Computer Requirements for Traders


There comes up from time to time the question of the type of computer hardward and software traders need to have. The following inquiry that came in by email the other day is along those lines.

I need to get a couple of new computers, one main workstation and a laptop. I had hoped on buying new computers when I had my business plan fully developed and had a much clearer picture of what was required. I realize that no computer is going to make me a great trader, but I assume than a typical PC is needed.

Do traders really need the high performance computer hardware with multi-monitors?

Just for fun to make some of you jealous, let me describe my set-up at work.

System SpecsAs you can see from the left, my work PC isn’t exactly the latest and greatest. My machine at home is significantly more powerful. I don’t expect you to be envious about the machine specs.

Here’s where you may start to hate me, though. :-)

I have four monitors. Yes, I said four. Yes, it’s a lot of monitors, but here’s why I need them.

I’m running Reuters 3000 Xtra (that’s the full desktop application) in one screen, MetaStock Professional in another screen, and Sierra Chart on a third (for price distribution charting). With those three screens I keep track of the forex, fixed income, stock, and commodity markets to a greater or lesser degree depending on circumstances – and news, of course.

The fourth monitor is my main working one where I have my email, IM applications, web browsers, spreadsheets, and authoring tools – as required.

I have all this stuff going because I’m working on a real-time intraday focused service. I need to know what’s going on pretty much all the time. While my main focus is forex, I keep track of everything else because of the cross-market implications. It all ends up in my commentary and analysis at some point or another.

Now most likely you won’t need all the stuff I use. If you are not a very short-term trader who needs to follow things in real-time very closely you won’t really need more than a basic computer with a single monitor and a decent internet connection. Even if you’re a day trader tracking several things at once, it’s probably more about screen space that about a super fast computer, unless you’re running some high intensity data and computational applications.

The best approach for deciding on a computer is actually first to decide what you intend to use for applications. They will define your minimum requirements. You can then go from there based on your budget and other needs. Just realize that only the most active traders among us need to really worry about their computer set-ups beyond generally keeping from falling too far behind the latest developments.

All this said, I don’t claim any specific expertise in this area, so I encourage those with specific experience or know-how to contribute their thoughts by leaving a comment.


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About the Author
John Forman, author of this blog, has traded for more than 20 years, is a professional market analyst, and authored The Essentials of Trading. He is an active participant in trading forums, consults for trading related businesses, as published literally dozens of trading articles, and has been quoted in a number of books and in the media.
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8 Comments:

  1. eToke says:

    here is a description of my own setup http://etoke.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/my-trading-platform/

    I primarily trade stocks and perform stats intraday. I have a realtime feed of around 450-500 stocks which does take quite a lot of resources, so that is one of my primary concern.

    best regards,
    eToke.

  2. chris says:

    I like two monitors. I put up charts of intra-day on one and daily on the other. Or, I monitor postions on one while charting on the other. If need be I can do fundamental research or check news on one monitor while keeping a chart or open positions on the other. I do this with my laptop. It’s not that powerful of a machine.

  3. Larry says:

    There are companies out there that make desktop systems designed especially for trading. They are very powerful and designed to support multiple video cards to handle multiple monitors. Low end is about $3000, without monitors. The companies point out that your trading software (generally) will be unable to use more than about 2 processor units at a time (but maybe more in the future?).

    If your budget is a bit more constrained, look for a good quality video gaming computer and check the specs carefully. (If you don’t know what you are doing, find a friend that does; because there are details that can sneak up and bite you.) Don’t waste your money on the $600 to $900 desktop systems from Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, or etc. They are built cheap, and do not have the power you really need. Check their specifications and you will see.

    A few months ago I purchased a gaming system with 6GB of 3 channel main memory, 2.67 GHz Intel Core 2 i7 620 processor (4 dual threaded processors; so it looks like 8 processors to Windows), 0.9GB of dedicated video memory, and a 1000GB 7200rpm hard drive, all for around $1500. My motherboard is an Asus P6T. I added a second 6GB of main memory for $100. That is enough power to loaf along with about 20% memory usage and under 10% processor use while driving dual 24″ monitors with about 25 real time charts open (2 of them are 133tick charts that use more compute power; many of the rest are 1 and 2 minute charts), plus email, calendar, web video, twitter, and everything else I have ever wanted to throw at the beast. The case has room for (literally) another dozen internal hard drives, and I can upgrade to RAID for increased disk speed and reliability just be adding a 2nd disk for $150 and changing the configuration. The current disk drive is definitely the performance bottleneck, when there is one. Processor intensive tasks happen instantaneously, even under (ugh) Vista 64bit. The system is very amenable to overclocking, if I should ever want to add 25 or 30% to the processing speed, or 10% to the memory speed.

    If you envision EVER having more than 2 monitors (that means two video cards to drive 3 or 4 monitors), be sure to get an 850 or 900 Watt power supply (minimum), or you will end up throwing out your original power supply. For more than 4 monitors, plan on 3 video cards (max is 2 monitors per card, generally), and you will need a 1200 Watt power supply. Be sure your motherboard can support 2 or 3 video cards with high speed 16x slots, or at least 2 slots of 16x plus 1 slot of 4x.

    Works well for me, and I think something like this is worth your consideration as a serious trading system at a bargain price.

  4. Ivan says:

    How come no one mentiones Bloomberg?

  5. chris says:

    Bloomberg machines are too expensive for individuals.

    • John says:

      And more importantly, not worth the extra cost because they don’t provide any added benefit to the retail trader that occurs to me.

  6. Naoki says:

    Thanks to all for the useful information!

    Seems, that a minimum of two monitors is necessity rather than a luxury. I’m leaning towards 3-4 x 22″ for the desktop. A minimal 15′ laptop for travel and backup with external monitor connections.

    As for the workstation/desktop, I put more emphasis on reliability rather than performance. That is having adequate contingencies for power failures, HDD crashes, component failures, virus & spyware protection, liquid spillage on keyboards, mice chewing your DSL cable, etc…I’ve gone through one too many to know that problems will likely happen when you need it to work the most….

    I had a demo of Bloomberg terminals – the service not the computers, and came to same conclusion as John. There was nothing compelling to justify $2k per month, at least for the retail trader. Perhaps for the institutional trader….