A Guide to HP Workstations
Most people don’t take the time to consider what their computer is and what it does until there’s a problem. Your computer is probably one of the most important devices in your life, right up there with your car and your cell phone. You use the computer for almost everything (including reading this article), but you don’t really give it the time of day. You maintain it and understand it, but you probably don’t consider getting rid of it just because something newer and sexier comes along.
Or do you?
There are many types of computers. There’s the office computer, the home computer, the laptop, the tablet, and to some extent, the smartphone. You use computers for work, entertainment, social networking, and more. If you’re lucky, your current computer does everything you need it to do. But there are times when you need something more, when the computer you have is not able to supply you with the power and speed that you need, and a situation may arise where you weigh the question of whether to upgrade your old PC or buy a brand-new unit. That’s where the term “workstation” comes in.
"Your computer is probably one of the most important devices in your life..."
Basically, a workstation is exactly that—a station at which work gets done. Traditionally, a workstation is built for serious high-end solutions. Workstations are not home computers or gaming stations—they are usually built to tackle serious computational hogs like video editing, photo processing, or graphic design and illustration, and they do so without overtaxing the computer's engine. Whereas a home computer or gaming workstation may be built with high-end graphics cards installed to give you the best picture for your needs, workstations usually include much higher-end and more powerful graphics cards that expedite graphics processing far faster and with greater detail than typical computers. You’ll also find many workstations that don’t include a graphics card at all, simply because the processors in the computer are so powerful that many professionals want to customize their graphics options.
HP Z Series
HP leads the field in workstation development, understanding the customer’s need to have a rig that’s not just a toy or a gimmick—HP makes workstations, such as the HPZ230, Z420, Z620, and Z820 series, built for professionals who are looking to maximize their productivity and not wait for their operating system to load Candy Crush.
And what about the processors? Although there are no standards for what makes a workstation a workstation, it is generally agreed that a good processor (like the Intel® Core™ series) or a great processor (Intel Xeon processors are the rage right now) will give you the best performance, and will be the heart of the workstation. The Intel Xeon E5 v2 series processors, for instance, are used in many cloud computing server systems because of their reliability and processing power. These processors also use a special architecture from Intel that integrates the I/O controller directly onto the processor to reduce latency and improve the data throughput that is critical to server applications. Some of the most high-end workstations might even include slots for dual processors to help increase your ability to work without pause.
In addition to the strong processors, most workstations will also include hefty RAM loadouts. While 4GB of RAM may effectively help you navigate a Windows 64-bit environment, 16GB will definitely increase your ability to display or view multiple video streams. Most workstations have the ability to carry very large RAM capacities—HP carries models that have the capability to contain as much as 512GB. The ability to process data will depend on the speed of the RAM as well, which is why Intel® Xeon™ processors can handle up to 1866MHz RAM speeds, and why a workstation can usually handle more than 16GB of RAM.
"Workstations are not home computers or gaming stations—they are usually built to tackle serious computational hogs..."
You should also pay attention to the processor’s cache speed. The processor cache is an amount of cache on the processor that it sets aside for commonly used tasks. When those tasks are accessed, the speed is greatly increased because the processor is going to its internal controller and not to the board for that data. Many Intel Xeon processors have caches that range from 10 to 30MB.
Another factor to consider when deciding on workstations is expandability and access to PCI slots. This is especially important today when some graphics cards can occupy two slots at once. Although the number of available slots is governed by the motherboard, you should not settle for less than available PCIe 2nd- and 3rd-generation slots. You should also make sure you have extra bays for hard drives or optical drives you might want to add later.
As for other amenities, new professional-level HP workstations are starting to adopt the Thunderbolt 2 protocol for unprecedented data transfer speeds. These bi-directional ports can transfer up to 20GB/s of data each way, allowing for speeds four times faster than USB 3.0. This makes 10-bit HD video streams more manageable.
Look for Gigabit Ethernet connectivity (many HP workstations have dual GBe ports), SATA III 6GB/s interfaces for your hard drives, and Blu-ray writers to offload data storage. For hard drives, most come equipped with 1TB 7200 rpm hard drives—you can always upgrade to super-fast solid-state drives or larger hard-drive arrays and configurations.
Towers of Power
If you’re picturing a traditional tower of plastic and steel making a dent in your desk, you may be surprised to learn that workstations come in many different designs. HP, a leader in the workstation marketplace, has tower, small-form-factor, and all-in-one units with impressive engines and a design that will fit your style. The tower is your traditional steel-and-plastic unit, which has enough legroom to satisfy your expandability needs. Small-form-factor desktops use the smallest casing available and usually cram in the microATX motherboard, graphics card (or they rely on integrated Intel HD Graphics on the processor) and drives. These are the least expandable units, and are usually only used in office settings where space is a factor.
Power on the Go
But workstations also come in mobile units as well. Again, HP is in the forefront when it comes to producing mobile workstations. HP's Z-Book series of laptops mimics its desktop kin with powerful Intel Core processors, large RAM loadouts and integrated or discrete graphics controllers. They come in a variety of sizes and configurations (including an Ultrabook model), which you can read about here.
Whether you are looking to bring your small business into the next generation, maximize your PC experience by trading up, or are just in need of the most powerful PCs that can handle video editing, photography, graphic design and illustration, or any other processor-intense function, you need a workstation, and HP has just the one you may need.