A workstation is a special computer designed for technical or scientific applications. Intended primarily to be used by one person at a time, they are commonly connected to a local area network and run multi-user operating systems. The term workstation has also been used loosely to refer to everything from a mainframe computer terminal to a PC connected to a network, but the most common form refers to the group of hardware offered by several current and defunct companies such as Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Apollo Computer, DEC, HP, NeXT and IBM which opened the door for the 3D graphics animation revolution of the late 1990s.
Workstations offered higher performance than mainstream personal computers, especially with respect to CPU and graphics, memory capacity, and multitasking capability. Workstations were optimized for the visualization and manipulation of different types of complex data such as 3D mechanical design, engineering simulation (e.g., computational fluid dynamics), animation and rendering of images, and mathematical plots. Typically, the form factor is that of a desktop computer, consist of a high resolution display, a keyboard and a mouse at a minimum, but also offer multiple displays, graphics tablets, 3D mice (devices for manipulating 3D objects and navigating scenes), etc. Workstations were the first segment of the computer market to present advanced accessories and collaboration tools.
The increasing capabilities of mainstream PCs in the late 1990s have blurred the lines somewhat with technical/scientific workstations. The workstation market previously employed proprietary hardware which made them distinct from PCs; for instance IBM used RISC-based CPUs for its workstations and Intel x86 CPUs for its business/consumer PCs during the 1990s and 2000s. However, by the early 2000s this difference disappeared, as workstations now use highly commoditized hardware dominated by large PC vendors, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard (later HP Inc.) and Fujitsu, selling Microsoft Windows or Linux systems running on x86-64 processors.
Perhaps the first computer that might qualify as a "workstation" was the IBM 1620, a small scientific computer designed to be used interactively by a single person sitting at the console. It was introduced in 1960. One peculiar feature of the machine was that it lacked any actual arithmetic circuitry. To perform addition, it required a memory-resident table of decimal addition rules. This saved on the cost of logic circuitry, enabling IBM to make it inexpensive. The machine was code-named CADET and rented initially for $1000 a month.
In 1965, IBM introduced the IBM 1130 scientific computer, which was meant as the successor to the 1620. Both of these systems came with the ability to run programs written in Fortran and other languages. Both the 1620 and the 1130 were built into roughly desk-sized cabinets. Both were available with add-on disk drives, printers, and both paper-tape and punched-card I/O. A console typewriter for direct interaction was standard on each.
Early examples of workstations were generally dedicated minicomputers; a system designed to support a number of users would instead be reserved exclusively for one person. A notable example was the PDP-8 from Digital Equipment Corporation, regarded to be the first commercial minicomputer.
The Lisp machines developed at MIT in the early 1970s pioneered some of the principles of the workstation computer, as they were high-performance, networked, single-user systems intended for heavily interactive use. Lisp Machines were commercialized beginning 1980 by companies like Symbolics, Lisp Machines, Texas Instruments (the TI Explorer) and Xerox (the Interlisp-D workstations). The first computer designed for single-users, with high-resolution graphics facilities (and so a workstation in the modern sense of the term) was the Xerox Alto developed at Xerox PARC in 1973. Other early workstations include the Terak 8510/a (1977), Three Rivers PERQ (1979) and the later Xerox Star (1981).
In the early 1980s, with the advent of 32-bit microprocessors such as the Motorola 68000, a number of new participants in this field appeared, including Apollo Computer and Sun Microsystems, who created Unix-based workstations based on this processor. Meanwhile, DARPA's VLSI Project created several spinoff graphics products as well, notably the SGI 3130, and Silicon Graphics' range of machines that followed. It was not uncommon to differentiate the target market for the products, with Sun and Apollo considered to be network workstations, while the SGI machines were graphics workstations. As RISC microprocessors became available in the mid-1980s, these were adopted by many workstation vendors.
Workstations tended to be very expensive, typically several times the cost of a standard PC and sometimes costing as much as a new car. However, minicomputers sometimes cost as much as a house. The high expense usually came from using costlier components that ran faster than those found at the local computer store, as well as the inclusion of features not found in PCs of the time, such as high-speed networking and sophisticated graphics. Workstation manufacturers also tend to take a "balanced" approach to system design, making certain to avoid bottlenecks so that data can flow unimpeded between the many different subsystems within a computer. Additionally, workstations, given their more specialized nature, tend to have higher profit margins than commodity-driven PCs.
