A workstation (German: "Arbeitsstation") describes a particularly powerful workstation computer for technical-scientific purposes or for processing audio and video data, as opposed to the customary personal computer for private or office use. Typically, workstations are used in companies and research institutions for computationally intensive applications such as 3D construction , computer simulations , video processing and animated 3D computer graphics . Workstations usually produce above-average results in the areas of graphics, computing power, storage space and multitasking , and additional terminals can often be used. Technologies and components from the server sector are sometimes used to increase the reliability and durability .
In the 1980s and 1990s, the market was by workstations running Unix - and VMS dominated operating systems, many manufacturers produce their own hardware based on vendor-specific high-performance RISC - microprocessors such as the PA-RISC - MIPS - or SPARC series. The acquisition costs were usually many times that of an average PC. Meanwhile has also in the workstation segment largely the combination of the respective most powerful Intel - or AMD processors (eg. Xeon or Opteron ) with Microsoft Windows - or Linux - operating system enforced, and most manufacturers offer their own processor Lines for workstations are no longer on or have completely stopped. Today the market is dominated by large PC manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard , Dell and Fujitsu , most of the previous manufacturers of RISC / Unix workstations have shifted their business field to other products.
Due to the increasing use of computers in product development , workstations are now of central importance in the development process of industrially manufactured products. The range of applications includes, among other things, construction using CAD software , function simulation, the creation of digital prototypes of complex products and the design of tools and molds for production. A steadily growing area of application is the creation of computer animations for feature films and television productions. In some cases, many single-user workstations are used, distributed across locations in several countries, which are interconnected to form a computing cluster to increase the rendering computing power .
Workstation and workstation computer
The term is not synonymous with workstation computer . A workstation, like a personal computer, is a workstation - but not every workstation is also a workstation. However, since personal computers are also very powerful today and are increasingly being used in the technical-scientific field, the boundaries between personal computer and workstation are becoming increasingly blurred. This trend is supported by the common practice in computer marketing of giving a desktop computer a coat of special performance using the term workstation .
So-called gaming PCs , which are also equipped with fast processors and graphics cards as well as large RAM, are offered especially for the use of modern 3D computer games . However, these are not counted among the workstations dealt with here - among other things, because they are technically and qualitatively not designed for the high reliability required for professional work and are not marketed from this point of view.
Historically, the property was an important differentiation for one user , or at least for a few users, from the otherwise common multi-user systems . Instead of being connected to a computer via a terminal (mostly serially and in text mode), as in the multi-user system , whose computing time had to be shared with many others, the engineer, scientist or small working group with a workstation had their own device practically exclusively at their disposal Available. In contrast to the often slow serial terminal connections of classic multi-user systems, workstations have directly connected, sometimes multiple, more powerful graphic systems and monitors, but they can also operate high-performance graphic X terminals connected via fast network connections. This opened up completely new visualization options, especially for technical and scientific applications. Against this background, the high-quality, large-format screens typical of workstations and X-terminals can also be seen. Due to the rapid developments in standard PCs, especially in the area of CPU , GPU and operating systems , the difference between workstation and PC became more and more blurred and, from around 2000, led to the thinning and consequently also to the disappearance of the usually self-developed workstation architectures.
Workstations developed into an independent form of computer in the 1980s, not least due to the large workstation manufacturers of the time such as Apollo , DEC , HP , Sun , SGI , and NeXT , who succeeded in demonstrating the advantages of a workstation over multi-user systems. At the time, there was also the idea of client / server computing , in which workstations also have a place as clients. Many of these manufacturers have now disappeared from the market or no longer produce workstations. One of the reasons is that personal computers continued to penetrate the traditional areas of application of workstations. Today's standard PCs are much cheaper than classic workstations, but in terms of computing and graphics performance they are on a par with , if not sometimes even superior, to traditional workstation architectures and processors ( MIPS , PA-RISC , PowerPC , SPARC ). Most of today as workstations systems offered are ordinary high-end - PCs with an x86 processor . Processors from the server and workstation series such as B. Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron used.
Workstations are typically equipped to be particularly robust, both in terms of their hardware and their software. As comparatively expensive systems, they were designed for professional applications where downtime is a significant cost factor. The commercial UNIX versions of the major providers Sun , HP , IBM and SCO were mainly used as the operating system until the mid-1990s , but also VMS and other Unix-like systems such as NeXT . From 1994 the development of the functional scope of the Linux distributions had advanced so far that this open source new implementation of Unix could replace the commercial systems. At around the same time, the graphical user interface with Windows began to establish itself on PCs, where it had previously only found widespread use on Mac and Atari systems, which were mainly used by creative users and partly in the university sector. Only the Unix and Unix-like systems offered the reliability that workstations are used to. In particular with Windows 3.1 , which was an essay on MS-DOS , but also with Windows NT , system crashes were regularly on the agenda. In the period that followed, the differences between workstations and PCs have faded more and more. A distinction between a workstation and a PC equipped with high-quality components can hardly be made in the 21st century.
With workstations, ergonomics was a more important issue from the start than with the PC. While PC users generally had to cope with the very limited possibilities of MS-DOS until the 1990s, workstations were multitasking and multiuser capable and offered a graphical user interface, but also the much more powerful command line environment of a Unix system. Among other things, there was an automatic command line extension and a history for the commands entered. When comparing these systems with newer computers, however, it should be noted that even an average smartphone from the early 21st century offers more computing power than a workstation from the 1980s. The demands on the ergonomics of the systems have changed accordingly. The classic desktop environments of the commercial Unix systems such as HP-VUE and CDE may not appear user-friendly to today's Mac or Windows user. In their time, however, they were more ergonomic than the common PC systems.
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