10 Best Laptops for Ethical Hacking and Kali Linux

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Since I am a penetration tester myself, the question what is the best laptop for ethical hacking and Kali Linux has been extremely relevant to me. I had spent a lot of time online looking for the best option when looking for a new computer for myself. After I realized that my current hardware didn’t allow me to work as efficiently as I could, I decided to upgrade. I had reviewed various options – from Apple products to gaming computers. So now I can share with you some recommendations on what is the best computer for an ethical hacker.

Having a decent hardware is a must for a penetration tester. There are many different tasks that a pentester should do on a daily basis: passwords cracking, web applications or infrastructure scanning with automatic tools, brute forcing, etc.

While it’s a personal preference what computer to use, having a powerful machine lets to finish the job faster (it also saves nerve cells as you don’t have to bother with a slow machine that barely works).

In a Rush? Here Are Our Top 5 Picks

ImageLaptopFeaturesPrice
Lenovo Legion 5Screen: 15.6" FHD
RAM: 16 - 64GB
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4800H
Storage: 512 GB - 1 TB SSD
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DELL XPS 13 9310Screen: 13.4" FHD
RAM: 8-32 GB
CPU: Intel Core i7 10th/11th Gen
Storage: 256 GB - 2 TB
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MacBook AirScreen: 13.3" Retina
RAM: 8 - 16 GB
CPU: M1
Storage: 256 GB - 1 TB
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Acer Predator Helios 300Screen:15.6" FHD
RAM: 16 GB
CPU: Intel Core i7-11800H 11th gen
Storage: 512 GB
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Lenovo IdeaPad 3Screen: 15.6"
RAM: 8 - 36 GB
CPU: Intel Core i5-1035G1/Intel Core i5-1135G7
Storage: 256 GB - 1 TB
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Best Laptops for Kali Linux and Ethical Hacking

Before diving into the specific products, I’ve decided to make a comprehensive analysis to define the requirements for a best laptop for ethical hacking. After that, I’ve made an analysis of the best laptops that there are currently on the market. You can find my thoughts and observations on this article, after the product reviews.

Even though there are some expensive machines on the list, I’ve picked the laptops that are balanced in terms of price and performance.

Lenovo Legion 5 – Gaming Laptop with Capabilities for Hacking

You know that famous quote of the anonymous?

We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

Don’t know if that’s just only for me, but this is the first thing that comes to my mind when I see a Lenovo Legion laptop. Even though it is a gaming laptop, in the reality it perfectly fits the needs of a cyber security professional. And we will discuss why.

Legion is a good gaming laptop with great specifications. The machine comes with 15.6″ FHD (1920×1080) IPS screen that has 144 Hz refresh rate, The laptop also has AMD Ryzen 7 4800H processor, which is pretty performant with 19 130 CPU benchmark score. It has enough RAM for virtualization or other purposes – 16 GB. Being a gaming computer, Lenovo Legion has a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660Ti GPU with 6 GB GDDR6 memory.

We had covered a laptop with previously mentioned specifications, but keep in mind that there are many Lenovo Legion offerings. Some of the options can have more or less RAM, bigger SSD, etc. For a higher price you can get a pretty insane laptop.

Because this laptop is good for gamers, it will be good for hackers too. As gaming laptops are known for having powerful resources, it will handle cyber security tasks without any problems. However, have in mind that gaming laptops drain batteries faster. Average battery life for the Legion is 5 hours, but that depends what you are doing with the machine.

Best Laptop for Ethical Hackers Who Travel Often – Dell XPS 13 (9310)

If you are always on a move, you probably need something that is mobile, lightweight, and looks good. For example, if you are frequent speaker on security conferences, you might also want a good looking laptop. But even if the fanciness of a laptop is not important for you, using high quality good looking devices are more pleasant to use.

So in conclusion, you might want to have a laptop, that is:

  • Compact. There are a few different options when it comes to the laptop screen sizes. The smaller the screen, the smaller is the laptop overall. So, it means that the laptops with 13,3″ screens are better for travelling.
  • Has a good battery. When on the move, you will never know when you will get a chance to charge your laptop.

We took a look at the laptops currently available on the market, and we found one that satisfies all these requirements. It’s Dell XPS 13 9310.

