Before you go workstation shopping, you should know they can be some of the most confusing computers to purchase because of their sheer configurability and a knack for offering options you've probably never heard of. The following sections delve into all aspects of the workstation world, including professional-grade graphics cards, error-correcting memory, workstation-class CPUs, and warranty considerations.
Processors with higher core and thread counts are better for multitasking and especially long-running tasks like video encoding, though one with fewer cores and a higher clock speed or operating frequency (measured in gigahertz or GHz) may be more responsive for general use. Today's true workstation-CPU families are the Intel Leon and AMD Ry zen Thread ripper lines.
The chips' weak point is that they're harder to find in workstations from major vendors such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo, where Intel remains by far the dominant choice. We tested Thread ripper Pro in the first Lenovo model, the ThinkStation 620 in our pick list above, and found it quite impressive.
Truth be told, workstation CPUs are based on the same essential technologies as their civilian desktop counterparts. This type of RAM automatically corrects the tiny amount of data corruption that occurs in standard or non-ECC memory.
This corruption is inconsequential for everyday use, but it's unacceptable in scientific, architectural, and financial fields where every decimal place matters. That may sound like a lot compared to your laptop's 8 GB or 16 GB, but it's pocket change when you consider that some workstations can support 2 TB (2,048 GB) of memory or more.
Simply put, workstation CPUs are a necessity when extraordinary amounts of memory are required. Its expensive territory that you'd probably visit only if you need an extreme number of cores (more than can fit on a single CPU) and don't want to invest in a second computer.
Ever-increasing CPU core counts have mitigated, but not eliminated, the need for what's known as symmetric multiprocessing (SVP) scenarios. A non-workstation CPU will otherwise offer a better value, though some desktop workstations may not give you a choice between, say, Intel's Leon line and its Core family.
The use of a GPU can vary from simple photo editing to complex CGI and parallel processing. Most major workstation vendors will advertise ISV certification for specific apps such as Autodesk's AutoCAD and Maya or Assault Systems' SolidWorks.
The ISV certification guarantees that the workstation is optimized and will work properly for a given program. However, if you're in a line of work where guarantees are required, and you want an ironclad, up-front promise that the system is built for running a given application “just so,” then your shopping list will be limited to ISV-certified workstations.
An up-and-coming concept in the workstation world is a more generic GPU driver that is built around maximizing compatibility with creative apps. The driver doesn't offer guaranteed compatibility like an ISV certification, but it's tested against creative software from popular vendors.
A low-end GPU is usually more than enough for photo editing, though video editors might want to step up to a midrange model with 6 GB or more of display memory for 4K (or higher) source footage. If you're working with complex 3D models in product design, engineering, or other simulations, you'll generally want to invest in as powerful a GPU as possible, with 8 GB or even 16 GB of onboard memory.
Adding a second graphics card to your workstation won't have much (if any) effect on performance if your application in question doesn't support multi-GPU environments, so it's important to verify your favorite apps first. The U.2 format offers higher capacities than M.2 drives since it provides more real estate for housing memory chips.
The latter stands for Serial Attached SCSI, another kind of storage interface typically found only in high-end workstations and servers. A SAS drive is typically used in data center or enterprise scenarios where maximum uptime and reliability are required.
These take the form of externally accessible 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch bays whose drives can be pulled out of the workstation and swapped while the system is running. For bulk storage where speed and response time isn't critical, 3.5-inch SATA hard drives offer the most gigabytes per dollar.
It's also worth paying the premium for solid-state storage for general purposes if your workflow involves reading and writing large amounts of data, as with 4K and 8K video editing. If being able to detach your storage quickly or take it with you is important, Intel-based workstations typically offer the option for add-in cards with one or more Thunderbolt 3 ports.
It pays to invest in a workstation that's more powerful than your current workload demands, so it will support your workflow in the long term. By contrast, mini desktops and all-in-one designs (with the workstation in the base or back of a monitor) can greatly limit your upgrade options down the line and tend not to be the most cost-effective investments.
Nearly all workstations will have the types of ports you'd find on a normal desktop, including USB, video-out connectors, network connections, and audio jacks. There's no such thing as a cheap macOS-based workstation, so you'll be looking at a Windows or Linux machine if you're spending less than the $5,000 starting price for Apple's sole standalone workstation model, the 2019 Mac Pro or the equally pricey iMac Pro (which starts at the same price).
