What’s the best processor for a trading computer?
A common question with lots of different answers depending on who you listen to.
My answer is… it depends (useful I know!).
What type of trader are you? Do you sit and watch one chart for hours on end?, or do you run 8 screens with multiple trading platforms, have lots of charts constantly being monitored, all whilst you play Candy Crush and catch up with the latest Netflix series?
What you need is what works best for you as a trader, there is no one size fits all approach.
That doesn’t mean that the process of deciding what you need has to be a nightmare though, far from it, you should be able to look at your requirements, compare different options and then make your right choice.
Based on that idea, we have put together this article which is our CPU / processor mega test.
We have bench-marked the latest Intel processors in a wide range of tests which show not only their raw performance levels but also how that will actually impact your trading software.
As new processors are released we will keep this mega test updated so you can be sure that it will always provide the latest and greatest advice on which is the best CPU for trading.
Test System and Methodology
Our testing computer hardware for all the tests below is exactly the same, the only changes are processors and motherboards.
Different CPU series require different motherboards, for the 7th generation Kaby Lake chips we use the Asus Z270-P motherboards. The 8th generation Coffee Lake tests use the Asus Z370-P motherboard, Intel Skylake X tests use the MSI X299 Raider motherboard, and the 9th generation Coffee Lake Refresh chips are on a brand new Asus Z390-P board.
All other hardware remains identical across the tests, this includes: 16GB 2,666Mhz Crucial RAM, 240GB Kingston Solid State Hard Drive, nVidia GT1030 2GB Graphics Card, BeQuiet 600w Power Supply, Antec 302 Case, Arctic Freezer CPU Cooler.
In terms of software we used the following: Windows 10 Home Edition, Google Chrome v59, Handbrake 1.07 (64-Bit).
Each test was repeated 3 times and the average of the 3 results was used as the final reported score. This irons out any freak results that may occur and gives a clear insight into average performance levels.
Chart Colour Key
To make identifying results a bit easier I have colour coded the charts below as follows:
- Blue = Intel 7th Generation Kaby Lake Chips
- Green = Intel 8th Generation Coffee Lake Chips
- Orange = Intel Skylake X ‘Enthusiast’ Processors
- Red = Intel 9th Generation Coffee Lake Refresh Chips
Web Browser Tests
The first set of tests are web browser tests, these are what we use as proxies for trading software.
The browser tests run a series of simulations replicating processes that many web based trading software applications use as part of their background code, this makes them a great proxy for benchmarking how a particular computer will run a web based trading platform.
Other, none web based trading platforms, like MetaTrader 4 for example, also take data feeds in and perform manipulations on them to create the charts and numbers that you see, so again, these would mirror the type of functions that these browser suites use to benchmark performance.
Our first test is the JetStream test which runs a number of simulations and calculations typical to a modern web application, all your web based trading platforms will use very similar workloads to this.
Interestingly we can immediately see that the Skylake X chips don’t perform very well here, these are touted by Intel as ‘Enthusiast’ processors and there are tons of articles online recommending them (or previous generations of them) as perfect for a trading computer, well this test seems to disprove that straight away.
Interestingly the new 9th generation chips all top the charts here, even the new i5 processor manages to defeat the previously all conquering i7 8700K despite being a much lower cost chip.
The i7 9700K and the i9 9900K are very close together with only 0.62% splitting them.
While the i3’s are towards the bottom of the listings, they still both beat out the 8 core 7820X despite costing 5 times less…
Google’s Octane browser test is similar to the JetStream one in that it tests workloads similar to what many web applications use, great for comparing to web trading platforms.
A similar pattern occurs here backing up the JetStream test, the Skylake X (high processor core) chips struggle to get near the performance of the mainstream 7th, 8th and 9th generation processors.
Again the i5 9600K beats all the 7th and 8th generation i7’s and the 9700K and 9900K are split by a tiny margin.
The final test in our web browser series uses the WebXPRT suite, this is a bit different in that it places more of an emphasis on the visual side of things, it renders some 3D images, produces charts and graphs and lots of data tables.
The first thing we see is that the Skylake X chips perform better here but still don’t reach the performance levels of the i5’s, i7’s or i9’s from the 7th, 9th or 9th generation series.
These Skylake X chips are not cost effective for any kind of standard trading software platforms.
The three 9th generation chips come out on top again but interesting the i7 just pips the i9 here.
Taking all three of these web tests into account the best value for money is definitely the new 9th generation i5 9600K, it beats our all previous i7’s and below by a decent margin.
At the top end there is virtually nothing to choose between the i7 9700K and the i9 9900K.
