Workstation vs Desktop: What’s the Difference and Which Is Right for You?

It’s no secret that devices are getting smaller. That’s a big reason why computer desktop sales have dropped over the years. It’s often said that you have more computing power in your hands today than the computing power that sent men to the moon.

In 2020, PCs made a comeback with sales jumping 13% over 2019. If you’re trying to run a business, you simply can’t afford to have a slow computer that can’t handle basic tasks. How does a workstation vs desktop compare to what you need?

You know you need a more powerful computer, but which one makes the most sense for you? When you start to shop for new computers, it can be overwhelming. There are dozens of brands, models, and configurations.

Read on as we compare the differences between workstations, desktops, and walk you through the steps to buy the best computer.

Comparing a Workstation vs Desktop

It’s easy to think that a workstation and desktop are the same because they are desktop computers. That’s like saying a Fiat is the same as a Tesla because they’re both cars. Look under the hood, and you’ll see a lot of differences.

Here are the major differences to be aware of when deciding between a desktop computer or workstation.


A workstation delivers a lot more power than a desktop computer. They’re also more reliable. Manufacturers build workstations with demanding work in mind.

They can manage tasks like graphic design, video editing, data analysis, and audio production. Desktops can handle most basic computing needs.

Hard Drive

Hard drives store your files and programs on your machine. Workstations tend to have more storage than desktop computers. It’s often necessary for demanding computer work.

Another difference is that workstations come with SSD hard drives. These are solid state drives, which are faster, more reliable, and more expensive. SSD drives have less storage capacity than standard hard drives unless you pay a lot for it.

Some desktop computers do come with SSD drives, but these tend to be higher-end business computers. You can go this route, but get prepared to spend money on an external hard drive.


Workstations are built to work hard. They’re meant to do complex tasks through the night. Desktop computers might not be up to the task to do that every single night.


You might have gathered by now that workstations cost more than desktop computers. That doesn’t mean that you should rule out one or the other. Both types of computers offer users a lot of options.

Other Features of Workstations

Workstations do cost more, but you’re getting a lot more for that money. Workstations are classified as such because they have a few features that desktops don’t have.

For instance, workstations come with RAID. That’s not insect repellant, but it’s a system of hard drives where you can store data. You can use one hard drive as a backup to your regular hard drive.

They also come with high-end graphics processing. Workstations use a graphic processing unit, which is a separate graphics processor.

That helps optimize performance because the graphics processor handles a lot of work that a standard processor normally operates.

Types of Desktop Computers

You’ll find that desktop computers are categorized into different types of computers. There are three general types that you should know about.

A tower computer is your typical desktop computer. You can add your own monitor, mouse, and keyboard, which gives you the opportunity to customize your set-up.

An all-in-one computer has a computing unit and monitor on one device. This is great if you need a monitor, but don’t have a lot of space to work with. 

A compact computer falls in between the two. You have a smaller tower, but you still need to attach a monitor and other peripherals.  

Types of Workstations

Workstations can be divided into different categories as well. The categories are defined by the usage of the workstation. A server has multiple processors and is designed to run 24/7. 

A modeling workstation is built with 3D rendering and AutoCAD in mind. This will have a heavy-duty graphic processor to handle the tasks. 

Buying a Workstation or Desktop

Once you decide which type of computer is right for you, you need to start shopping for your desktop or workstation. The buying process is largely the same.

You have to start out by understanding your computing needs. What software do you use the most? Does this tend to slow down your machine?

Are you multitasking between a 3D graphics program and a photo editor? Those are two resource-heavy programs. You need to make sure that your computer can handle those tasks.

Do you want to use the computer for gaming? Gaming PCs need to have a lot of horsepowers, and it helps to have the right computer to play and live stream simultaneously. Many gamers buy workstations because they’re more

On the other hand, if you need a machine for email, internet, spreadsheets, and some graphic design work to create social media posts, you’ll be fine with a mid to high-end desktop.

You should also think about your future needs. You’re about to make a sizeable investment in your computing needs, whether for business or personal use. Desktop computers have an average lifespan of 3-5 years. Workstations last between 6-7 years. 


Your budget is going to determine what kind of computer you can get. You might be surprised to learn that workstations are often more affordable than high-end laptops.

What if you need to get more than one computer? Check with manufacturers to see if you can get a bulk discount. Some retailers may extend a volume discount, but you may need to meet purchasing minimums.


There are brands known for producing high-quality workstations. HP, Dell, and Lenovo are just a few of the major brands.

Read the reviews of the different brands online. You may find that one brand offers better service, or use more powerful processors in their machines.


You’ll want to check the warranty of the computer before buying it. Manufacturers tend to offer a limited warranty for a short amount of time. Find out what parts and problems the warranty covers.

Check to see what kind of service the manufacturer offers. Some manufacturers will charge you for service calls during the warranty period.

Peripheral Connections

Do you need to connect a monitor, USB devices, and external drives to your computer? You’ll need to make sure that the desktop or workstation comes equipped with plenty of connections.

Even if you get an all-in-one desktop, you’ll need to have peripherals for a graphics tablet, scanner, and mouse.


Performance isn’t always easy to compare, because there are a lot of geeky terms that you need to understand.

Do you know what RAM is? How about the processor? These things are critical components of computer performance.

RAM is your computer’s random access memory. It’s the part of the computer that serves as the computer’s temporary memory. The more RAM a computer has, the more programs it can handle.

This is very important for multitasking, graphic design, and gaming. You need to check to see how much RAM comes with the computer and what the maximum capacity is.

The processor of the computer is called the CPU, or central processing unit. Many refer to this as the brain of the computer. Much like a human brain, a CPU receives and sends instructions to the rest of the computer. The faster the CPU, the faster the computer.

CPU and RAM work together to create a high-performing machine. If you have a lot of RAM, but a slow processor, your performance will suffer.

What else goes into a computer’s performance? The graphics card is essential if you work with 3D rendering, CAD, games, video editing, or graphic design.

Buying a Workstation vs Desktop: Make the Right Choice

When you compare the nuts and bolts of a workstation vs desktop, a workstation clearly delivers more power. There’s a price to that power and performance, but you might find that it fits your needs.

Desktops are great for small businesses and individuals with a small budget and limited computing needs. Workstations are a good choice for people and businesses that use programs that are heavy on graphics.

Do you want more tips to upgrade your tech? Check out the High Tech section of this site.

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