How To Choose a Stock Trading Computer
A trader's PC has to be fast, powerful, quiet and most importantly, reliable and stable. Any downtime can be very costly, especially so if there are open positions which cannot be monitored due to a computer system crash. With the low cost of modern desktop computers, it does not make sense to save a few bucks but compromise on quality of components. If you are currently looking to buy a new PC, read "What is the Best Computer for Stock Trading"
The key word when choosing a CPU is stability. That means stay away from overclocked CPUs which will only tend to introduce instability and heat issues into your system. Any modern Intel Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad or Core Extreme cpus are more than capable of handling even the most challenging of trading applications. The current sweet spot in CPUs based on price and performance is the Core 2 Duo E8400, which can be found in many high quality workstations like the Dell Precision T3500 (read review).
The key phrase here is "Get as much RAM as your budget allows". RAM will allow you to multitask better and smoother between various trading applications. It is important to choose a computer in which the motherboard allows for more than 2GB of RAM. Related to this, the choice of operating system also plays a crucial role as 32 bit OS's are not able to utilize more than 3.5GB of RAM. However, 3.5GB of RAM is plenty for most situations and the normal daytrader would normally not require more, but in terms of future scalability and running specialized database intensive scans of the market, it is better to go with a 64-bit OS and have the capability to add more than 4GB of RAM onto your motherboard.
For stock trading purposes, it is not required to get the latest & greatest 3D gaming graphics card costing almost thousands of dollars. What you need are 2D graphics cards made specially for the finance industry like the Nvidia NVS series and the Matrox Parhelia series. The Nvidia Quadro NVS 290 PCI Express x16 Video Card is an example of a very high quality graphics adapter that is able to drive dual DVI monitors at resolutions upto 1920x1200. One of the crucial advantages of the NVS line is that they are passively cooled i.e. they use heat sinks rather than fans to keep them cool and as such they run silent.
As discussed above, even though a 32-bit OS will suffice for trading, a 64-bit operating system like Windows XP 64 or Windows 7 64-bit is highly recommended (read Using Windows 7 on a Trading PC). 64-bit systems allow the usage of more than 4GB of RAM in your computer. Contrary to the old 64-bit myth, most programs designed for a computer that runs a 32-bit version of Windows will work on a system running 64-bit versions of Windows. The advantages of a 64-bit OS are most apparent when you have a large amount of RAM installed on your computer (typically 4 GB of RAM or more). Because a 64-bit operating system can handle large amounts of memory more efficiently than a 32-bit operating system can, a 64-bit system can be more responsive when running several programs like Tradestation, Interactivebroker's TWS, Medved Quotetracker and Ninjatrader at the same time and switching between them frequently. Read requirements for Real-Time Trading System to get a better understanding about the various types of real-time trading programs available.
Unlike gaming, the contrast ratio and lag of a monitor are not critical factors when displaying trading applications. What is important are the type of LCD panel used and the pixel size, which determines the overall picture quality and clarity of the financial data and stock charts (read How to Choose an LCD Monitor for Stock Trading to learn more). Traders typically use 19, 20, 22 or 24 inch panels although as the 30 inch screens drop in price, they too are gaining in popularity. The Dell Ultrasharp series and Samsung LCDs are very popular with traders, with the Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP and Samsung 245bw being some of the popular models.
To Build a Customized PC or Buy Off The Shelf
The main advantage of building your own PC from customized components is cost. You will typically save about $100 or more on a high end system. The associated cons to building your own rig however quickly become a hassle and something that a trader need not have to contend with. As the system ages and individual components fail, it becomes very difficult to pinpoint the cause of the fault unless one has the technical skills to troubleshoot. Buying off the shelf from a reputable manufacturer like Dell, HP or Lenovo will in the end save the trader a lot of time and heartache.
A trader's PC is at the end of the day but a tool to help you make money in the markets. Choosing a good, reliable and stable computer, like the Dell Precision T3400, is vital to the success of your business and overall peace of mind.