What Is a Workstation

If this project is about restoring pizzabox workstations, I have some defining of terms to do. A workstation sometimes means the desk where you work; a pizzabox normally contains a delicious tomato, crust, and cheese combination. For my project, though:

A workstation is a computer system designed to be used by a professional. It runs specialized software for purposes like CAD/CAM, video editing, desktop publishing, 3D modeling, scientific simulation, manufacturing control, or software engineering. A workstation’s hardware integrates tightly with its operating system, which is usually written by the workstation’s manufacturer (and typically a flavor of Unix).

This sounds a lot like a PC! Compared to contemporaneous PCs, a workstation has a significantly faster processor, better floating-point calculation speed, advanced graphical ability, faster storage, more memory, or more flexible networking. Workstations run an OS with more security features, better multitasking support, and more reliability than PCs.

Unlike minicomputers and mainframes, a workstation is normally used by one person at a time, in-person. By being used in-person, its graphics are low-latency and capable of playing video (difficult on an X Terminal!) or rendering 3D graphics in real-time.

A pizzabox is a slim desktop form-factor of low-cost workstation models. There are a handful of distinctive workstation form-factors: PC-like desktops and towers, cube-like desk-standing pedestals, giant floor-standing pedestals, and pizzaboxes. Pizzaboxes tended to be lower-spec models sold for lower prices. Their small size works well with my tiny apartment, and the distinctive style seems to have hardly been adopted by PC manufacturers.

From these definitions, I have some more specific opinions. I don’t have a lot of good reasons for these, so take them with plenty of salt:

From these arbitrary rules, qualifying pizzabox workstations were made from the mid 1980s to the late 1990s. They started out using CISC chips (like the m68k) but mostly moved to RISC by the early 1990s. So far, I’ve identified pizzaboxes from the following workstation families:

and I expect to find more as I pour over more old spec sheets!