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What's the difference between a desktop and a workstation?

So what is the difference between a desktop and a workstation? In general, a workstation is a specialized computer, which is designed specifically for technical or scientific applications. Whereas, a desktop is a personal computer, designed for regular use.


- 3 min read

In this article, we are going to dive into the technical aspects and limitations of a desktop vs a workstation. General computing has changed over the last couple years and with the release of CPUs (central processing units) attaining up to 16 cores, giving some of the highest clock speeds available, higher core counts and clock speed at better reliability and affordable prices, then what classifies a computer as a workstation and who should be buying these?

Desktops are more than capable of creating compelling content. But they have their limitations.

Desktop Versus Workstations: Desktop Limitations

  • Quantity of RAM and the memory channels offered by the motherboard and CPU
  • Number of cores available
  • Number of PCIe lanes that can communicate directly with the CPU
  • The ability to upgrade or expand

RAM and Memory Channels

The maximum amount of memory available for a modern desktop computer is currently 256Gb of RAM (4 x 64Gb sticks), which is because of the limitation of current desktop CPUs. This is further compounded by the fact that motherboards usually come with only 4 memory slots and use only 2 channels. 

CPU Cores 

Currently, AMD offers the maximum number of CPU cores for a desktop system (16 CPU cores). If you have one of these systems, you are at the ceiling of what is available. This is due to the form factor of the CPU socket itself, and current motherboard compatibility. So in the future, when the next generation of CPUs are available for desktops, with more cores, of course, it physically won’t fit in the socket of current motherboards. However, this does not include the original AMD™ Threadripper™, as it is a hybrid solution.

PCIe lanes

PCIe lanes are communication highways that connect your PCIe slot to your CPU. Currently, on a modern high-spec desktop, you are limited to 24 lanes (on the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X for example). When you factor in that a high-performing GPU (graphics processing unit) typically requires at least 16 of those lanes, you're already approaching the limit. “But I have seen desktops use more than two GPUs?” Yes, you can go over the limit, but there are performance limitations. Those 16 lanes of PCIe used for the GPU are cut in half for one GPU, so it’s not getting the full bandwidth to communicate with the CPU, therefore hampering performance. There is also an alternative route that can be used; however, these highways go through the chipset, avoiding direct communication with the CPU.

Desktop Versus Workstations: Workstation Benefits

Above we have mentioned some of the limitations of a desktop, but let's now talk about workstations. Originally when AMD announced the first Threadripper CPU, a hybrid CPU, it offered up to 64 cores, as well as up to four memory channels. But AMD™ has taken this to a whole new level with the Threadripper PRO™. The Threadripper PRO™ is available in 12,16, 32, or 64 cores, but also offers up to 128 lanes of PCIe communications. So theoretically if you wanted to put 4 GPUs in place, that isn't an issue. There are enough PCIe lanes to fully saturate all the actual physical slots, and still have enough lanes left over to communicate with other devices. 

The Threadripper PRO also allows for eight memory channels, you could theoretically install 2Tb of RAM across the eight memory channels. That's a huge amount of memory for processing any creative content. So if you bought a 12- or 16-core system you could replace any of these components in the future, or upgrade to a 32-core CPU or a 64-core CPU, or maybe you want to buy one GPU now and as your production requirements grow, you can buy another GPU and have two GPUs working on the system in the future. Time is money when working in any industry, and the AMD™ Threadripper™ PRO will help you deliver your projects to your clients faster. It's a system that will grow with your requirements as you grow. 

To Conclude

A desktop computer is more than capable of producing lighter content, but when it comes to raw computing power when you're processing and encoding heavy videos, rendering animations, and doing lighting and visual effects work, you would need a workstation class system. And our PL-Ultimate PRO workstation could be the perfect solution.



- 3 min read

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