back to article Lenovo says it’s crammed a workstation into a litre of space – less than three cans of beer

Lenovo has given the world a workstation that occupies less than one litre of space – less than three cans of beer – an impressive feat if you think a Core i9 processor qualifies as a workstation. The very small workstation is called the “ThinkStation P350 Tiny” and measures 36.5mm x 182.9mm x 179mm. Inside you’ll find the …

  1. ShadowSystems

    The tiny sounds neat...

    Give it 32Gb of DDR4, shove a couple of Tb drives inside, and you've got yourself something you can easily rip through tasks like a swarm of starving pirahna through a herd of geriatric Floridians.

    But can it run Linux? I wouldn't mind getting one, but I won't be putting Windows on it.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: The tiny sounds neat...

      I can't guarantee it, but I would be surprised if it has trouble. Those are some very normal components on which Linux runs all the time and Lenovo already ships some of their machines with Linux and upstreams code for it. I think you'll be just fine.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: The tiny sounds neat...

      The processor is a little weak and those are two very low end GPUs. I'd also be a little cautious about the airflow, either it is going to be very loud, or the processor and GPU will be throttled quickly - or both.

      1. The First Dave
        Pint

        Re: The tiny sounds neat...

        This sounds neat, but gotta point out that "one litre of space" is very close to being TWO cans of beer, not three.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: The tiny sounds neat...

          Aussie and US beer cans are tiny. Hence why in the US you buy a 6-pack while in the UK they generally come in 4-packs. And the Aussies call theirs "stubbies" for a reason :-)

          1. MrDamage

            Re: The tiny sounds neat...

            No, we call them tinnies, but they hold the same as a stubby, or half-size bottle (0.02 chicken's eggs). We also have longnecks (0.0014 grapefruits), the throwdown (0.003 walnuts), and the mighty Darwin Stubby, holding a respectable 0.0003 footballs worth of beer.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: The tiny sounds neat...

              "No, we call them tinnies, but they hold the same as a stubby,"

              Ta for that! At least I was close enough :-)

            2. David_Woodhead

              Re: The tiny sounds neat...

              No, we call them tinnies ...

              Well, fuck me. I can just flush my collection of very rare stubby holders down the dunny now can I? I have NEVER heard anyone in Oz asking for a tinnie holder.

              <i>Although I haven't been back for 23 years, so things may have changed, in which case I apologise wholeheartedly and unreservedly.</i>

        2. jollyboyspecial

          Re: The tiny sounds neat...

          This is the problem with using non-standard units of measure. Beer can size is not a global standard, but soda/fizzy pop cans tend to be more uniform than beer cans.

          Nelson's columns and London buses are only useful if you know how big one is. And as for an area three size of Wales who can visualise that. It is however amazing how often the BBC in particular like to report that an area the size of Wales has been affected by forest fires, flooding or deforestation.

          1. chuBb. Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: The tiny sounds neat...

            Which is why el reg kindly provided us with a unit convertor https://www.theregister.com/Design/page/reg-standards-converter.html

          2. the spectacularly refined chap

            Re: The tiny sounds neat...

            And as for an area three size of Wales who can visualise that. It is however amazing how often the BBC in particular like to report that an area the size of Wales has been affected by forest fires, flooding or deforestation.

            It's easy enough to visualise really...

            I take it you know how big a μWales is?

            It's a million times that...

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: The tiny sounds neat...

      I've got one of their older ideaCentres. It runs Linux a lot better than it runs Windows.

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Work from home

    Animators and similar creators are unlikely to be able to take the 'assets' they are working on home. If they are working from home they are remote desktop-ing into their workstation at work where all the work is.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Work from home

      Agreed. That sentence felt strange to me as well.

      Animators especially work with terabytes of data. Having a 6-screen setup at home with 64GB of RAM is not going to help them.

      They're probably thirsting for a better connection with more bandwidth.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Work from home

        Yes, the workstation might be fine, bug finding a 10gbps synchronous broadband connection is going to be tricky in most places.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Work from home

          Just live out in the sticks and be lucky enough to have a fibre to prem rollout happening (says guy on a 1gbps net connection, 10 is available but I'm waiting on a router I will decommission out of production in next 12 months for that)

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Work from home

      I agree.

      A friend of mine switched his company over to an AutoCAD server, instead of individual workstations, about 6 months before COVID hit.

      Up to 12 engineers can work off the server, which has multiple mid-range nVidia Quadro cards stuck in it and 4 Xeons and 512GB RAM and a dedicated SAN. It means all the configuration and high end kit is central, the users only need a relatively basic PC on their desks.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Work from home

        And more importantly the secret plans for the death star are held centrally rather than copied to a dozen peoples random home machines

        1. Robert Moore
          Gimp

          Re: Work from home

          > And more importantly the secret plans for the death star are held centrally rather than copied to a dozen peoples random home machines

          As long as once you get to the server in question it just lets you right in, none of that password crap. Also the server should be placed at the top of a main air duct, with a very wobbly ladder.

