There is a lot of talk about the type of computer that is required to comfortably run a day trading operation. Much of this debate is based on the (false) idea that all stock market-related tasks do need considerable processing power.

You may be interested in getting your hands on a brand new computer and just using it for trading activities, but before doing so, you might wonder if your current PC or Laptop is enough for this new hobby.

Trading does not require an expensive PC or Laptop with lots of processing power. For most users, a computer with 16GB of ram, an 8-core Intel i5 or Ryzen comparable processor, and 512Gb of storage space is enough. In order to use multiple screens simultaneously, adding a GPU is recommended.

The only case in which more RAM and processing power is recommended is for traders that use data science and machine learning to create their signals and strategies.

I will go into further detail throughout the article, but the following table should be useful in helping you decide which computer is best for your specific needs.

SpecificationDay Trading BudgetDay Trading RecommendedAlgorithmic Trading
ProcessorIntel i5 6 coreIntel i5 8 coreIntel i7 8 core
Ram8Gb16Gb16Gb-32Gb
Graphics CardNONvidia 1650 Nvidia 1650ti and above
Hard DriveNONO1Tb
Solid State Drive256Gb512Gb512Gb

What type of computer do you need for day trading?

Placing orders on the platform of a broker is not inherently processing power-intensive, meaning that a mid-range desktop computer or laptop will suffice. If you don’t plan on using terabytes of tick-level data and applying machine learning techniques on top of it, any computer that can handle a regular workload for office tasks is good enough.

Having said that, day-traders and algorithmic traders oftentimes like to use multiple screens simultaneously. As a consequence, having a graphics processing unit (GPU) will be greatly beneficial.

Most day traders use their computers to analyze multiple charts at once and place orders through their broker of choice. Practitioners that do require a powerful and somewhat high-end computer are those that also do statistical analysis, backtests, and other related tasks. These traders normally also have a programming background and are comfortable with working with vast amounts of data.

As I previously said, dual and even triple monitor setups are not uncommon in the industry, which leads to needing a GPU. Having said that, a budget GPU like NVIDIA’s 1650ti is more than enough since it can handle 3 screens effortlessly.

Expensive cards are only necessary for machine learning-related tasks, but most traders do not apply such techniques.

Computer requirements for day-trading

A mid-range computer with 16GB of ram and an Intel or AMD processor with 8 cores should be more than enough for comfortably looking at multiple charts at once and placing orders smoothly. In fact, you could also use a cheaper computer, but some features could run slow when dealing with more resource-intensive tasks, like having a few big excel files open simultaneously.

Take Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation as an example: the developers state that only 8GB of ram and an Intel i5 processor are required to run it without any issues. Being a user of that software myself, I would recommend running it on a slightly better computer. TDAmeritrade’s thinkorswim does in fact recommend a 16Gb ram setup in their specs.

Regardless of the software that you end up using, I would still recommend buying a computer with 16Gb of RAM since the marginal cost is low, but the benefits in the overall user experience are noticeable.

Do you need a graphics card for day trading?

My Lenovo Legion 5 that I use for algorithmic trading. Currently being used to write this article.

A graphics card is not strictly required for trading purposes but greatly increases user experience. All mid-range computers are able to handle a dual-screen setup without any issues, although on most laptop computers, coolers will have a tendency to be working close to their capacity. Thus, a graphics card is optional but recommended for dual-screen trading desks.

When it comes to using 3 monitors simultaneously, a GPU will be required. An Nvidia 1650 will be more than enough for these cases. In fact, there are also versions of this GPU that allows for 4 monitors out of the box (Nvidia GTX 1650 Windforce OC 4G).

You can check out the laptop I’m currently using here. It features an Nvidia 3050ti graphics card, which is by most definitions definitively an exaggeration.

How good of a computer do you need for day trading?

If your regular workflow includes doing data analysis tasks, your computer will require greater processing capabilities. Unless constrained by the amount of data loaded in RAM, you would still be able to perform most of your data analysis work on a budget computer, but at the cost of having to wait for longer and not being able to quickly test and iterate your ideas.

Unless you are calculating simple ratios on small datasets, the overall usability of these apps will be heavily affected by the lack of resources on the computer.

Having said that, keep in mind that if you’re just getting started with trading and data analysis, you will most probably not be constrained by your computer’s capabilities but by your own currently rather limited skills. As a consequence, a budget desktop computer or laptop is also going to be enough to start learning and figure out if a more robust setup is justified for you.

Computer specifications for doing financial data analysis tasks

Since manipulating and transforming large amounts of data does indeed requires considerable computing power, you should definitely aim towards a computer with at least 16Gb of RAM, and an Intel i5 or Ryzen comparable processor with 8 cores.

If you also plan on training machine learning models in order to generate trading signals, you should also consider upgrading your GPU. An Nvidia 1650TI or its comparable AMD Radeon 5500XT graphics card will probably be enough for training quite deep neural networks. 

Since it is common practice to state the minimum requirements, I should state the specifications that I listed above do not really follow that convention. Instead, I try to provide a recommendation for a setup that you will enjoy using. Additionally, such a setup will be sufficient for years to come if you become proficient.

You might have noticed that the specifications are similar to the ones used in the gaming community. In fact, gaming and machine learning computers are identical and have identical requirements, in that processing capabilities and powerful graphics cards are essential.

Frequently asked questions

Which operating system is best for trading?

From left to right: Ubuntu (Linux Distro), macOS, Windows operating systems.

When it comes to day trading, you should stick to the operating system of your preference. The fact that most trading applications, like thinkorswim and TWS work on macOS, Windows, and Linux, leads to the choice of the operating system being irrelevant.

Which operating system is best for algorithmic trading?

When it comes to algorithmic trading, it is convenient to use UNIX-based operating systems such as macOS or Linux. 

This is due to the fact that most trading algorithms that get shipped to production are deployed to a cloud provider in order to benefit from their better reliability when it comes to internet connection and electricity outages. Most of these servers use a Linux distribution, meaning that you will have fewer compatibility issues if you also develop your code on a similar operating system.

Having said that, Windows is also an excellent choice for programming in general and algorithmic trading in particular. In fact, you can even install a popular Linux Bash Shell on Windows.

In most cases, you will not face any major compatibility issues, but you can still decide to stay on the safe side and use Docker in order to completely avoid these types of problems

Day Trading with a laptop

Although it is common to use desktop computers for day trading due to the number of monitors that they allow to connect simultaneously, there are excellent options for doing the same with laptops. A gaming laptop, such as a Lenovo Legion 5, coupled with a dual-screen system like the Mobile Pixels Trio or the Xebec Tri Screen are excellent choices for day traders that travel for a living.

Due to the fact that I tend to travel from time to time, I have opted for using a gaming computer and adding two additional screens by connecting it to a Mobile Pixels Trio. I only have good comments about this setup, since it is foldable and easily fits on any backpack (although duplicating the weight of your laptop). From the reviews I read, it is superior in quality to the Xebec Tri screen, but since I don’t own one, I can only vouch for the Mobile Pixels Trio.

Conclusion

Having gone through more than enough things to consider when deciding about which PC or Laptop is best for day trading, it is safe to conclude that any mid-range computer will comfortably exceed the requirements of most workflows.

As stated in other sections, day trading is not an especially taxing endeavor when it comes to computing capabilities, meaning that your current computers are likely to be enough to get you started. In fact, almost any recently up-to-date computer is going to be able to handle 2 monitors, and some budget graphic cards will be able to handle up to 4 screens.

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