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PC makers gear up for online trading

The next big thing for the home PC enthusiast may be two screens, multiprocessor applications and rapid data feeds.

The next big thing for the home PC enthusiast may be two screens, multiprocessor applications and rapid data feeds.

PC makers will start launching a variant of the workstation that currently sits on top of the desks of stockbrokers and financial analysts. Dell, for one, will announce Tuesday a trading system for the home that can be ordered with, among other features, professional-grade analytical software, subscriptions to live data feeds, two processors, two monitors and a high-speed modem, according to sources close to the company.

The push toward power is part of an overall strategy unfolding at Intel and its computing allies to capitalize on the popularity of online trading.

"We're building the bridges between the (computer makers) and the software providers to improve the investor experience," said Tom Gibbs, director of vertical marketing at Intel. "People want to take charge of their own investment decisions, but they need access to data, and they need to have a comparable set of tools."

For years, PCs have performed a variety of tasks. Now, there is a perceived disparity between the needs of the intense game player or stock trader and the average consumer trying to decide between the green or blue iMac knockoff.

Last month, Intel reorganized its PC groups into the Intel Architecture Group to explore the opportunity for specialized PC marketing. The group will contain 1,000 employees and be armed with $100 million in development funding.

Although it's far from certain that such a vertical marketing strategy will work, the rewards could be substantial. Consumers currently suffer from a glut of options. Simply put, there's a mountain of software and hardware out there. Integrated packages could boost sales, especially for software companies or content companies that land deals with major PC manufacturers.

These specialized systems also cost much more than standard consumer PCs. A dual-processor, dual-screen system can run several thousand dollars. The high price, naturally, will also likely emerge as one of the major stumbling blocks to acceptance.

The idea for an investor-centric PC emerged from the stunning growth of Internet investing and the difference between professional investing tools and home computers. Professional traders often use difficult-to-configure multiple-screen setups because of the sheer volume of data they must monitor--live bid/ask figures on several dozen stocks, order windows, chat rooms and news feeds.

The number of online trading accounts in the United States is expected to grow from around 7 million to more than 20 million by 2003, according to Jupiter Communications. Assets held in online accounts are expected to grow to $3 trillion, according to figures touted by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Online investing accounts for 40 percent of the market in Korea, the country with the deepest penetration for electronic trading.

But while home investing has grown in popularity, the technology options for consumers have lagged, Gibbs said. Many stock analysis applications, such as TradeStation from Omega Research, aren't marketed to consumers. Even when the software is available, individuals typically don't have the time, spare funds or inclination to test out different software packages.

"They have to evaluate this stuff sight unseen because there's no one in their living room testing things," he said.

Reducing the disparity can largely be accomplished through integration. The technology exists--it's a matter of making it consumer-friendly. Some software packages, for example, need to have graphical interfaces added to them. Computer makers also have to add modems to their standard corporate workstations.

Trader-centric PCs will grow in complexity over time. The first wave will contain analytical applications. In the next stage, PC makers and Intel will work with brokerage houses to improve data feeds and data access. Toward summer, the companies will work to shovel data from these programs onto devices.

If the trend takes off, PC makers and trading houses will likely strike deals with each other for providing ways to market the entire gamut of services and technology that home investors will need.