What’s the best computer/laptop for a data scientist?

Last updated on September 01, 2021

I get this question a lot:

What’s the best computer (or laptop) for a data scientist?

In this article, I’ll answer it in detail and I’ll add specific recommendations, too.

Note: you can find many “best computers for data science” articles online… You have to know, though, that most of those articles feature affiliate links. (E.g. links to Amazon.) There is nothing wrong with that — except the obvious chance of bias…
In this article, there are no affiliate links and just in general I’m not affiliated in any way with the products I recommend here. Here, you’ll read a 100% unbiased recommendation, based on my and my data scientist colleagues’ experience.

List of the best computers and laptops for data science

Before I get deeper into the topic, let me put here straight-aways the short list of the best computers/laptops I recommend for data science:

  • MacBook Pro 13″
  • Dell XPS 13 or Dell XPS 15
  • Dell Inspiron 15.6″
  • Lenovo Thinkpad X or T series

So what should you buy? The short answer is…

It doesn’t matter what computer you use.


Because 99% of the time — well, at least, if you do data science seriously — you’ll use a remote server for all your computing-heavy data projects. So your personal computer will, in practical terms, serve only as an “interpreter” between the server and yourself.

I wrote about this in detail in my remote server article (How to Install Python, SQL, R and Bash).

But here’s the idea in one picture:

best computer for a data scientist -- remote server simplified
“What we will do here is to connect to a remote server – type commands and make the remote server do the computation instead of our local computer.”

See, it doesn’t matter how powerful your personal computer is… What matters is the computing capacity of your remote server.

Note: If you work for a company, you’ll use their remote server, so you don’t have to worry about that, either. On the other hand, if you use your own server (e.g. for your personal data science projects), you can easily scale its computing capacity up and down.

So what’s the best computer for a data scientist?
The answer is: any computer can do the job.

Well, of course, there are still better and worse choices — but the decision factors are a bit different than most aspiring data scientists think.

So let me go a bit deeper…

The operating system you’ll need for your data science projects

Choosing the right operating system is important!

There are only two good choices here:

  • Either you go with a Mac (and with a MacOS)
  • with a Windows computer — that also has Linux (Ubuntu) on it.
best computer laptop for a data scientist -- operating system
Mac or Windows+Ubuntu

It’s all about compatibility.

As I said, mostly, you’ll use a remote server for doing data science.

But there’ll be a few programs that, every now and then, you’ll also have to run locally on your computer. Just a few of these:

  • Tableau (or other data visualization tools)
  • Anaconda (if you want to prototype your data scripts on your computer)
  • Terminal (to connect to your data server)
  • SQL Workbench (or other SQL manager tools)
  • Sublime Text (or other script editors)
  • etc.

Most of these tools are available for all three major operating systems (MacOS, Windows, Linux).

If you use a Mac, it’s simple. In my experience, all the data science tools work properly under MacOS. (The reason behind it is that – spoiler alert – usually the Mac is the preferred choice of most data scientists. So most software companies care a lot about making their products work well on Macs.)

If you have a Windows computer, my recommendation is to use Windows 10 — and install Linux (Ubuntu) on it, too. (Ubuntu is a free and open-source!) By using Linux/Ubuntu, you’ll have a proper Terminal application, for example… But to be honest, I find Linux a better operating system than Windows, in general. (This is only my personal opinion though.) Regardless, you’ll still need Windows because of a few programs that are not compatible with Linux (e.g. most data visualization tools.)

Anyway, the point is: use either a Mac — or a Windows computer with Windows 10 and Ubuntu on it.

And I specifically advise against using more “exotic” operating systems for data science… E.g. a ChromeBook (with a ChromeOS) is a very bad choice because of the lack of compatibility with a lot of the above-mentioned software that you want to run on your computer. (Similarly, I don’t recommend using an iPad for data science.)

A few other aspects

When you choose the exact model, you want to watch out for a few smaller things.

