What's the Best Trading Computer?

07/30/2014 6:00 am EST


Markus Heitkoetter

Author, Educator, Trader, and CEO, Rockwell Trading Services, LLC

Even though the differences—at first glance—may seem miniscule, Markus Heitkoetter of Rockwell Trading points out the subtle, yet significant impact a laptop may have on your trading versus that of a desktop.

It’s nice to get out of the office with your laptop, but, as a trader, should you?

It depends.

At most coffee shops—whose name is likely to start with “star” and end with “bucks”—you’ll find caffeinated worker bees hunkered over their laptops. Everyone’s busy navigating the Internet or answering emails. Walk onto any professional trading floor and you’ll find high powered desktop computers running multiple monitors—four, six, or even eight—displaying all kinds of charts and indicators.

Your Trading Computer Choice Depends on the Power You Need

Desktop and laptop computers are two different tools. They should not be viewed as one in the same. Choosing which device to use is like choosing to walk or drive; it depends on the circumstance. Driving your car a city block makes as much sense as walking to California from New York. You wouldn’t put your desktop in your suitcase. However, you shouldn’t trade on a laptop all the time.

You probably have a suite of devices—smartphone, tablet, laptop, and a desktop. From convenience to power, each device has a unique roll in your life. Most mobile devices should not be used for trading.

The Benefits of a Desktop

Powerful computers still require a lot of interior room. These have larger cases. With maximum speed and power in mind, most traders should trade from a desktop full time—outside of when they travel. There are a few reasons desktops work better.

  • You Can Fit More Power In a Larger Desktop.

There’s more physical space in a desktop. At the moment we still need this extra interior space to add the most powerful processors, RAM, video cards, motherboard, etc.

  • You Can Turbo Charge Desktops.

We can force these larger machines to go faster. But, turbo charging computers creates more heat. Desktops have extra interior space that allows cool air to circulate. Extra space also allows us to add high-powered fans to force hot air out.

Custom indicators and algorithms can be memory and processor hogs. To keep up you’ll need a superfast Intel processor, a solid state hard drive, 16 to 32 GB of memory, and a graphics card with discrete processing. It’s hard to fit all this in a laptop. Keeping it cool would be an even greater challenge.

A Powerful Trading Laptop Has Its Place

During certain times, like summer travel season, a laptop may be necessary. Although desktops are ideal trading computers, it doesn’t make sense to take your desktop on the road with you.

When trading on a laptop, choose high-powered over super-compact. Beware of trading on an underpowered laptop. Most laptops are designed for mobility not speed. When you’re away from your desktop make certain you don’t step backwards power-wise. Here are some tips:

  • Processor—Pay special attention to the type of processor inside your laptop. Get the Intel mobile i-7.
  • RAM—Get at least 16GB of memory. You’ll need the extra headroom.
  • Screen size—Focus on laptops with 15 to 17 inch screens.
  • Multi-monitor—Having 2 to 3 USB connections will allow you to add portable USB monitors, giving you a multiple monitor computer.

If you are an investor just researching the latest fundamentals, using over-the-counter laptops will work fine for you. But, an ultrabook with an Intel i-5 processor isn’t going to work if you’re watching multiple charts and simultaneously viewing a live trading room.

Wherever You Go, May the Power Be With You

Whether desktop or laptop, you should never trade on an underpowered machine. Different jobs need different tools. Trading stocks with custom algos, trading futures with custom indicators, or forex with lightning-fast action requires different computing demands.

Both your desktop and laptop need to meet the minimum benchmark for trading. This benchmark is a requirement. It’s not optional. When your trading computer meets the minimum benchmark it means it’s capable of keeping up with the stream of market data in real time, regardless of news events in the market.

The last thing you need is slippage or missed execution because your computer can’t keep up.

By Markus Heitkoetter, Founder and CEO, Rockwell Trading

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