beginners guides

A beginners guide to computer workstations

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In this article we’re going to offer you a beginners guide to buying a new workstation. This will comprise of the things you should be looking out for, and the pitfalls to avoid. But, first of all, let’s go back to basics and explain what a workstation actually is.

Many people will probably assume that all computers are just about equal – give or take a spec or two. But they are not. A workstation is a much more powerful device than your standard home desktop PC (although it is less advanced than a server). So, although the term is sometimes used to refer to a ‘general’ or ‘standard’ PC, for our purposes we’re referring to high performance computers used in a professional environment, and specifically specced-up for heavy-duty use.

Workstations are used in professions where more computing power is needed than is available with a ‘normal’ consumer-level PC. This might mean scientists who are required to run complex data processing routines, designers and architects who require intricate and highly detailed modelling, or filmmakers and animators who require lots of processing power and incredibly detailed screens to view their work. While there are some personal computers on the market which may be able to handle a degree of these tasks, it’s more likely that a workstation will provide the adequate capability.

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What is a workstation?

Essentially, a workstation is a special computer which has been designed and built to be used for technical, scientific or professional applications. The processing power of a workstation can facilitate high-resolution or three-dimensional graphic interfaces, sophisticated multitask software and advanced abilities to communicate with other computers. Typically, the form factor of workstations is akin to that of desktop computers, consisting of a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse at a minimum.

A workstation may also offer multiple displays, graphics tablets, 3D mice (devices for manipulating 3D objects and navigating scenes) and so on – ie. advanced accessories and collaboration tools.

The baseline of workstations alters as the general standard of specs of computers changes. So what may once have been a top-of-the-line workstation will eventually become (relatively speaking) a less powerful device, and therefore no longer able to be classified as a workstation. The flipside of this particular ‘coin’ is that as the general standard of computers continues to improve and as technology advances, workstations become more and more powerful.

In addition, improvements in technology mean that workstations have become physically smaller. These days a high-specced and high-powered laptop can qualify as a workstation, and what is thought of as the more traditional desktop workstation may be a relatively small tower unit. Desktops usually have large screens, and sometimes multiple screens, as these support tasks and applications which require a lot of screen real estate. The resolution of screens is also typically high as this provides clarity and crispness – essential in things like design work, photography, filmmaking and animation. Using a high-powered workstation with a high resolution screen is important in the visually creative professions because it allows the creators to clearly see what they are doing.

The term ‘workstation’ can also sometimes be applied to networking, and describes any computer connected to a network. In this case, a workstation is a computer that someone on the network is using for work purposes, but it is not necessarily a workstation in the computing sense. For example, an office might have a network which is capable of supporting twenty workstations (including laptops people bring in and out of the workplace), alongside actual workstations which are used for heavy duty computing.

What constitutes a workstation?

Although components and specifications will vary from model to model, in general workstations typically have the following features:

• ECC RAM

ECC stands for error-correcting code, and ECC memory has the effect of making your system more reliable. It fixes memory errors before they adversely affect your system, preventing crashes and therefore saving those instances where you suffer downtime.

• CPU

The CPU is a vital component in any PC – and the more powerful it is the better. A CPU core is a CPU’s processor, and top-end CPUs can have 32 to 64 cores – each of which can work on a different task. A thread is a virtual version of a CPU core. This is a process of breaking up a physical core into virtual cores to increase performance. Processors with higher core and thread counts are better for multitasking and especially continuous or lengthy tasks like video encoding.

• RAID

RAID (or Redundant Array of Independent Disks) uses multiple internal hard drives to store and process your data. There are several different types of RAID system available. Depending on the type of system you have, you will have multiple drives processing your data, or ‘mirrored drives’, which means that if one drive fails the other one will still function.

• SSD

Solid State Drives work differently to ‘standard’ hard-disk drives. In an SSD there are no moving parts, which means that there is less likelihood that there will be any sort of physical failure. SSDs are also faster than ‘regular’ hard drives. The only current negatives to SSDs are that they are more expensive and have a smaller storage capacity than ‘normal’ drives. This means you are getting less storage space for your money – but this should be weighed against their improved performance and reliability.

• GPU

One of the basics of computing is that your device must output to a screen, and in the case of workstations having an optimised Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) means that your CPU will have less work to do to process the screen output. The downside is that high-end GPUs are expensive.

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The benefits of improved components in workstations

‘Maxing’ the things we listed in the last section is a pretty obvious move to make when you’re considering a workstation. Just like with everything else, if you spend more money on higher specs you are certainly going to end up with much better results. Higher-end components should always translate to better performance, and almost always do. So it’s probably unsurprising, therefore, that you will find that workstations to be fitted with the best available components – those which are definitely going to provide excellent power and performance – and the best combinations.