Let’s now move into some CPU tests to dig down into the raw performance levels of each chip to see if this shows anything interesting.
CPU Intensive Tests
Our PassMark testing suite has a number of processor tests which aim to clearly identify the strengths of a particular CPU, looking at these tests will give us more of an insight into the specific differences between each of the test processors.
Our first test is the overall score given for each CPU, it is determined by a number of sub tests for processor intensive workloads running directly on the PC. These sub tests include things like number sorting algorithms, calculating prime numbers and encryption workloads.
In a bit of a reverse from the web tests, the Skylake X chips do better and the i9 7900X is rated as top with a 3.6% lead over the i9 9900K.
Also worth noting is the bigger gap between the 9900K and the 9700K and the fact that the i7 8700K comes in stronger than the i5 9600K despite losing out to it in all the three web tests.
On the other end of the scale the i7 7100 really lags behind the rest, the newer 8100 (a direct replacement from the Kaby Lake 7th generation to the Coffee Lake 8th generation) offers an almost 40% performance jump, that’s a massive leap.
Let’s now dig down a little into these CPU tests to see what is helping towards some of these big scores.
This is one of the sub-tests of the previous CPU benchmark, it looks at how fast each CPU is at processing one set of instructions, ignoring multi-tasking performance.
The results here give you an idea of the raw speed of each processor when single-tasking, it’s a good metric to gauge relative performance.
Here we see the i5 9600K just edging out the i7 8700K, it’s raw speed is faster which is why it performs better on the 3 web tests as they do not utilise any multi-core / multi-tasking capabilities of the CPU.
Again the 9th gen i7 and i9’s jump ahead here offering the fastest single core speed we have ever seen.
The Skylake X chips lag again so something else must be propping up those big differences in the first CPU test above.
To measure the multi-tasking performance of a CPU we use a program called Handbrake. Technically it’s a program which converts one video format to another, something which is massively processor intensive.
Handbrake will scale up and use as many processing cores that are available, extra processing cores help spread workloads on a CPU.
So this chart shows the number of video frames Handbrake could process per second when performing the same conversion job on each processor, the higher the number the better.
We can quickly see that this area of performance is where there is real differentiation between the chips.
The i9 7900X with it’s 10 cores and hyperthreading win this round, it only beats out the 9900K by just over 8% yet it costs almost twice the price, taking that into account the 9900K is looking pretty good value.
The dual core i3 7100 lags massively behind the field here, all the rest of the chips have at least 4 cores and it shows.
All the 7th generation chips struggle here with their lower core counts, multi-threaded performance is where Intel has focused with it’s last two chip releases and this proves it.
So, what can we learn overall from these CPU tests?
In terms of multi-tasking performance levels, in particular for software that can scale to use lots of processor cores (multi-threaded software), the Skylake X chips are strong however the i9 9900K is also a top performer here despite being half the price of the 7900X CPU.
For raw performance for software that isn’t multi-threaded (most web apps and the majority of desktop based trading software) then the 9700K and the 9900K are the strongest options.
Also, the i5 9600K is looking like a really strong chip at a great price point offering faster performance in single-threaded workloads than the i7 8700K which was the fastest thing we had ever seen before the 9th gen release.
2D and 3D Graphics Tests
Moving on to your system graphics, how do these processor changes affect the performance of your graphics engine?
Remember that the graphics card used is identical throughout all these tests.
For trading purposes, the 2D performance of a computer is the most important aspect of the graphics setup, all your charts and trading interfaces are powered by the 2D graphics engine on your graphics card.
You’d assume that having the same graphics card in all the systems would result in the 2D performance being the same across all chips, that’s not the case though.
It seems like the processor does have some impact on the results of this test, although the impact is not too pronounced.
Again, the Skylake X chips perform the worst, this could be down to the different system architecture of their motherboards perhaps.
The i7 7700K tops the sheets here followed by the 9700K and then the i5’s.
For some unknown reason the 8100 system did not like this test, again it’s hard to say why this result was so bad. Digging into it all of the 3 repeated tests were in the same range so it wasn’t just a freak result.
Overall, apart from this 8100 result, the rest follow roughly a similar pattern of improving with CPU performance levels for the Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake processors.
The 3D graphics test is an important test for gamers, or anyone creating / working with 3D models such as CAD engineers.
In terms of trading software, it is much quicker to draw a chart with lines and vector shapes than rendering them in 3 dimensions.
Due to this all trading software uses these simple 2D shapes to represent data to you, meaning that on the whole, the impact of 3D performance is non-existent on how fast your trading software will actually run.
That being said, it’s still worth our time to see if these processors impact 3D graphical performance as you may have other software which makes use of it.
