I want to get a new laptop and not sure what display size is the optimal. I need it for programming while I'm traveling. So the balance is between portability and usability. My old laptop is 15.4" and I think it's big and heavy for travel.

+10  A: 

My Thinkpad has a 14.1" display at 1680x1050. I really like the high resolution; and I think is is a good compromise between portability and screen size.

Thanks. I'm going to by a ThinkPad. What series is yours?
It is a T62, about a year old now.
I have a 15.4 inch 1920 x 1200, and i must admit that the screen size makes it hard to read text unless you can scale it well...websites are terrible for this. It is a T61p, so its techinically a mobile workstation... Lenovo is great quality, it has survived a coffee spill (not my fault however).
I'm running the 15.4 @ 1920x1200 as well (Lenovo W500). No real complaints on readability. Everything is much more sharp/crisp than I expected at small font sizes. Most of the things that are smaller text and hard to read are things where the text isn't that important (sidebar, etc.).
+5  A: 

I have a 17 inches, but its a heavy draw on power and i use it more like a desktop rather than a laptop. I think the ideal size is around 12 to 14 incase you are traveling and need light weight and low power consuming one

+9  A: 

15" MacBook Pro - 1440 x 900. Pretty small to program on. A little heavy, but it travels well. Love the display quality.

I <3 my 15 inch macbook pro. I think it works out to be 113 DPI. I wouldn't want much more than that until apple release proper resolution independance, otherwise everything is just too small
Orion Edwards
I have a 15" MBP as well. The resolution is excellent, unlike some of the newer PC laptops which try to pack in as many pixels as possible which make text too small to read.

I have an Aspire One netbook that I occasionally run Eclipse and NetBeans on. It's pushing it, but it can work. I would only recommend it is portability is your most important requirement. Overall though, What you should really be looking at is resolution rather than size. Unfortunately, that seems to add a lot of cost to a laptop, even more so than screen size.

+4  A: 

I think you need to worry about display resolution more than display size. My Dell Latitude D610 has a 14" 1400 x 1050 display, and that's a good compromise for me. Bigger would be better, but I don't want to lug a 17" unit around.

Dell laptops have always been a pretty cost-effective way of getting high-resolution on a small screen without blowing the budget. On some of their XPS M1530 15.4" models, you can upgrade from 1280x880 to 1920x1200 WUXGA resolution for an extra GBP 100, which seems a bargain.

Remember, though, that the higher the screen resolution is relative to the screen size, the smaller everything is going to be. This is a real problem for me with laptop screens, which I need glasses to read. True, you can increase UI font sizes, but many bad apps don't respect that.
Don't all programmers wear glasses anyway ;-)
More seriously - you are right: If your eyesight can't handle high-DPI screens there's no choice but to get a physically bigger one if you need more real estate.
+3  A: 

I have the 17" MacBookPro. Before that, I had a 17" Powerbook G4. It's a good size for programming on, but you can't open one that big in an airliner, unless you travel first class.

Paul Tomblin
+4  A: 

In terms of screen real-estate, I downgraded from a 15.4" Dell at 1280x800 to a 13.1" MacBook at the same resolution. I love the display on the MacBook.


13.2" but I agree with Roddy: The important thing is resolution


if count netbooks too, my akoya has 10'= 1224*600. its good for my purpose (traveling only)


Mines 7", works well for dev - let's me focus on one thing at a time.

Rich Bradshaw

My HP Compaq 8510w has a 15.4" screen and 1920x1200 resolution which makes it very nice to work on.

Frederik Vig
+2  A: 

Mine is an old aluminum PowerBook 12" screen at 1024x768. Just enough screen to be useful.


800x480. Great for portable troubleshooting, slightly awkward for programming ("\" is Fn+Z), and horrible for browsing SO.

Ant P.

I think 13 - 15.4" is the sweet spot, the critical thing is to try with the DVI or SVGA out to see how good the video card

Gene T
+3  A: 

8.9 inches on an Asus Eee PC 901. The resolution is 1024 x 600, so I'd say it's just enough to use semi-comfortably for light development on a very portable platform.

However, the upside to the small screen but relatively high resolution is that the display is very sharp. Especially when it comes to text, I was quite surprised on how crisp it looked compared to previous LCD monitors I've used in the past.

After using the 8.9 inch monitor with a 1024 x 600 resolution, it's impossible for me to use a 15 inch laptop screen with a 1024 x 768 resolution because all the text looks very blocky due to each pixel being very large.


I have a Dell Latitude E6400 (14.1") at 1440x900. I find it to be the (almost) perfect compromise between portability and screen real estate.


I use HP/Compaq laptops with a 15.4 in display at 1920x1200 . I prefer to get the max resolution that I can on most of my devices. More screen area just lets me work better, especially when I can only use one screen.


I use a 17" macbookpro (not really portable, but serves as a desktop replacement when I am travelling). My vision may not be the best, and more importantly, I need the resolution and widescreen for Eclipse.

I would not consider doing development work on a non-widescreen machine ever again.


