What is the difference between servers and desktops/workstations?

17th August 2023

In the computing industry, people often confuse the two terminologies “servers” and “workstations” synonymously, but they are two different parts of technology infrastructure. Both are essential in various environments but serve other purposes and have different features. This blog post highlights the key differences between servers and desktops PCs and workstations, their roles, functionalities, and how they contribute to modern computing environments.

Before getting straight to the differences, it is better to develop an understanding of what a server or workstation is.

What is Server?

In a client-server architecture, a server is a program or gadget that provides services to connected clients. A computer system may also be set up to run a particular server application. Users on an intranet can also receive applications from a server.

What is a Workstation?

A workstation is a computer used for demanding CPU and RAM tasks, including graphic design, video editing, CAD, and 3-D design. A workstation often contains a fast, top-of-the-line processor, numerous hard drives, and lots of RAM. A workstation may also incorporate specialised audio, video, or processing cards for technical editing tasks. The server is more of a utility item, whereas computer manufacturers advertise a workstation to professional users.

Difference between Server and Workstation

Both are a part of the networking architecture; however, their uses and purposes differ.

Purpose and Functionality

Servers: The foundation of digital services are servers, which serve as centralised nodes for managing, storing, and distributing data and resources to other networked devices. They are made to accommodate numerous users, handle heavy workloads, and provide services like email, database administration, and more. Servers prioritise reliability, redundancy, and scalability to ensure uninterrupted operations and facilitate efficient data management.

Desktops/Workstations: Desktops and workstations, on the other hand, cater to individual users’ needs. These devices are optimised for content creation, gaming, and everyday computing tasks. They focus on providing responsive interfaces and graphics capabilities, enhancing the user experience and productivity. While desktops are geared toward general computing tasks, workstations are engineered for demanding tasks like graphic design, video editing, and scientific simulations.

Hardware and Performance

Servers: Servers boast robust hardware configurations designed to handle heavy workloads and ensure continuous operation. They often feature multi-core processors, ample RAM, redundant power supplies, and high-speed storage solutions. Their performance is optimised for efficiency, reliability, and scalability rather than raw processing power.

Desktops/Workstations: Desktops and workstations prioritise processing power and graphics performance tailored to users’ needs. They come equipped with high-performance CPUs, dedicated graphics cards, and ample storage for personal files and applications. Unlike servers, they are not optimised for redundancy and scalability but instead, emphasise speed and responsiveness.

Operating Systems and Software

Servers: UNIX versions, Linux distributions, and Windows servers are standard operating systems. These operating systems are designed to handle a high volume of requests, manage network resources, and provide security features necessary in a server environment.

Desktops/Workstations: Desktops and workstations generally run standard operating systems like Windows, macOS, or Linux desktop distributions. These systems are tailored to provide user-friendly interfaces, application compatibility, and features optimised for personal computing tasks.

Networking and Connectivity

Servers: Servers are designed to be part of a network infrastructure, featuring multiple network interfaces for high-speed data transfers and redundant connections. They often include hardware features like remote management interfaces and support for virtualisation technologies.

Desktops/Workstations: While desktops PCs and workstations can be networked, they typically have fewer network interfaces and lack redundant server connectivity options. Their networking capabilities are centered around connecting to the internet, local networks, and peripheral devices.

Management and Maintenance

Servers: Servers demand a higher level of management and maintenance due to their critical role in providing services and resources. They require regular updates, security patches, monitoring, and sometimes even specialised personnel to ensure optimal performance and security.

Desktops/Workstations: Desktops and workstations require less intensive maintenance, focusing on individual users’ needs. Updates and security patches are still essential, but the management complexity is generally lower than servers.

Can a workstation be used as a Server?

Due to the parallels between workstations and servers, many users may be curious whether a workstation may be converted into a server. Technically, the response is affirmative. Any workstation that satisfies the hardware minimums for running a server can do so, but that does not imply that it ought to. A genuine server is designed from the beginning of its lifecycle with the end in mind to deliver exceptional, around-the-clock data processing, large amounts of storage, and—most importantly—reliable network management.

Because they were not designed with these objectives, workstation computers are less dependable when turned into servers. MSPs should advise customers to use a genuine server rather than attempting to build their own from a workstation, whether working with a 10-person business or a multinational enterprise.

Companies must consider their present and future memory and storage needs as well as the primary purpose of their server when deciding which server hardware to use. Will it operate as an application server or be utilised to store files? The operating system a business uses will be determined by these requirements. Give your customers the tools to assess their needs and arm themselves with a server that increases security and reliability.

Do we need a server in addition to the workstation?

It’s critical to emphasise to clients of all sizes that most businesses should use servers to increase data security and reliability. Adding more workstations may be sufficient for small businesses, but file sharing and data privacy become crucial as a business grows. Your clients should know that a server is necessary if they work with a team larger than five people. To ensure that your clients understand the infrastructure needed to suit their needs, distinctiveness is essential.

Unlike a desktop computer, a server is designed to handle, store, send, and process data around the clock, regardless of hardware failure. To ensure that no data is lost and that operations continue as usual, a server’s backup power supply will continue to function if its primary source fails. Data loss is less frequent because servers also rely on RAID storage solutions. Businesses that still only use workstations might benefit from realising how much more susceptible to data loss they are when they have one hard disc.

The ease of data protection is another advantage of servers you should emphasise to your clients. Transferring files from every workstation would be necessary for a data backup without a server. It is significantly simpler to back up data when all sensitive files are on a single server. File servers also offer nightly backups to prevent document loss in a crash.

Finally, file servers’ capacity to assign individual and group user privileges provides high network security. Due to these allocated user permissions, only particular personnel can access sensitive information. Avoiding user mistakes and reducing the number of entry points for cyber attackers are the goals here, not employers not trusting their workers. Additionally, servers make it easier to install and update antivirus software across various devices, which is essential for teams of any size.


In computing, servers and desktops/workstations fulfil distinct roles contributing to the technology landscape. While servers serve as the backbone of networks, facilitating data management and resource allocation, desktops and workstations cater to personal computing needs with a focus on responsiveness and graphics capabilities. Understanding the differences between these two categories is essential for selecting the right technology to meet specific requirements and achieve optimal performance in various computing environments.