Desktop VS Workstation and gaming performance.

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by cyberjunky, Jun 13, 2009.

  1. cyberjunky macrumors regular

    Feb 6, 2008
    hey guys.

    I don't post on here much, but just came on to find out what you guys think about the topic of Desktops vs Workstation and how they affect gaming performance.

    Now i am a programmer, with a slightly limited understanding of hardware on a gate/logic Level and also your typical run of the mill pc hardware etc.

    What i am interested in understanding is what are the main differences between a desktop and a workstation beyond the obvious points we already know such as ports, processor speed and/or type. Etc. The mac pro is classed as a Workstation, and in typical "Mac vs PC" debates, the point of games being dominant on the PC platform is a weak and unfair argument as the Mac Pro is a workstation and not a Desktop.

    Now, not to spark more Mac vs PC debates. I am aware that the Mac Pro has some fantastic Graphics cards available for it, with very high specs.

    So my questions are:

    1) What are the architectural differences between a Desktop and Workstation that lend a workstation to Graphics, and Desktop to games?
    2) What are the factors that affect gaming performance on a Workstation and Desktop with identical Graphics cards and processor clock speeds?

    Just trying to wrap my head around this. Seeing as the Mac Pro is insanely fast and powerful, just curious as to what its pitfalls may be if one was to play games on it, as well of course use it for development work etc.

    I am not looking for purchasing advice or the like, nor do i want to see a hardcore mac vs pc debate.

    Thanks for your time.
  2. smogsy macrumors 6502a

    Jan 8, 2008
    Workstations like the Mac Pro normally have ECC Memory which is ram that checks for errors when read/writing. Which can slow up loading somewhat (not a lot to be honest) A Lot of Gamers don't like that as they want faster loading times etc...

    the other differences is the Workstation CPU has been optimized for Other tasks such as Rendering & movie editing etc & not Gaming/Browsing. This also does not show a major difference, workstation CPU's also use a better quality wafer which means they normally better work better under extra pressure from high temperatures over longer periods & sometimes better overclockers.

    Workstations also normally have a different type of GPU for example a Qaudro which has been optimized and design for 3D Rendering etc.. this would not do as well on Games as it was not made for that market. It will still will run well however.



    Designed for Games
    Memory does not need ECC
    Better Graphics cards choices.

    Don't get OSX
    may not last as long

    Mac Pro
    More CPU Power (8 cores rather than 4) (not a big difference though)
    Get OSX

    Needs ECC RAM
    Less Choices on Graphics Cards.

    Overall they weigh up. personally i have a £3000 Gaming PC which i will getting rid of for a Mac pro in the next year or two,because i prefer OSX & i could it to game also. so would not need two desktops.
  3. netkas macrumors 65816

    Oct 2, 2007
    Only real difference is memory type, rest is marketing.

    Quadro differs from GeForce only by optimized drivers for worstation apps.
  4. Dr.Pants macrumors 65816


    Jan 8, 2009
    Well, I'm going to break it down into the various components that make up a the machine to really see what's going on in gaming performance. Please critique me if necessary.

    The ECC memory, as smogsy said, introduces latency into the system; not only for loading times, but also when the game is running. Furthermore, a workstation usually costs a load of money - that generally means the user won't go into the BIOS and attempt to overclock the memory. Not that the average PC gamer does that often, but I would prefer to OC a homebrew system then, say, a Sun workstation, b/c that means I don't accidentally void a warranty. Back to ECC memory, it is a must on a workstation to, well, avoid introducing errors that could minorly/majorly screw up a final product, or crash the system due to a logic process being misread (I assume).

    The advantage depends on cores, generally going to the desktop. Generally, a dual-core processor is all that is needed as most games do not take advantage of multithreading - in this case, sheer operations/second renders the best performance in gaming. This, however, is not the case with workstation CPUs which are generally quad-core - the programs used on a workstation are multi-core-aware, and the load gets distributed.

    In addition, the CPU on the workstation will have a high FSB (Or what-have-you) that can access more memory then the consumer gaming processor. Workstation programs, again, eat RAM for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; generally these programs do not need the massive speed of non-ECC RAM as well. The average PC game (If I can recall correctly) generally will not need more then 4 GB of RAM for optimal performance; for graphical programs, the number stops where adding RAM doesn't have a visual speed increase, IMO.

    Generally, the more [H]ard a gamer is, the more likely that they will install a RAID to keep load times to a minimum. However, for gaming, RAID really is not necessary - for NLEs, however, I would happen to think that the system benefits from RAID. The sheer file size of the video means that one hard-disc's throughput would choke the system as not all video files can get stored on the RAM (1080 film takes an ungodly amount of space/minute, like 1 GB uncompressed).