Looking at the results we can instantly see that there is no impact on these when switching from one CPU to another.
The spread between the best and worst result is less than 1%.
RAM & Hard Drive Tests
In your trading computer there are two types of storage, short term storage is where your open programs, files and charts live which is called RAM.
The second type is your hard drive and this is where your files and programs are stored over the long term, this persists when your computer is powered off, RAM is wiped clean on a system restart.
The speed at which your computer can read and write items into RAM will have some impact on your systems responsiveness, does a change in processor affect this?
To be 100% clear, all RAM is very fast now a days, it is rarely a system bottleneck, so this metric is not as important as some.
That being said, we can see that the speed at which your RAM is accessed does tend to improve as we step up the processor series in the Kaby and Coffee lake chips.
Again, the Skylake X systems perform badly here, at a guess I’d say maybe the motherboards for these chips have more of an impact than the processors themselves.
In terms of impact on an overall systems performance the hard drive is sometimes mis-understood.
Moving from an older ‘traditional style’ drive with a spinning disk to a newer solid state drive can have a massive impact on how responsive a computer feels, the quicker the drive can read and write data the faster things like booting up a PC and opening programs happens.
Once a program or file is open and has been transferred into RAM, then the speed of the drive has no impact on how fast your trading computer will run.
So a faster drive can make your system feel more responsive at times but it’s not going to impact how fast your trading software runs once it’s open and in use.
Also, I should say, that after numerous benchmark tests, this hard drive test is the most unpredictable of them all. We can repeat a test 3 times on the exact same system and get three (sometimes wildly) different results.
Strangely the three new 9th generation processors all had bad tests here, it is more likely a driver issue rather than anything else but it is a bit of a strange result really.
Performance Test Overall System Score
Our Performance Test suite of tools gives out a final system score based on all of the tests combined, this is made up from the CPU, RAM, Disk, 2D & 3D graphics performance tests.
As you’d probably expect by now, the results for the standard series of improvements for the Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake chips.
The i7 8700K comes out on top here but that is solely due to those three bad hard drive tests, take these out of the mix and the 9900K comes out in first place, closely followed by the 9700K, the 9600K comes in 3rd place.
The Skylake X processors come out well but where would they be without those big multi-tasking CPU test results?
So, you’re looking to spec out a new trading computer and want to work out which is the best processor for trading?
Based on your trading habits I would propose the following as good places to start:
Scenario 1 – Cheapest Possible Trading Computer Running A Simple Web Based Charting Platform:
I’d say that a processor like the i3 7100 is suitable for this job. The Web Browser tests which simulate trading web applications show that it offers good results that are comparable or better even than the newer i3 8100.
If you were looking to run a lot of charts simultaneously and / or wanted to do a bit more on the computer then I’d say the i3 8350K is a good option.
Going a step further than this then you may as well jump straight to the i5 9600K as it should come in around the cost of the 8600K but offers far better performance.
It will give you a good performance boost with your trading platforms and gives the system greater multi-tasking performance.
Scenario 2 – Good Trading Computer For Use With Multiple Trading Platforms
I think there are two routes to go here, if you can find an i5 8600K system, or even an older i7 7700K at a cheap price then these are good enough to handle a few trading platforms.
The other option is to simply go for the new i5 9600K CPU, this is a really strong processor and would be a better choice for traders over any 8th generation chips, even the i7 8700K.
Scenario 3 – The Fastest Trading Computer Possible For Use With Multiple Standard Trading Platforms
If you want the absolute fastest processor possible then go for the i9 9900K, it just about edges the i7 9700K in the relevant tests for desktop trading platform performance.
Saying that the 9700K is lower cost and offers pretty similar performance for these workloads so is better value.
Scenario 4 – The Fastest Trading Computer Possible For Use With Multi-Threaded Trading Software
Some back-testing trading software will utilise the extra CPU cores available on a system to improve performance levels, we will put together a guide to these shortly.
Like the Handbrake test above, if (and it’s a big IF) you know you have some multi-threaded software that you want the best performance on then go for the Skylake X chips with 10 or more cores.
They are experts at powering through these kind of workloads.
If you want both strong multi-threaded performance and best in class single threaded performance then the i9 9900K is the chip for you, it’s half the price of a i9 7900X and can almost keep pace with it in multi-threaded workloads.
The i9 9900K crushes the 7900X and all Skylake X chips in raw speed though so it makes a lot of sense for people wanting the best of both worlds.
That brings to a close our CPU mega test, hopefully you can see the strengths and weaknesses of the various chips on test and how they might affect your new trading computers performance?
If you have any further questions or comments just let me know.
Thanks for reading!