Dell XPS computers (Dell eXtreme Performane System), are known as a high-end computers of Dell. They are known for their high performance and good quality. The Dell XPS 13 9310 model is not an exception. It is a great machine that not only looks solid, it is pretty performant.

The model we are talking about has 16 GB of RAM, comes with Intel Core i7 11th generation processor, and 512 GB SDD. It also has Intel Iris Xe graphics card with 1 GB of RAM. Even though these are optimal parameters for a hacking laptop, there is a version with better hardware components. If you have the budget, you might choose the best version of the XPS 13 9310, that has 32 GB of RAM, and 2TB SSD.

But what is the most important aspect about the laptop, is that it has the 13.4″ screen. So, it is a perfect companion for your journeys. With this mobile laptop you will be able to work from anywhere, and it will be easy to carry it around, as it weights only 2.8 pounds (1.27kg).

Best Laptop for Password Cracking If You Have a Big Budget – Acer Predator Helios 300

Cracking a password is usually not a task you will face daily. At least if you are an ethical hacker. However, once in a while you will have to perform brute force attacks – to check if the client you are making a security assessment for does not use weak passwords. Other use case might be when you will need GPU resources, is when you try to brute force directories of a web application.

So, even though other components, such as RAM, are more important for a pentester, GPU takes a role too. Especially if you will want to use laptop for other things than hacking – like gaming (although, hacking is more interesting than gaming). However, if you do not have a specific need for the GPU resources, you shouldn’t choose a laptop with insanely good GPU, unless you have the extra money. But if you do want to have such a machine, our recommendation is Acer Predator Helios 300.

This laptop has a terrific GPU – NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 with 6 GB of GDDR6 RAM, comes with 512 GB SSD, 16 GB of RAM, and 11th gen Intel Core i7-11800H.

If the hardware resources that comes with a base model are not enough for you, you can upgrade RAM to up to 32 GB. You can also install higher capacity SSD.

Advantages of this computer:

  • Really good sound, as it uses DTS:X Ultra
  • Many USB ports
  • Battery holds for up to 6 hours
  • Has a 144hz 15.6″ screen

Disadvantages:

  • As this is a gaming laptop, overheating is a problem. However, AeroBlade 3D Fan technology of Acer solves this problem, but you still should be attentive if your laptop is cooled.

Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop – Best Budget Laptop for Password Brute Forcing

If you want to find an optimal variant between performance and the price, we had picked another laptop for cracking passwords. It’s Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop.

Even though this laptop has 8 GB of ram, and comes with 256GB SSD, which is less than we recommend, the Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop still does fulfill the requirements for a pentesters’s laptop. The strong side of the laptop is GPU – Acer has the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 GPU with 4 GB of GDDR5 VRAM. It also has a pretty solid CPU – Intel Core i5-9300H that can run as fast as 4.1 GHz.

The great thing about this laptop, is that you can always upgrade it. As there is a one stick of 8 GB of RAM, you can add another stick and have 16 GB of RAM.

All in all, even though the laptop is less expensive than other gaming machines, it is no doubt a good choice, as:

  • It is easy to upgrade it as it has open slots for components
  • Good size laptop, so it is easy to transport it

But being a budget gaming laptop it has some disadvantages:

  • Loud fan
  • Short battery life (however, every gaming laptop drains battery faster)

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 – Best Budget Laptop for Kali Linux

Kali Linux no doubt is one of the most famous ethical hacking distributions. It’s an open-source penetration testing distribution that every security specialist have heard of. And usually this is an operating system to go if you are performing penetration tests for a living.

We choose a laptop that fulfills the minimal requirements to run a Kali Linux. It’s the Lenovo IdeaPad 3. The great news about the laptop, that it comes with different specifications. If you are looking for a budget Kali Linux machine, you can choose a 8GB RAM, 256 SSD version, and if you want to get more performance power, you can choose the version with 36 GB of RAM and 1 TB SSD. While you would think that it costs a lot, in reality this is a budget laptop that costs really cheap compared to the value you get.

When it comes to the CPU, you can choose from two options – Intel Core i5-1135G7 (CPU benchmark 10172), and Intel Core i5-1035G1 (CPU benchmark – 7796). There is a comparison between them.

