“Workstations are the engines that get real work done in professions such as architecture, energy exploration, graphics arts, medical imaging, and manufacturing.”
A desktop workstation is a performance-oriented class of PC that’s made for when you need accurate and speedy work done. Think number-crunching massive amounts of data in a short period, or rendering complex graphics. While the gaming PCs of the world may have faster frame rates and overall clock speeds, what workstation users need is accurate results, quickly. After all, the plans for a 100-story-tall skyscraper need to be correct to the millimeter.
Workstations range in pricing from several hundred dollars for a basic model that’s only a bit pricier than a mainstream business PC, up to tens of thousands of dollars for a beast of a system. As usual, the more money you spend, the better the performance you get, and the more numerous the features.
Multi-monitor support is another key feature of a desktop workstation. At the very least, there should be support for up to three monitors in an entry-level system. Engineer’s tools like CAD/CAM programs or artists’ tools like Adobe Creative Suite usually have various toolbars, which are easier to display if you have more than one or two screens. Multiple monitors also let you compare and contrast minute changes in your work, leading to more precise results. Many desktop workstations can support multiple graphics cards, with each GPU having support for numerous displays. That way, you can have up to nine or 10 screens hooked up to the same PC. You may need those extra monitors, since specialized software, like factory process monitoring software, utilize several displays at once to present the technician with graphics-based information on many processes in real time.
Speaking of displays, the high-end graphics cards in these workstations support multiple full HD (1080p), and sometimes even 3K, 4K, and 5K displays. Look for In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology for better color accuracy and picture quality, but high-end, bright LCD panels are acceptable. Larger screen resolutions mean that you can display more information on the monitor before having to zoom in, but consequently text and user interface (UI) elements may also look smaller.
Storage is another consideration for workstations. Just replacing a hard drive can change the app load and OS on the system, so this expensive resource can be shared quickly and securely. The boot drive can be removed from the tool-less chassis and locked away in a safe place to keep your files away from prying eyes. Alternately, workstation users are inordinately hard on their equipment, so hard drives and even solid-state drives (SSDs) tend to wear out more quickly than on general business PCs. The ability to swap burned-out hard drives in seconds without the use of tools is a hallmark of the IT-friendly workstation. That way your workers don’t sit idly by when delays could cost thousands, if not millions, of dollars. SSDs are expensive on a dollar-per-gigabyte basis, ranging in size from 128GB to 512GB, but they are blazing fast and give you the best performance numbers. Hard drives are a lot less expensive, with capacities that range from 250GB up to 6TB per drive, but they are inherently slower, and can burn out if the workstation chassis isn’t cooled sufficiently.
A final feature that distinguishes workstations from run-of-the-mill business desktops is Independent Software Vendor (ISV) certification. Simply put, ISV certification means that the developers of certain apps (like Autodesk or PTC) will certify components like the graphics card or integrated graphics in a processor to work with their program. You could theoretically run the program on a non-certified system. However, many contracts (like those for government work) will list requirements like ISV certification for the workstations that you’ll use to complete the project. Therefore, if you are bidding on multi-million dollar projects, you’d better make sure your IT guys purchase ISV-certified systems and ascertain that the system drivers match the ISV specifications. You can usually find this information on the workstation manufacturers’ website.
Workstations are the engines that get real work done in professions such as architecture, energy exploration, graphics arts, medical imaging, and manufacturing. They can be used to design the components or monitor their progress as your product is being built. Sure, you’re paying a lot more than you would for a simple general office PC, but if you know you need real power in your PC, you’ll know it’s worth it. Contact one of our Workstation Design Engineers today!