Checking Your Gear

Round about now, you may be wondering if your computer gear is up to it. I can put your mind at rest – it almost certainly is, but I’ll just run through the details so you can make sure.

You can check with any spread betting firm to find out what they call out as the minimum specification to work with their software or website. The trading platform which you use to enter and monitor your trades may be “browser-based” or can be standalone software, and these will place different demands on your computer. The browser-based is the least demanding, as everything is done by the website, all your computer does is display the items. You’ll know if you have a software solution, because you will have been asked to download it the first time you try to get online. If you have a software-based trading platform, it still does not do very much and is not very demanding of your computer. If you can play games on your computer, it is almost certain that is powerful enough for trading.

For trading I would expect the minimum spec to be a 1 GHz processor, 1 MB of RAM plus about 100 MB of free disk space. Any computer you can buy new would probably meet this spec, and if you have an older computer from a few years ago that will work too. If you get into using a lot of software analysis, you might need more, but that’s something you can develop into. Any time you notice your computer running slow, assuming you haven’t picked up a virus, the problem can usually be dealt with by adding more RAM. Some trading platforms may need Java enabled, and others will use Flash, and both of these programs are freely available and probably already on your computer.

The other requirement is obviously a connection to the Internet. It’s great if this can be a fast broadband connection, as it’s much more convenient if you want to look at trading videos or other training on the Internet, or if you need to download programs and data. For the trading platform itself, a 56K telephone modem would probably work as there is not a lot of regular data exchange.

While a high spec isn’t needed for spread betting online, you might want a bit of power if you are considering detailed analysis of a lot of data in forming your trading plan. Even then, a modern computer should be plenty. Making a plan or system is an important step, and I’ll talk about it later. Basically, if you have no plan you won’t even know where you went wrong if you lose, so your trading will finish up more like guessing.

One thing that no one thinks about until it happens is having duplicate systems, or backups. Say your Internet connection failed – would this be a crisis? Perhaps not, if you always place a stop order on the market whenever you open an order – you’ll see more about that in the next chapter. But it would be nice to be able to call your broker if you have no alternative to getting online. For an Internet connection, I’d probably recommend having broadband for normal use with an alternative of dial-up for emergencies.

What if your computer failed? Again, maybe just a frustration if the betting has been covered with stop loss orders. But what about getting back online? If you have done much analysis of the markets to help with your trading, you shouldn’t rely on being able to recover the data from a crashed computer. It is usually the moving parts, such as the hard drive and the on/off switch (yes, really!) that fail, and the drive may contain all your information, your trading system, and all your programs. The programs can usually be recovered from the master discs onto a new computer or drive, but you need to make sure that all your data files are backed up.

There are several ways of doing this. You may have noticed advertisements recently for online backup, and if you do have a broadband connection this is certainly easy to use and takes care of everything. It is also inexpensive to buy a separate backup drive, complete with automatic backup software, so that it saves new files as they are formed, in the background. This would not save you from the disaster of a fire wiping out your installation, but also it does not require an on-going subscription. It is important to plan for problems before they happen, as it is incredibly frustrating trying to deal with them later.

Finally, I find that a laptop computer gives me several advantages. The obvious one is that you can take it with you when you go to different places and keep a check on your account. But there are two other reasons I like to use a laptop, which you may find interesting.

The one that you probably think of is that there is no down time if the electricity fails. More importantly, if you’re in the middle of doing something when the electricity cuts off, you don’t trash your files. You probably need power on to do your broadband connection anyway, so you may not be able to bet while the power is down, but it’s valuable not to lose your position in any software you’re using.

The advantage you may not have thought of is that laptops have a monitor output, at least the ones I’ve owned have. You don’t often see that on a desktop computer. If you have an old monitor from a previous computer set up, or even if you want to buy a cheap one, then you can plug it in and get a second screen at little or no cost. You configure the screen as an “extended desktop” – I’m talking Windows here, I don’t know if Macintosh is similar – and you can run charts on one screen while you are betting on the other. I personally find this extremely handy, and it saves you having to keep opening and closing Windows on different programs to cross reference.

Finally, if you’re looking for general programs at a modest cost to use, you should check out the OpenOffice suite of programs, which you can download from These are similar to the Microsoft office programs, including word processing, spreadsheets, and others, and are free, though donations are gratefully accepted.