MacBook Air with M1 Chip – For a Fan of Elegant Yet High Performance Laptops

MacBook laptops are known by everyone. Not only it is a high quality and elegant laptop, it is also a very powerful machine, that can be used for cybersecurity. The M1 chip, released by Apple in 2020, makes the newest MacBook laptops very worth to spend money on. Although, there are some things to consider if you will use it purely for pentesting.

When it comes to the newest MacBook laptops, you can choose from two variants- MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro.

No matter what option you will choose, even the base model has insanely good performance. MacBook Air comes with 256 or 512 GB SSD, and has 8 GB of RAM. And you can always go with the model having 16 GB of RAM. As it has a 13.3″ Retina display, it is very compact and lightweight.

ASUS ZenBook 13 – If You Are Fan of Big External Screens

Another laptop on our list, is the ASUS ZenBook 13. The reason why this laptop is a good choice for someone who loves using external screens, is because of it’s screen size. If you have two 27′ monitors, or have an ultra wide one, you will probably won’t need a 15′ laptop. Having a one with smaller screen is more convenient, as it takes less space.

However, let’s check if there is anything good with the laptop besides the slimness.

The ASUS ZenBook 13 comes with the 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD.

As there are two version of the laptop, It comes with a ‎Intel Iris Xᵉ Graphics GPU, or NVIDIA GeForce MX250. While this is definitely not a laptop with insanely good GPU (it has only 2GB of RAM), it can be still used for gaming. Even thought this is a 13.3′ laptop, some of the games can be run, especially with the NVIDIA GPU. But it is surely better for work.

When it comes to the CPU, this model has two options. You can buy either, computer with Intel Core i7-1165G7, or with Intel Core i7-10510U. These are both good CPUs, but the Intel Core i7-1165G is more powerful than the other one.

While this laptop has a pretty decent hardware specifications, there is more. It comes with an innovative screen pad. By using the touchscreen trackpad you will be able to perform more tasks at the same time, as it will help you to switch them.

Laptop advantages:

  • The mentioned screen pad will help you to be more productive
  • Small screen makes the laptop compact
  • Lightweight – 2.8 pounds (1.27 kg)

Disadvantages:

  • ‎DDR3 SDRAM – it could be faster
  • Battery dies fast on an intense use

HP Pavilion 15 – Work Laptop With a Good Battery Life

HP has a reputation as a reliable laptops manufacturer. It offers a range of different models, but there is one that interests us the most – it is HP Pavilion 15. The laptop is has pretty good parameters – 16 GB RAM, 11th generation Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU (CPU benchmark – 10622), 512 GB SSD.

The model also has 15.6″ FHD IPS screen, and extremely good battery life. This is a great thing if you do like to work in places where there is not always possible to charge your battery.

The laptop has specifications that will be enough for most of your penetration testing needs. From virtual machines, to tools used for hacking, Pavilion 15 has enough resources to handle your tasks. This is a way to go laptop for Kali Linux.

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 – Solid Work Laptop

When it comes to the Dell Inspiron series, there are many options you can choose from. These are consumer-oriented laptops that will fit anyone. Great news is they are also relatively cheap. While these are definitely not a gaming machines, and are not that elegant as the high-end laptops, they are perfect for work.

We recommend Dell Inspiron 15 3000 – 2021 model that can be bought as many different versions. You can choose a laptop with 8 GB, 16 GB, or 32 GB of RAM, and with 256 GB, 512 GB, or 1 TB SSD.

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 comes with Intel Celeron N4020 dual-core CPU. And it also has Intel UHD Graphics 600 GPU.

Advantages of the laptop:

  • It is cheap
  • You can choose from different options with different specifications
  • Decent battery

Disadvantages:

  • Cheap quality of the laptop (but it gets the work done)

MSI Stealth 15M Gaming Laptop – Good Looking Powerful Hacking Machine

MSI is known for manufacturing high-end gaming laptops. And having the expertise to build machines for gamers to last, it has really good models in their offering. During this review of different computers for hacking and Kali Linux, we had already figured out that gaming laptops are pretty good for cybersecurity tasks. That’s why we have MSI Stealth 15M Gaming Laptop on our list.

This beauty (yes, it looks great), comes with a 15.6″ display, that can produce 144hz refresh rate. It is amazingly thin laptop – comparing its competitors the winner is clear.

