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TRADER'S NOTEBOOK


Choosing The Right Hardware

12/21/09 09:25:22 AM PST
by John Devcic

It's a balance of what you want, what you need, and how much you're willing to spend.

Picture this: A PC with four monitors that displays real-time quotes, charts, and a trading platform. You may think I am describing one of those setups often seen in trading desks used by the top Wall Street professionals. I'm not. I am actually describing a setup that a fellow trader has in his home. And he's not the only one. Many traders are looking for a dedicated trading computer of their own. Choosing the right computer to fit your needs comes down to a balance of how much money you have to spend, the features you are looking for, and the type of trader you are:

END-OF-DAY TRADER
So you like to analyze stocks and look at a few charts after work. You make your trading decisions before the next trading day begins. You may not use live datafeeds, but you still want some of the features that daytraders use. This type of computer will allow you to analyze charts and display your trading software all without a problem. If you need your computer to also handle nontrading-related tasks, it will work just fine.

If you're an end-of-day trader you'll need:

  • The essentials. You are looking for the fastest processor your budget will allow. The Intel Core 2 Duo will work for your needs. The equivalent AMD processor is called the Athlon. AMD chips will be slightly less than you would spend on Intel chips. You will need a minimum of two gigabytes of RAM, but four would be a lot better. Hard drive space is not essential, but a decent-sized hard drive around 300 gigabytes would fit the bill. Two monitor setups are the bare minimum when it comes to trading computers.

  • The extras. With this type of computer, the best extra will be adding more monitors. More monitors will allow you to display more charts, trading software as well as web pages, all without the need to minimize. Desk space and budget are the biggest reasons not to add more monitors.

DAYTRADER
Like all semipros or pros, you will need the best computer for the job. In this case, the job is multiple charts with live streaming data. At the very least, you should have one piece of trading software but more likely you will be using different trading software at the same time. On top of all this, the computer must be quiet. The last thing you need when trying to make decisions is a computer fan that sounds like a jet engine. Of course, you cannot forget reliability, since you cannot have your computer crash in the middle of a tense trading situation.

If you're a daytrader you'll need:

  • The essentials. Intel core i7 is the latest processor from Intel and the best one on the market. RAM is essential so get anywhere from four to eight gigabytes. It is important to note that only a 64-bit operating system will be able to use more than four gigabytes of RAM. Look for a computer with DDR3 RAM, twice as fast as DDR2, which is what most computers come with. Monitorwise, start at four, the bare minimum, but think more along the lines of six or more. Make sure the computer you choose will be able to allow for more monitors in the future if you find that you need to add more. At this level, your computer should handle up to 12 monitors. Sound extreme? Take my word for it, you'll use them all.

  • The extras. Solid state drives will make the computer faster because it will be able to load programs faster. Solid state drives will last longer. The biggest drawback is they do not have the capacity that regular drives have. Get a solid state drive for the operating system and programs you are going to run. Use a second hard drive to hold all of your data. Water-cooling can keep the inside of your computer cool without all the extra noise of multiple fans. You may want to consider an external hard drive to back up all of your important data.

HOW MUCH SPACE DO YOU HAVE?
Choosing a monitor is the same as choosing a television. You can use all of the buying guides on the web and in print to guide your buying decisions, but in the end, the best way to find your next monitor is by using your eyes. Go down to your local big-box retailer or computer store and look at the monitors they are offering. You are looking for clear text and crisp, vivid colors. While your eyes will help you make the best choice, there are still a few things to look for in your next monitor. These are the some of the features that can help you choose your next monitor.

Resolution is the number of pixels per inch or dots per inch the screen has. Monitors with higher resolutions will display a more detailed image. You will find this can be very easy on your eyes if you plan on looking at charts all day.

Brightness is obvious. You should be able to adjust it easily if you need to. Keep in mind that if your working area is bright, you will want to make sure your monitor can be very bright to counteract the effects of your room's brightness.

Contrast is the difference between the whitest white and the darkest black that a monitor can display. Higher contrasts will result in a better-looking screen. It's important to note that LCD screens can have a variation in the contrast from the top of the screen to the bottom.

Pixel response time will tell you how long it takes for the monitor's pixels to display a new color. A slow pixel response time can result in possible blurring.

