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Trading Computer Buyers Guide (Summer 2020)

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Best Trading Computer Configuration Summer 2020

For TradeStation, ThinkorSwim, NinjaTrader, MultiCharts, InteractiveBrokers

Posted August 28, 2020

orbital trading computer

 
Who we are: Orbital Computers LLC, founded in 2013, is a high performance professional workstation manufacturer that specializes in highend desktop and laptop PCs built specifically for traders, as well as other professional engineering applications. All our systems are built and supported entirely in-house from our Mukilteo WA USA facility. We test our hardware with common trading applications including TradeStation, ThinkorSwimMultiCharts, Ninjatrader and more to ensure our customers are receiving PCs directly tailored to those trading platforms to operate at peak performance.
 
What’s the best stock trading computer configuration available for the majority of retail trading platforms as of Summer 2020?
 
This post will cover all the important aspects of what makes a solid trading PC for most trading platforms. Importantly, what it will not cover, is what makes the best Backtesting/Strategy Development PC as those hardware requirements can vary dramatically with the specific backtesting engine being used – if you have questions on backtesting PCs, send us an email with all the details and we will recommend the best system possible for your unique situation.
 
CPU:
The CPU selection is by far the most important aspect of a high performance trading PC. CPUs are made up of a certain number of Cores (think of these like lanes on a freeway), and every modern CPU has a set Operating Frequency, a value given in GHz (think of this like the speed limit on a freeway). You’ll see CPU specs listed in such a fashion: Intel Core i9 10900K – 10 Cores, 20 Threads, 5.3 GHz Max Turbo. CPU performance can be split into two general categories – single-threaded performance and multi-threaded performance. Without making this post excessively technical, the majority of trading platforms are primarily single-threaded, meaning they will only use one or a few CPU cores at a time. Even if your CPU had 100 cores, most platforms will only utilize a few of those cores to their full potential. The way to speed up most trading tasks is to maximize the GHz value of the CPU – that will provide the most direct path to improve trading performance. As raw market data comes through your internet connection and into your PC, the CPU performs calculations on the data to generate charts, indicators, and to generally convert the raw market data into useful information upon which you can base your trading decisions. The important thing to keep in mind here is that this task can only make use of a certain number of CPU cores. In our testing, we’ve found 8-10 cores to be the practical limit for most trading platforms. Beyond that, the absolute most important way to speed this processing up is to have the highest GHz value possible on the CPU.
 
Think back to our freeway example. If your goal is to maximize traffic throughput on a given stretch of freeway, you might have two ways to accomplish that: 1 – increase the number of lanes on the freeway, 2 – increase the speed limit. When it comes to trading performance, option number 1 is only helpful to a certain extent. Because most trading platforms don’t use an unlimited number of CPU cores, traffic can only be improved to a certain extent by adding additional CPU cores (lanes). In our testing, 8-10 cores is the practical limit where adding additional cores doesn’t offer any improvement to performance. Option 2 is by far the best way to improve trading performance – increase the speed limit (GHz value). Think of trading like being on a freeway with only a few other cars on the road at the same time. If you’re goal is to get through that stretch of road as fast as possible, the best way to do it is to drive at the highest speed possible (hypothetically, of course). Adding more lanes won’t improve your trip time because the current number of lanes aren’t being fully utilized anyways.
 
Alright, so now that we have established that the CPU is the most important component for a trading PC, and we’ve developed a decent understanding of what aspects of CPU performance are most important, let’s talk about some specific CPU options.
When it comes to maximizing single-threaded performance (directly related to maximizing GHz value), we have two primary options to choose from: Intel based systems and AMD based systems. The short answer is Intel is the clear winner over AMD when it comes to single-thread performance, as of Summer 2020 (see benchmark data below). The 3 primary Intel CPUs we use and recommend for trading are the Intel Core i7 10700 8 Core 4.8 GHz Max Turbo, 10700K 8 Core 5.1 GHz Max Turbo, and i9 10900K 10 Core 5.3 GHz Turbo (the absolute fastest trading CPU available). The 10700 is found on our Trader X1000 and X1000 Bundle systems. It offers near top of the line single-thread performance for a very affordable price. The two best options, if budget allows, are the 10700K and 10900K with a max turbo speed of up to 5.3 GHz, as found on the Silenced X2000. That 10900K at 5.3 GHz is the current record holder for fastest single-thread performance of any CPU available, even including CPUs many thousands of dollars more expensive.
 
