Traders may have computers running for a fair part of the day and some have more than one. Usually it is thought that there is a need of a fairly powerful computer to run the windows necessary for charting, trading platform, and other applications incidental to the work that needs to be done but in fact this is not necessary at all. The large cases, 350 to 500 watt power supplies, fast processors and video cards all add up to a lot of power used, excess heat generated, noise of fans, and space to accommodate it all add up to inconvenience and unnecessary cost.
Unless you are going to save a lot of pictures or video, most hard drives are also much larger than actually needed and the high speed ones give only a marginal advantage to most users. Fast processors are like expensive cars, they can go far faster than you are allowed to drive. If you are into video editing or 3D games then they could be useful, to everyone else they are usually over specified.
Of course if the person advising you is the sales person who benefits from selling the highest specs it is no wonder we often get what we don’t need. Also the ‘friend’ who knows all about computers may well have needs that exceeds yours and unwittingly give poor advice.
The one thing where, up to a point, bigger is better these days is in the RAM where 2 to 4 GB is good. It reminds me that my first laptop had a 4GB hard drive, now just the RAM is that big. It is also good to have a video card with its own built in memory so it does not pinch memory from the RAM.
For years now I have built small (MicroATX) computers with cheap single core Celeron processors to cater for my computer needs in trading. The cases are smaller than usual, power use is not high and yet they have done the job for me without any trouble at all.
For some time now netbooks have become popular with their very low power consumption and their tiny Intel Atom processors. While Asus also produced a desktop version, the Eee Box, they have only been suitable for surfing the net and doing very basic tasks. The video component was
also very basic.
Then NVIDIA decided to produce the ION video graphics to go with the Atom processor and also Intel decided to make a twin core Atom processor. This combination is a much more capable one and is quite suitable to deal with the sort of work a trader would need to do.
Recently manufacturers have started to sell motherboards featuring this combination so that now it is possible to build a computer that uses very little power, is small enough to hide behind a screen, is very quiet and yet can accommodate up to 4 GB of RAM as well as run two screens at once or one large one.
I have just finished building a computer using these components including a solid state hard drive and I’m very pleased with the result.
The motherboard is in the mITX format (170 mm square in size) and the case comes with an external 60W power supply very similar to a notebook one. It can sit on a supplied stand on its side so it takes up very little space and the small fan is hardly audible.
At this stage I have included only 2 GB of RAM with the intention of getting more later when I buy an operating system to go on it. Currently I am using Windows 7, a free beta version and it goes really well. Unfortunately when I bought the 30GB solid state hard drive I was not told it was in fact an end-of-life product which has now been replaced by a very much better version. Even so Win7 boots in only 30 seconds and shuts down in 8 seconds.
Solid state drives are getting much more affordable now and for use in trading there is no need to have more than the 30GB. These drives are the same size as notebook ones (2.5 inch) and two will fit in the case I have. They have no moving parts and the manufacturers state that the expected life is something like 1.5 million hours (about 170 years if you leave it on all the time). I guess they secretly started producing them a very long time ago to test that! Or maybe they used some sort of
The benefits are that the latest versions will leave any conventional hard drive way behind in speed and produce no noise and little heat. Again they also use much less power than the old ones and really do speed things up in a measurable way. They are not upset by being moved while in use since there are no moving parts. One thing to keep in mind when using one is to switch off the automatic defragmenting function in Vista or Win7 since the SSD do not like being defragmented and it shortens the life. I assume that possibly they might only last a hundred years then and that would of course be very inconvenient.
The specs of the computer I showed at the last meeting are as follows:
- Point of View Ion 330 motherboard, (http://www.guru3d.com/article/point-of-view-ion-330-motherboard-review/ for a review)
- Antel ISK300-65 case, (room for a slim optical drive and two 2.5 inch notebook or solid state drives see http://www.silentpcreview.com/Antec_ISK300-65 for a review)
- 30GB OCZ Core V2 SATA 2.5 inch Solid State Drive (30 GB is plenty for ordinary use unless you want to store very large files like video) If I had to do it again I would get a 30GB OCZ Vertex which is much better and now is only $40 extra.