The systems that come out of workstation companies often feature SCSI or Fibre Channel disk storage systems, high-end 3D accelerators, single or multiple 64-bit processors, large amounts of RAM, and well-designed cooling. Additionally, the companies that make the products tend to have very good repair/replacement plans. However, the line between workstation and PC is increasingly becoming blurred as the demand for fast computers, networking and graphics have become common in the consumer world, allowing workstation manufacturers to use "off the shelf" PC components and graphics solutions as opposed to proprietary in-house developed technology. Some "low-cost" workstations are still expensive by PC standards, but offer binary compatibility with higher-end workstations and servers made by the same vendor. This allows software development to take place on low-cost (relative to the server) desktop machines.
There have been several attempts to produce a workstation-like machine specifically for the lowest possible price point as opposed to performance. One approach is to remove local storage and reduce the machine to the processor, keyboard, mouse and screen. In some cases, these diskless nodes would still run a traditional operating system and perform computations locally, with storage on a remote server. These approaches are intended not just to reduce the initial system purchase cost, but lower the total cost of ownership by reducing the amount of administration required per user.
This approach was actually first attempted as a replacement for PCs in office productivity applications, with the 3Station by 3Com as an early example; in the 1990s, X terminals filled a similar role for technical computing. Sun has also introduced "thin clients", most notably its Sun Ray product line. However, traditional workstations and PCs continue to drop in price, which tends to undercut the market for products of this type.
In the early 1980s, a high-end workstation had to meet the three Ms. The so-called "3M computer" had a Megabyte of memory, a Megapixel display (roughly 1000×1000), and a "MegaFLOPS" compute performance (at least one million floating point operations per second).[a] As limited as this seems today, it was at least an order of magnitude beyond the capacity of the personal computer of the time; the original 1981 IBM Personal Computer had 16 KB memory, a text-only display, and floating-point performance around 1 kiloFLOPS (30 kiloFLOPS with the optional 8087 math coprocessor). Other desirable features not found in desktop computers at that time included networking, graphics acceleration, and high-speed internal and peripheral data buses.
Another goal was to bring the price for such a system down under a "Megapenny", that is, less than $10,000; this was not achieved until the late 1980s, although many workstations, particularly mid-range or high-end still cost anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000 and over throughout the early to mid-1990s.
The more widespread adoption of these technologies into mainstream PCs was a direct factor in the decline of the workstation as a separate market segment:
Since the turn of the millennium, the definition of "workstation" has blurred to some extent. Many of the components used in lower-end "workstations" are now the same as those used in the consumer market, and the price differential between the lower end workstation and consumer PCs can be narrower than it once was (and in certain cases in the high-end consumer market, such as the "enthusiast" game market, it can be difficult to tell what qualifies as a "desktop PC" and a "workstation"). In another instance, the Nvidia GeForce 256 graphics card spawned the Quadro, which had the same GPU but different driver support and certifications tailored to the unique requirements of CAD applications and retailed for a much higher price, so many took to using the GeForce as a "poor-man's" workstation card since the hardware was largely as capable plus it could be soft-modded to unlock features nominally exclusive to the Quadro.
Workstations have typically been the drivers of advancements in CPU technology. Although both the consumer desktop and the workstation benefit from CPUs designed around the multicore concept (essentially, multiple processors on a die, the application of which IBM's POWER4 was a pioneer), modern workstations typically use multiple multicore CPUs, error correcting memory and much larger on-die caches than those found on "consumer-level" CPUs. Such power and reliability are not normally required on a general desktop computer. IBM's POWER-based processor boards and the workstation-level Intel-based Xeon processor boards, for example, have multiple CPUs, more on-die cache and ECC memory, which are features more suited to demanding content-creation, engineering and scientific work than to general desktop computing.
Some workstations are designed for use with only one specific application such as AutoCAD, Avid Xpress Studio HD, 3D Studio Max, etc. To ensure compatibility with the software, purchasers usually ask for a certificate from the software vendor. The certification process makes the workstation's price jump several notches but for professional purposes, reliability is more important than the initial purchase cost.
By January 2009, all RISC-based workstation product lines had been discontinued:
The current workstation market uses x86-64 microprocessors. Operating systems available for these platforms include Microsoft Windows, FreeBSD, various GNU/Linux distributions, Apple macOS (formerly known as OS X), and Oracle Solaris. Some vendors also market commodity mono-socket systems as workstations.
Three types of products are marketed under the workstation umbrella:
A significant segment of the desktop market are computers expected to perform as workstations, but using PC operating systems and components. Component manufacturers will often segment their product line, and market premium components which are functionally similar to the cheaper "consumer" models but feature a higher level of robustness or performance.