  1. You want to have a computer that’s easy to carry around. You will have to present your analyses and data science projects quite often to your manager, colleagues or clients. E.g. while I’m working on a data project onsite, I quite often grab my computer and go to show something to someone. I mean, today’s business environment, this is not rare nor specific for data science jobs only… But the point is: your computer should definitely be a laptop — and not a desktop PC. And I prefer it to be lightweight, too.
  2. I said that 99% of the time, you’ll use a remote server for data science tasks… but there will be that 1% when you’ll want to prototype something on your local computer. Maybe because you won’t have an internet connection (sitting on an airplane for instance), or maybe you’ll be just too lazy to fire up the connection to your server for the sake of one little test script…
    So even if your computer doesn’t have to be a nuclear power plant, choose a decent one. (See the recommended computers later.) 
  3. Usability. You’ll use this computer a lot! So smaller things can become important, too. Your workflow has to be smooth and not broken by something inconvenient on your computer. E.g. an excellent touch pad, a bright and high-resolution display, good battery life, even a good wifi card… These things are important! Well, you’ll only recognize it when you don’t have one of these. (E.g. a wifi card that loses connection every hour can be very, very annoying.)
  4. And for data science, you won’t need any of these fancy features: touch screen, detachable screen, flip screen, etc.

Okay, with that said, let’s see my specific recommendations…

The best computers/laptops for a data scientist

I’ll keep this simple!

I’ll only recommend two laptops: a MacBook and a Windows computer.

MacBook Pro 13″

Right now, I personally use a MacBook Pro 13″.

best computer laptop for a data scientist -- macbook pro 13
MacBook Pro 13″ (Photo by Linus Rogge on Unsplash)

I’ve used all kinds of Apple laptops in the last 8 years for my data science projects: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″, MacBook Pro 15″… and I loved them all. I have never had any problems with any of them. The cheaper, lighter and less powerful MacBook Air worked just as fine as the more expensive and robust MacBook Pro 15″.

Well, I have to admit that the recent edition of the MacBooks shows a bit of a downward trend in quality. Their famously bad keyboards and the lack of ports is a big pain in the neck for every Apple user…

Regardless, from every other aspect (quality, usability, computing power, etc.) they are still one of the best computers on the market. So any MacBook is a perfect choice for a data scientist.

I specifically chose (and recommend) the MacBook Pro 13″ because it’s a good transition between the light-weight Air and the more powerful MacBook Pro 15″ (and 16″). I carry around my laptop in my backpack quite often, so I wanted a lighter computer. And for me, screen size is not an actual problem because everywhere I work on data science projects for a longer time (office, home), I have additional external monitors.

Obviously, the biggest drawback with Macs is the price tag…

But if you can afford it, I recommend going with a MacBook.

Note 1: Important! If you can, try to buy a MacBook *without* a touch bar. Apple – for some reason – decided to replace the usual function keys with a touch bar in the top row of the keyboard. It’s very frustrating. Especially for data scientists (and developers) who hit the Esc key all the time. You wouldn’t think it… but when the Esc key is actually not a key… it’s something that’s very hard to get used to. (UPDATE: on the 2019 MacBook Pro 16″ they put back the Esc key next to the touch bar. Neat!)

Note 2: Also be aware that the current MacBooks offer only USB C ports… So you’ll have to buy a few adapters, too. It’s somewhat annoying but this is how it is for now. I always carry these three cables with me: a USB-C to USB adapter; a USB-C to HDMI adapter and a USB-C to Apple Lightning adapter.

Dell XPS 13 or Dell XPS 15

My backup computer is a Dell laptop that I bought 10(!) years ago and it still works well. It’s not the same model that I recommend here though.

But my point is this: Dell is a very good brand that I trust a lot. They create high quality, long-lasting computers. And in my experience, their customer service is excellent, too. I have a few data professional friends who use a Dell XPS model… And they backed it up, too: A Dell XPS laptop fits very well for the needs of a data scientist.

