What Is A Computer Workstation?

As someone who’s always worked from a personal computer, even in work environments, I’ve never had much experience with workstations. Lately, I’ve been curious as to what they actually are and how they’re different from a typical consumer PC. Eventually this led me to do a little research, and I wanted to share what I found.

So what is a computer workstation? A computer workstation is a specially designed computer intended for work purposes. Workstations are typically used for technical, artistic, or scientific applications. Sometimes connected to a local area network, workstations are more powerful than personal computers but run at a higher cost.

Only a general statement isn’t quite enough to cover everything about them though. Let’s delve a little deeper with workstations!


A Closer Look at Computer Workstations

Workstations have been in use for almost as long as computers have existed. In fact, computers were initially designed for scientific and military application. As the microprocessor was invented, however, computers have shrunk in size, and as a result workstation computers had more practical uses in commercial fields as well.

The first true commercialized workstation computers began to emerge in the 1970s by companies like Xerox, Texas Instruments, Lisp Machines, and Symbolics. These computers were networked and focused on high performance while allowing for heavy interactive use.

These sorts of computers caught on heavily with businesses focusing in all fields of work, because they allowed for employees to drastically increase productivity. This trended throughout the 1970s, and by the 1980s, workstation computers were an exploding business.

Through the 1980s, workstation computers branched out to serve all sorts of specialty needs in different fields. Some would be configured to run an array of high performance hard drives to create cost-efficient network servers. Others would focus more on multi-CPU configurations to handle the load of work intensive applications. While some would even be built and shipped with state of the art graphic processor units (GPUs) for the purposes of art, 3D modeling, and computer graphics.

Workstations today still fulfill the same roles that they did decades ago. Built to specific specializations in order to tackle tasks that a typical personal computer wouldn’t be able to do. However, the line between workstations and personal computers has begun to blur. High performance technology is becoming easier to produce for the standard consumer PC and as a result, many key factors that put the workstation a step ahead in the computer world have stopped being quite as unique. If you’d like to read more about personal computers, I wrote and article about them here.

In the modern work environment, workstation computers still stand out in some areas however, and that’s space-saving power and efficiency at a high expense. Meaning that workstation computers specialize in packing much more raw performance and speed into the same space as a typical personal computer would. However, this comes at a higher price, putting off an average consumer.

Businesses operate differently however. “Time is money” being a very true statement for workplace environments. To this end, many business are content to invest much more money into workstation computers to speed up productivity. Their investment into these workstations paying off by increasing their profits over long periods of time.

What is the Purpose of Computer Workstations

Workstations are a lot like normal every day consumer PCs. They operate the same, and are build very similarly. However, their purpose is a bit more specific. Unlike a regular computer, workstation computers are designed to work under much more duress.

These specialized computers can fulfill a number of different roles, but there’s a few main ones that really stick out:

  • Server Workstation – These are computers built and designed to operate like a server. They typically contain a large amount of storage hard drives and are dedicated to providing information to other computers hooked up to its network. Many commercial businesses will use these workstations.

  • Computer Graphics Workstation – These computers are equipped to handle some of the most graphically demanding applications and tasks in the technology world. They typically come with an array of linked graphics processing units (GPUs) that are state of the art. These workstations are used by game designers.
  • Applied Sciences Workstation – These computers are built to handle tasks and applications that demand a large quantity of processing power. You’ll find these types of computers in labs across the world performing intense calculations or assisting in running simulations or experiments. Workstations in these fields typically have multiple central processing units (CPUs) in order to keep up with the performance demand put on them.

These are just a few big examples of computer workstations. There are many different types that use a variation of high data storage, heavy graphical processing, or intense computer processing attributes. Like any computer, the beauty of workstations is they can be built to the exact specifications needed by the company or business ordering them!

Characteristics of a Computer Workstation

Workstation computers have a lot of things that make them distinct. Some perhaps more outright recognizable visually, while other characteristics showing up in the form of internal components.

What makes workstations unique are:

  • Multiple Monitors – While not always a requirement for workstation computers, ones that are dedicated to monitoring multiple things at once will typically incorporate several monitors for just one system.
  • Local Area Network – Many businesses and office work spaces specifically will have many computers set up to connect to each other through a server. This is called a local area network or LAN. Computers set up to LANs share data through the server and can be swapped in and out without any loss of information.
  • Organized and Dedicated Desks – Something often overlooked for workstations is the need for a dedicated desk for the workstation. Regardless of if it’s just for one monitor, or many. A proper desk that’s well organized is essential for a workstation to be as productive as possible.
  • Multiple CPUs – Workstations will typically have more than one processor in them. This is because of the high performance demand required from the computer itself. It requires more than one processor to properly run all the tasks required of it.
  • High End GPUs – Many workstation computers will incorporate a minimum of one top of the line graphics processors. The reason for this is because many workstations are required to run applications that involve computer graphics and even if they don’t, the GPU itself can help shoulder some of the load from the CPU as well.
  • ECC RAM – A short way of saying Error Correcting Code RAM. Many workstations, especially those built to perform the tasks of a server, will have ECC RAM in them. This RAM is specifically designed to correct potential errors in the data that it receives, which is very useful in a system designed to work constantly without rest.

Differences Between Workstation and Personal Computers

Aside from the specific characteristics mentioned before about workstations, there are some things that differentiate them from the average consumer PC.

  • Performance – Workstation computers are flat out more powerful than the average home computer. They’re built with power in mind. With multiple CPUs, GPUs, or hard drives, workstations are typically leaps and bounds more capable of handling tasks given to them from a normal PC.
  • Reliability – When a workstation computer is built, it’s created with the idea of dependability in mind. These computers are often running nonstop every day without a break. Sometimes they don’t ever get turned off outside of power outages. As a result, workstation computers are designed to operate under these harsh conditions and are much more reliable than their home PC counterparts.
  • Cost – The biggest difference between a personal computer and a workstation is their price range. Since workstations are purchased with the intention to save time over the course of years, they’re built with an excessive amount of performance and reliability. As a result, it’s undeniable that a workstation computer is going to cost much more from a PC.


Working Efficiently (Conclusions)

Workstations are an interesting subject to me in that they typically have very beefed up versions of the computers we use at home. For a computer enthusiast, those sorts of powerful systems are very compelling to think about. Since you know a little more about them yourselves, you hopefully can see the appeal of a workstation computer!

If you have any comments of questions, feel free to leave them below and I’ll be sure to respond to them directly!

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