    The architectures of professional graphics cards and consumer ones, to the extent of my knowledge, is that the professional costs my firstborn, has a chip on it for a DirectX configuration, unlocked hardware decoding on programs that take advantage of it, and more VRAM. The professional and consumer versions should not have a large difference in gaming - however, where professional graphics get their ache is their massive price (sometimes 10-12 times the cost of the consumer version:eek:). And remember, this comparison is for graphics card that have the same processing design (the GTX 280 and its workstation equivalent, etc).

    However, what I like about Apple is that OpenGL does not require that particular little chip to unlock the hardware acceleration on the card, whereas DirectX on Windows does (As far as I know, please correct me if necessary). Edit - Currently in the air if this has anything to do with the API or not, so it may just be a hardware acceleration unlock.

    For me, I would have a different computer for gaming as compared to working, not just because of what I have said, but b/c I'd be waaaay too tempted to game on my workstation :D
  5. SydneyDev macrumors 6502

    Sep 15, 2008
    Workstations are designed for "big data." There will be an emphasis on bus speed and throughput. Lots of memory slots and cores. A RAID option. A desktop might run a game faster, but you start editing gigabyte sized data files and the workstation will keep humming while the desktop falls down in a screaming heap. The difference does not show until you start dealing with big data.
  6. Infrared macrumors 68000


    Mar 28, 2007
    Do you know, is it possible to enable hardware overlay planes
    on an 8800GT (in Windows)?
  7. cyberjunky thread starter macrumors regular

    Feb 6, 2008
    So from my understanding, without ECC a workstation would perform the same as, or close as a Desktop when playing games.

    Though that said, more cores in a machine may mean slower clock frequency per core, which if a game only utilises the first core, may not perform as well as on a machine with only 1 or 2 cores at a higher clock frequency.

    RAID would seem to benefit gamers and non gamers alike, thus not as important? or maybe it is. Least in comparative terms.

    As for graphics cards, if they are using the same chip on board, but different quantity of VRAM, then it sounds as if the workstation graphics cards are superior to gaming graphics cards, but come with a high premium.

    Beyond stated so far, anything in the motherboard/mainboard that would differ between workstation and desktop lineups?

    Thanks for your answers so far, very helpful. :)
  8. Umbongo macrumors 601


    Sep 14, 2006

    Though some have more VRAM and others have special connectors, the main reasons companies buy these cards is for the heavily optimised drivers and the support and guarantees provided by Nvidia and AMD.

    There are very things that differ really. Workstation boards tend to just have a larger feature set, especially on much larger dual socket boards. It really is just a marketing thing so you have an idea of what you are getting. There don't appear to be any defined requirements for a company to brand something a "Workstation" (from Intel or AMD for example). You can find Intel/AMD Workstations without Xeon or Opteron processors and ECC memory in.
  9. CaptainChunk macrumors 68020


    Apr 16, 2008
    Phoenix, AZ
    DirectX is merely an API and set of libraries used by Windows for graphics, sound, input devices, etc. On the Mac, Quartz, Core Image, Core Audio, etc. would be rough equivalents. Support for these APIs is universal on the graphics card's GPU and the drivers specific to OS running would determine which ones to use.

    The only thing that makes a Windows-specific graphics card different than a Mac specific one is the card's ROM (BIOS for PC, EFI for Mac). There's no special chip that "unlocks" DirectX. If this were the case, I don't suppose a Mac would go very far in running DirectX applications and games under Windows.
  10. Dr.Pants macrumors 65816


    Jan 8, 2009
    I understand - I was referring to using hardware acceleration with a graphics card. Maybe it has nothing to do with the API at all - and that's where I got confused. I'll do some more research.
  11. cyberjunky thread starter macrumors regular

    Feb 6, 2008
    Thanks for all of your help guys. I think thats all i needed to know now. Something that i wanted to understand because all the google results pointed to the obvious things like yahoo answers, where people just state its a marketing thing or state it has no ear phone port etc.

  12. sven- macrumors member

    May 14, 2009
    To give my bit..

    Summarized, it's about performance vs. reliability.

    Compare PC gaming desktops to drag race monsters. Do some stuff as fast as possible, (highest FPS as possible) and a few made errors are allowed. High performance is important.

    A Workstation uses server components like Xeon processors and fully buffered and/or ECC RAM. They are designed to make less errors, be able to work 24/7 and deliver results without mistakes. Reliability is important.

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