E.g. a DELL XPS 13″ with 8GB memory and with a core i5 processor seems to be a great alternative to a 13″ MacBook Pro.

best computer laptop for a data scientist -- dell xps 13
Dell XPS (Photo by Ra Dragon on Unsplash)

As I described above, I prefer the 13″ screen size. But there is a 15″ version here as well. Also, you can customize your XPS in many ways: more RAM, better processor, even touch screen (you won’t need that though)…

So if you prefer to go with a Windows computer, the Dell XPS is an excellent choice!

All in all

So all in all, in my opinion, right now, these are the two best computers for a data scientist:

  • Either a MacBook Pro 13″ (or 15″)
  • Or the Windows alternative is a Dell XPS 13″ (or 15″)

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Readers’ choice

Some readers were nice enough to send in their computer recommendation for doing data science. There were two laptops so far that came up quite frequently. (They might be also more cost-effective than my recommendations.) I haven’t tested them myself but you might want to take a look:

  1. Dell Inspiron 15.6″ (make sure you add +8 GB RAM)
  2. Lenovo Thinkpad X or T series (Note: in the comment section x220-x270 was recommended – thanks Dino! – one of my friends use a T series Thinkpad.)
  3. Razer Blade Stealth (see Arnaud’s comment below for more info)

External monitors

Oh and one more thing…

I mentioned above that when I work on a complex project for a longer time, I prefer to use external monitors. They are very convenient, indeed!

I have the same model at home and at the office — I bought them in 2015 and I still haven’t had an issue with them… so I didn’t bother to replace them with newer models. (And I probably won’t, either.)

It’s not an expensive external display, either, so it can be a great investment into your daily workflow.

This is the one I use and recommend: Dell P2314H 23″ IPS LED Monitor

(Did I mention that I like Dell? :-))

best computer laptop for a data scientist -- external monitor

An additional extra feature that I really like about this monitor is that you can rotate it — so for coding I actually use it in portrait mode! It’s very handy!

(image source: dell.com)

Note: Some data scientists like to use multiple external monitors when they work. I’m not one of them (I only use one at a time). But maybe you’ll want to try that out, too. If so, double-check that the computer you buy can handle two external monitors, too! As far as I know, the computers that I recommended in this article can do that, but just in case, ask the seller before you buy.


So the main take-away from this article is this:

It doesn’t really matter what computer you choose for doing data science. Any fairly decent laptop will do the job.

But since you have to pick one anyway, it’s best if you choose one that fits well for a data scientist’s everyday life, too.

My specific recommendations are:

  • Either a MacBook Pro 13″ (or 15″)
  • Or a Dell XPS 13″ (or 15″)

And if you have another computer (and you are working as a data scientist) and you absolutely love it, please let other readers know in the comment section below!

Also, once you have the hardware, make sure you install the right software. Check out my computer setup for data science.

Tomi Mester

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  1. Monika Przybyl

    I was just about to ask this question! 🙂 Thank you very much for this helpful article.

  2. Karthik

    I’m actually going to start my data science course at the university this year and I’ve been looking at a good laptop to buy lately. The course will be for a period of 3 years and I’ll have to use softwares such as Python , R , SAS , Tableau etc. I’ve been thinking of buying the 2019 MacBook Air (can’t afford the 13″ pro) and I just wanna be sure that the air will be able to handle most of the stuff. Can you please let me know if it’s fine to choose the air over the 13″ pro?
    Thank you

    • Yep, the Macbook Air will do the job (especially the 2019 one).
      I mean it depends on the software your university will require. (As you see in the article, I prefer to run everything in the cloud, so my computer doesn’t need to be a power machine.)