If we are talking about the hardware, it has Intel Core i7-11375H. This CPU has a benchmark of 12 305, and is slightly better than CPUs of most of our reviewed laptops. Because MSI Stealth has NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060, it will help you to finish most of your typical brute forcing tasks easily, as the GPU has 6 GB of RAM. The laptop also comes with 16 GB of RAM, and with 512 GB SSD, that is just enough for saving your project files.

Advantages:

  • Light and slim – something that is unusual for a gaming laptop
  • Provides value for the money spend

Disadvantages:

  • Speakers are not loud
  • Has no ethernet port
  • Fans are loud
  • Its pretty expensive

Windows Laptop, Linux Laptop, or MacBook?

Windows laptop vs Linux laptop vs MacBook

Just like there are holy wars among developers about which programming language is the best, the same is with the ethical hackers. There are various opinions about what OS is the best for a cybersecurity specialist.

Let’s make a quick overview about the three most popular operating systems. At the end of this paragraph it should be easier for you to make a decision what OS to use while seeking a career in cybersecurity.

If you are an Apple fan, there are many different models you can choose from. However, keep in mind that MacBook has its own disadvantages if you are planning to use this laptop for ethical hacking. We made a case study about how good is the newest MacBook with M1 chip for cybersecurity professionals.

If you are a hardcore Windows user, you can definitely use it for cyber security. There is no need throw it away just because some people say that no respected hacker uses it. It is a myth from the past, that is not true anymore. In the 2016, Windows released a feature called Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) that provided a layer for running Linux binaries. In the 2019, Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 was released. With this version a real Linux kernel is used, instead of a compatibility layer like it was with the first version. So, even if you are using Windows, you won’t have any problems running Linux tools.

If you like using Linux, then there are some great news! Most of the cybersecurity tools are running on Linux. There even are Linux distributions created specifically for ethical hacking needs. You can also run Linux on any laptop (on a MacBook also), so as you are not bound to a specific type of machine. The choices for a Linux laptop for ethical hacking are endless.

As you can see, every OS is suitable for a hacker.

What Are the Requirements for an Ethical Hacker’s Laptop?

There are a few requirements that a good laptop for pentesting should fulfill.

In general, a laptop for an ethical hacker must have enough processing power, it should support virtualization, have enough RAM, have an SSD, be convenient to use.

Even though a good laptop for ethical hacking is needed, there is no need for a spaceship. A solid laptop having enough hardware resources would be a perfect fit.

Because you are looking for a hardware that you will potentially be working with for years, you should be willing to invest some money and look for a high quality product.

But before diving into the technical details, let’s talk what tasks ethical hackers do on a daily basis. If you are a cybersecurity student, or you are learning ethical hacking on your own and you want to change your career, you must understand what you will be doing on a daily basis. And this is also a very important thing to understand before investing solid money into a laptop. Things an ethical hacker does on a daily basis:

  • Performs web application testing with Burp Suite. As this is a swiss knife of web application security testing, Burp Suite is often running on a hacker machine.
  • Analyses malware. In an isolated environment, usually concluded from a few virtual machines with VMWare or VirtualBox software.
  • Performs network assessment. Tools, such as Nmap, Nessus, and many specialized tools of Kali Linux are used.

With the routine of a hacker being clear, let’s see what specifications a computer should have in order to be considered as the best laptop for ethical hacking and Kali Linux.

  • RAM – as you will be using a few programs/VMs at the same time, your machine will be under a constant load. You should look for a device that has somewhere between 8 GB to 32 GB of RAM. And 8 GB, in my opinion, is a minimum. I am successfully working on a machine with 8 GB of RAM. But do I want more random access memory? I sure do.
  • CPU – it is pretty important to have a good multicore processor. Having a CPU with good clock speed is beneficial. You should look for a late generation CPU with 4-6 cores.
  • GPU – if you aren’t going to crack password hashes non stop, you shouldn’t worry about the GPU too much. Well, maybe if you are gamer, you should. But if you are looking for a best laptop for cyber security needs, GPU is not the most important component. At least in the bug bounty hunting.
  • Hard drive – when it comes to the storage, you should always look for a machine with SSD instead of HDD. SSD will provide you much more speed. When it comes to the capacity of the drive, this is often a personal preference. The minimum is 256 GB, but I recommend at least 500 GB. As you will need enough storage for your software and virtual machines, 256 GB is barely enough. 500 GB is enough for me, as I use a separate machine solely for work related stuff. But if you are thinking of storing personal files on it, or having a few games, you might consider getting a 1 TB drive.
  • Price – good item costs a lot, and if you are willing to get a good laptop, it might cost at minimum 1000 USD. But of course, none of us have unlimited money and in order to buy a laptop we have to make our own financial sacrifices and compromises.