So why are others recommending AMD processors?

It’s a pretty simple answer – lack of understanding of how trading platforms interact with the hardware, and easy marketing. It’s easy to say a 12 core CPU is faster than an 8 core CPU; it only makes logical sense to most people – more cores = more speed. But when you get down into the details and check the benchmarks, higher single-thread performance will beat higher core counts for trading purposes.

Check out this current screenshot of CPU Benchmarks, sorted by single-thread performance. Right now, the 10900K is the fastest unit available and even the lower cost 10700 is faster than the most expensive AMD processor. AMD processors have their merits for great price/performance ratio with heavily multi-threaded tasks, but for trading, a modern 10th gen Intel CPU with proper cooling is by far the best option.
 

orbital trading computer

 
 
RAM:
After the CPU is decided on, RAM becomes the next most important component. In short, the more data you have running on your trading PC in the form of charts you’re watching, indicators, shorter refresh timeframes (down to a tick by tick update), browser windows open, etc., the greater your RAM/Memory requirements are. From our in-house testing with most platforms, you want to spec out roughly 4-6 GB RAM per 24-27” monitor being actively used for trading. That means for an active day trader with a 4x 24” monitor setup, you’ll want to run about 16-24GB of RAM for optimal performance. The important consideration for RAM is that you only need ‘enough’ RAM and having excessive amount of RAM won’t improve performance (it won’t hurt it either, it’s just a waste of your money). You only need to have enough RAM such that your programs and Operating System never exceed the amount currently installed – as long as that’s taken care of, your memory system will run well. If you run out of RAM, the data will spill over onto the storage device (SSD/HDD) and that process will be roughly 1/10th to 1/20th the speed of using system RAM – something you definitely want to avoid!

Perhaps more importantly, is RAM quality and compatibility. For the last few years, we’ve started seeing more and more RAM manufacturers becoming extra picky when it comes to motherboard/CPU/BIOS version compatibility. At Orbital, we currently have a handful of set RAM models that we use with our systems that we’ve tested extensively to ensure unyielding compatibility and stability. If you’re planning on building your own PC, be sure to cross reference the memory chips model and version number with the motherboard’s BIOS version and the motherboard vendors Qualified Vendor List for memory they tested to help improve stability/compatibility. Every trading computer we build goes through multiple passes of Memory Stress Testing to guarantee system stability and improve the RAM’s lifespan.
 
A word about memory frequency: After spending multiple paragraphs going on and on about how critical CPU frequency is to trading performance, it’s amazing how little impact Memory frequency has on trading speed. It’s really attractive to try and run the fastest memory frequencies available, but it comes with huge risks – the higher the frequency, the less stable the RAM can be. Intel rates their CPUs at a given memory frequency, which is the speed that Intel guarantees the CPU/RAM will be stable at. For the 10th gen processors, that’s around 2933 MHz. There are RAM chips available at 3600 MHz or even much higher currently. There’s almost no extra performance to be gained by running the RAM at extremely high frequencies and it comes with the risk of decreased stability. If customers want max RAM frequency, we are happy to build out the system with higher speed RAM, usually at no extra cost, but it comes with a heads up from the start that those speeds aren’t officially certified and it may not be the best idea.
 
Video Card:
 
The most important feature of a trading video card is that it supports the required number of screens. Trading isn’t tremendously GPU-intensive, it basically uses the GPU to display all the chart data that the CPU/RAM system processed. You’ll find GPU usage increases as you move your cursor around the charts, but GPU performance is far from the most important aspect of a stock trading computer. We like using GPUs from Nvidia’s Quadro line of products as they offer lots of display outputs in a small, power efficient form factor, and provide plenty of power for most trading purposes. The Quadro line of products is Nvidia’s professional product line which is separate from their GeForce GPUs that are designed primarily for gaming purposes. We’ve seen vastly improved reliability and stability with Quadros over GeForce over the long term. GeForce cards do have their merits for other workloads where they can offer excellent price/performance, but for trading, Quadros are our preferred GPUs for most configurations.
 
The two best monitor connections available today are Display Port (or Mini DP) and HDMI. Both options can support up to 4K resolution with max picture quality.
 