- 2GB RAM – Kingston KVR800D2S6/2G SODIMM and later I will get another 2GB of RAM to add to it – this should enable me to buy Windows 7 as OEM when it becomes available.
This is basically all you need to put it together and I installed the Beta Windows 7 Ultimate operating system which you can get free of charge. It is possible to buy an upgradeable version of Vista at present and I would urge that you make sure you can upgrade to Win7 as it is much better than Vista.
- The motherboard is one of the better ones available at present especially if you want to run two screens and/or want good video (it is capable of Blue Ray video playback). If you only need one screen and just need ordinary video you can save over $100 by getting a non ION motherboard with the Atom 330 but you will only be able to have lower speed 2GB RAM. That would be adequate for most things but I think it is worth spending the extra. The motherboard is now available with proper DDR2 DIMM slots for RAM (a bit faster) so you don’t have to use Notebook RAM. The later version (POV/ION330-1) is available in Europe but maybe not in Australia yet.
- Antec make good cases and this one is one of the best for this format. The review didn’t use it with the Atom processor and ran into cooling problems. They did not like the fan but by placing the computer behind the screen and only having to run it at the lowest speed there is hardly any noise. This one has an external power supply like a notebook and that saves space and heat inside the case. If you buy one open the box in the shop and check the power cable. It comes with an American plug so they throw in a cable with an Australian plug but they made a mistake – the other end does not fit the power supply unit.
- You can use an ordinary notebook hard drive and save a bit but SSD is the way to go these days especially if you don’t have to save large files. I would now use SSD on any computer as the primary drive to boot from and if more space is needed use a second ordinary drive for extra space. The SSD is faster, more durable, no noise or vibration and getting less expensive.
- The RAM is KVR800DS6 where the 800 refers to the maximum speed the motherboard can use and the S6 means it is a bit slower than S5. I bought it from Umart for half the price it is from Computer Alliance but Umart cheat – they advertise S5 which is more expensive and supply the cheaper S6 while Computer Alliance tell me they sell the genuine S5. The difference in speed is not great but they should sell what they advertise.
- I did not install a CD or DVD drive. You have to use a more expensive slim drive and I think optical drives will go the way of floppy drives – I rarely use one and with this system a cheaper option would be an external USB optical drive if you need one. Backup these days is done with USB flash memory and with a SSD you can copy software directly to the drive since it usually has a USB socket on it. I connect it to my Notebook with a USB cable and use the optical drive on it to install the operating system. Other software can be copied over a network by sharing the DVD drive.
I have used this computer for a while now and am very happy with it. I have used it with two trading platforms including six live streaming charts, AmiBroker, Thunderbird, Word and an extra Firefox Window all open at the same time and the system coped fine. Everything worked fine all day without a hitch.
Those who were at the meeting where I had it on display might have noticed that it took a long time to boot. I have discovered that this is due to the very nice Logitech Illuminated keyboard I used with it. With any other keyboard it boots in just 30 seconds. The Point of View people at http://www.pointofview-online.com/ responded within a couple of hours to my email to find the cause of this problem and pursued the problem diligently but found no solution till I found it was the keyboard.
It appears that Asus is about to have EeeBox with an ION twin core Atom 330 in the EeeBox PC EB1012 and another offering is ASRock as reviewed on http://www.slashgear.com/asrock-ion-330-bd-nettop-review-3154410/ for those who don’t want to build their own. The ASRock is also available as a barebones version so you can add your own SSD and RAM. Also Computer Alliance can build one like mine and their prices for components are not too bad. It is where I bought my parts except for the RAM as mentioned above. They did not tell me that the SSD was an end-of-life product otherwise I would have spent the extra for the better later version.