Make sure the machine supports virtualization.

If you will be working as a penetration tester, at some point you might want to have a few virtual machines spinning. Depending on the things you might have to do, there might be many different cases for using VMs. For example, you might want to analyze a malware in a isolated virtual machine, or you might want to have a vulnerable machine such as DVWA running, and have Parrot OS and Kali Linux machines for attacking.

So, virtualization is a very important aspect while choosing a machine. We made the analysis for you and all of our picked laptops are good for virtualization.

Kali Linux System Requirements

We have already found the cheapest laptop for Kali Linux – it’s Lenovo IdeaPad 3.

But let’s talk about the system requirements you need to run Kali Linux. Because it is definitely the OS you will use a lot as an ethical hacker. This Linux based distribution is loved by many professionals, if you are willing to be a hacker, your will have to use this or other similar OS (such as Parrot OS).

You will also need Kali Linux to get the famous OSCP certification. One of the reasons is that the Offensive Security is behind the OSCP and Kali Linux, so it is easier to use the tools of the Kali Linux for the challenges of OSCP. And the other reason is that Kali Linux is just awesome. It has packaged most of the things you might need, is intuitive, and easy to use even for the newbies.

So, let’s see what are the system requirements for Kali Linux laptop.

Minimum requirements:

  • 20 GB of hard disk space. Keep in mind that for a complete set of tools and a graphical interface, more space is needed.
  • 2 GB of RAM for i386 and AMD 64 architectures.
  • Intel Core i3 or AMD E1. But the better is the CPU, the more performance you get.

These are the recommended requirements for Kali Linux:

  • 50 GB of SSD space. It is important to use SSD as it will add more performance.
  • More than 2GB of RAM (at least 8 GB are preferred). Some of the tools, such as Burp Suite, are pretty resource intensive. So, the more RAM – the better.

Do You Need a Separate Laptop for Ethical Hacking?

This question can be answered from two different angles.

Do you need a separate laptop for hacking in a bad way (malicious activity)? If you are thinking of performing a criminal act, this question is irrelevant, as there are many ways you can be tracked down. So, having a separate laptop won’t help you.

And another perspective of this question is the practical side of having a dedicated laptop for penetration testing. There are at least a few legit reason why it is smart to have another device dedicated for this purpose only:

  • You might break your OS while working. Let’s say you are a malware analyst, and you make a deadly mistake by accidently opening the malware on your host machine. Well, these things might happen even to the best, what can you do. VM escape is also a possibility. And even though you have opened the infected file in an isolated environment, it escaped and reached your host machine. Of course, you might break the system after unsuccessful software updates.
  • Having separate devices for work and for personal use. If you have the luxury to have one personal device, and one for work, this is a smart choice. Firstly, it will help you to remain disciplined by setting boundaries for yourself. The work ends when you turned the laptop off. A separate computer for personal user only, such as browsing, gaming, and watching Netflix, is also handy a you know that all the configuration of software and the device remains the same after a day of work. Sometimes the day can be crazy. During a day you might need to change DNS, install older versions of browsers, etc.

Final Words

If you are looking for the best laptop for ethical hacking, have in mind that you should choose the one, you will like the most. No matter how praised a device is, if you personally do not like it, don’t buy it. After all, this is just a tool. No laptop will give you the skills needed to be a good security researcher.

That’s totally fine if the only device you have is an old laptop, as every has to start from somewhere. But do yourself a favor, and if you can afford it, use a decent hardware.

While a computer is the most important of all the hardware you will use, do not forget the peripherals. If you are fan of using a configuration with laptop, external monitor, and keyboard with mouse, or just like mechanical keyboards as it allows you to work comfortably, check out my hacker keyboards review and choose the one you like.

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