If you’ve found yourself suddenly working from home in 2020, there’s a good chance you’ve had to set up your workstation. What’s a workstation, you ask? It’s a computer setup geared around enabling you to work successfully.
In the past, a workstation would often be extremely powerful, easily overshadow typical gaming PC’s. However, as streaming, 4K resolution, and ray tracing have emerged as the next step in PC gaming, the disparity between work and gaming has slowly shifted.
Still, there are potential differences and similarities to take into account to make sure your PC does exactly what you need it to do. So if you find yourself cooped up and looking to order a PC upgrade, you’ll want to check out what makes a good workstation or gaming PC.
What is a Workstation?
As we’ve touched on, a workstation is a PC build that prioritizes functionality for professional use. In today’s landscape, that typically means prioritizing connectivity, collaboration, storage, and speed to make a well-rounded PC. That said, the actual power and components of a workstation depend on the type of job the user is trying to accomplish.
An editor who regularly uses Adobe Suite or a programmer working on the backend of websites will need a much more powerful processor with additional SSD storage and RAM versus someone who is working in Google Drive or making Zoom calls throughout the day. Still, even if your job isn’t hardware intensive, you’ll want to get yourself a setup that is both versatile and has the potential to last for many years.
Workstation PC vs. Gaming PC
What are the different components found in work computers vs. gaming PCs, and what you should look for?
In the comparisons below, we’re going to focus on components used in workstations for editors, artists, and programmers who need a higher-end PC to do their work. We’re also going to assume you understand the purpose of a gaming PC (you’re on High Ground Gaming, after all) and dive right into what makes these two setups unique.
While low-end workstations can stick to an Intel Core i7 or even i5 processor, there’s a good chance you’re severely limiting your PC’s potential. In fact, the CPU for a high-end workstation can be where you dump the most money. Opting for an i7, i9, or even the Xeon, ensures that your PC can handle a diverse workload, quickly change between programs, churn through massive amounts of data, and so on.
A gaming PC, on the other hand, can benefit from a powerful CPU, but you’re going to need an equally powerful graphics card to back it up. Entry-level gaming PCs typically start with i3 or Ryzen 3 CPUs and go up from there. You’ll find that most outlets recommend the Intel i9-9900K as the highest-end CPU to utilize, due to the high clock speed and per-core performance. The benefit of this option is it can serve as a solid workstation CPU, as well.
High-end GPU components, such as a GeForce GTX 1660 or RTX 2070, are ideal choices for gaming. You’ll often find most streamers and professional gamers opting for GPU skews that optimize around 1080p and maximized frame rates. For the graphics aficionados, you’ll sometimes see even higher-end GPU units that enable ray tracing and native 4K resolution. But keep in mind, you need a monitor that matches the desired resolution to get the full effect.
Now, a high-end GPU for workstations doesn’t hurt anything, especially if you’re working in visually intensive software such as Adobe Suite or Autodesk. However, if you’re not in a profession that requires the use of high visual fidelity projects, you’ll just be wasting money and potential. If you’re not working with resource-intensive programs, you’ll only want to shell out for a spendier GPU if you plan on the PC playing double duty as a gaming machine.
Most gaming PCs, even high-end units, only require 8-16 GB of RAM, with some opting for 32 GB simply due to the low cost of upgrading. The main reason you’d even consider adding more RAM is to squeeze every bit of power out of your CPU while future-proofing your build for the next few years. While there are plenty of options available from Corsair and G.Skill at the higher GB option, you’ll want to be sure it’s compatible with your motherboard before buying.
For a workstation, 32 GB is the minimum when it comes to RAM, with most high-end builds touting 64, 128, and even up to 256 GB of RAM. The reason for this, again, comes down to ease of use and optimization when using multiple pieces of software. Not only does more RAM lead to greater system stability, but it helps prevent data corruption and provides a faster user experience.
As SSD units have become more standardized for gaming and streaming PCs, the disparity between work stations has slowly disappeared. You really cannot go wrong with more storage, and having additional drives that serve specific purposes can be a significant performance booster for both work and games.
One thing to note: having a larger HDD up to 2-3 terabytes can be more beneficial if you need to store massive amounts of data. This may be more ideal for a work PC rather than a gaming PC, depending on the type of work you do.
The motherboard is, quite possibly, the most critical component of your PC. If you have a higher-end CPU, you’ll need a motherboard with a specific chipset to squeeze as much power out of your rig as possible. Not only that, but it needs to be compatible with whatever RAM sticks you’re using for greater consistency between components.
We can’t say there’s a direct difference between workstation and gaming PC motherboards. But more than likely, you’ll need a higher-end motherboard for a work computer due to the more powerful CPU, while a gaming OC motherboard must be geared to your overall build.
Can You Use Your Workstation as a Gaming PC?
The short answer is yes, simply due to the increased power and memory found in most work stations. The one caveat to consider is the GPU. Without a high-end unit that prioritizes resolution and consistent frame rate based on your monitor’s refresh rate, then it may not be as visually consistent as you’d like.
For those that prioritized building a gaming PC, you may not have the same ease switching it over to a workstation. Depending on your needs, the lack of memory and storage combined with the lower-end CPU can be a deal-breaker for data-intensive work. However, for most professionals, there’s a good chance that those spreadsheets, word docs, and daily conference calls will function just fine on your gaming PC.
Overall the differences between workstations and gaming PCs entirely depend on your situation and priorities. There are definitely ways to meet in the middle, but you’ll often have to sacrifice visual fidelity, storage, or stability if you’re not able to unload piles of cash on a PC build.
The best thing you can do? Prioritize around what you’ll be using your PC for most of the time, and find ways to make concessions or upgrades that create a solid experience for the other use case.