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KitGuru Complete Guide to Buying a Workstation

From the advent of affordable internet in the 90s to the explosion of broadband services over the past 5 years, content has been getting better and better. From building designers to game developers, from training companies to broadcasting organisations, everyone is processing larger and larger media files and regularly sharing them with colleagues on the other side of the planet. With so many of us working in/around the digital content creation (DCC) zone, there seems a paucity of intelligent, accessible buying advice for professional systems. Today, we begin the first in a new series at KitGuru, which aims to give you a complete buying guide to workstations – beginning with the options available to you and the differences in the kind of load that each package places on your hardware. 

Given the applications you want to run and the type of data you are working with, where should you spend your hard-earned money?

When considering which hardware vendors to work with on this project, we remembered something from the PC Specialist ‘online system configurator’ that impressed us a while back when we visited their old production centre. If you created a system that only draws 350w, but then opted for a 750w PSU, the configurator would flag the potential mis-match and ask if you were certain that you wanted the more expensive power supply unit.

PC Specialist wanted to make sure that you were not spending money unnecessarily. Which is exactly how we are approaching this guide – so PC Specialist was a natural choice. Given the lion’s share of the workstation market is owned by Intel and NVIDIA, choosing Xeon/i7 processors and Quadro graphics cards built onto an Asus mainboard was also a simple decision.

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What do we mean by ‘Spending money unnecessarily’?

If you have a modelling package that scales with the number of CUDA cores available, then it makes sense to buy as many CUDA cores as possible within your budget. But what if your package is sensitive only to the number of CPU cores available?  Then the focus of your spend should be to increase the amount of parallel processing available in your CPU.

While on the subject of the CPU, you need to consider how ‘multi-thread aware’ your package is. There is no point in buying a 48-thread CPU if the performance of your package only scales with CPU clock speed. During our research, we found one specialist workstation company that regularly pairs expensive NVIDIA Quadro cards with Intel’s highly overclockable Anniversary Edition G3258 for some customers, because a well-cooled G3258 running close to 4GHz can outperform a £1,000 Xeon at 2.6GHz in some professional applications.

This series will look at many different options and present you with a ton of data, as well as expert analysis on the options available and the choices we think you should make.

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But first we want to give you some background on our hosts for this series, PC Specialist.

As the largest custom PC builder in the UK, PC Specialist has a wide range of customers. In recent times, the company has been getting more requests for business and professional systems than ever before. One area where PC Specialist’s reputation for quality control and customisation for performance comes into its own is in the area of workstations. For those unfamiliar with the company, let us merely say that the company has just had to relocate to larger premises for the third time in four years, and if you watch any of England’s recent international friendlies, then you would have see a lot of PC Specialist branding around the football grounds.

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