What to look for when buying a trading computer
What to look for when buying a monitor array
- What equipment do independent private traders use to trade the markets and make a living?
- What equipment do active retirees use in managing their own money to make their retirement years wealthier?
- How do multiple monitors work on a computer?
- What makes a trading computer different from home & office computers for trading the financial markets?
Getting an edge with Trading Computers and Multiple Monitors
When you begin to actively manage your money to improve the return on your investments you become a trader. As a trader, you need to “get an edge” on the market everywhere you can. Without an edge, you have no advantage.
Home or office computers are very limited and provide no advantage for traders. They use cheap components and only have one or two monitors. If you trade the market with one monitor on your computer it is like driving a car with no side or rearview; it is possible but you have no edge.
You gain an advantage and “get an edge” through your methods and equipment. Trading computers are built to run better than home or office computers. A trading computer has superior computing power for running trading software and has multiple monitors so you can see what’s going on. When you can run trading software and see what’s going on, your methods improve.
Good trading computers also come with strong technical support to keep you up and running at peak performance all the time.
What to consider when buying a trading computer:
- CPU / Processor – This is the heart of what makes your trading computer fast or slow. Some are better than others.
- Main Board / Motherboard – The quality of the trading computer has much to do with the quality of the motherboard.
- Cooling – The ability of a trading computer to provide sustained fast performance will often depend on its cooling.
- Memory – If you don’t have enough memory then your trading programs will run too slow.
- Power Supply – A strong power supply is the foundation of a strong trading computer.
- Graphics Cards / Video – If you want multiple monitors you will need a good graphics card, maybe more than one.
- Hard Drives – Solid State hard drives are a must for a modern trading computer.
- Internet Speed – Your Internet connection is important for getting your orders fills quickly.
- Warranty – You will depend on your warranty as much as you will depend on your trading computer.
CPU / Microprocessor
Most people who trade will probably never own software as demanding as trading software. Most non-trading software uses a static set of data but trading software uses a lot of new data which is streaming into it. This requires constant calculations and updating of the display. If the market is very active, and you are using a standard home & office PC for your trading computer, it will typically fail to keep up during busy market periods. This is because its microprocessor is not powerful enough to handle that much work.
Some processors are more efficient than others. For example, Intel processors will perform better than their AMD processors counterparts when it comes to trading as most trading platforms tend to be optimized for Intel processors.
The newest Intel processors have what is called a “Turbo” mode. This allows the processor to attain speeds that were not available with earlier processors, providing that certain conditions are met. Building a trading computer that meets the strict thermal and electrical requirements for turbo mode is important. It will unlock much more processing power to keep your computer from falling behind the market during periods when the market is very active. The best processors for a trading computer are the Intel Comet Lake and the high-end Intel Cascade Lake or Intel Alder Lake family of processors.
The processor is the “brain” of a computer. It interprets and carries out the basic instructions that operate a computer. The speed of a processor is measured in gigahertz (GHz). This means that the processor can execute one billion (1,000,000,000) instructions per second.
A CPU’s speed is important, but it’s not the only factor that determines overall performance. Another important factor is the architecture of the processor. The architecture refers to the way the processor is designed and how it functions. It includes the circuitry, structure, and organization of the processor.
So, while GHz measures how fast a processor can perform certain tasks, the architecture of a processor determines how well it can perform those tasks. The processor’s die size usually expressed in Nano Meter (nm) will determine how far the electron must travel through the architecture to get to the next operation. Ultimately, this all will impact the overall performance and speed of a trading computer.
Main Board / Motherboard
The motherboard is one of the most important components in a good quality trading computer and it can make or break a system. You can use the best processor, memory, and graphics card, but without a quality motherboard as the foundation of your system your trading computer’s performance will be limited. The “chipset” used to build the motherboard is very important as it is the core of a good motherboard. To get the full power of the processor, graphics card, and memory you should get a motherboard with the best chipset available that matches your processor. Lower-end chipsets for Intel processors will have little or no turbo mode functionality with the lower-end chipsets also lower-end chipsets may have other drawbacks such as limited PCI Express lanes or inferior SATA controllers. The turbo mode is very important when the market is moving fast during peak trading volume periods of the day. The best chipsets for maximum trading computer performance are the Intel Z690, and X299. All other Intel chipsets tend to have reduced turbo speed performance.
An often overlooked and under-appreciated side of building a trading computer is processor cooling. The processor will not speed up to turbo mode when you need it to without a good cooler. The standard Intel cooler is not good enough to sustain a prolonged (more than a few seconds) run into turbo mode.
A reliable cooler is also important, which is why we avoid the lower-cost pre-packaged water cooling systems from Intel, Corsair, and several others (they are all made by Asetek which has exclusive patent rights to the technology). We did use these devices at one time, but the failure rates are about 5%. This is too high as far as we are concerned. If every component on your trading computer had a 5% failure rate then you would have a very unreliable trading computer. Also, you can get air coolers that perform just as well using properly engineered heat pipe phase transition technology.