While Windows and macOS dominate mainstream desktops, it's common for workstation vendors to offer Linux installs or support. Unlike macOS and Windows, most Linux distros won't require you to pay for an operating system license, and many powerful software tools are available, often at reduced or no cost.
It's naturally more expensive, so save your cash with a regular Windows 10 Pro license unless you need them. Also be mindful of any special hardware you need for your workflow, such as video-capture cards that may not be usable under certain operating systems.
Apple's Boot Camp software can be used to run Windows on a Mac, but there's no official way to do things the other way around. Business and enterprise workstation buyers should be conscious of their needs for remote-management support and general device security.
Intel tends to be the strongest on this front with its pro platform, which is readily available on its Core and Leon CPUs. Their cooling systems are also more advanced, so the workstation can keep its temperatures under control during nonstop operation.
This practice will vary with smaller vendors that may not offer separate support for consumer and business PCs. Adding accidental damage coverage should be done at discretion; it might be a negligible expense next to the cost of a tricked-out workstation.
The latter is almost always worthwhile, not only to minimize downtime but to save your workstation from the rigors of shipping if repairs are needed. All told, the total cost of any extended warranties and coverage generally shouldn't exceed 20 percent of the computer's price.
This is rarely a problem when buying an expensive workstation, as even top-tier warranty coverage shouldn't run more than a few hundred dollars. This ensures you can get a system configured to your specifications, with a clear line of communication for sales and after-sales support.
Start by choosing a software platform (macOS, Linux, or Windows) and then find a suitable model. You can also pinch pennies by going with a gaming-grade GeForce GTX or RTX GPU and using an Nvidia Studio driver, though there's no replacement for a professional GPU when it comes to compatibility and stability with creative apps, especially if you'll leave your workstation running around the clock crunching data or media.
1536×960 Leon Owners Club | Page 55 | TechPowerUp Forums Our CPU Benchmark Hierarchy has all the processors ranked based on performance in gaming, single- and multi-threaded workloads.
So we've compiled a list of processors representing the best bang for your buck in common productivity tasks, based on our years of benchmarking and testing data. Unfortunately, the semiconductor industry is in the midst of crushing shortages spurred by the pandemic and limited production capacity at industry-leading fab TSMC, which produces AMD's CPUs.
Get the latest gen: You usually won't save a lot by going with an older chip, and you may limit your upgrade options down the road. For even more information, check out our 2020 CPU Buyer’s Guide, where we discuss how much you should spend for what you’re looking to do, and when cores matter more than high clock speeds.
Intel's seemingly-endless delay in transitioning to the 10 nm node for the desktop, not to mention a new architecture beyond Sky lake, has left the industry ripe for disruption. As a result, AMD's new Thread ripper 3000 processors march into the upper segment of the HEAT market uncontested.
AMD's Thread ripper 3990X slots in as the industry's uncontested leader in multi-threaded work with 64 cores and 128 threads, but this processor is most effective for a narrow selection of workloads that can benefit from the tremendous thread count while not being impacted by the vagaries of the multi-chip design. In either case, the Zen 3-powered Thread ripper 3990X is pretty much exactly what AMD says it is: A highly specialized processor that provides incredible performance in a narrow cross-section of workloads, but at an extremely attractive price point given its capabilities.
AMD's decision to pair 64 cores and 128 threads with higher boost frequencies pays big dividends in VFX, 3D animation, and ray tracing workloads with more performance than you would expect from any comparable workstation-class solution, not to mention even some dual-socket servers. You also get access to 64 lanes of PCIe 4.0, which is useful for powerful SSD RAID arrays and other high-performance additives.
The $3,990 price tag is eye-watering, but for professionals that can benefit from the 3990X's hefty allotment of cores and threads, it's worth every penny. The 32-core, 64-thread Thread ripper 3970X delivers devastating threaded performance in its price range, often trouncing Intel's most exotic silicon.
Intel's Leon W-3175X is ill-suited to take on the comparatively power-sipping Thread ripper processors on a power efficiency basis, not to mention pricing. Finally, AMD's forward-thinking adoption of the PCIe 4.0 interface is another attraction that will help win over the semi-professional crowd.