The difference in speed between a workstation and a desktop PC may not be immediately apparent when you run, say, a word processing application or do a bit of browsing on the internet. However, a workstation’s superior credentials will come into their own when you undertake heavy duty tasks. Performance will massively boost at this point. So, things like encoding or rendering images or video files, searching through databases, recalculating large spreadsheets, manipulating CAD drawings or running multiple applications simultaneously. The high-level components installed in the workstation will really prove their worth.

Although a workstation will definitely be more expensive than a standard desktop PC, there is a bit of simple maths you can do to justify the expenditure. It’s highly likely that a standard desktop PC will eventually become slow and underperforming, or be out of action altogether and in need of maintenance or attention from your company’s IT department for small amounts of time here and there during the course of its lifetime.

These pockets of time may not seem like much when considered individually (a couple of hours here and there, or whatever), but when added together over the course of that PC’s lifetime, the total lost can represent a significant chunk of time and, therefore, that means there is a cost to your business in terms of wasted man-hours. That’s the hours of the person regularly using that particular PC, and those of the IT staff addressing issues to do with that PC. Investing in a workstation will be a bigger cost up front, but it’s going to be a much more robust and reliable device likely to have a longer lifespan, so that will significantly reduce lost time (and therefore lost money).

Another benefit is that workers will be much more settled and happy if they are working on a reliable device which functions the way they would expect it to. An older and slower device with recurring problems here and there will probably cause a drop in productivity.

Choosing a workstation at Ebuyer

There are various things to consider when the time comes to look for a workstation and think about making a purchase. What are your likely purposes for the device, and how will it integrate into your working set-up?

The ideal way to go to balance power and performance and the demands of your pocket is to choose the most affordable computing system that will fully meet your needs. There’s an added benefit here, because if you opt for an overly powerful system, or a system that is far beyond what you need it for, you will end up paying more than you should for what you use. On the other hand, should you opt for a system which turns out to not be powerful enough to handle the tasks and workload you require, you’ll limit the productivity and efficiency of you or your workforce. There is a balance to strike, and it can seem daunting to make sure you get the right workstation.

At Ebuyer there is a dedicated business team that can guide you through the process if you’re looking to buy your first workstation. They will offer you advice and support and help you make sure you end up with absolutely ‘the right fit’ to meet your business needs. You can browse workstations on the Ebuyer website here, and you can contact the business team by calling

In this article we’re going to offer you a beginners guide to buying a new workstation. This will comprise of the things you should be looking out for, and the pitfalls to avoid. But, first of all, let’s go back to basics and explain what a workstation actually is.

Many people will probably assume that all computers are just about equal – give or take a spec or two. But they are not. A workstation is a much more powerful device than your standard home desktop PC (although it is less advanced than a server). So, although the term is sometimes used to refer to a ‘general’ or ‘standard’ PC, for our purposes we’re referring to high performance computers used in a professional environment, and specifically specced for heavy-duty use.

Workstations are used in professions where more computing power is needed than is available with a ‘normal’ consumer-level PC. This might mean scientists who are required to run complex data processing routines, designers and architects who require intricate and highly detailed modelling, or filmmakers and animators who require lots of processing power and incredibly detailed screens to view their work. While there are some personal computers on the market which may be able to handle a degree of these tasks, it’s more likely that a workstation will provide the adequate capability.

What is a workstation?

Essentially, a workstation is a special computer which has been designed and built to be used for technical, scientific or professional applications. The processing power of a workstation can facilitate high-resolution or three-dimensional graphic interfaces, sophisticated multitask software and advanced abilities to communicate with other computers. Typically, the form factor of workstations is akin to that of desktop computers, consisting of a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse at a minimum.

A workstation may also offer multiple displays, graphics tablets, 3D mice (devices for manipulating 3D objects and navigating scenes) and so on – ie. advanced accessories and collaboration tools.

The baseline of workstations alters as the general standard of specs of computers changes. So what may once have been a top-of-the-line workstation will eventually become (relatively speaking) a less powerful device, and therefore no longer able to be classified as a workstation. The flipside of this particular ‘coin’ is that as the general standard of computers continues to improve and as technology advances, workstations become more and more powerful.

In addition, improvements in technology mean that workstations have become physically smaller. These days a high-specced and high-powered laptop can qualify as a workstation, and what is thought of as the more traditional desktop workstation may be a relatively small tower unit. Desktops usually have large screens, and sometimes multiple screens, as these support tasks and applications which require a lot of screen real estate. The resolution of screens is also typically high as this provides clarity and crispness – essential in things like design work, photography, filmmaking and animation. Using a high-powered workstation with a high resolution screen is important in the visually creative professions because it allows the creators to clearly see what they are doing.

