Ernie’s Trading Workstation
There’s no news here, neither Tradestation, Ninja Trader nor Market Delta didn’t miraculously release a Mac trading platform. This is simply a guide for those traders who appreciate the Mac platform, want it to be the desktop they work with all day, yet are stuck in a PC-centric world for traders. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I have to hand it to Think or Swim for having the temerity of maintaining a Mac-based trading platform. They have shown that it can be done, and done well. Of course some may argue that Think or Swim isn’t their cup of tea, but I would suspect that most options traders find the options analytical tools on ToS to be far ahead of even heavyweight platforms like Tradestation.
However, I digress…this article isn’t about which trading software is best, this is about using the desktop computer you prefer, without any compromises, except for a little extra setup to start, and a few more ongoing maintenance details.
The simple fact of the matter is your success is a function of your trading discipline, strategy and environment. The fewer distractions you have, like a cluttered physical desktop, network issues, or setting up communications with fellow traders or trading services, the more quality time you can spend at your craft.
So for example, a lot of traders use Skype to communicate with fellow traders, or log into a GoToMeeting session, or some other collaborative environment…and in my experience, users with PCs have a drastically inferior experience with anything audio-visual related. Make sure you invest in a great headset by Logitech or Sennheiser, or studio-quality microphone by Shure or Samson. It will make a huge difference. External speakers are not necessary, but a viable option.
Another great example is the quality of on-screen graphics, charts and spreadsheets. Looking at most Windows-based screens is like running a rake across your eyes. Macs on the other hand are beautiful, from the Retina MacBook, to the iMac and Thunderbolt displays. They are simply better than PCs…by a WIDE margin. So, why torture yourself?
Then there’s the simple quality of pleasing aesthetic, and lack of desktop clutter. With an iMac, or even a Mac Mini, with wireless mouse and keyboard, there’s virtually no clutter. Plenty of desk space, and on top of that, you’re in front of machines that take industrial design to the level of museum quality. Being around Macs is like working in an office full of beautiful people, both inside and out.
So, what is a good setup? Perhaps we start with the essentials, like maximizing uptime. Every trader needs an external drive that can perform as both backup and an alternate systems disk, should your main drive fail. The other essential uptime component is an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS – battery backup).
If you don’t have a battery backup, you are taking an awful chance should you lose power, even momentary brownouts can cause havoc. The battery should have enough capacity to give you time to gracefully exit your trades, and if necessary, make backups and shutdown your systems until power is restored. Make sure it’s big enough to handle your Internet and WiFi router and all your systems and monitors. I like APC UPSs, like the Pro 1500 for about $250.
The disk drive should be large enough to run as a Time Machine drive, fast enough to save large image or time-based data files, and reliable enough to survive a possible disk failure. For these reasons a RAID drive, perhaps 1-2 Terabytes would do. Every so often, you’re going to need to backup the backup drive to an off-site service like Carbonite. I like the Lacie Little Big Disk for about $400.
Now for the software…you need to run Windows, so there are two main choices, and both equally as good. There’s Parallels and VMWare Fusion, both for about $100. The only thing you really need to run in Windows is the Trading platform, virtually everything else can be run on your Mac. And with both of these virtual Windows systems, you can completely hide the fact you are running Windows, and make it look like you are all Mac.
Now for the Computer(s). You could go with a single system, like a 27 inch iMac, but I would consider this to be a minimal option. I would only do this if desk space is a real issue. If space is really tight, you could use a 15 inch Retina MacBook, or you could go with the 21 inch iMac. A wireless Magic Mouse and wireless keyboard are good choices for reducing clutter, but I prefer the wired Apple keyboard, because it has a numeric keypad. I keep a wireless keyboard in my drawer, when I want to be a little more mobile, perhaps sit on the couch and work from there.
The perfect setup, in my opinion, is a 27 inch iMac, with a 27 inch Thunderbolt display. Having two displays makes trading a real pleasure. That extra screen real estate will make you 150 percent more productive.
Now we all know that Macs are super reliable. They win perennial kudos from JD Power for quality and service. But systems can and will fail. So, it is in your best interest to figure out a way to keep trading should your main system fail. What I recommend is a MacMini. It can be configured to be as powerful as your main system, and can be running as a hot spare, so that you can switch to it immediately if the need arises.
The Mac Mini can be run headless, which means it doesn’t need a monitor, you can use Screen Share from your main computer, and if that should fail, you can simply hook it into your Cinema display. Another option is to have a big LED TV next to your workstation, and use that as your Mac Mini monitor. It can also be used to watch CNBC, Bloomberg, or hook an AppleTV into it, and use it with AirPlay, the options are numerous.
I like having a Big LED TV so I can watch my charts while shooting pool from the other side of the room. A pool table is not necessary equipment, but it sure helps me clear my head. Other non-computer related equipment I find useful is a comfy couch, a Yoga matt, and some exercise equipment. Anything that can help you keep the blood flowing and the brain fertilized.
Another great addition to your setup is the ability to take your trading remote, either in a different part of your house, or on the road. You can do this in any number of ways. I prefer using an iPad with Airplay when around the house, or using LogMeIn or RealVNC when on the road. I don’t recommend trading while driving.
There’s one last thing when considering your setup, and that’s how you choose to configure your computers. In my experience, it is best to totally pimp out your systems. That means, get the fastest available processor, max out the RAM, and if the option exists, order Solid State Drive, or at least Fusion Drive, for maximum Performance.
The point is, you are slinging a lot of money around while trading. You should have an environment that is as functional and pleasing as can be. Make sure when putting your system together, you think of every possible contingency. Being ill-prepared is simply irresponsible, and settling for PCs, when you can go Mac, makes you a frigtard. Don’t be a frigtard.
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