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Building a Day Trading Computer (Plus: My Setup)

Your day-trading computer is one of the most important parts of your setup. Day trading already poses enough challenges as is. Even though I have already discussed that a particular computer setup won't make you fail or succeed as a trader; the last thing you want is for your technology to hold you back.

While it's possible to trade from your iPhone or iPad, serious day trading generally requires a fast computer, and ideally, with multiple displays. Keep in mind, you don't need to build a very expensive computer setup when you are first getting started. You can work with what you have and upgrade over time. For example, you can upgrade components within your existing computer without buying a new one. This is a better approach, because learning to do more with less will only work to your advantage.

Building a Day Trading Computer Setup

The first thing you need to focus on is your actual trading computer. This can be a PC tower, a Mac, or a laptop, whichever you prefer. While I personally use a 27" iMac with incredible specs, PCs generally allow for more customization and upgrades; but laptops can have great specs as well. In this particular post we'll be focusing on customizing a PC tower as Apple computers can be cost prohibitive for some folks. 

Hard Drives

You should opt for a solid state drive (SSD) as they are much faster and more efficient. For example, booting your computer with a SSD takes about 10 seconds whereas booting with a standard HDD (hard disk drive) takes about 30+ seconds.

In terms of storage, most computers will come with 500GB, which should be more than enough.

Minimum Recommended Specs: 500GB (Preferably SSD)

My Setup: 2TB Apple Fusion Drive (Part SSD, Part HDD) 

RAM

 The average trader will be running many processes at the same time, so RAM is very important. If you want to have your trading/ broker software, Trader Thinktank, and browser windows open, make sure to opt for higher RAM. RAM is measured in gigabytes, and  built-in RAM will generally start at 4GB, but most traders should get at least 8GB of RAM (preferably 16GB).

Minimum Recommended Specs: 8GB RAM

My Setup: 32GB RAM (Considering upgrading to 64GB)

Processors (CPU)

CPU is measured by it's speed in gigahertz (GHz), which will usually start at 1GHz and go up to 4GHz. You should also pay attention to the number of cores your CPU has, as that will affect how many processes can be run simultaneously.

Minimum Recommended Specs: Quad-Core 2.8GHz (Intel i5 or i7 are leading options)

My Setup: Quad-Core 4GHz (Intel i7)

Graphic Cards

A powerful graphics card is essential for traders who plan on using multiple displays. More powerful graphics cards will display better graphics AND allow for higher resource usage (using more screens). Look for a card with dedicated GPU of 2GB+. Think of the GPU as RAM for processing graphics.

Minimum Recommended Specs: NVIDIA or AMD Graphics Card with 2GB+ Memory (4GB+ if you are using more than 2 monitors)

My Setup: AMD Radeon R9 M395X 4GB

Day Trading Computer Monitors

Once you have your trading computer set up, you'll want to focus on your computer monitors. If you are just getting started, you can get monitors for a decent price on Amazon. Make sure the monitor is compatible with your PC or Mac so you don't need to buy an adapter.

How Many Monitors Do You Need?

There is no golden answer to this question. Some traders are comfortable trading on one monitor while others prefer having 8+. Do not rush into purchasing more monitors. Having additional monitors does not make you a better trader. Think about what you need the monitors for and continue to upgrade over time. More monitors means more things to focus on, and that's not always a good thing. Think about how many charts you like to look at in a given trading session or day, and how many can you fit on one individual screen? 

What Resolution Should I Choose? (1080p vs. 2556x1440 vs. 4K / 5K)

Additional pixels add higher levels of clarity and allow you to fit more windows on a single screen. Resolution can often come down to preference. If you prefer your content to be zoomed in, you may choose 1080P, whereas if you prefer to fit more windows on a screen, you may prefer a 4K monitor.

Choose a minimum of 1080P (1920x1080) when buying a monitor. If you have extra budget, you may consider exploring higher resolutions like 2556x1440, 4k (3480x2160) or even 5k.

Minimum Recommended Specs: 1080P

My Setup: 1 Retina 5K iMac 27" display and x2 Dell Ultra HD 4k Monitor P2715Q 27-Inch Monitors.

What Size Monitors Should I Choose?

This question comes down to a) preference and b) desk space. What do you have room for and how do you want your setup to look? For example, you could get similar screen real estate by choosing either 3 27-inch screens or 2 32-inch screens.

Don't overthink this one. Focus on what you have room for and how you want the setup to look.

Additional Considerations

Mounting Monitors

Chances are, if you are getting more than 2 or 3 external monitors, you will need to mount them depending on your desk size. Mounting monitors can also save desk space. You have a few options:

Desk Mounts - Desk mounts can be used to mount 1-3 monitors. These mounts are clamped directly to your desk (which is helpful if you have a sit/stand desk).

Wall Mounts - Wall mounts can be used to mount your monitors directly to the wall (Similar to TVs). This is generally one of the least flexible options but may be suitable for a couple of monitors.

Monitor Stands - Monitor stands are similar to desk mounts, except they sit on your desk instead of clamping to the side of it. You can usually mount up to 3 monitors on one stand.

Additional Tools

Of course, you'll want to be sure you have all of your trader notes handy, as well as your Day Trader Timeframe Mousepad. Visual cues like this can be a make-or-break tool to have! 

Laptops / Mobile Trading Setup

For most day traders, a simple mobile trading setup will do. Chances are, if you are away from your desktop, you won't be trading too actively. A mobile phone or basic laptop will suffice in most situations. That said, if you travel frequently you may want to upgrade your laptop. Personally, I am a huge fan of what Apple is offering in terms of laptops, so I always look at an upgraded MacBook Pro. 

Minimum Recommended Specs: 

  • 128GB Hard Drive (Preferably SSD)

  • Intel i5 Processor (Dual-core minimum)

  • 8GB RAM

  • Powerful Graphics card with 2GB+ Memory

Share Your Setup

How does your desktop or mobile setup look? Any life-changing devices you'd recommend? Feel free to share in the comments below!