If you are a gamer and have participated in, or at least observed, a hardware discussion of any sort, then you are bound to have heard the term “workstation” used from time to time. But what exactly is a workstation? What is it used for? How is it different from a gaming PC? We will answer all of those questions below!
What Is A Workstation?
The term “workstation” refers to a computer made specifically to suit the purposes of professionals, be it scientists, engineers, architects, graphic designers, or others. Some companies sell pre-made workstation computers although anyone can put together a workstation just like they can a gaming PC.
Now, seeing as it can be used by some vastly different professions, workstations inevitably vary in regard to their specifications. However, what every workstation will have in common are a powerful CPU and a larger-than-average amount of RAM.
Furthermore, workstations that are intended for the more demanding tasks are made with specialized components that are engineered for high-performance and in such a way to be able to last a long time despite having to work at peak efficiency during long sessions.
Workstation vs Gaming PC
And now, to address the titular question: what is the difference between a gaming PC and a workstation? Honestly, it all comes down to the components.
As mentioned above, workstations always have a very powerful CPU to be able to handle the complex computational tasks that they will inevitably face. CPUs found in a workstation can include the following:
- Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 – The most basic CPUs found in budget and mid-range workstations.
- Intel Core i9 or AMD Ryzen Threadripper – The most popular workstation CPUs that tend to be the sweet spot of price and performance for the majority of workstation users.
- Intel Xeon or AMD EPYC – Reserved only for the most powerful workstations, these CPUs are manufactured primarily to be used in servers and excel at multitasking and processing high volumes of data.
As you may already know, Intel Core i7 and Ryzen 7 processors are the most powerful processors that should be used in a gaming PC, with anything more powerful simply being overkill. But as you can see, workstations go much further beyond, making thorough use of CPUs that would never be used for gaming unless the workstation serves both as a workstation and a gaming PC.
Naturally, the GPU is the most important component in a gaming PC. It can be an integral part of a workstation, too, if it is used for graphics-heavy tasks such as photo editing, video editing, 3D modeling, etc.
If that is the case, a workstation will utilize one of the following GPU brands:
- Nvidia GeForce or AMD Radeon RX – These are the names that you, as a gamer, are undoubtedly familiar with. High-end GeForce and Radeon cards are commonly used by some workstations, sometimes in multi-GPU configurations.
- Nvidia Quadro or AMD RadeonPro – These are pure workstation GPUs. They differ from gaming GPUs in that they have greater amounts of video memory, higher memory bandwidth, and overall higher processing power. Furthermore, they are optimized for GPU-heavy software, not for games.
People often overestimate the amount of RAM required by a gaming PC. The gaming PC will perform more than well with as little as 8 GB of RAM, and even 16 GB is usually overkill.
Workstations, on the other hand, need humongous amounts of RAM as compared to gaming PCs. Most of them stick to either 32 GB or 64 GB, but the truly high-end ones can have 128 GB or even 256 GB of RAM.
What’s more, workstations also commonly rely on ECC RAM which improves system/program stability and prevents data corruption.
Modern workstations favor SSDs as a primary means of storing information due to their sheer speed which dwarfs that of HDDs. However, seeing as a workstation user may also need to store large volumes of data, HDDs with several terabytes of space are also commonly included in the configuration.
That said, workstations and gaming PCs don’t differ much in this regard, apart from the fact that a workstation will almost definitely use higher-capacity storage drives.
Not much is different about a workstation motherboard apart from the fact that it may utilize a special chipset and socket designed for the more powerful CPUs listed above.
However, some users may opt for motherboards that have additional RAM and/or PCIe slots based on their requirements. There are also dual-CPU motherboards, but those are also more common among servers.
Are Workstations Good For Gaming?
Seeing as workstations almost ubiquitously outclass gaming PCs, it is safe to say that any decent workstations will perform just as well as a high-end gaming PC, but that depends mainly on the GPU. If it has a high-end Quadro or RadeonPro graphics card, then it will keep up with a high-end gaming PC with ease. However, if it is a more affordable model with limited VRAM, it may not perform quite as well.
It should also be noted that those cards are not optimized for games but for a variety of professional software such as CAD Autodesk, something that might adversely affect in-game performance, although only by a thin margin.
Can you use a gaming PC as a workstation?
Once again, it all depends on the specifications and how much you value your time. In essence, if a PC can run a certain piece of software, then you can technically use it as a workstation. However, due to hardware limitations, the PC may take significantly longer to process and/or render everything that is required, as compared to a proper workstation.