what's a workstation?

By somekid007 ยท 7 replies
Jun 21, 2003
  1. hi all,

    i was just wondering what a workstation is. i'm kind of confused over the definition. i've seen dell advertising their Precision line of workstations with all the high end stuff (intel xeon, nvidia quadro, etc.) costing $$$, while i saw an ad at one of my local whitebox stores advertising what they call a workstation which is an intel celeron based system with el-cheapo parts selling for under $400 CDN. i aslo went to a local university library a couple weeks back and the terminals where the library catalogs are put are also call "workstations".

    so what is a work station? i just want to know
  2. Nodsu

    Nodsu TS Rookie Posts: 5,837   +6

    In the modern day of marketing common words are stretched to mean anything, no point in getting exited over meanings..

    A workstation may mean just about any computing device sitting on your desktop.

    It may also mean a powerful personal computer (not only in PC sense) used for engineering and design.

    The classical and most correct (IMHO) definition is a non-PC desktop machine, usually running UNIX. Workstations are made by Sun and SGI for example.
  3. Goalie

    Goalie TS Booster Posts: 616

    Nodsu's pretty accurate on that.. a workstation is pretty much like it sounds- a place you sit and work. Sometimes these can be through dummy terminals (keyboard/mouse and monitor only connected by cable to a server with several other workstations- often found as card catalogue terminals at libraries), sometimes people call them non-windows/mac machines (such as Nodsu mentions, and I concur that this is the most appropriate definition today), and I think the general world definition these days is any desktop machine not destined to be a true mail/file/nic/networking/blahblahetc server. (That being said, most workstations typically run something that makes them technically a server..)

    Typically laptops are advertised as such and not listed as workstations. Technically they're workstations too, but let's be nitpicky and say that laptops and workstations are exclusive. Now, for the general masses, would you then consider a laptop a workstation if placed in a docking station, or does it remain as a laptop by definition?
  4. Phantasm66

    Phantasm66 TS Rookie Posts: 5,734   +8

    That's a very good, and interesting question. And "What's a workstation?" can also mean, in a sense "What's a server?" We need to make that distinction in order to answer your question.

    Generally, at home there is no need to make a workstation/server distinction, because really the home only has one or two or so PCs, and they are there to (primarily) perform user level functions like reading e-mail, surfing the net, playing games, using Microsoft Office and so forth.

    In a workplace, LAN environment, one generally gets these kinds of machines AND WE GET SERVERS. We have to make some kind of distinction because workstations (which are really just like the home PCs mentioned above) are very different from the functions of servers. Generally speaking, the use of the word "workstation" in preference to "PC" would indicate an environment that has servers.

    We seperate machines being "workstations" from "server" by their software roles alone (although servers often have type of hardware technologies not on workstations, but this in itself itsn't the distinction) - servers provide "services" such as being a domain controller (consolidating of authentication and user management), DNS (the mapping of host names to IP addresses), Relational Database Management Systems (Like Oracle or MS SQL Servers). Its the software functionality that makes a machine a "workstation" or a "server" and that's really the only criteria.

    Thusly, a small 200 MHz machine with Linux installed with Apache and used as a web server would be called a server, but a massive, dual processor machine with RAID-5 and heaps of RAM (although it would be suitable hardware wise for many server functions) is still a workstation if its loaded with Windows XP and used to do user level things those I mentioned above (web surfing, e-mail, office, etc).

    So, really you have to make the distinction based on the role the machine has. If its used for user level functions as mentioned above, then its a workstation. If its providing services (such as domain controller, DNS, RDBMS, web server, e-mail server, etc) then its a server.

    Its not entirely accurate to seperate "workstations" from "servers" according to their types and flavours of operating system (but its a very good place to start) however here are some OS distinctions, for Microsoft:-

    Windows NT Server
    Windows 2000 Server (or Advanced Server, Datacenter Server)
    Windows 2003 Server

    Windows 2000 Professional
    Windows XP
    Windows 95 or 98

    Linux distributions are capable of configuring themselves to be workstations or servers, depending on in the installation of certain services, or not (i.e. DNS, DHCP, Web, Mail, etc). But you do get certain Linux distributions more suited to workstation or server functions. For the various other kinds of UNIXes floating around I guess this is the case too, however there are many UNIXes that are only suitable as servers.

    In another sense, when viewed from the point of view of the execution and delivery of certain services, workstations can also be called clients (thusly client/server methods, server side scripting, etc), and a workstation can also be a host. In network architectures, a client station (user's machine) is also considered a host, because it is a source of information to the network in contrast to a device such as a router or switch that directs traffic. But servers could be called hosts as well.

    So, remember that we make these distinctions based on WHAT THE MACHINE DOES - not on how beefy its hardware is. Plenty of people make that mistake and wind up making asses of themselves. Remember what I have said and you won't be one of them.
  5. Mictlantecuhtli

    Mictlantecuhtli TS Evangelist Posts: 4,345   +11

    Bus station is where bus stops, train station is where train stops, workstation is where work stops :giddy:
  6. JSR

    JSR Banned Posts: 592


    the opposite.......... of a playstation..........be sure to remember what phant said............or else.........:darth:
  7. ---agissi---

    ---agissi--- TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,978   +15

    Re: hehe


    I like Mic's view on things.

    (btw Phant, I got my first check in the mail today!!! It had "Frontpage Plus *Address* " on there, I open her up, and theres a $20 check made out to "Frontpage Plus"!! (thats me/my company :D). I get one of those every month now.
  8. Nic

    Nic TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,549

    Definition for: workstation

    1. A one-person computer that is more powerful and faster than most personal computers, and is typically used for graphics, scientific computing, CAD, CAE, and other applications requiring high performance and memory.

    2. A terminal in a network, which may have its own processing capability.

    3. A terminal or personal computer where one person works.

    Hi-Tech Dictionary Definition

    Pretty much anything that isn't a server, can be considered a workstation - or so it would seem.

    PS: I much prefer Mic's rather more accurate definition (adapted from someones sig - though I can't quite remember who it was). :D hehe
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