Trading computers – Pentium 4 3G HyperThreading vs Core 2 Q6600 Quad-Core

When my trusted trading computer started to report 70% CPU load at the end of last year, I know it is time to shop for a new computer. Afterall, my computer, a Pentium 4 3G Hyperthreading machine, worked very well for several years. Maybe it is time to invest into faster and better technology, so I started my journey to shop for a new computer.

My kind of workload on a trading computer

I am not a typical trader who tracks a limited number of symbols. I track around 1000 symbols in real-time, even though I trade only a few. Primarily I trade the index futures, sometimes currencies, that’s about it. All the rest of the symbols I track are the stock components of the index futures and I generate more than 200 real-time custom breadth data among these symbols using NeoTicker. Some breadth data are my trusted signal generators, the others are part of my research.

The data service I use is eSignal. I am willing to try other data services, if there is one that can fit my need and can help me push the envelope further, I will switch to that data source – no question asked.

I usually have more than 10 charts opened all the time in multiple groups. I also have special calculations done in dynamic tables for my reference during the day. Being able to draw a lot of trendlines, etc. is very important to me.

I use XTrader from Trading Technologies for my order placement running on the same computer. Although NeoTicker cannot connect to that for now, it would be nice if I can do that in the near future.

At the end of each trading day, I am pushing 2G of RAM usage by NeoTicker alone, all the time.

To upgrade or buy a new one

My first intention was to upgrade the original computer with a faster CPU, like the Pentium 4 3.2G HT, which is the fastest processor I can fit into my computer.

Then I figured that with only 0.2G speed improvement, I will not be able to solve my 70%+ CPU load problem. Besides, I know new generation computers are using much faster hard disk and graphic cards. I checked out the pricing of the newer computers and finally decided to move onto a more reasonable approach – getting a new computer.

Confusion and more confusion

I was totally confused when I see the latest models of computers coming with Core 2 technology are like 2.2G to 2.6G in speed. Last time I tried to buy a computer, aren’t they pushing 4G in speed already?

Then, I learnt that with the newer Core 2 technology from Intel (and similar new design from AMD), you do not need a CPU that is faster to get more things done. Confusing, isn’t it?

In short, the newer CPUs take fewer cycles to complete the same task comparing to the old Pentium 4.

Using the analogy of car engine – a better designed engine can deliver more real horse power than just making the engine bigger that burns more fuel.

More is better

Since NeoTicker is heavily threaded, in theory, more CPUs can bring out more of its power. In reality, however, I have not tried that myself. I think we are the first trading software company that actually pay attention in making software that really works on dual CPUs. Now, we have newer computers with 4, or even 8 CPUs. It is very tempting to get a Quad Core computer just to see what kind of performance difference it can make.

The result

My new computer reports at most 20% CPU load during the opening hour and the closing hour. I draw a lot of trendlines, etc. during the day and it all goes smoothly. With the old computer, drawing trendlines can be slow and jerky when the market activities are intense. Nothing like that happens on the new computer.

In short, I am not disappointed in the the new computer at all. Mission accomplished!

My conclusion

If you dedicate a computer for trading and is in a situation like mine that your computer was bought several years ago and that it is showing signs of being overloaded, it is time for you to shop for a new computer. There is no need to go all out buying top of the line model. A mid-range level computer would do the job just fine for several years.

I am not an advocate for Intel only computers, if you can get a similar setup with AMD CPUs, I think you can get similar performance gain just like mine.

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