A workstation is a high-end microcomputer 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 to refer to a mainframe computer terminal or a PC connected to a network.
Historically, workstations had offered higher performance than personal computers, especially with respect to CPU and graphics, memory capacity and multitasking capability. They are 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. Consoles 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 and navigating 3D objects and scenes), etc. Workstations are the first segment of the computer market to present advanced accessories and collaboration tools.
Presently, the workstation market is highly commoditized and is dominated by large PC vendors, such as Dell and HP, selling Microsoft Windows/Linux running on Intel Xeon/AMD Opteron. Alternative UNIX based platforms are provided by Apple Inc., Sun Microsystems, and SGI.
Workstations in particular
Today, consumer products such as PCs (and even game consoles) use components that provide a reasonable cost for tasks that do not require heavy and sustained processing power. However, for timely engineering, medical, and graphics production tasks the workstation is hard to beat.
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 1000x1000), and a "MegaFLOPS" compute performance (at least one million floating point operations per second). 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 PC 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.
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