Defining and Creating a Modern Computing Workstation

October 12, 2021

The modern computing world is full of various terminology that tends to change with the times, but one concept that’s remained relatively constant in recent years is the workstation. Workstations are more than just a simple computer, offering additional benefits and uses — what exactly defines a workstation, and why might you be considering one for a variety of potential needs?

At Xidax, we’re proud to offer a range of custom workstation products for clients in a variety of settings. How is a workstation defined, what are some of their common uses, and what are some of the important products — from CPUs and GUPs to broad computing types and more — that help comprise them? Here’s a basic primer.

Basic Workstation Definition

Stated about as simply as we can manage, a workstation in the computing world refers to a computer setup that’s designed to accomplish various professional tasks. While a workstation will typically be outfitted with many standard computing elements, it will also come with specialized components intended for specific tasks.

As such, workstations tend to blur the line between standard computers and high-end servers — meaning they may be used by individuals in a range of different settings. Some of their additional features will be in areas like computing power or graphics, but they can also include a variety of other elements — from an advanced cooling system to various types of RAID support.

Common Features and Uses of Workstations

While the term workstation tends to be used quite broadly, there are still some important areas that our unique setups will hit. In many cases, these computers are designed with specific tasks in mind — such as scientific computing or professional applications support. As such, the most common workstation applications include:

  • 3D animation and design
  • Advanced scientific computing
  • Computer aided engineering (CAE)
  • Engineering and architecture support
  • General business support
  • High performance gaming & VM support
  • Visualization and virtual reality
  • Video editing/playback/transcoding

Workstations are ideal for various workflows, including design, rendering, and video editing. In fact, they’re often referred to as “workstations” because of their tendency to be used in work environments — such as design firms, laboratories, and the like. This is good news for gamers or other users who might need a little extra muscle from time to time — workstations are not only designed for professional use, but also tend to have a little extra room for high-performance computing.

Unlike standard computers, workstations also usually support ECC (or error-correcting) RAM, plus have advanced storage capabilities that often include various RAID configurations. Such setups can be a particularly good option for those who use their workstations for video editing, 3D rendering/animation, and other similar tasks.

Finally, product support and warranties for workstations tend to be good across the board — especially when purchased from a reputable manufacturer. If you’re looking for warranty support or need general product help, you can rest easy knowing that most major workstation manufacturers are well-equipped to handle this type of customer service.

Common Workstation CPUs

There are two companies most well-known for manufacturing the CPUs found in today’s workstations:

  • Intel: Intel’s multi-core solutions are immensely popular, and their CPUs are used in the vast majority of workstations. They have both the Xeon and X series available, and can approach triple-digit total cores within a dual-core CPU configuration.
  • AMD: Used more often in high-end workstation configurations, AMD’s still incredibly popular — many gamers who need a little extra processing power also use them. Their Threadripper and Threadripper PRO products have 64 cores on a single socket, making them ideal for CPU-intensive workloads.

Common Workstation GPUs

GPUs refer to your graphics and display needs, and once again, two companies tend to dominate this market:

  • Nvidia: Nvidia’s pro-level GPU, Quadro, holds the bulk of the market currently — and is often recommended for workstations due to its more cost-effective and high-performance nature.
  • AMD: AMD’s newest pro-level GPU, Radeon Pro, tends to be their most popular option in workstation configurations — though it doesn’t typically match the price/performance ratio of Quadro solutions. If you’re going with this option, we strongly recommend pairing it with an AMD processor for best results.

Common Workstation Computer Types

What are some of the specific computer modes and types that are most often found in today’s professional workstations? Here are a few examples:

  • Graphical production: Many workstation computers are designed specifically for use with 3D animation and design, engineering, architecture support, and other similar tasks. Such computers can be a good option for anyone who needs a mix of professional-grade performance and the ability to keep cool under heavy workloads — which can sometimes result in higher noise levels than traditional computers. These setups require attention to both the GPU and CPU, the former of which handles most of the rendering but the latter of which will shoulder other tasks.
  • Multimedia: Another area where the CPU and GPU work together is within multimedia or production workstations. These might also be referred to as M-class workstations, and are often used in areas where high performance is needed but noise levels need to be low. The more complex the media, the more hardware that will be needed.
  • Servers: In some other cases, multi-core CPU-based systems will be designed to manage specific tasks, store large amounts of data, or even to host a virtual machine. Here, high-performance is obviously required — but so is robust power management and the ability to be easily expandable. VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) workstations can sometimes fall under this category as well, depending on their specific configuration.
  • Modeling: Finally, some modern workstations are used alongside modeling software. This will require a professional graphics card to product accurate models.

For more on what comprises a modern workstation computer setup, or to learn about any of our gaming computers or setups, speak to the staff at Xidax today.

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