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Encyclopedia > Computer workstation
SGI O2 Workstation
SGI O2 Workstation

A computer workstation, often colloquially referred to as workstation, is a high-end general-purpose microcomputer designed to be used by one person at a time and which offers higher performance than normally found in a personal computer, especially with respect to graphics, processing power and the ability to carry out several tasks at the same time. When comparing with some of the old definitions of computing power, some people may consider a workstation to be the equivalent of a one-person minicomputer. Today the average personal computer is as, or even more, powerful than top of the line workstations of one generation older, forcing the traditional workstation vendors into niche markets. Image File history File links SGI_O2. ... Image File history File links SGI_O2. ... An SGI O2 (1996) SGI O2 Workstation The O2 is an entry-level Unix workstation introduced in 1996 by Silicon Graphics (SGI) to replace their earlier Indy series. ... The Commodore 64 was one of the most popular microcomputers of its era. ... Minicomputer (colloquially, mini) is a largely obsolete term for a class of multi-user computers which make up the middle range of the computing spectrum, in between the largest multi-user systems (traditionally, mainframe computers) and the smallest single-user systems (microcomputers or personal computers). ...


The earliest examples of workstations were generally cheap minicomputers like PDPs which only one person used, despite being intended for a number of users. The first computers consciously designed for one user (and so a workstation in the modern sense of the term) were the Lisp machines developed at MIT ~1974. Other early examples include the famous Xerox Star, which never saw production, and the less well known Three Rivers PERQ. In the early 1980s, successors in this field were Apollo Computer and Sun Microsystems who created Unix-based workstations based on the Motorola 68000 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. Programmed Data Processor (abbreviated PDP) was the name of a series of computers, several of them ground-breaking and very influential, made by Digital Equipment Corporation. ... The original Lisp machine built by Greenblatt and Knight Lisp machines were general-purpose computers designed (usually through hardware support) to efficiently run Lisp as their main software language. ... The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is a university located in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. MIT is one of the worlds leading research institutions in science and technology, as well as in numerous other fields, including management, economics, linguistics, political science, and philosophy. ... Xerox Star 8010 The Xerox Star workstation, officially known as the 8010 Star Information System was introduced by Xerox Corporation in 1981. ... PERQ, often referred to as the Three Rivers PERQ, was an influential computer workstation first released in 1979. ... Apollo Computer, Inc. ... Sun Microsystems, Inc. ... Wikibooks has more about this subject: Guide to UNIX Unix or UNIX is a computer operating system originally developed in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of AT&T Bell Labs employees including Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Douglas McIlroy. ... The Motorola 68000 is a CISC microprocessor, the first member of a successful family of microprocessors from Motorola, which were all mostly software compatible. ... The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. ... DARPAs VLSI Project provided research funding to a wide variety of university-based teams in an effort to improve the state of the art in microprocessor design. ... Silicon Graphics, Inc. ...


Workstations tend to be very expensive, typically several times the cost of a standard PC and sometimes costing as much as a new car. The high expense usually comes from using costlier components that (one hopes) run faster than those found at the local computer store. Manufacturers try to take a "balanced" approach to system design, making certain that data can flow unimpeded between the many different subsystems within a computer. Additionally, workstation makers tend to push to sell systems at higher prices in order to maintain somewhat larger profit margins than the commodity-driven PC manufacturers. A small variety of cars, the most popular kind of automobile. ... Profit margin is a measure of profitability. ... The word commodity is a term with distinct meanings in business and in Marxian political economy. ...


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 trends toward consolidation and cost-cutting have caused workstation manufacturers to use "off the shelf" PC components and graphics solutions as opposed to proprietary in-house developed technology. Some attempts have been made to produce low-cost workstations (which are still expensive by PC standards), but they have often had lackluster performance. SCSI stands for Small Computer System Interface, and is a standard interface and command set for transferring data between devices on both internal and external computer buses. ... Fibre Channel is a gigabit speed network technology primarily used for Storage Networking. ... A GeForce 4 4200-based graphics card A graphics card or video card is a component of a computer which is designed to convert a logical representation of an image stored in memory to a signal that can be used as input for a display medium, most often a monitor... In computing, a 64-bit component is one in which data are processed or stored in 64-bit units (words). ... Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor in a ceramic PGA package A central processing unit (CPU), or sometimes simply processor, is the component in a digital computer that interprets instructions and processes data contained in software, like a brain in a human. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Consolidation is the act of merging many things into one. ... Proprietary indicates that a party exercises private ownership, control or use over an item of property, usually to the exclusion of other parties. ...


