Do you know how to differentiate a workstation from a server?

Workstations and servers are variations of a personal computer designed for applications that require multiple users and / or greater power than the computers we use on a daily basis can provide. What points do they have in common and how are they different?

What is a server?


The word server is a translation of the English signifier “Server” and its origin dates back to before the era of personal computers where time-sharing computing existed, in which a central computer served the calculations to the different terminals that were connected to the local network. Thus, the first obvious difference between a server and a workstation is that the former aims to deliver its power not only to a single user but to several simultaneously.

The fact that a server has to process the requests of several users’ programs also means that it has to have a much higher power than that of a PC in terms of user, either laptop or desktop, but at the same time its power it will be divided among the different users who make use of its capabilities. In order to manage several users at the same time, servers usually use special operating systems to perform this function and today operating systems in the cloud are used consisting of a hypervisor capable of running several operating systems on top, one for each of the customers.

A server today is used for several functions:

  • It can be used as a file server to be accessed through an FTP application for file transfer.
  • To store and manage company email.
  • As a web server, storing a web page and its services.
  • To run an application remotely for one or more users.
  • Storing a large database where access by several consultants to it is required.

Characteristics of a server

Server inside

The general architecture of the servers is the same as that of a personal computer and a workstation, so it is of the Von Neumann type. However to the day of writing this article we can give a few touches of what a server is like today.

  • Currently they tend to be made up of dozens of cores per CPU, the most advanced have reached 64 and some even 128. That is why they are large processors with complex infrastructures. In some cases, there may be multiple processors on a server.
  • A large number of cores requires a large amount of memory, if currently two channels of DDR4 memory are used or four in the case of DDR5, in workstations we have to quadruple both figures.
  • They use memory modules with data correction system.
  • Server CPUs are designed to run all the time and therefore their cores are not designed to reach very high performance peaks in the form of clock speeds.
  • The I / O system in a server is several times more complex, since technically they have to operate as several different computers and that is why they tend to have a greater number of PCI Express, SATA, USB interfaces compared to a workstation or a personal computer.

It must be clarified that any PC with the appropriate operating system can become a server, but it will do so on a smaller scale in terms of power, an example is there are users who have set up a server for Minecraft using a simple home PC.

What is a workstation?

Server Workstation

A workstation is a type of personal computer, which is used for applications that require a power that is above what a personal computer can offer and therefore makes server hardware much more complex and powerful. Today’s workstations are all derived from PC technology, especially after Intel put an end to the threat posed by RISC architectures with the launch of the first Post-RISC architecture, the Pentium Pro that brought execution out of order.

So during the 80s and 90s there were workstations from brands such as: Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Apollo Computer, Digital Equipment Corporation, Hewlett Packard or IBM. Most of these companies have disappeared, others have left that market and those that have remained have adopted the so-called HEDT CPUs from Intel and AMD.

A workstation is used today for several functions, but unlike what happens with a server these are only for the use of a single user and do not differ in general from the use that is given to a conventional high-end PC. range, so its use is focused on tasks that require high power to operate:

  • Video editing and manipulation.
  • Creation, rendering and animation of scenes in three dimensions.
  • Building architecture and other complex engineering work.
  • Scientific Computing, an advanced laboratory usually has a workstation to perform complex calculations.

Characteristics of a workstation

server workstation

Because the workstations are designed for highly professional markets with the ability to spend money this allows them to have much more advanced hardware than on a desktop PC:

  • The processors are usually the same as those of the servers, but put on a diet in number of cores, but reaching higher clock speeds. This is why they use different sockets compared to both server and desktop CPUs.
  • Its RAM memory system is halfway in the number of accesses between a conventional PC and a server, so they usually have twice as many channels as the former and half as many as the latter.
  • Many workstations use specialized graphics cards that in principle are similar to those used for gaming, but making use of the best chips from each wafer and therefore can achieve higher clock speeds for a more sustained time, higher quality drivers and especially small changes that are not of value for ordinary users, but of great importance for certain professional sectors.

Today any minimally powerful PC can be considered a small workstation, and there are many professionals with few resources who make use of a personal computer for their daily tasks. After all, the original workstations used 32-bit CPUs such as the Motorola 68K, something already exceeded in PCs, with multitasking systems, an idea with respect to the above, with advanced graphic and sound hardware, both of the same, and connection of net.

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