Storage:
 
Solid State Drives, or SSDs are mandatory for trading purposes in 2020. This is where your Operating System and all your programs are installed. Normal traditional hard drives can transfer data around 100-150 MB per second, a normal Solid State Drive can transfer around 500-500 MBps. The Samsung 970 Evo Plus models we recommend can run about 3500 MBps. Small file access latency is also greatly improved on the 970 Evos compared to other storage devices. Over the last nearly 8 years of using SSDs from just about every major brand out there, the Samsung units have proven to be at the top of the list of our most reliable components. They refuse to fail and that’s a critical aspect to building a highly stable trading PC.
 

orbital trading computer

Cooling and Power:
 
This section merits an entire series of posts on its own due to how overlooked these supporting components are in this industry. The reality is most customers don’t call and immediately ask what CPU cooler or power supply are we using – most people are interested in the exciting stuff like the CPU. But these components are absolutely critical to ensuring stable operation and peak performance. High performance CPUs generate a lot of heat and they need to be cooled off properly. Modern Intel and AMD CPUs are generally allowed to run up to about 100 *C. As the CPU temp nears its thermal limits, modern processors are designed to throttle performance down by decreasing the operating frequency automatically in the background to slow the number of operations the CPU is conducting and thus lower its temp to an acceptable limit. The problem with the way many other companies put together their PCs is they focus all the attention and budget on the high spec CPU and then attach a low performance or integrated CPU cooler that can’t keep up with all that CPU performance so it begins to throttle under heavy load. That’s something that we want to avoid at all costs because not only does it waste performance, but running the CPU at its peak temps for extended periods of time decreases its lifespan and causes the CPU fan to run at full speed, which is why most competitor systems are so noisy.
 
 
Orbital trading computers are designed with the highest quality Austrian Noctua CPU coolers that have precision machined aluminum heatsinks mated directly to the CPU with the top performing Noctua fans attached to the heatsink. The result is a CPU cooler that ensure the CPU can never reach its thermal limits, even when being run at 100% load for days on end. They also enable the system to run nearly inaudibly at all times, even under extreme load, and prevent thermal throttling from ever occurring.
 
Air cooling Vs Liquid Cooling for a trading PC:
 
In short, Orbital recommends high-end air cooling from a top brand like Noctua over water cooling, except in cases where the CPU TDP is high end to mandate water cooling (like on the 10900K, or 10980XE). The primary design philosophy for Orbital trading computers is Stability First. Achieving maximum stability involves eliminating as many potential points of failure as possible. With a high-end air cooler, you only have 1 moving part – the CPU Cooler fan. The units we use are all from Noctua and come with a 6 year warranty. As of the writing of this piece in Summer 2020, since we started using Noctua fans in 2013, we have not had a report of a single Noctua fan failing on a customer system, nor has a single Noctua fan shown up DOA. Liquid cooling is only recommended in cases where the CPU requires it to stay well below 85*C, like on the unlocked i9 processors. In those cases, we use the most reliable water coolers available from Corsair and while they have an excellent long term track record of reliability, theoretically, no water cooler will be as reliable as a Noctua air cooler. You have a water block/water pump with moving parts in it, radiator tubing, a radiator, and 2 CPU cooler fans. The units are actively powered by USB and Sata power connections. In total, it’s a much more complex device with far more moving parts and potential points of failure. In some cases, it’s required to use a water cooler to keep the temps under control, but if you can accomplish that with a high performance air cooler, that is a more preferable option.
 
Power Supplies:
 
The power supply converts AC power from your wall (i.e. your battery backup/UPS!) into DC that your PC can use. Without a functioning power supply, your trading PC won’t work, so it’s an area where I strongly suggest not cutting corners. All Orbital trading PCs are configurable with an 80 Plus Gold certified, fully modular power supply with a 7-10 year warranty. Top of the line brands we use are Corsair, Seasonic, Thermaltake and EVGA. Power supply efficiency generally peaks around 50% of its rated load, so for most of the configurations discussed here, a highend PSU around 650-850 watts is ideal. Our upgraded PSU option allows us to configure the correct PSU wattage around the rest of your configuration and can be specified to be overbuilt to handle future upgrades you may want to make.
 

We’ll be following up on this series in the coming weeks with another post on the best monitor setup for traders and it’ll be a dense one! For now, if you’re looking to configure a stable trading computer, please see our options below or contact us here for a free personalized build consultation. 

 

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