There have been several attempts to produce a workstation-like machine specifically for the lowest possible price point as opposed to performance. In these cases the machines, like the earlier network workstation products, remove local storage and reduce the machine to the processor, keyboard, mouse and screen. These machines fill a niche much closer to a terminal than a computer, but when combined with a server there was an argument that they would lead to a lower cost of ownership. The 3Station by 3Com was a typical early example, and Sun has also introduced similar machines on several occasions. However the relentless price pressure in the traditional PC market has always undercut these products by the time they reach market, and none have been successful to date. The term Terminal can be used in several way and includes various topics: Usually terminal means forming or pertaining to an end. ... In computing, a server is a software application that carries out some task (i. ... The 3Station was a diskless workstation, developed by Bob Metcalfe at 3Com and first available in 1986. ... 3Com (NASDAQ: COMS) is a manufacturer best known for its computer network infrastructure products. ...


The fact that consumer products of PCs and game consoles are now themselves at the cutting edge of technology makes deciding whether or not to purchase a workstation very difficult for many organizations. Sometimes, these systems are still required, but many places opt for the less-expensive, if more fault-prone, PC-level hardware. The Nintendo GameCube is an example of a popular video game console. ...


What makes a workstation?

It is instructive to look at the history of specific technologies which once differentiated workstations from personal computers. 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:

  • RISC CPUs: while RISC in its early days (early 1980s) offered something like an order-of-magnitude performance improvement over CISC processors of comparable cost, one particular family of CISC processors (Intel's x86) always had the edge in market share and the economies of scale that this implied. By about the mid-1990s, Intel CPUs had achieved performance on a parity with RISC (albeit at a cost of greater chip complexity), relegating the latter to niche markets for the most part.
  • Hardware support for floating-point operations: this was standard among higher-end PCs by the late 1980s, but did not become common at the lowest end of the market until the mid 1990s. Now, even the lowest priced PC on the market has it as a standard.
  • Operating system: early workstations run on a variant of the Unix operating system. The early 8-bit and 16-bit PC CPUs could not run an OS as sophisticated as Unix, but this, too, began to change from about the late 1980s as PCs with 32-bit CPUs and integrated MMUs became widely affordable.
  • High-speed networking (10 Mbit/s or better): common among PCs by the early 1990s.
  • Large displays (17"-21"): common among PCs by the late 1990s.
  • High-performance 3D graphics hardware: this started to become really popular in the PC market around the mid-to-late 1990s, mostly driven by computer gaming.
  • SCSI disk storage: never very popular in the PC market, except for the Apple Macintosh. SCSI is an advanced controller interface which is particularly good where the disk has to cope with multiple requests at once. This makes it suited for use in servers, but its benefits to desktop PCs which mostly run single-user operating systems are less clear. These days, with desktop systems acquiring more multi-user capabilities (and the increasing popularity of Linux), the new disk interface of choice is Serial ATA, which has some SCSI-like speed, but at a lower cost.
  • Extremely reliable components: this is actually the most distinctive feature of a workstation. Although most technologies implemented in workstations are available at a much lower price for the consumer market, finding good components and making sure they work compatibly with each other is a great challenge in workstation building. Because workstations are designed for high-end tasks such as weather forecasting, video rendering, and game design, it's taken for granted that these systems must be running under full-load, non-stop for several hours or even days without issue. Any off-the-shelf components can be used to build a workstation, but the lifespans of such components under such rigorious conditions are questionable. For this reason, almost no workstations are built by the customer themselves but rather purchased from a vendor such as HP, IBM, SGI or Dell.

