Choosing the Right Laptop for Trading
It can be confusing when we go out there looking for the right laptop that is suitable for daytrading. I am going to point out several features that are more important for daytrading purpose.
Update: For those of you interested in buying a new Desktop computer, you can check out Choosing the Right Computer for Trading
32-bit vs 64-bit CPU
Go with 64-bit CPU.
32-bit ones are outdated and will not save you a lot of money unless you are going for a 2nd hand model.
Multiple Core vs Raw Speed
Both are driving factors of higher price. For better performance to work with trading applications, however, focus on multiple core.
In short, if you can afford it, quad (or more) core with top speed. Next, quad core with average speed.
More economic models that still work fine are those with dual core and average speed.
Do not waste money on models with dual core at top speed because the extra amount of money is better spent on RAM.
The reason to go with more core is that some applications, especially those order placement software that are written in Java are CPU hoggers. The most famous ones are the ones from Interactive Brokers (TWS) and JTrader offered by many brokerages.
Those brokerage firms that spend more R&D dollars on their order placement software like MB Trading do not have this issue in general.
How Much RAM is Enough?
In 32-bit world, 3 Gig RAM is the max under Windows. No point in adding more RAM than that.
In 64-bit world, you want 4 Gig RAM as a minimum for a trading computer. The reason is that you are likely going to run multiple applications like a browser, the charting application, the order placement software, etc. etc.
Each 32-bit applications can use its share of 2G to 3G RAM happily without performance impact when your computer can take them all without depending too much on virtual memory (which run off your hard drive). For example, if your charting application needs 1G RAM while your order placement software needs another 1G, then having 4G of RAM will give your computer enough room for the operating system (i.e. Microsoft Windows) and the browsers.
If you are going to use 64-bit applications for trading, you need to be aware that the OS may not be able to control the amount of memory the application is going to request for, thus you are running the risk of overwhelming your computer in case you pushed the usage a bit further than your computer can handle.
Remember to check for extra expansion slot going beyond 4G RAM. In case you would like to do a bit more in real-time while you are trading, you may want to double the amount of RAM from 4G to 8G. Having that option available is always a good thing.
Operating System 32-bit vs 64-bit and WinXP vs Win7
If you plan to use Windows XP, stays with 32-bit OS and 32-bit CPU. WinXP 64-bit is not a functional OS. It is not supported by Microsoft and its drivers are not updated. You are asking for trouble to install that onto a laptop.
If you are ready to move onto 64-bit CPU, then go with Windows 7. Windows 7 is ready in almost every way for heavy duty usage thus you will be much happier down the road once you get used to its newer user interface.
The Networking Component
Wireless with N networking is pretty much the standard. But some laptops choose to drop the Ethernet cable connector, that is not a good idea for a laptop dedicated for trading. When you have a good laptop and that you plan to do trading on the computer at, say, your vacation home. You would still want to plug the laptop into the router directly because real money is on the line.
Battery Life vs Compatibility with External Battery Pack
Do not waste extra money on models with super long life battery pack.
Why? The cost does not justify and the battery pack designed for the particular laptop will not be usable on your next laptop anyway.
If you need extra run time on the go, look for 3rd party external battery packs that can boost the laptop usage by 4 hours or more. Worst case you just need 2 of those packs for one full trading day.
These external battery packs are also good for running an extra LCD panel so that you get more screen spaces. We traders always like a bit more screen spaces, aren’t we?