How is a Server Different from a Desktop Computer?

A small business might be tempted to save money by simply running a server operating system on a desktop computer — but this isn’t a replacement for real server hardware.

Image shows the difference between a server and a desktop computer.

While implementing a network is not a trivial or inexpensive undertaking, the benefits you gain by adding a server to your small business computing environment outweigh any shortcomings. A small business might be tempted to save time and money by simply running a server operating system on a desktop computer, but this isn’t a replacement for a real server.

Continue reading to gain a better understanding of the difference between a network server and a desktop computer, and learn about the core technologies behind them.

Main Differences Between a Desktop and Server

Many people mistakenly believe that a server is no different from a typical desktop computer. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While almost any computer that meets the minimum hardware requirements can run a server operating system that alone does not make a desktop computer a true server. Even if the desktop computer had similar processor speeds, memory and storage capacity compared to a server, it still isn’t a replacement for a real server. The technologies behind them are engineered for different purposes.

A desktop computer system typically runs a user-friendly operating system and desktop applications to facilitate desktop-oriented tasks. In contrast, a server manages all network resources. Servers are often dedicated (meaning it performs no other task besides server tasks). Because a server is engineered to manage, store, send and process data 24-hours a day it has to be more reliable than a desktop computer and offers a variety of features and hardware not typically used in the average desktop computer.

Server Hardware

One of the best choices for a small business is a dedicated server built from the ground up as a file server to provide features and expansion options that a desktop computer lacks. Some server hardware decisions you will need to make include the following:

  1. Form Factor: For small businesses, the best choice is a dedicated entry-level server in a tower configuration.
  2. Processor: Choose a server-specific processor to boost performance and data throughput.
  3. Memory: Buy as much memory as you can afford and look for expansion slots for future upgrades.
  4. Storage: Look for SATA or SCSI hard disks, not IDE.

Server Operating System

The operating system (OS) is the software platform on top of which other programs will run. Choosing a server operating system is no easy task. The specific operating system you go with will depend on what the server is going to be mainly used for. For basic file servers a small business should choose an operating system that staff will be the most comfortable with. Another issue to consider is if you have any application that is best-suited to a particular operating system.

Additional Server Considerations

For the average home user looking for a basic, infrequently used server a built from an old desktop computer could work. For the small business owner, however, the question to ask is: Do you really want to trust your business data and processes to just any old hardware? Most small businesses will be far happier with a computer that is ready-made to be a dedicated server than with one that began life as a standard desktop computer. If your company’s data is at all important to you, it is the only way to go.

Choosing the Right Server: Before investing in server hardware, you need to consider applications, storage, processor, form factor, and more to help you choose wisely.

Congratulations! Now that you understand the difference between a desktop computer and a server you can look for a server that meets your specific needs!

UPDATED: This article was updated April 2, 2021 by Web Webster.

 

 

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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