If your trading platform seems sluggish, it’s sometimes tough to know what’s causing it. It might be competing programs on your computer, or you’re opening too many charts and asking too much for the computer to run it. Closing other apps and/or reducing the number of charts you’re using may help. You can sometimes tell if you’ve overloaded your computer by bringing up the Performance tab in Windows’ Task Manager (google that to find more info on how to use it). *
Note that if you’re seeing unusual slowness when you know it has performed well in the past with the same windows open, then it’s not likely the number of windows that’s limiting you. It may be your network.
Is it My Network?
To determine if your internet might be too slow, you can use a speed check site to determine the current speeds you’re getting. A simple and informative one is fast.com.
Fast.com will give you a simple result that just shows your download speed in terms of megaBITS per second (not megaBYTES). Mbps is megabits per second, MBbs is megabytes per second. In terms of transmissions, it works out that a bit is about one tenth of a byte, so you can divide the Mbps value by 10 to get the expected MBps value. But most people refer to the Mbits per sec when talking internet speed – they sound better. The result below shows a 100 Mbps download speed, which is about 10 megabytes per second. That’s faster than about 95% of other internet users as of 2020.
To know how much speed you need, you can google “what download speed do i need” for more information. You’ll likely see articles about how much speed is needed to support ultra high def television transmissions – they’re currently a big consumer of internet data, as they require 4x the bandwidth of a regular HD signal. If you don’t have UHD TVs, you may be ok with a much smaller amount than 100 – perhaps even 10 Mbps is ok – though you’ll wait longer for big downloads. More is preferred. 30 or so minimum may be more comfortable, and of course, if you’re competing with others in your household, you’ll need more total bandwidth to keep everyone happy. If you’ve got multiple UHD TVs running UHD broadcasts on Netflix simultaneously in your household, you’re likely going to need a lot more download speed than you’d need just for trading.
Latency is Key
But download speed isn’t the only thing that affects your computer’s performance when it comes to trading. An equally important measure is how responsive your internet connection is. That is, how fast is it responding to your computer’s requests for more info. This is known as Latency. Latency is how long it takes a packet of information to travel from your computer, to the server on the internet, and back to your computer. So it’s measuring the round trip transmission time of one piece of information. This is important in trading, as your platform requests data and the faster it gets a response, the faster it will respond with updates – which could be critical in order handling. In fact, a 20 Mbps connection may seem to run much better than a 100 Mbps connection if latency isn’t low on the faster connection.
You can view your latency values on fast.com by clicking on the Show more info button on the Fast.com results page. When you click it, you’ll see more details, as shown here:
Now we can see 3 more pieces of information about your connecton. To the right is your upload speed. That’s typically a fraction of what your download speed is. Bigger is better if you’re uploading lots of data, but most people use uploading much less than downloading, and lower is generally ok for uploading. To get a higher upload speed, you’ll probably have to shell out a lot more money per month to get a business internet connection, and it’s not needed for trading in most cases. ( I’ve run the live trading room, broadcasting my screen at less than 10 Mbps upload speeds, so it’s really not a big issue.)
The more important numbers here are the Latency numbers. There are two listed: Unloaded and Loaded. The unloaded number represents how long it takes to send and receive a single packet of data from your server (e.g. TradeStation’s or thinkorswim’s servers) when you’re not using the internet for downloading anything else. Loaded gauges how it performs when your internet connection is being used elsewhere. I believe fast.com actually makes a connection to Netflix and simulates playing a video at the same time as testing the packet download speed in order to get the loaded speed number. It does give you an idea what impact someone watching Netflix can have on your connection. Note that if you run this test while someone else IS running Netflix, then both the loaded and unloaded numbers are already loaded and won’t reflect the optimum speed, so try to run this test when you know no one else is using it.
So what latency is good enough? It’s tough to say, but I try to keep latency under 30 ms (milliseconds, which are thousandths of a second). Lower is better with Latency.
The ultimate way to know if your internet is temporarily limiting you is to test your internet multiple times and under different usage loads. For example, if TradeStation seems to be running great with fast response, test your latency and see what number comes up. Then you have a baseline for what latency you can be getting when it’s running well. So if it’s running sluggishly, check your latency to see if it’s your connection speed (vs. other computer issues). And if your latency is too high, it might be time to see if someone’s using your internet when you need it most. (But please don’t yell at your kids on my account!) And yes, gaming can take up internet bandwidth as well – latency in playing Call of Duty online with friends might be even more critical than in trading!
Run that wire!
One more thing - if you're trading, you really want to be on a hardwired connection to your router - not using a wireless connection. When you use a hardwired connection, you're usually getting a faster speed than most wireless connections provide. It also reduces the amount of handshaking and added protocols that are required to manage the wireless connection. More importantly, if you're using wireless at the same time as others in your house, or even other devices (hello, Alexa?), then you're all competing for wireless bandwidth. There are ways around this, such as making sure you're using certain frequencies, but it's so much easier to just run a hardwired ethernet cable to your router. A good quality ethernet cable can run 100 feet (and even over 300 feet if you want to push it), so that should be enough for most people to be able to use it. And if you want to know if it matters whether you use wired or wireless, try enabling each one individually and see how they perform on fast.com. It will probably make the decision very easy.
*For those with the technical know-how, or have friends nearby that do, adding more physical memory and/or an SSD (and even better, an NVMe M.2 SSD if compatible) often perks up any computer if it resolves a limiting factor.