Monitors sold today come in black with two different looks. The first is a matte finish, which is dull but does not reflect light. The other is glossy, which can reflect light. This can become distracting, so keep this in mind when choosing your next monitor. Some monitors come with a power LED light, either red or blue, which can become quite distracting especially when working in darker rooms. Are the control buttons easy to use without you having to look at them? Some traders who need to adjust their monitors a lot will want big and easy-to-use buttons.

The biggest factor in deciding how many monitors you will buy is the available desk space. If you plan on having four or more monitors, look for a good additional stand. Such a stand serves two purposes. First, it will conserve your desk space, and second, it will allow you to keep the right monitors exactly where you need them.

TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD?
There are basically four ways to get your new trading computer. The first and easiest way is to just drive to your local store and buy one. Within this first choice you can either buy from a store or an online retailer. Take a look at the pluses and minuses of both.

  • Retail store. You could drive to an electronics store right now and have a good chance to get a deal on an all-purpose computer. While the ease of going down to the local store and being able to purchase and be unpacking your new computer in a few hours cannot be beat, there are some major drawbacks. These computers usually have tons of software you will not need and have to spend time removing. Does the computer have the ability to connect more than one monitor? Chances are not good for being able to do a multimonitor setup. You are paying for programs and hardware you will not need or ever use. These computers are general-purpose family computers. While you certainly can convert them to a slick trading computer, you need to factor in how much time and energy you are going to have to spend cleaning up all the unnecessary hardware and software.

  • Direct from the manufacturer. The big-box makers like Dell and HP now allow you to log on and customize your computer. While there will not be a tab for a trading computer, you can certainly purchase a gaming machine. Gaming computers are designed with the latest processor as well as having a lot of RAM. Dual monitors can be easily set up on these machines, so purchasing from one of these manufacturers is indeed a viable option. You will have to spend some time customizing what you want, but in the end you will get the hardware you are looking for as well as the operating system you want. Be careful, however, because during these customizing options you can quickly blow out your budget with all of the extras offered. If you do choose this route, make sure that the hardware and operating system will comply with the trading software you plan on using.

  • Build it yourself. Some traders like the total control they have when they build their own computers. They get to pick and choose exactly the components they want with the software they want. The time it takes to build a computer can vary depending upon the experience of the builder.

    The two biggest drawbacks that come with building your own computer are: having to shop for all of the components and the actual assembly of the computer. Looking around for the best deal on the latest Intel processor can be a worthwhile way to spend a day for some people. Others, however, can get easily confused by the technical jargon associated with buying computer components.

    On the other hand, buying the components can often be easy compared to having to put them together and getting them to work. Depending upon your comfort level with computers, the idea of building your own trading computer can be terrifying or exciting. Finally, you want to keep tech support in mind. When you do build your own computer, you have no one to turn to if it does not work right. Again, this can be a source of great anxiety or a minor inconvenience, depending upon your computer experience.

  • Custom built. You can have a computer custom-built by a company that only makes trading computers. A quick Internet search will yield many trading computer builders. Since these types of computer builders only make trading computers, you can be assured that they understand what you want and can usually fulfill any request. Many of them offer an excellent warranty and tech support. Prices, however, will seem higher than buying a regular computer from Dell or HP. The biggest pitfall is finding a computer retailer that you can trust with your money.

    Many of these custom trading computer building companies are small and have not been around that long. By doing a little research, you can ensure that you get a quality computer from a trusted builder. A good way to test out a builder is to call them and ask questions. I have found that good trading computer builders will be glad to help you out.

SHOULD YOU GO 64-BIT?
Any new computer sold today will come with a choice of an operating system that is either 32-bit or 64-bit. The biggest advantage of 64-bit computing is being able to add more RAM. While the benefits of more memory are excellent, there are a number of drawbacks a trader will need to be aware of. The biggest drawback is that not all trading software is designed to work with a 64-bit operating system. You will want to make sure ahead of time whether all of the trading systems you use are 64-bit compatible. Good luck!

SUGGESTED READING
Devcic, John [2009]. "Leveraged ETFs," Technical Analysis of STOCKS & COMMODITIES, Volume 27: December.
_____ [2009]. "Get Shorty," Technical Analysis of STOCKS & COMMODITIES, Volume 27: November.



John Devcic

John Devcic is a market historian and freelance writer. He may be reached at drmorgus@gmail.com

E-mail address: drmorgus@gmail.com


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