Home / Definitions / Workstation


Vangie Beal
Last Updated April 5, 2022 10:55 am

A workstation is a high-power computer used for engineering applications (CAD/CAM), desktop publishing, software development, and other types of applications that require a moderate amount of computing power and relatively high-quality graphics capabilities. In networking, workstation refers to any computer connected to a local-area network. It could be a workstation or a personal computer.

What are the main parts of a workstation?

Workstations generally come with a large, high-resolution graphics screen, multi-core CPU, at least 5 gigabytes of RAM, built-in network support, and a graphical user interface. Most workstations also have a mass storage device such as a disk drive, but a special type of workstation, called a diskless workstation, comes without a disk drive. The most common operating systems for workstations are UNIX and Windows.

Where did the term come from?

The term “workstation” was coined by the Xerox Corporation in 1981 when it introduced its line of Star computers. These were based on the Motorola 68000 microprocessor and had a graphical user interface (GUI) with icons instead of text commands. In 1984, Apple Computer released the Macintosh 128K personal computer featuring an icon-based GUI called Mac OS System 7. This marked the beginning of widespread use of GUIs among personal computers and workstations alike.

How are workstations used?

Workstations are used in engineering, computer animation, video editing, graphic design, and other fields that require heavy-duty computing power. They typically have multiple processors (CPUs), large amounts of RAM memory and storage space, advanced graphics cards with 3D capabilities, and support for multiple monitors. Workstations are also known as “high-performance computers” because they can handle complex tasks without slowing down the user’s experience.

In contrast to desktop PCs which run on x86 architecture CPUs from Intel or AMD, workstations use more powerful multi-core CPUs based on architectures like POWER8 or Xeon Phi. These chips allow them to perform many calculations at once while using less energy than a standard PC would need to do the same task. For example, a single CPU core from an Intel Xeon E5 v4 chip can outperform four cores from an Intel Core i7 6700K processor when running software that takes advantage of parallel processing features like OpenMP. Workstations often come with very fast GPUs (graphics processing units) that offer superior performance over integrated graphics solutions found on most consumer PCs today. 

How powerful is a workstation?

In terms of computing power, workstations lie between personal computers and minicomputers, although the line is fuzzy on both ends. High-end personal computers are equivalent to low-end workstations. And high-end workstations are equivalent to minicomputers.

Like personal computers, most workstations are single-user computers. However, workstations are typically linked together to form a local-area network, although they can also be used as stand-alone systems.

The high-performance computer is used for specialized applications, such as computer-aided design (CAD), engineering, or scientific calculations. Workstations are designed to handle multiple tasks at once and often have powerful graphics cards that render complex images in real-time.

This allows users to take full advantage of programs like Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, SolidWorks 2016 SP1, etc., even if their machine doesn’t have one or more dedicated graphics cards. 

Most workstations also include one or more hard drives configured as RAID arrays so data remains safe even if one drive fails unexpectedly during operation; this is especially important considering how much time these machines spend crunching numbers rather than being idle between jobs. Some models feature solid-state drives (SSDs) instead of traditional spinning disks.