for freelancers article.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.