      Either way, I would consider buying an older MacBook Pro model (even a used one) — I just bought a mid-2014 Macbook Pro recently and it works perfectly for my data science project. I actually replaced my 2018 Macbook Pro with it because the keyboard of the new Macs sucks… There’s no project I couldn’t done on the 2014 MacBook Pro so far.


  3. Excellent article,

    Most of the time you can use an online cloud computing system for processing and you will pay only for the time consumed, there is no necessity to invest in a too big computer.

    I can suggest the Lenovo Thinkpad X (in particular x220-x270) or T series for this type of job. Excellent windows/Linux support, good construction and some business-oriented design.

    • hey Dino,
      thanks a lot — I’ve heard good things about Lenovo’s Thinkpad series myself.
      I’ll add that to the list!

  4. Simba

    What about a Macbook Air with higher spec? I am a beginner and would like it to be lightweight as I tend to spend a lot of time outside learning.

    • That’s 100% fine, too! Even a standard spec, too. (If you use the local computer only for prototyping and the remote server for normal data science tasks.)

  5. dennis

    First of all, thank you for the great post.

    I was thinking about to purchase MacBook pro 16 inch for my future data science grad school and my career, but it seems like 13 inch pro can does as great job as the 16 inch one. Do you think 16 inch will be too heavy?

    For coding and data science, do you recommend 13 inch pro base model with 8 gb ram ($1299) or 13 inch pro high spec model with 16 gb ram($1799)?

    • hey Dennis, thanks a lot!
      Yeah, the 16″ vs 13″ is really just a question of taste. I like smaller computers better because they are lighter and I use monitors anyways. But I can imagine a use case where 16″ works better. E.g. you don’t use external monitors and you want to work on one bigger screen instead… But I vote for 13″.

      The current models of 13″ of the MacBook Pro: I haven’t take a look at the latest Macbook Pro 13″ specs (yet). But it really seems that the high spec models right now contain like much-much better CPUs. The only question whether you’ll ever use the power of these great CPUs. (In my opinion, you won’t.) The one certainty that I’ve heard about these 2020 MBP13″ models is that finally they have a gooood keyboard. : )

      If I were buying for myself right now. I’d go with the base model of the 13″Macbook Pro… But don’t take this as a professional advice! 😉


  6. Arnaud Borrens

    Let me start by saying that this article is great 🙂 As a starting Data Analyst, it helped me identify key aspects I didn’t even think about! Thank you 🙂
    I’m in a pickle right now. I am learning Python, SQL, etc. online and using my aging Macbook Air from 2013 and looking to upgrade. As professionally I use more advanced Excel and PowerBI I was looking to go back to a Windows Environment and doing some research I finally have two finalists that are both portable and stylish: The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13.5″) and the Razer Blade Stealth 2020. (both come with the i7 -10th Generation CPU and 16GB of DDR4 RAM)
    I really like the design, 3:2 aspect ratio Touch-Screen of the Surface Laptop 3 but the pricing I’m looking at comes only with 256GB and the TDP of the i7 is lower on the Surface than on the Razer.
    On the other hand, the Razer Blade Stealth comes with a dedicated GPU, 512GB, and a “beefier” CPU but my guess is that its battery won’t last as long as the Surface Laptop.
    Not sure here if the higher storage, dedicated GPU, and more powerful CPU justify the loss in battery life. What would you recommend?
    PS: going for a 512GB storage on the Surface Laptop would make it more expensive than the Razer Blade, which at this point would not seem sensible, that’s why I went with the 256GB version.

    • Thanks, that’s a nice question!
      Just going with the recommendation that I wrote in the article:
      I optimize my work computer for longer battery life and not for higher performance. As I just said, most computing heavy processes will happen in the cloud and not on my local computer — so I don’t really care about high performance GPU/CPU (although I need at least a mid-level one for prototyping that does happen locally).
      Hope this helps! Let us know how you decided after all!