These days, workstations have changed greatly. They are beginning to use many technologies common to the consumer market as a cost-cutting strategy. For example, some low-end workstations use CISC based processors like the Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 as their CPUs. Higher-end workstations may use more sophisicated CPUs such as Intel Itanium 2, AMD Opteron, IBM POWER or Sun Microsystems SPARC and run on a variant of Unix delivering a truly reliable workhorse for computing-intensive tasks. Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC), is a microprocessor CPU design philosophy that favors a smaller and simpler set of instructions that all take about the same amount of time to execute. ... Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor in a ceramic PGA package A central processing unit (CPU), or sometimes simply processor, is the component in a digital computer that interprets instructions and processes data contained in software, like a brain in a human. ... A Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) is an instruction set architecture (ISA) in which each instruction can indicate several low-level operations, such as a load from memory, an arithmetic operation, and a memory store, all in a single instruction. ... Intel Corporation (NASDAQ: INTC, HKEx: 4335), founded in 1968 as Integrated Electronics Corporation, is a U.S.-based multinational corporation that is best known for designing and manufacturing microprocessors and specialized integrated circuits. ... x86 or 80x86 is the generic name of a microprocessor architecture first developed and manufactured by Intel. ... ... A floating-point number is a digital representation for a number in a certain subset of the rational numbers, and is often used to approximate an arbitrary real number on a computer. ... In computing, an operating system (OS) is the system software responsible for the direct control and management of hardware and basic system operations. ... Wikibooks has more about this subject: Guide to UNIX Unix or UNIX is a computer operating system originally developed in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of AT&T Bell Labs employees including Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Douglas McIlroy. ... 8-bit refers to the number of bits used in the data bus of a computer. ... In computer science, 16-bit is an adjective used to describe integers that are at most two bytes wide, or to describe CPU architectures based on registers, address buses, or data buses of that size. ... 32-bit is a term applied to processors, and computer architectures which manipulate the address and data in 32-bit chunks. ... MMU, short for Memory Management Unit, is a class of computer hardware components responsible for handling memory accesses requested by the CPU. Among the functions of such devices are the translation of virtual addresses to physical addresses (i. ... A computer network is a system for communication between computers. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... SCSI stands for Small Computer System Interface, and is a standard interface and command set for transferring data between devices on both internal and external computer buses. ...     The first Macintosh computer, introduced in 1984. ... Tux is the official Linux mascot. ... SATA ports on a motherboard In computer hardware, Serial ATA (SATA or S-ATA) is a computer bus technology primarily designed for transfer of data to and from a hard disk. ... ... International Business Machines Corporation (IBM, or colloquially, Big Blue) NYSE: IBM (incorporated June 15, 1911, in operation since 1888) is headquartered in Armonk, NY, USA. The company manufactures and sells computer hardware, software, infrastructure services and consulting services. ... Silicon Graphics, Inc. ... The word Dell can refer to the following: Dell, Inc. ... Intel Corporation (NASDAQ: INTC, HKEx: 4335), founded in 1968 as Integrated Electronics Corporation, is a U.S.-based multinational corporation that is best known for designing and manufacturing microprocessors and specialized integrated circuits. ... New Intel Pentium 4 with HyperThreading logo Old Pentium 4 (with hyper-threading) brand logo, replaced by one above The Pentium 4 is a seventh-generation x86 architecture microprocessor produced by Intel and is their first all-new CPU design, called the NetBurst architecture, since the Pentium Pro of 1995. ... Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. ... The Athlon 64 (codenamed ClawHammer, Newcastle, Winchester, Venice, and San Diego) represents AMDs entry into the consumer 64-bit microprocessor market, released on September 23, 2003. ... Itanium brand logo In computing, the Itanium is an IA-64 microprocessor developed jointly by Hewlett-Packard and Intel. ... The AMD Opteron is the first eighth-generation x86 processor (K8 core), and the first of AMDs AMD64 (x86-64) processors, released April 22, 2003. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Sun Microsystems, Inc. ... Sun UltraSPARC II Microprocessor Sun UltraSPARC T1 (Niagara 8 Core) SPARC (Scalable Processor ARChitecture) is a pure big-endian RISC microprocessor architecture originally designed in 1985 by Sun Microsystems. ... Wikibooks has more about this subject: Guide to UNIX Unix or UNIX is a computer operating system originally developed in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of AT&T Bell Labs employees including Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Douglas McIlroy. ...