Memory / RAM
The minimum amount of memory you should get with a new trading computer is 16GB. I would recommend 32GB of memory if you can find it in your budget due to future advances in trading software that can happen within the lifetime of the computer.
Memory that is a little faster is unlikely to produce any noticeable benefit to your trading computer. Faster memory is usually selected using a quick test of the memory that comes off the production line. This test is often too quick for a thorough examination of the memory, such that you may find it causes your trading computer to crash when running it at its full advertised speed. I would recommend getting the most reliable memory rather than the fastest memory. I have found that memory sticks made with Hynix SDRAM chips are both fast and extremely reliable.
A good power supply will form a solid foundation for years of reliable service for your trading computer. Power supplies compensate for many power problems that can occur and need to deliver smooth, direct current to your trading computer at three different voltages.
The bigger the power supply the better. Larger power supplies do not use more electricity, they just have the ability to supply more power to your trading computer if they need to. Over time your power supply will get dusty inside and this dust will act as insulation causing the components run at a higher temperature. A trading computer with an oversized power supply will perform smoothly and last a long time, even if it is covered with dust.
There are two modes of graphics card operation: 2D and 3D. 2D is used for most purposes like email, Internet surfing, office software, and trading software. 3D is used by computer games. Some graphics cards that are excellent at 3D gaming may just be average at 2D graphics. There are some expensive 2D graphics cards (like the Quadro P620) that are outstanding at 2D graphics and have very little 3D gaming ability.
ThinkOrSwim Technical Support recommends very high-end graphics cards to run their software properly but most other trading programs only require mid-priced graphics cards to perform all that is needed for traders. I usually use two or three graphics cards in my trading computers to run all the monitors that I like to use.
Hard Drives and Backups
For a trading computer, you should always use a Solid State Hard Drive (SSD). SSD’s are much faster and more reliable than conventional spinning hard drives.
Always buy from a reliable brand name. Many SSD brands are unreliable, but that reliability has been improving greatly. I like Mushkin, SanDisk, and Samsung SSDs.
SSDs should never ever be defragmented as this will lead to reduced performance and eventually to premature failure.
I recommend image backups (Paragon or Acronis software) for your trading computer, particularly with SSDs. An image backup exactly copies the entire drive and stores it as a really big file on a backup hard drive. A backup hard drive is necessary because image files are too big to backup to cloud storage.
Image backup can be used to combat viruses, weird problems with Windows and to quickly recover from a solid-state drive failure.
A lot of people ask me how they can make their Internet speed faster and they suggest buying more bandwidth will get them a faster Internet connection. Bandwidth is “how much” not “how fast”. Beyond a certain point, you are wasting your money buying more bandwidth.
I recommend a robust package from your cable company or a fiber internet company (not phone company). 20 megabits or more of download bandwidth is common and more than enough for trading.
Powerful computers need more fans than cheap computers in or to keep them cool. You should not expect a trading computer to be as quiet as an inexpensive home & office computer. If you have a very quiet room for your trading computer you may want to get a trading computer that has been fitted with sound proofing materials and special low noise fans (Falcon Trading Comptuer offers this on all their models).
Laptops with more powerful processors in them will make much more noise than a desktop. If your laptop is really loud then it probably is choked with dust and needs to be cleaned.
Good technical support will help you shake off all kinds of computer bugs that can hold back your trading computer. Falcon trading computers offer outstanding technical support for as long as you own the computer.
If you trade real money you should have a warranty with an on-site repair service. If you need to box up and send in your trading computer for repair every time something goes wrong you could lose a lot of opportunity money while you wait for your trading computer to return from being repaired.
Having a warranty longer than three years isn’t necessarily a good thing. After three years the components that were used to build your computer are no longer manufactured. Replacements will consist of something new but cheap; they may not even work with your computer.
The Bottom Line
- CPU / Processor – You want an efficient processor, the faster the better. “Alder Lake” or “Cascade Lake” Core i9 processors by Intel are best.
- Main Board / Motherboard – Z690 or X299 chipset motherboards are best for optimal performance and efficiency. Motherboards with voltage control mean more stability for the processor.
- Cooling – Don’t bother with water cooling, air-cooled systems run just as fast and reliably. Standard Intel coolers don’t work either because they don’t transfer heat efficiently. Phase change cooling works best for keeping the processor cool during high-volume trading days.
- Memory – 16GB will meet current needs. 32GB will prepare you in advance for future software requirements of most trading software.
- Power Supply – Higher wattage power supplies are manufactured better and provide a stronger base for your trading computer.
- Graphics Cards / Video – Expensive graphics cards capable of 3D rendering or shading aren’t needed for trading computers. What you want are cards that can provide for multiple monitors. Having two or more video cards will allow you to have up to eight monitors.
- Hard Drives – SSDs are faster and less fragile than Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). A trading computer can benefit more from having a small, fast SSD with a second HDD for backups and storage.
- Internet Speed – 20 Megabits of download bandwidth is all you should need for your trading software. In this case, more is not better.
- Warranty – You will rely on your warranty as much as you will rely on your trading computer. After the warranty expires it’s better to buy a new system with a new warranty than run without one.