Do You Need A Workstation Or A Personal Computer?

Although many scientists have access to supercomputers, special-purpose parallel processors, and all kinds of other heavy-duty number-crunching facilities, they still face the question of what to put on their desks. Whatever goes on the desk—or in the corner of the lab— should be able to communicate with remote computers, handle daily chores such as word processing, and even crunch some numbers. A few years ago, the options were relatively clear. Personal computers didn’t do

Paul Wallich
Jun 12, 1988

Although many scientists have access to supercomputers, special-purpose parallel processors, and all kinds of other heavy-duty number-crunching facilities, they still face the question of what to put on their desks. Whatever goes on the desk—or in the corner of the lab— should be able to communicate with remote computers, handle daily chores such as word processing, and even crunch some numbers.

A few years ago, the options were relatively clear. Personal computers didn’t do much, but they did it conveniently and cheaply; so-called workstation computers—from Sun, for example, or Apollo—did much more, but did it for 10 times the price; and the big machines that did almost anything, cost a small fortune and required abundant technical support.

Today, the price-performance levels are not so clearly defined. High-end personal computers such as Apple’s Macintosh II, Compaq’s Deskpro 386, and IBM's PS/2 Model 80 sport 32-bit central processors capable of millions of...

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