A workstation class PC may have some of the following features:
Caldera OpenLinux (COL) is a defunct Linux distribution that was originally introduced by Caldera in 1997 based on the German LST Power Linux distribution, and then taken over and further developed by Caldera Systems (now SCO Group) since 1998. A successor to the Caldera Network Desktop put together by Caldera since 1995, OpenLinux was an early "business-oriented distribution" and foreshadowed the direction of developments that came to most other distributions and the Linux community generally.Comparison of operating systems
These tables provide a comparison of operating systems, of computer devices, as listing general and technical information for a number of widely used and currently available PC or handheld (including smartphone and tablet computer) operating systems. The article "Usage share of operating systems" provides a broader, and more general, comparison of operating systems that includes servers, mainframes and supercomputers.
Because of the large number and variety of available Linux distributions, they are all grouped under a single entry; see comparison of Linux distributions for a detailed comparison. There is also a variety of BSD and DOS operating systems, covered in comparison of BSD operating systems and comparison of DOS operating systems. For information on views of each operating system, see operating system advocacy.Computer-aided design
Computer-aided design (CAD) is the use of computers (or workstations) to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. CAD software is used to increase the productivity of the designer, improve the quality of design, improve communications through documentation, and to create a database for manufacturing. CAD output is often in the form of electronic files for print, machining, or other manufacturing operations. The term CADD (for Computer Aided Design and Drafting) is also used.Its use in designing electronic systems is known as electronic design automation (EDA). In mechanical design it is known as mechanical design automation (MDA) or computer-aided drafting (CAD), which includes the process of creating a technical drawing with the use of computer software.CAD software for mechanical design uses either vector-based graphics to depict the objects of traditional drafting, or may also produce raster graphics showing the overall appearance of designed objects. However, it involves more than just shapes. As in the manual drafting of technical and engineering drawings, the output of CAD must convey information, such as materials, processes, dimensions, and tolerances, according to application-specific conventions.
CAD may be used to design curves and figures in two-dimensional (2D) space; or curves, surfaces, and solids in three-dimensional (3D) space.CAD is an important industrial art extensively used in many applications, including automotive, shipbuilding, and aerospace industries, industrial and architectural design, prosthetics, and many more. CAD is also widely used to produce computer animation for special effects in movies, advertising and technical manuals, often called DCC digital content creation. The modern ubiquity and power of computers means that even perfume bottles and shampoo dispensers are designed using techniques unheard of by engineers of the 1960s. Because of its enormous economic importance, CAD has been a major driving force for research in computational geometry, computer graphics (both hardware and software), and discrete differential geometry.The design of geometric models for object shapes, in particular, is occasionally called computer-aided geometric design (CAGD).Digital audio workstation
A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integrated stand-alone unit, all the way to a highly complex configuration of numerous components controlled by a central computer. Regardless of configuration, modern DAWs have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced piece.DAWs are used for the production and recording of music, songs, speech, radio, television, soundtracks, podcasts, sound effects and nearly any other situation where complex recorded audio is needed.Fedora (operating system)
Fedora is a Linux distribution developed by the community-supported Fedora Project and sponsored by Red Hat. Fedora contains software distributed under various free and open-source licenses and aims to be on the leading edge of such technologies. Fedora is the upstream source of the commercial Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution.Since the release of Fedora 21, three different editions are currently available: Workstation, focused on the personal computer, Server for servers, and Atomic focused on cloud computing.As of February 2016, Fedora has an estimated 1.2 million users, including Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel.Logic Express
Logic Express was a "light" version of Logic Pro, a MIDI sequencer and digital audio workstation software application maintained by Apple that runs on the Mac OS X platform. It was announced on January 15, 2004 for release in March 2004.
Logic Pro and Express shared most functionality and the same interface. Logic Express was limited to two-channel stereo mixdown, while Logic Pro can handle multichannel surround sound; Logic Express also lacked support for TDM/DAE systems, high-end control surfaces and Distributed Audio Processing. Both could handle up to 255 audio tracks, depending on system performance (CPU, hard disk throughput and seek time). Logic Express 8 came with 36 software instruments and 73 effect plug-ins, including almost all of those in the Logic Pro Package. Those that it didn't include are Sculpture, a physical modelling synthesiser; the "vintage" instruments (the EVB3 tonewheel organ, the EVD6 Clavinet and the EVP88 Electric Piano), however a cut-down version of these are included with the GarageBand instruments; Space designer, a convolution reverb effect; and delay designer, an advanced delay effect.