I got a Dell Latitude D830 with the 15.4" WUXGA screen. I get 1920X1200 resolution, which I would be hard pressed to get on anything smaller than a 24" LCD screen.

I used to run 1280X768 and it was terrible! I could not fit enough on the screen.

With this resolution, I am much happier.

The price difference was about $150 from the low end to this highest end screen, I highly recommend spending it!


My laptop is 1280x800; my PC is 1440x900. Both screens are LCDs.

+4  A: 

There seems to be an abundance of people recommending that the resolution (inferring DPI) is much more important than the screen size. I find this to be a terrible idea. Tiny tiny text might let you fit more code on screen at once, but the tradeoff is massively increased eyestrain.

Eyestrain is something that takes a few years to really see the effects of, so a lot of people don't realise they are being affected by it until it's too late. Getting headaches and needing to go spend hundreds of dollars on glasses is not something to look forward too. If nothing else glasses are a pain in the backside and annoying when you want to play sport or go skiing, etc.

I have a Macbook pro 15.4 inch @ 1440x900. It works out to be 113 DPI, and I run everything (textmate etc) using 13 point font. I wouldn't go smaller than this as I've suffered from the 'ZOMG FIT MORE LINES OF CODE ON SCREEN' disease and paid for it in the past. I'll go up to a higher res screen once apple or microsoft release an operating system with actual resolution independance. Until then I'd avoid anything with more DPI than that

Writing more concise code is generally better than just trying to cram more of it on screen at once.

Orion Edwards
+3  A: 

An IBM X41 with a 12" screen at 1024x768. Sure it's not a lot, but I've never felt it to be a significant problem. I'd much rather take the hit in screen size and resolution than have to carry a larger laptop.

Much more important (yet often ignored) is the keyboard. There is a huge difference between laptop keyboards, and since you'll be programming you'll be using your keyboard a lot. My girlfriend has a Toshiba laptop the same size as my Thinkpad and I find the keyboard on it horrible compared to my laptop. I'd hate to use it regularly. Personally I'd never buy a laptop without testing the keyboard. As a programmer it is by far the most important component on the laptop.

+2  A: 

1920 x 1200, and it is probably a little too small for the 15.4" screen. I think 1680 x 1050 should be the smallest for a 15.4 with 1920 being for 17". Next time I would probably get the 1680


You haven't said where you'll be using the laptop when travelling. In a hotel, or on some form of transport? If it's transport and it's lengthy, then you need a laptop where the power consumption isn't going to be adversely affected by the size of the screen. If it's somewhere that you can plug in, then the power consumption issue is less important.

I'm sitting here typing this in on a laptop with a 17" display running off the mains because the power drain gives me a bit over an hour on the battery. Yes, I can lower the intensity on the display and get longer battery life, but this causes a strain on the eyes. The reason I have a 17" display is to develop in Visual Studio where the extra real estate is invaluable.

Pete OHanlon

I have a Toshiba L45-S7423 with a 14.1" @ 1280x800. I prefer 1280x1024 or the like, but for portability, I believed this to be the best ratio of size and resolution.


Alienware m15x 15,4" 1440x900


Buy a 13" new mac book :) great for working, kinda cheap compared with the pro, and easy to carry arround.

+2  A: 

It depends almost entirely on what your tools require in terms of real estate. I've used both 17" and 15" for development in Eclipse, with other windows open with reference information (web browser, terminal/shell, etc.), and wouldn't want to do serious work with less.

(On the other hand, I really enjoyed using an Asus EeePC with 80 column terminal windows and vi for simple play-around programming and Firefox for surfing and gmail.)

+1  A: 

I have a Dell Inspiron 1525. The screen size is 14.5 inches and 1280x800 resolution. It is a great laptop for software development on the go. It weighs I think about 4 pounds, has 2gb of ram and a 160 gb harddrive. The cheapest battery you can get for it lasts about an hour. I would recommend it to anyone who needs one.

Good Luck, workinprogress.

+2  A: 

My work laptop size is 17", 1920x1200 resolution. I definitely like the screen resolution for programming; as for portability, the laptop just fits into my targus backpack, which I consider essential for portability.

I've also got a 10" EEE laptop that I use for carrying around and making notes.

I also keep a thumb drive on my keychain, and oftentimes will put a rar of my latest code on this if there's a development PC I can use at a customer's site.

I find that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to laptops.

Jon DellOro
+1  A: 

12", 1280x800, Works fine and is portable.

Michael Stum
+1  A: 

I keep my 17" laptop resolution at 1920x1200 and it works wonderfully for coding. It's even possible to use is sort of as a dual screen setup being that the resolution gives you so much screen real-estate.

+2  A: 

17" Inch

17" Inch

Height:    0.98 inch (2.50 cm)
Width:     15.47 inches (39.3 cm)
Depth:     10.51 inches (26.7 cm) 

15.4" Inch

Height:    0.95 inch (2.41 cm)
Width:    14.35 inches (36.4 cm)
Depth:    9.82 inches (24.9 cm) 


See the difference.

  • Mine is 18.4 inch.. too big too heavy
  • I really recommend a 13 inch laptop for you.. they are called laptops for that :)