Feature Articles

What makes a Workstation the perfect heavy workload platform

By Aaron Yip - 5 Feb 2020

What makes a Workstation the perfect heavy workload platform

When it comes to desktop PCs, and a specific selection of business notebooks with varying performance levels, most tend to believe these platforms are suitably ideal to carry out heavy workloads. From running repetitive computing tasks that can last up to days and weeks on end; to putting out enriched high definition content, sometimes needing to edit them even; working with RAW-format pictures; or running a dozen multi-tasking processes – all these are what PCs, oftentimes not configured properly, must deal with.

After all, it’s a computer so it should be able to deal with these resource-heavy tasks, right?

Enter the workstation, a professional-class computing platform that is designed to deliver maximum performance with its advanced user capabilities. Its main role: to deal with the heaviest of workloads in a variety of industries. In fact, its very name – workstation – defines this powerhouse platform’s role as highly specialised and dedicated to specific tasks. Interestingly, the concept of a workstation is not known the general masses due to how it is solely deployed in the workplace. In fact, most users at the office do not even realise that they are using business-optimised workstations.

Beyond being recognised as a pure workhorse powerhouse made for high-demand workloads, it’s clear to see that many have yet to grasp the true meaning and role of a top-spec workstation. A good example is the Z-series workstations by HP.


One-Step Beyond

Gamers will be one of the few to quickly recognise how powerful a workstation can be. Most of them are also prone to making presumptions that these systems, cool looks and all, are suitable to play games. It makes sense to them since these systems are made to deal with heavy graphics rendering.

While they aren’t entirely wrong, the hardware used within is very different from a dedicated or top-end gaming PC. In fact, the core components – CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, and cooling systems – are extensively optimised for heavy-duty high-performance tasks and come with an equally hefty price tag. If anything, workstations, powerful as they are, can play games but cannot run them at maximum performance.

Originally, when this powerful computer was first created after engineers carried out extensive research and development work, it had only one role: to serve as a high-spec performance desktop that process a tonne of data. As the world traversed through three different industrial revolutions – Industrial, Knowledge/IT, and Digital – workstations had also undertaken various design changes and hardware updates.

Even users who invest on workstations are no longer just scientists or engineers as new, more dedicated users have also appeared. This includes those working in advertising, digital graphics, animation and visual effects, backend web development, data management and analytics, cyber-security, mathematical research, lab work, and working on next-gen big tech trends like artificial intelligence. 

Most, if not all these industries, need workstations that run on next-gen specs and can deliver on their promise to easily manage multiple high-in-demand tasks. Of course, it must maintain that maximum performance output on long-term sprints and continue to operate even when some cores within start acting up or are causing unexpected errors.


Core/Heart of the Matter

Going by who the primary target audience is, it is unsurprising that most still can’t tell the difference between a normal consumer desktop system and a proper workstation. Case in point, gamers believe a workstation will do fine with 4K UHD gaming. While it is not impossible, it’s really a matter understanding why they aren’t suitable even if the hardware used is 5x, 10x, and 20x more powerful than dedicated gaming PC parts.

Optimised processors for workstations are the very same ones used in servers and embedded systems that current and next-gen mainframes operate with. Both mainstream processor makers – Intel and AMD – specifically developed professional grade CPUs that can deal with the high demands and heavy workloads of the workplace. The two, Intel Xeon and AMD Ryzen Pro, use the same design concept: packing in more processor cores over boosting clock-speeds, supports error-correcting code memory (ECC RAM, which I will cover in a separate article), and pairing up with commercial-grade hardware and solutions.

Does a higher core count mean anything? For servers and mainframes, there is a need for more parallel processing and running multiple tasks that require higher performance stacking – all at the same time! Workstations, which need to manage these multiple resource-heavy workloads simultaneously, have the same demands. Wouldn’t that make the more powerful consumer range of CPUs the more suitable choice? If it is a single-task load that only demands pure clock speed performance, then the high-end Intel Core and AMD Ryzen entries found in PCs and gaming platforms would be more than adequate.

With multi-core platforms that run inside workstations and servers, they are more suited for applications that require multiple thread processing, more processor throughput, and higher TeraFLOPS.

The core count is the key differentiator for enterprise-class CPUs as graphic renders, data analytics, server management, and similarly demanding workloads always needed multi-threaded processing. Apps, like Adobe Creative Cloud and other graphic rendering tools, require these multiple processors to quickly and easily crunch any given task. For Intel, current and next-gen processors that focus on general consumers are limited to, at most, 10 cores, whereas its business-focused systems offer up to 48 or 56 cores. In AMD’s case, it pairs up high clock speed performance with parallel processors that offer built-in security measures, enterprise solutions, and commercial-grade capabilities.

Beyond running on CPUs that are dedicated to multi-tasking operations, there are other key features that define the workstation. Unlike the processors it uses, which many still confuse with consumer-type and gaming-optimised CPUs, the others are unique in terms of design and function. In fact, these are the critical elements found in workstations like the Z Workstations that make them standout more and ensure it can deliver its high-performance capabilities and ultra-smooth user experience for professionals.

For those keen on learning more about ECC RAM, commercial-grade graphic processors, and server-class storage systems, do keep an out for the next few deep-dive features that will be appearing in the coming weeks.

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