Logic Express was discontinued in 2011, when Logic Pro moved to the Mac App Store for $199.99.Magic Workstation
Magic Workstation (or MWS) is a program created by Magi-Soft that assists in playing Magic: The Gathering and other card games over the Internet and maintains a searchable database of Magic cards.
Users of the free version of the game start with a card set taken from a might and magic mini game.Music workstation
A music workstation is an electronic musical instrument providing the facilities of:
a sound module,
a music sequencer and
(usually) a musical keyboard.It enables a musician to compose electronic music using just one piece of equipment.Parallels Workstation
Parallels Workstation is the first commercial software product released by Parallels, Inc., a developer of desktop and server virtualization software. The Workstation software consists of a virtual machine suite for Intel x86-compatible computers (running Microsoft Windows or Linux) (for Mac version, see Parallels Desktop for Mac) which allows the simultaneous creation and execution of multiple x86 virtual computers. The product is distributed as a download package. Parallels Workstation has been discontinued for Windows and Linux as of 2013.Showroom Cinema, Sheffield
The Showroom Cinema is an independent cinema, café bar and creative workspace in Sheffield, England.In 2002, the cinema was voted the favourite independent cinema of Guardian readers. In November 2007, Showroom was awarded the title Best Cultural Venue in Sheffield's Exposed Magazine Awards.Silicon Graphics
Silicon Graphics, Inc. (later rebranded SGI, historically known as Silicon Graphics Computer Systems or SGCS) was an American high-performance computing manufacturer, producing computer hardware and software. Founded in Mountain View, California in November 1981 by Jim Clark, its initial market was 3D graphics computer workstations, but its products, strategies and market positions developed significantly over time.
Early systems were based on the Geometry Engine that Clark and Marc Hannah had developed at Stanford University, and were derived from Clark's broader background in computer graphics. The Geometry Engine was the first very-large-scale integration (VLSI) implementation of a geometry pipeline, specialized hardware that accelerated the "inner-loop" geometric computations needed to display three-dimensional images. For much of its history, the company focused on 3D imaging and was a major supplier of both hardware and software in this market.
Silicon Graphics reincorporated as a Delaware corporation in January 1990. Through the mid to late-1990s, the rapidly improving performance of commodity Wintel machines began to erode SGI's stronghold in the 3D market. The porting of Maya to other platforms is a major event in this process. SGI made several attempts to address this, including a disastrous move from their existing MIPS platforms to the Intel Itanium, as well as introducing their own Linux-based Intel IA-32 based workstations and servers that failed in the market. In the mid-2000s the company repositioned itself as a supercomputer vendor, a move that also failed.
On April 1, 2009, SGI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced that it would sell substantially all of its assets to Rackable Systems, a deal finalized on May 11, 2009, with Rackable assuming the name Silicon Graphics International. The remains of Silicon Graphics, Inc. became Graphics Properties Holdings, Inc.Steinberg Nuendo
Nuendo is a digital audio workstation (DAW) developed by Steinberg for music recording, arranging, editing and post-production. The package is aimed at audio and video post-production market segments (marketed as an 'Advanced Audio Post-Production System', in contrast to Steinberg's other DAW software, Cubase, which is marketed as an 'Advanced Music Production System'), but also contains optional modules that can be used for multiple multimedia creation and audio sequencing.Sun Ultra series
The Sun Ultra series is a discontinued line of workstation and server computers developed and sold by Sun Microsystems, comprising two distinct generations. The original line was introduced in 1995 and discontinued in 2001. This generation was partially replaced by the Sun Blade in 2000 and that line was in itself replaced by the Sun Java Workstation—an AMD Opteron system—in 2004. In sync with the transition to x86-64-architecture processors, in 2005 the Ultra brand was later revived with the launch of the Ultra 20 and Ultra 40, albeit to some confusion, since they were no longer based on UltraSPARC processors.VMware
VMware, Inc. is a publicly traded software virtualization company listed on the NYSE under stock ticker VMW. Dell Technologies is a majority share holder. VMware provides cloud computing and platform virtualization software and services. It was one of the first commercially successful companies to virtualize the x86 architecture.VMware's desktop software runs on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and macOS, while its enterprise software hypervisor for servers, VMware ESXi, is a bare-metal hypervisor that runs directly on server hardware without requiring an additional underlying operating system.VMware Workstation
VMware Workstation is a hosted hypervisor that runs on x64 versions of Windows and Linux operating systems (an x86 version of earlier releases was available); it enables users to set up virtual machines (VMs) on a single physical machine, and use them simultaneously along with the actual machine. Each virtual machine can execute its own operating system, including versions of Microsoft Windows, Linux, BSD, and MS-DOS. VMware Workstation is developed and sold by VMware, Inc., a division of Dell Technologies. There is a free-of-charge version, VMware Workstation Player, for non-commercial use. An operating systems license is needed to use proprietary ones such as Windows. Ready-made Linux VMs set up for different purposes are available from several sources.
