5 ways workstations offer better TCO than PCs

Engineer using a virtual reality headset

Industry sectors such as manufacturing, engineering, architecture and construction are coming to rely on powerful computers that can cope with data-heavy applications, for everything from fluid dynamics modelling to rendering rich and immersive 3D virtual reality graphics.

Companies often procure high-end PCs, like gaming PCs, for these workload-intensive activities to lower their Capex, but could workstations actually do a better job, and provide a lower TCO over time?

On the surface, it might make sense to stick with your existing fleet of machines or buy in a new cohort. According to recent IDC research, a mid-range workstation costs an average of €3,000, compared with €1,800 for an equivalent desktop PC. But in reality, the comparison between workstations and PCs is against very different types of systems, which do not carry the same total cost of (TCO) ownership in the long-term.

So, it’s worth looking beyond the price tag and taking a more rounded view. With this in mind, here are five ways new workstations offer better TCO than desktops.

1. Investing in high-end PCs creates a false economy

While the upfront cost for a high-end PC may look attractive, the bigger picture is that investing in PCs and workstations for processor-intensive tasks creates false economies, particularly when you factor things like professional salaries into the equation.

IDC notes, “High quality and task specificity mean workstations do add some cost above high-end PCs. But those costs are tiny compared to salaries and licenses for engineering and manufacturing software. More importantly, workstations help prevent performance degradation and downtime, which can both retard productivity and lead to real losses.”

The analyst firm calculated that, with an assumed average annual salary of €40,000 for a mechanical engineer or architect, a typical business may spend €400,000 on salaries, benefits and taxes. Meanwhile, it will likely spend an average €45,000 on the software these employees need: a CATiA package (computer-aided three-dimensional interactive application) for a mechanical engineer to carry out design and stress analysis; or ArchiCAD for an architect to do 4K rendering design and visualisation.

In the grand scheme of things, as IDC points out, hardware is less than 1% of the total employee cost over three years. It poses the question: “why risk big productivity losses for such a small saving?”

2. Workstation components are designed to handle industrial workloads 

While mainstream PCs can be configured to have significant processing, storage and graphics capabilities, workstations are specialised, optimised, high-performing machines, with multiple logical processors, large amounts of RAM and superior components, hence their higher price tag.

But in reality, what you’re buying is less downtime and greater reliability, leading to a better TCO in the long-term.

Workstations are designed for performance, reliability, scalability and expandability. So, in terms of performance, they often feature fast, DDR4 and non-volatile memory. They tend to have better quality, certified components, high-end cooling and Error-Correcting Code (ECC) memory to boost reliability.

For scalability, they offer memory expansion and multiple GPUs. And unlike mainstream PCs, they have many expansion slots, a large internal space to install additional components, power and thermal headroom, and multi-monitor support, all of which aid expandability.

The cumulative impact of these factors is significant, resulting in machines that are demonstrably better at running demanding workloads.

3. Workstations are built for performance

Workstation performance requirements have intensified, particularly in fields such as architecture, engineering and manufacturing. There are demanding use cases and applications for workstations, such as 3D CAD and CAM, medical imaging, complex financial modelling and immersive, high-resolution VR for construction and architecture, for example.

Mainstream desktops and laptops - even highly specified gaming machines - just don’t have the performance capabilities to run industrial applications like these, enabling professionals to run industry applications efficiently and hit their deadlines.

However, modern workstations are designed for high demand usage, continually maintaining performance peaks day in, day out. For example, Dell workstations feature the latest high-performance Intel Core and Intel Xeon processing technologies, supporting four-core Dual Intel Xeon processors at the entry level. And, at the higher end, they can offer up to 56-core Dual Intel Xeon processors for maximum processing power, each with its own large cache.

And unlike mainstream desktops, these workstation support high-end storage such as Intel Optane SSDs which enable the processor to retrieve data faster. Intel’s Optane technology delivers persistent memory, large memory pools, fast caching and fast storage, and contributes to an improvement in overall platform performance – even in highly dynamic environments.

Finally, workstations offer support for professional graphics cards, which can make the difference between the failure or success of a CAD project or a virtual model simulation.

4. Application optimisation lowers TCO

Unlike mainstream PCs, workstation manufacturers work closely with leading independent software vendors (ISVs) to ensure the best fit between workstation components and their software. So, popular industry applications from the likes of Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, Esri and Siemens PLM, become certified for specific workstations. This means the hardware, operating system and platform software, services and support are all ready to ensure the best performance from these applications, and optimal productivity from their users.

Makers of processors and professional graphics chips, such as Intel, AMD and NVIDIA, also lean heavily on ISVs for input during development. All this helps eliminate the bugs that slow rendering, image updates and simulation deployment, and create costly delays and downtime, when working with multiple power- and memory-hungry applications.

In addition, the relationship between workstation manufacturers and ISVs includes rigorous tests that push hardware to its limits. Every hiccup, bug and crash is used to tweak configurations until the software and the workstations are a perfect match.

Better application support, improved software compatibility and greater system reliability all combine to make workstations a sounder long-term investment than mainstream PCs.

Lastly, Dell workstations feature the Precision Optimiser. This uses machine learning to analyse user behaviour to identify optimisation opportunities and apply custom performance improvements to the hardware, based on specific applications, and how they are used. This helps businesses to get the best performance and value out of their workstation investments.

5. Workstations are VR and AI-ready

 One major advantage professional workstations have over desktops is they support the GPUs and RAM needed to run next-gen virtual reality (VR) applications that have become increasingly common for digital prototyping, as well as the demands of artificial intelligence (AI) work.

To power the VR experience Dell workstations carry the "Ready for VR" badge which indicates that these machines meet Dell's high-performance standards and ensure users get the intensive graphics and processing power they need for optimal VR, right out of the box.

Additionally, with compute-intensive AI tasks, for example, Intel Xeon-based workstations offer a Deep Learning boost that increases system performance up to 61% compared with a three-year-old workstation; with 18% better per-core performance.

Dell Precision workstations deliver the power to deploy and manage cognitive technology platforms, including Machine Learning (ML), AI and Deep Learning (DL). Dell collaborates with select industry partners to deliver versatile cognitive technology workstation configurations, aiming for every machine to exceed expectation, and offer a cost-effective solution that puts this advanced technology within reach.

So, when considering the TCO that workstations offer compared with high-end PCs, they are clearly two very different types of system. Factoring in the long-term investment of workstations, along with advantages such as reliability, performance and application optimisation, it makes logical and financial sense to get the best tools to get the job done.

Learn more about Dell’s Workstations at www.dellemc.com/precision

Further reading - How VR-powered workstations enable better training and collaboration

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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