A lot of new traders ask me:
“What is the best computer for trading Forex?”
That can be a tough question to answer because technology is constantly changing and any specific recommendations that I make today are probably going to be outdated by the end of the year.
The best computer for you will also depend on your individual needs.
So in this post, I'll give you the top 4 things to focus on when purchasing a trading computer. These characteristics will apply to all computers for the foreseeable future, so this guide will not go out of date any time soon.
I was in Information Technology (IT) for many years and I have worked on hundreds of desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices and servers from many different manufacturers.
Some of the companies that I worked for were very budget conscious, so I understand how to get the most value for every dollar spent on a computer.
What Will You Use Your Trading Computer For?
This is the first question that you have to ask yourself. When it comes to choosing the best computer for trading, there are two basic categories of trader.
- Normal trader
- Hardcore algorithmic trader
“Normal trader” refers to anyone who takes their trades manually or uses very simple trading robots. Most traders will fall into this category.
If you want to get into 100% automated trading, then you are in the second category. In my experience, only a very small proportion of traders (probably less than 1%) will be doing this type of trading.
Just dabbling in algo trading?
Then you should start in the normal trader category and take it from there because there's a very good chance that you won't continue with algo trading.
I'm not saying that you aren't smart enough to do it, you probably are. It's just that algo trading takes a much different mindset and most traders aren't comfortable with that type of trading.
The Short Answer
If you don't want to get into all of the specifics, then here's what to look for in a trading computer.
Algorithmic traders need a ton of horsepower because they need to backtest their trading strategies and they also need to be sure that their trades execute quickly.
So if you are absolutely sure that you will be doing 100% automated trading, then you should buy the most powerful computer you can afford.
Companies like Falcon make trading optimized computers for brokerages and hedge funds. If you are a little more adventurous, you can also build your own to save some money and get everything you want.
For the rest of us, this is all we really need:
- A computer made within the last 5 years
- At least 8GB of RAM
- Screen size is big enough to fit your charts, or the ability to attach a large external monitor(s)
- A hard drive that is large enough for your needs, 500GB is a good start. Get a SSD whenever possible.
This includes desktops, laptops and tablets.
If you need specifics, keep reading. The rest of this post is for normal traders, not hardcore algo traders. Here are the specs that you should look for, in order of importance.
1. Memory (RAM)
Assuming that you have a computer that was made in the last 5 years or so, the best way to speed up your computer is to max out the memory.
This upgrade is fairly inexpensive, so you should also consider doing it on your existing computer, instead of buying a new one.
When buying a new computer, look for at least 8GB of memory, but anything over 16GB is overkill.
Many manufacturers give you a ton of options that you can choose from and that's great. But if you are on a budget, then prioritize memory over everything else.
2. Storage (Hard Drive) Size and Type
Next, make sure that your hard drive is going to be large enough for your needs. If you are going to use your next computer only for trading and you are on a budget, then you can probably get away with a 250GB hard drive, as a bare minimum.
Of course, this depends on the trading programs that you run. Check the requirements of the software that you use.
However, if this will also be your primary personal computer or you don't want to stress about running out of hard drive space, then you will want to look for at least 500GB…the more, the better. You want to be sure that you have enough room to store your music, pictures and files.
More and more computers are coming with Solid State Drive (SSD) hard drives standard and all computers will eventually have them as the only option. But if you are faced with the choice between a SSD or a regular hard drive, choose the SDD.
It will probably be more expensive, but it's worth the extra cost. This is because old school hard drives have a lot of mechanical parts, which are naturally much slower. SSDs basically store information in chips and therefore it takes much less time to access your data.
The difference is quite noticeable. Everything from startup to your normal programs will be much snappier.
3. Screen Size
After considering your hard drive space and type, I would consider screen size.
Is it going to be big enough for your needs? If you only look at one chart at a time, then a 10″ screen or a tablet might be good enough for you.
You can also consider adding additional monitors, if you will be mostly trading at home. Just be sure that your graphics card can handle the extra monitors, or get an external graphics card to handle the extra load.
But if you only want to use one screen, then you should consider getting at least a 13″ screen on a laptop and a 24″ screen on a desktop. If you can, I would suggest at least a 32″ screen on your desktop.
