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What is a Workstation?

Workstations are computers specifically designed and configured to meet power users’ technical computing requirements, including high performance, data integrity, reliability, and manageability.

Workstation Key Takeaways

  • Workstations are computers that are specifically configured to meet the most demanding technical computing requirements.

  • To be considered a workstation, systems must include key capabilities related to performance, reliability, data integrity, scalability, and expandability.

  • Workstations are most frequently used in creative, engineering, scientific, and financial services industries.

  • Intel® Core™ and Intel® Xeon® processors enable workstations to meet the most demanding workloads.

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What Does a Workstation Do?

From architecture and engineering to media and entertainment to data science, professionals across industries are doing revolutionary work—creating complex CAD models, animating 2D and 3D graphics, and developing artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. Accomplishing this innovative work requires the use of resource-intensive user applications and workloads that only purpose-built workstations can handle.

Workstations are mobile computers, stationary towers, or rackmount systems that are specifically designed and configured to meet the most demanding professional workloads and workflows.

Features of a Workstation

While workstations may look like typical business or consumer computers, they are far from it. What sets workstations apart from standard PCs is a set of defining features related to performance, reliability, data integrity, scalability, and expandability.

Specialized Performance

For power users, waiting for their workstation to complete time-bound tasks, such as media rendering, can bring production and productivity to a grinding halt. Workstations must offer a higher level of multithreaded performance than standard PCs with powerful processors that can handle data-intensive applications and workloads. Workstations built on Intel® Core™ or Intel® Xeon® processors enable users to complete their tasks faster across both single- and multithreaded workloads.

Scalability via In-Socket Upgrades

Business growth often means creatives, engineers, and other professionals must handle more-complex workloads and access more-data-intensive applications. Workstation performance must scale appropriately to meet these increasing workload demands. Intel® Core™ or Intel® Xeon® processors enable in-socket upgrades—from eight to 28 cores per socket—to drastically improve workstation performance. If you anticipate a decent amount of business growth in the near future, investing in workstations with CPUs that offer multiple cores is a smart, proactive choice.

Expandability

As the needs of professional power users change and grow over time, their workstations will also need to expand accordingly. Additional GPUs, FPGAs, SAS/SATA expanders, RAID cards, or high-speed network interfaces (10G) may need to be added to meet increasing workload demands. When workstations include 2nd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, users can take advantage of up to 56 cores, up to 96 CPU PCIe lanes, and 12 memory channels (across two CPU sockets).Workstations featuring Intel® Core™ processors provide up to 16 cores, up to 20 CPU PCIe 5.0 lanes, and up to two memory channels.

Data Integrity

In some industries that use workstations, such as finance and data science, data corruption can significantly impact business operations. Data corruption can occur when data stored in memory flips between a 1 or a 0 spontaneously due to thermal or ionizing radiation. When these data or memory errors occur without correction, it can result in bad data or losing weeks’ worth of work and make employee productivity plummet. By investing in workstations with support for error correcting code (ECC) memory1 and reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS) technologies, users and IT departments can greatly mitigate risks to data and increase system availability.

Reliability

When working on data-intense workflows or mission-critical projects, users need to be confident the workstation they are using is highly reliable and the platform software is optimized, certified, and guaranteed to perform as expected. Workstations with OEM-secured system certifications from leading industry software companies can help ensure compatibility and reliability of systems.

Workstation-Specific Brands

To make your workstation purchasing process easier, it’s important to recognize that many OEMs sell their workstation PCs under a brand name that’s different from their business or consumer brands. Seeking out these workstation-specific brands means you can shop more confidently knowing the workstations you’re considering are expandable and scalable and have been tested and validated for high performance. Some examples of popular workstation-specific brands include Dell Precision workstationsLenovo P Series workstations, and Z by HP workstations.

Technologies in a Workstation

Workstations are available in three different form factors—as a mobile laptop, a desktop tower, or a rackmount system. Despite being sold by a variety of OEMs, such as Dell, Lenovo, and HP, workstations typically feature the same portfolio of technologies.

Processor

Processors are an important—if not the most important—workstation technology. What sets a workstation apart from a standard PC is the higher performance it provides users, which ultimately is determined by the processor. With powerful processors, such as Intel® Core™ and Intel® Xeon® processors, workstations can handle the most data-intensive applications and workloads like rendering, video encoding, and code compiling.