While the faster interface isn't as useful on the mainstream desktop, the ability to stack up throughput-craving devices behind the chipset without the radical throughput restrictions we see with Intel's DMI is another big win. That makes the Core i9-10980XE an alternative pick that you can snag now, while you'll likely have to exercise some patience or settle for paying scalper pricing for AMD's new chips.
For streamers and professionals who can make use of the extra I/O of and quad-channel memory, Intel’s Cascade Lake-X flagship earns its niche, but the Ry zen 5950X and 3950X are a better value for most productivity workloads where the more-robust HEAT platform is less important. That leaves a preciously slim slice of the market where Intel has an advantage in this price bracket (users that need quad-channel memory or more PCIe lanes).
You can drop the -10980XE into an existing X299 board if you're willing to sacrifice a few PCIe lanes, but be aware that this is the end of the line for the X299 platform. The refined 14 nm process equates to faster clock speeds, and thus performance, at lower overall power consumption.
But the 10980XE’s advantage after tuning over the AMD Ry zen 5950X comes at a $280 premium and requires more robust cooling and power delivery, so you should factor that into your purchasing decision. In most cases, the Ry zen 9 5950X and 3950X, both listed below, remain the better choice if you can find those chips on shelves.
Aside from high pricing, HEAT chips also require expensive accommodations, like beefy motherboards and the added cost of fully populating quad-channel memory controllers. Add in the inevitable trade-offs, like reduced performance in lightly-threaded applications and games, and any cost-conscious users who could benefit from the threaded horsepower of a HEAT chip just settle for mainstream offerings.
AMD's Ry zen 9 5950X, with 16 cores and 32 threads, expands on its predecessors' mission of bringing HEDT-class performance to mainstream motherboards, lowering the bar for entry. The 5950X carries a $799 price tag, but that’s downright affordable compared to competing HEAT processors that don't offer the same class of performance.
The Ry zen 9 5950X's healthy slathering of cores and threads are incredibly adept at productivity workloads. However, outside that notable restriction, if you're after a chip and platform that can do serious work seriously fast, but still be nimble enough to deliver high-refresh gameplay at the end of the day, the Ry zen 9 5950X fits the bill like no other CPU before it, blurring the lines between HEAT and mainstream platforms.
The Ry zen 9 3950X is a previous-gen processor, and we typically don't recommend investing in older chips for productivity-focused builds. However, given the ongoing chip shortages that likely won't end soon, the Ry zen 9 3950X might be the only option if you're looking for a 16-core 32-thread processor to drop into a mainstream motherboard.
AMD's 16-core 32-thread Ry zen 9 3950X brings HEDT-class performance to mainstream motherboards, lowering the bar for entry. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this chip right now is that you can find it in stock, whereas the more powerful Ry zen 9 5950X is subject to crushing shortages, and thus price gouging.
The Core i7-10700K is a speedy chip with plenty of overclocking headroom, and it also comes with integrated graphics, which isn't an option with AMD's 5000-series processors. However, the 5600X brings more than enough extra application performance to justify the premium, not to mention that it's the most power-efficient desktop PC processor we've ever tested.
That means it is easier to cool than competing chips in its price range, ultimately resulting in a quieter system. AMD's Zen 3 microarchitecture results in a stunning 19% increase in IPC, which floats all boats in terms of performance in gaming, single-threaded, and multi-threaded applications.
If entertainment is also on the menu, the 5600X is an incredibly well-rounded chip that can handle any type of gaming, from competitive-class performance with high refresh rate monitors to streaming. The chip also has a 65W TDP rating, meaning it runs exceptionally cool and quiet given its capabilities (the previous-gen model was 95W).
However, due to ongoing product shortages, it might be the best bang for your buck that's actually available at retail outlets. For instance, the Ry zen 5 3600 offers nearly the same amount of threaded horsepower as Intel's $262 Core i5-10600K but retails for ~$200.
The 3600X might be worth the extra coin if you aren't interested in overclocking, as it does provide more performance out of the box and comes with a better cooler. A Ry zen 5 3600 paired with a B550 motherboard (or even a B450 if you aren't interested in PCIe 4.0 connectivity) will make a great setup for mainstream users focused on light productivity tasks, like streaming, rendering, and encoding.