Trading Computers Buyer's Guide

By Scott Tafel, founder of MarketPirates.net and TradingComputers.com

Hard Drives and Backups

Hard Drives will have a powerful effect on your trading computer experience. The solid state hard drives (SSD) are very fast and should be considered an essential element of any modern trading computer. After you get used to SSD's you will not want to go back to the slow, archaic, mechanical hard drives. Note: Not all SSD's are made equal; there is a wide variation in speed and reliability.

Solid State drives are very sophisticated devices with little computers inside which regulate their functions and prevent them from wearing out too soon. Any one memory location in an SSD has a limited number of times that it can be written to before it stops working; so the job of this little imbedded computer (which we will call the "controller") is to rotate usage of every memory location to even out the wear and speed up the performance. Additionally, any one location has a limited number of times it can be read before the electrical charge stored there is too weak to read anymore, so it must be recharged it before it forgets that information. The erasing process is also complex and must be managed well to prevent severe degradation of drive performance (a problem called "write amplification") while avoiding too many writes that will cause premature drive wear out.

All hard drives (SSD or mechanical) need to be connected to your computer by one of several technologies. The oldest technology is IDE, which survives today as a mode of operation rather than a way of connecting devices. All Windows XP computers used IDE mode. Many of the early Windows 7 computers were sold in IDE mode. If an SSD is connected by IDE mode then the performance will degrade badly after a few months. SATA is the main replacement for IDE and SATA-3 has a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 600MB/s. Although, in actual use, it is rare to see speeds above 550MB/s. The new SATA NVMe standard, can deliver speeds of up to 4,000MB/s which is great for backtesting.

Backing up your computer is a good idea if you don't want to lose data someday. Cleaning out a virus or fixing registry corruption is made easy if you have good image backups. The best backup software will back up the entire hard drive (make an image), not just your data, such that you could install a brand new drive and restore it from the image backup for 100% recovery.

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