Some workstations are designed for use with only one specific application such as AutoCAD, Avid Xpress Studio HD, 3D Studio MAX, ect. To ensure compatibility with the software, purchasers usually ask for a certificate from the software vendor. The certification process make the workstation's price jumps several notches but for professional purposes, reliability is more important than the cost. AutoCAD 2006 drawing. ... Avid Technology, Inc, a publicly traded company since 1993, is registered on the NASDAQ under the symbol AVID. The company is involved with digital nonlinear media creation, management and distribution services. ...


It is important to note that the PA-RISC, Alpha, and MIPS CPUs are still sold in workstations but are excluded in the above list because they are reaching their end-of-life soon, along with their operating systems (HP-UX, Tru64, and Irix, respectively). While Apple's PowerPC with Mac OS X is a workstation combination, we will need to see what Intel processor will replace the PowerPC. However, most are confident that Apple will use a processor (or have the option of having a processor) that is like (or perhaps the same) as the Xeon processor and continue its share in the workstation market. HP-UX (Hewlett Packard UniX) is Hewlett-Packards proprietary implementation of the Unix operating system. ... Tru64 is HPs (formerly Compaq; formerly DEC) 64-bit UNIX for the Alpha AXP platform. ... IRIX is the System V-based Unix Operating System with BSD extensions developed by Silicon Graphics (SGI) to run natively on their 32 and 64-bit MIPS architecture workstations and servers. ...


List of workstations and manufacturers

Note that many of these are extinct.

The 3Station was a diskless workstation, developed by Bob Metcalfe at 3Com and first available in 1986. ... Apollo Computer, Inc. ... The Atari Transputer Workstation (also known as ATW-800, or simply ATW) was a workstation class computer released by Atari in the late 1980s. ... The Datamax UV-1 was a pioneering computer designed by a group of computer graphics artists working at the University of Illinois, known as the Circle Graphics Habitat. ... The word Dell can refer to the following: Dell, Inc. ... Digital Equipment Corporation was a pioneering company in the American computer industry. ... The Hewlett-Packard Company NYSE: HPQ, commonly known as HP, is one of the worlds largest information technology corporations. ... Intergraph was founded in 1969 as M&S Computing, Inc. ... Lilith is the name of custom built workstation (originating sometimes before 1980) using the AMD 2901 bit-slice processor by the group of Niklaus Wirth at ETH Zürich. ... Look up Next in Wiktionary, the free dictionary Next can refer to: the object which comes after the current object. ... Silicon Graphics, Inc. ... Sun Microsystems, Inc. ... The ICON was a computer built specifically for use in schools, to fill a standard created by the Ontario education ministry. ... Xerox Star 8010 The Xerox Star workstation, officially known as the 8010 Star Information System was introduced by Xerox Corporation in 1981. ...

See also

This article was originally based on material from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, which is licensed under the GFDL.

  Results from FactBites:
 
OSHA Ergonomic Solutions: Computer Workstations eTool - Checklist (2158 words)
Workstation and equipment have sufficient adjustability so you are in a safe working posture and can make occasional changes in posture while performing computer tasks.
Computer workstation, components and accessories are maintained in serviceable condition and function properly.
Computer tasks are organized in a way that allows you to vary tasks with other work activities, or to take micro-breaks or recovery pauses while at the computer workstation.
Computer workstation - definition of Computer workstation in Encyclopedia (424 words)
A computer workstation, often colloquially referred to as workstation, is a high-end general-purpose microcomputer designed to be used by one person at a time and which offers higher performance than normally found in a personal computer, especially with respect to graphics, processing power and the ability to carry out several tasks at the same time.
Workstations tend to be very expensive, typically several times the cost of a standard PC and sometimes costing as much as a new car.
However, the line between workstation and PC is increasingly becoming blurred as trends toward consolidation and cost-cutting have caused workstation manufacturers to use "off the shelf" PC components and graphics solutions as opposed to proprietary in-house developed technology.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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