The best way to figure out what is best for you is to go to the store and look at the different options. If possible, pull up Metatrader Web or TradingView to get an idea of how your charts will look on that monitor size and resolution.
Also make sure that the screen is bright enough and looks sharp. There is probably nothing more irritating than a blurry screen.
Here's my monitor setup.
4. Processor Power
Some people put this at the top of the list when choosing a computer, but in reality, it doesn't make that much of a difference. Computers with processors made in the last 5 years are going to be fast enough for almost all trading applications.
You don't need to get a top of the line processor, but get something that is near the top, for the device you are looking at. This will be different for desktops/laptops and mobile devices, so get familiar with the options.
The Gigahertz or GHz is essentially the speed of the processor. Higher is better, so get the larger GHz chip, if possible.
Same goes for the number of cores on a chip. The more cores, the better.
But again, if you are on a budget, prioritize memory, hard drive and screen size over processor power.
You can see the current list of Intel Core processors here.
Mac or PC?
This is a personal preference. However, as I have mentioned before, Macs are superior computers.
It all comes down to the Mac operating system, that is what makes Macs lower maintenance and easier to use. Microsoft is one of the only companies still in existence, that makes new software that is actually worse than the previous version.
I have saved countless hours in troubleshooting, since moving from Windows to Mac.
Some argue that Windows computers are cheaper and therefore a better value.
I would strongly disagree.
Yes, you might save quite a bit of money on the initial purchase of a PC versus a Mac. However, in the long run, you will waste a ton of time and possibly money, on repairs, virus issues, WiFi connectivity issues, finding drivers and other dumb stuff that comes standard with Windows ownership and hasn't really changed much since 2001.
So it's becomes a matter of how much your time (and sanity) is worth to you.
See my favorite trading computer here.
That being said, many trading software developers are slow to move away from Windows based software. So if you do want to go the Mac route, you will need to be aware that you may have to install some workarounds to run these Windows only programs.
You can read this blog post to learn how to run your favorite Windows-based trading software on a Mac.
What are Good PC Brands to Buy?
If you still want to go with a Windows computer, even after reading what I said above, then I would recommend buying a Dell.
In my opinion, they are the best value for the money.
There will be a few faulty models here and there, but that happens to any company. Overall, I've been very satisfied with the performance of Dell computers.
At one of my IT jobs, we used to buy used Dells by the dozens and they were great.
I currently own a Dell Venue 11 as my backup Windows computer.
Of all the major PC brands out there, I would suggest staying away from HP. Their hardware designs aren't as practical and they tend to break down more often than other brands. This may change at some point, but that has been my experience.
Android or iOS?
Here's where there's much less difference, at least in my opinion.
If you want to use a tablet as your primary trading computer, then I don't think that you can go wrong with either Android or iOS.
I personally like the simplicity of iOS, but Android is much more customizable, so I can certainly see the appeal in that. Try out both and see which one works best for you.
New or Used?
Another question that comes up is:
“Should I buy new or used?”
Well, that really depends on your budget. I prefer to buy my primary computers new. However, I buy all of my secondary computers used.
You can get some really good deals on used computers, if you take some time to look around. Sites like Craigslist or eBay are excellent places to find computers that are way under market value.
I once bought a used MacBook Pro 15 at a garage sale for $1.
It needed a new hard drive and was a little banged up on the outside, but it still worked and could have been a great primary computer. I just want to show you that the deals are out there, even if you are on a very tight budget.
My only issue with used computers is you never know what is broken until you actually start using it. This is fine if it's my secondary computer, but it really slows me down if a major issue comes up on my primary computer.
So again, it's just a personal preference.
If you can afford it, I would recommend buying a new computer because you get a warranty if there are any defects. But if you can't afford it, then buying a used computer for trading can be a great way to get a kick-ass computer at a bargain price.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Best Computer for Trading Forex
The latest advances in trading technology have made it very easy for people to trade from home, with off-the-shelf computers. You don't need a fancy top-of-the-line computer to be a successful trader.
It's better to buy something that is super affordable and spend the rest of your budget on your education. I find that the people who geek out about trading computers are usually the people who aren't working on their trading.
When in doubt, just pick something and go with it. You can always buy that fancy computer after you are makin' chedda.
It's a fun goal to work towards.
I hope that this guide has helped you pick the best computer for trading. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.
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