The term ‘workstation’ can also sometimes be applied to networking, and describes any computer connected to a network. In this case, a workstation is a computer that someone on the network is using for work purposes, but it is not necessarily a workstation in the computing sense. For example, an office might have a network which is capable of supporting twenty workstations (including laptops people bring in and out of the workplace), alongside actual workstations which are used for heavy duty computing.

What constitutes a workstation?

Although components and specifications will vary from model to model, in general workstations typically have the following features:

• ECC RAM

ECC stands for error-correcting code, and ECC memory has the effect of making your system more reliable. It fixes memory errors before they adversely affect your system, preventing crashes and therefore saving those instances where you suffer downtime.

• CPU

The CPU is a vital component in any PC – and the more powerful it is the better. A CPU core is a CPU’s processor, and top-end CPUs can have 32 to 64 cores – each of which can work on a different task. A thread is a virtual version of a CPU core. This is a process of breaking up a physical core into virtual cores to increase performance. Processors with higher core and thread counts are better for multitasking and especially continuous or lengthy tasks like video encoding.

• RAID

RAID (or Redundant Array of Independent Disks) uses multiple internal hard drives to store and process your data. There are several different types of RAID system available. Depending on the type of system you have, you will have multiple drives processing your data, or ‘mirrored drives’, which means that if one drive fails the other one will still function.

• SSD

Solid State Drives work differently to ‘standard’ hard-disk drives. In an SSD there are no moving parts, which means that there is less likelihood that there will be any sort of physical failure. SSDs are also faster than ‘regular’ hard drives. The only current negatives to SSDs are that they are more expensive and have a smaller storage capacity than ‘normal’ drives. This means you are getting less storage space for your money – but this should be weighed against their improved performance and reliability.

• GPU

One of the basics of computing is that your device must output to a screen, and in the case of workstations having an optimised Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) means that your CPU will have less work to do to process the screen output. The downside is that high-end GPUs are expensive.

The benefits of improved components in workstations

‘Maxing’ the things we listed in the last section is a pretty obvious move to make when you’re considering a workstation. Just like with everything else, if you spend more money on higher specs you are certainly going to end up with much better results. Higher-end components should always translate to better performance, and almost always do. So it’s probably unsurprising, therefore, that you will find that workstations to be fitted with the best available components – those which are definitely going to provide excellent power and performance – and the best combinations.

The difference in speed between a workstation and a desktop PC may not be immediately apparent when you run, say, a word processing application or do a bit of browsing on the internet. However, a workstation’s superior credentials will come into their own when you undertake heavy duty tasks. Performance will massively boost at this point. So, things like encoding or rendering images or video files, searching through databases, recalculating large spreadsheets, manipulating CAD drawings or running multiple applications simultaneously. The high-level components installed in the workstation will really prove their worth.

Although a workstation will definitely be more expensive than a standard desktop PC, there is a bit of simple maths you can do to justify the expenditure. It’s highly likely that a standard desktop PC will eventually become slow and underperforming, or be out of action altogether and in need of maintenance or attention from your company’s IT department for small amounts of time here and there during the course of its lifetime.

These pockets of time may not seem like much when considered individually (a couple of hours here and there, or whatever), but when added together over the course of that PC’s lifetime, the total lost can represent a significant chunk of time and, therefore, that means there is a cost to your business in terms of wasted man-hours. That’s the hours of the person regularly using that particular PC, and those of the IT staff addressing issues to do with that PC. Investing in a workstation will be a bigger cost up front, but it’s going to be a much more robust and reliable device likely to have a longer lifespan, so that will significantly reduce lost time (and therefore lost money).

Another benefit is that workers will be much more settled and happy if they are working on a reliable device which functions the way they would expect it to. An older and slower device with recurring problems here and there will probably cause a drop in productivity.

Choosing a workstation at Ebuyer

There are various things to consider when the time comes to look for a workstation and think about making a purchase. What are your likely purposes for the device, and how will it integrate into your working set-up?

The ideal way to go to balance power and performance and the demands of your pocket is to choose the most affordable computing system that will fully meet your needs. There’s an added benefit here, because if you opt for an overly powerful system, or a system that is far beyond what you need it for, you will end up paying more than you should for what you use. On the other hand, should you opt for a system which turns out to not be powerful enough to handle the tasks and workload you require, you’ll limit the productivity and efficiency of you or your workforce. There is a balance to strike, and it can seem daunting to make sure you get the right workstation.

At Ebuyer there is a dedicated business team that can guide you through the process if you’re looking to buy your first workstation. They will offer you advice and support and help you make sure you end up with absolutely ‘the right fit’ to meet your business needs. You can browse workstations on the Ebuyer website here, and you can contact the business team by calling 01430 433780.

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