Error Correcting Code (ECC) Memory

ECC1 memory helps keep systems up and running by detecting and correcting memory errors, called bit flips. When bit flips aren’t detected, they can cause catastrophic system crashes and data corruption, resulting in hour or days of lost productivity for users. Not long ago, bit flips weren’t well understood. However, today we understand what they are and how they happen. Bit flips—when a 0 spontaneously turns into a 1, or vice versa—are caused by environmental factors, such as cosmic rays, and occur when data is being stored in memory. ECC memory is included on all Intel® technology-based workstations to increase data integrity and deliver a more stable platform.1

Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability (RAS)

RAS2 3 4 also helps to increase workstation data integrity while improving system availability and minimizing planned downtime. With RAS error detection, reporting, and recovery features, workstation hardware errors can be detected and managed via firmware, and recovery of uncorrected recoverable errors can be attempted. RAS DDR4 parity check and retry enables near-real-time, hardware-based detection of CMD/ADDR parity errors and automatic recovery flow or promotion. The RAS PCIe resiliency feature helps to achieve higher data integrity when exchanging data between two PCIe devices with end-to-end CRC—to ensure PCIe link stability with retraining and recovery and to improve fault containment of uncorrected errors with PCIe Live Error Recovery.3

Performance GPUs

The graphics processing unit, or GPU, has become one of the most important types of computing technology. GPUs can process many pieces of data simultaneously, making them especially useful for the demanding and critical workloads handled by workstations.

There are two types of GPUs: integrated and discrete. An integrated GPU does not come on its own separate card and is instead embedded alongside the CPU. A discrete GPU is a distinct chip that is mounted on its own circuit board and is typically attached to a PCI Express slot.

Some GPUs on the market today are designed primarily for use in workstations, like the Intel® Arc™ Pro A-Series. With built-in ray tracing hardware, machine learning capabilities, and AV1 hardware encoding acceleration, the Intel® Arc™ Pro series GPUs are designed to handle the powerful apps today’s professionals use for AI tasks or rich content creation.

Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Certifications

Today’s professionals expect a lot out of their workstations, including reliability, software compatibility, and optimized performance. Ensuring a workstation is ISV certified is one of the best ways to assure users their system will function and perform as intended. While ISV certifications are not a technology, they are an important technology designation because they help provide proof that systems have been tested to ensure software applications are compatible with the hardware, and reliability is guaranteed out of the box. Workstation manufacturers work directly with key industry ISVs for application-specific certification and to help ensure out-of-box reliability and optimized performance for running complex 3D, CAD, and media content creation applications.

Future-Focused Workstations from Intel

Technology and data applications will only continue to evolve in today’s ever-changing industries. This means professionals will inevitably need even better performing workstations that can easily address more complex and data-intensive workloads and workflows. Workstations will also need to have flexibility and expandability to keep up with changing user demands. Workstations based on Intel® processors offer a powerful, reliable, manageable, and future-ready platform that can handle both today’s and tomorrow’s resource-hungry apps. We work closely with our OEM partners to deliver workstations across the world that are expertly engineered and optimized for performance and help users improve their work.

Frequently Asked Questions

A workstation is a computer that’s specifically designed and configured to meet the needs of professional users. There are several specific features that make workstations different from other consumer or business PCs. These features include workstation-specific branding, high power and performance, reliability, data integrity, scalability, and expandability. All six features must be present for a system to be considered a workstation.

Workstations can do a variety of tasks across many industries. Ultimately, what a workstation is used for is highly reliant on whatever business outcomes the user aims to deliver. From content creation and virtual reality development to simulation programs and 8K video editing, workstations can do it all.

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1Workstation brands include the Dell Precision, Z by HP, Lenovo ThinkStation and ThinkPad P, and brands created by premium system integrators.
2Available on select CPU SKUs when paired with the W680 PCH. ECC routing supported in 4L for all DDR4 and DDR5 configurations.
3All RAS features in this article, unless noted, are available in processors that support Standard RAS. The RAS features listed here are not comprehensive. Refer to the platform snapshot for the full RAS feature list.
4RAS only available on Intel® Xeon® W-2000 and W-3000 processors.