      • Arnaud Borrens

        Hi again,
        Just popping back to update you on my final decision.
        I finally gave in to my gamer heart and went with the Razer Blade Stealth given the fact that for less money I got double the storage and a GPU option compared to the Surface Laptop. I do know that it is quite an over-the-top Laptop but I must say that I’m really happy with it. Moreover, the extra storage space and GPU let me install my gaming library and play them. Furthermore, as I am remote working for over a year now, I also invested in the Dell U2421E external monitor which gives me a 16:10 aspect ratio and a USB-C connection for power (90 Watt) and Display output as well as a USB Hub (3 USB-A + 1 USB-C).
        This set-up gives me the comfort of a full 24.1-inch screen and ergonomic desktop working station in a one-cable connection and the flexibility to take my laptop and work from the couch (or a coffee shop in the future).
        I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the battery life of the Razer Blade Stealth and can confirm that it holds comfortably 8h of light work.
        All in all I really happy with this set-up but I do believe that there are less expensive set-ups that would work as well as this one.

        • Thanks a lot Arnaud for the followup!
          And congrats — enjoy your new laptop. 🙂
          (I’ll also add your recommendation to the article!)

  7. David Lucey

    Thank you for your post. I’m in the market because my MacBook Pro blew a fuse after 3.5 yrs. This is a few months old now, but are you concerned that Apple is changing the parameters for the c and FORTRAN compilers. R 4.0 cannot use openmp without a custom setup. This is causing me fits to install data.table in RStudio without Openmp, so everything has to be single threaded. I understand it is also problematic for Stan. I can almost figure it out, but if it requires a couple of days every new cycle, it is time to move to Linux.

    • hey David — thanks for the comment. I don’t think Apple would cheat on the parameters. But I Linux is indeed more transparent. And that’s a great OS, too! The only drawback is that they don’t release many softwares for it that I need/like for work. (I’m not talking about DS related softwares… more like presentation/video editing softwares.)

  8. Hi!
    Is the Dell Inspiron 13′ too underpowered compared to the 15’6?
    Or will it do the trick for an absolute beginner student?

    • Sorry:
      And when you say be sure to get +8GB RAM, you mean 16 total?

    • Not necessarily — if you follow the original advice in the article (using remote servers mainly) — on a 13″ Dell Inspiron you’ll be just fine with prototyping, in my opinion! : ) Tomi

  9. José Miguel

    Hi! I have never been to skillful regarding data analysis but now im convince that I can’t be well balance professional if I do not know more than the basics in social science.

    So now im trying to put myself up to date. Your articule helped me a lot as Im looking for a new laptop for my postgrads studies. I know you said that any single one will do the trick… how ever, is the MacBook Air 2017 good enough?(128 GB, 8 GB ram, Intel core i5). I sense that I least it is good because it one of the last or the last that still has the regular spaces for USB and such.

    Thank you for your article.

  10. Christopher A.

    Yeah, probably best bet for a budget data science laptop is a used/refurbished/new old stock 2013-2015 Retina MacBook Pro, particularly the 15” because of the specs. They can be had for $350-$750 or so, less if you’re lucky.

    The 15” has a dedicated GPU, i7 Quad Core, and large SSD and RAM options. The 2013-2015 13” is more portable which is a huge plus but to the disadvantage of a dual core i5 and no dedicated GPU, but not all data people need that extra power.

    Otherwise, I’d just get any used suitably spec’d business class laptop: Lenovo ThinkPads (T, X, maybe L or even E series too) or Dell Latitudes, Precisions, or XPSes. HP Elitebooks and Probooks would get you the best specs for the money but are less supported on GNU/Linux. A $300 budget is enough for any of these brands. $500 is more than enough on a budget.

    This doesn’t have to be that expensive. I got lucky and got a 15” Retina MacBook Pro 2013 with maxed out specs for $200 on FB Marketplace. I just kept my eye out on OfferUp, Craigslist, and eBay too.. eBay is your best bet to find one.

    Heh, now I’ve written my own mini guide!

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