VMware Workstation supports bridging existing host network adapters and sharing physical disk drives and USB devices with a virtual machine. It can simulate disk drives; an ISO image file can be mounted as a virtual optical disc drive, and virtual hard disk drives are implemented as .vmdk files.
VMware Workstation Pro can save the state of a virtual machine (a "snapshot") at any instant. These snapshots can later be restored, effectively returning the virtual machine to the saved state, as it was and free from any post-snapshot damage to the VM.
VMware Workstation includes the ability to group multiple virtual machines in an inventory folder. The machines in such a folder can then be powered on and powered off as a single object, useful for testing complex client-server environments.VMware Workstation Player
VMware Workstation Player, formerly VMware Player, is a virtualization software package for x64 computers running Microsoft Windows or Linux, supplied free of charge by VMware, Inc., a company which was formerly a division of, and whose majority shareholder remains EMC Corporation. VMware Player can run existing virtual appliances and create its own virtual machines (which require an operating system to be installed to be functional). It uses the same virtualization core as VMware Workstation, a similar program with more features, which is not free of charge. VMware Player is available for personal non-commercial use, or for distribution or other use by written agreement. VMware, Inc. does not formally support Player, but there is an active community website for discussing and resolving issues, and a knowledge base.The free VMware Player was distinct from VMware Workstation until Player v7, Workstation v11. In 2015 the two packages were combined as VMware Workstation 12, with a free for non-commercial use Player version which, on purchase of a license code, became the higher-specification VMware Workstation Pro.Windows NT
Windows NT is a family of operating systems produced by Microsoft, the first version of which was released on July 27, 1993. It is a processor-independent, multiprocessing and multi-user operating system.
The first version of Windows NT was Windows NT 3.1 and was produced for workstations and server computers. It was intended to complement consumer versions of Windows that were based on MS-DOS (including Windows 1.0 through Windows 3.1x). Gradually, the Windows NT family was expanded into Microsoft's general-purpose operating system product line for all personal computers, deprecating the Windows 9x family.
"NT" formerly expanded to "New Technology" but no longer carries any specific meaning. Starting with Windows 2000, "NT" was removed from the product name and is only included in the product version string.NT was the first purely 32-bit version of Windows, whereas its consumer-oriented counterparts, Windows 3.1x and Windows 9x, were 16-bit/32-bit hybrids. It is a multi-architecture operating system. Initially, it supported several instruction set architectures, including IA-32, MIPS, and DEC Alpha; support for PowerPC, Itanium, x64, and ARM were added later. The latest versions support x86 (more specifically IA-32 and x64) and ARM. Major features of the Windows NT family include Windows Shell, Windows API, Native API, Active Directory, Group Policy, Hardware Abstraction Layer, NTFS, BitLocker, Windows Store, Windows Update, and Hyper-V.Windows NT 3.51
Windows NT 3.51 is the third release of Microsoft's Windows NT line of operating systems. It was released on 30 May 1995, nine months after the release of Windows NT 3.5, and three months before the release of Windows 95. The release provided two notable feature improvements; firstly NT 3.51 was the first of a short-lived outing of Microsoft Windows on the PowerPC architecture. The second most significant enhancement offered through the release was that it provides client/server support for inter-operating with Windows 95, which was released three months after NT 3.51. Windows NT 4.0 became its successor a year later. Support for NT 3.51 ended in 2001 and 2002 for the Workstation and Server editions, respectively.Windows NT 4.0
Windows NT 4.0 is an operating system that is part of Microsoft's Windows NT family of operating systems. It was released to manufacturing on July 31, 1996. It was Microsoft's primary business-oriented operating system until the introduction of Windows 2000. Workstation, server and embedded editions were sold; all editions feature a graphical user interface similar to that of Windows 95.
Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation on June 30, 2002 and extended support on June 30, 2004, while Windows NT 4.0 Server mainstream support ended on December 31, 2002 and extended support on December 31, 2004. Both editions were succeeded by Windows 2000 Professional and Server, respectively.