  3. Phil Kingston

    >a pair of serial ports

    In 2021 someone tell me what for? I don't think I've seen a single serial port in use for >10 years. What sort of peripherals are these guys using?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Welcome to the world of legacy. Hospital lab with fairly modern kit, still 5 instruments that are either connected by way of Moxa boxes or directly to a PC (and onward). Yes, I know, no longer the century of the fruitbat, but some manufacturers appear to think that if it works there is no reason to upgrade. I sort of tend to agree.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Moxa are brilliant. We used Moxa Ports to do Serial over Ethernet, from the production up to our server farm.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      It depends. There is legacy hardware and there is embedded stuff. Both still use serial a lot. Admittedly, a lot of modern equipment uses serial over USB, but not always, especially if the equipment doesn't have USB support already. I've seen serial ports for console access on a number of relatively modern things and there will be people with even more of that around. Given that, why not throw a couple on the back; they're cheap.

      1. alain williams Silver badge

        Get an adaptor

        I suspect that a lot of old and little used connectors will not appear on new motherboards and save a $ or two. If you really need it a USB to serial adaptor will help you - but mean that you have more spaghetti behind your PC.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Get an adaptor

          Adaptors can be a bit hit and miss. Some will work in some situations, some won't.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        There's still a lot of older CNC kit out there that uses serial. RS232C also has a much longer range than USB without adaptors or repeater (and possibly timing issues). I recently saw an old CNC machine in a factory still using punched tape to load it's programmes/data. The punch machine was attached to a PC via RS232C too.

        1. My-Handle Silver badge

          A lot of old standards are still in use in industry. Our IT hardware team had a horrible job recently in trying to track down a PC that would run Win10 and also still had an ISA slot for one of the cutting machines in the factory. Either the old machine was no longer up to the job or it had died. Air-gapping wasn't an option in this particular case.

          Of course, it didn't help that they were trying to find something from the company's current stock of machines that might do the job, rather than just drop a few hundred on a new motherboard for the controller of a cutting machine that is worth tens or hundreds of thousands, but I digress.

          1. J. Cook Silver badge

            It might also be that the controller for said machine isn't supported by the manufacturer anymore, as they'd rather you upgrade the entire machine for 6+ digits as opposed to keeping the existing one chugging along. (how many CNC machines from the 80's are still running anymore?)

        2. MGyrFalcon

          Oh the joy...

          We had an old plasma table that loaded programs from tape. Since we didn't have a tape reader or punch, all programs were hand entered, huge PITA. One guy we had work on it found a little black box with a USB port on the front and RS-232 on the back that plugged in where the tape reader should have gone. The USB drive had to have a specific folder layout and a config file in each with the serial port settings, but you could put 8 programs on the stick, select 0-7 on the little box and hit 'Read Tape'. Worked like a charm.

    3. Lazlo Woodbine

      A lot of fire and intruder alarm panels still use RS232 or 485 for management, and in the past I've found USB-Serial dongles to be flakey at best

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Agreed.

        As an older engineer, I see HPIB/GPIB/IEEE-488 still in use in many places (EMI test facilities as one example), and finding PCs to support Fluke's recording meters is well nigh impossible, since they require Excel and Windows of a certain vintage. Good luck finding a hardware printer interface.

        My group inadvisedly purchased a FLIR camera which was locked to an older iPhone ("it's cheaper!") and which became useless within a couple of years.

        All USB-serial dongles are not created equal, of course, and the older control software may not even accept "virtual" serial ports (assuming you still have a WinXP machine on which to run it!).

        This may all seem academic, but when you have a multi-thousand dollar piece of hardware sitting idle because you can't find a PC to run the interface you need to communicate with it, it's no joke.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Yes, we have some kit like that. Flouroscopes, spectrophotometers and the like.

          We upgraded one a couple of years back. The new one can use Windows 10, as opposed to the old one sitting next to it using XP, but it is still serially attached.

      2. John Sturdy
        Linux

        A way round that?

        If you're not tied to Windows software to operate the device, might a Raspberry Pi per device (plus level shifters as needed) be an economical and flexible way forward?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: A way round that?

          If you can run the management software on Linux, that probably helps a lot with the old software problem. It probably doesn't as easily handle the old hardware problem. You can use a USB-to-serial connector if it works for this equipment, but you could do that on something else. You could also create your own converter which uses the GPIO to connect, but again you're taking a lot of work to graft together a connector. If possible, it's a lot easier to run the Linux-based management software on a computer with the correct port already there because then you don't have to. If it's a particularly rare port, then you might test a converter to have as a backup, but RS232 is not that rare.

    4. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Joke

      > a pair of serial ports

      Well if it were just one you wouldn't have anything to talk to.

    5. Mozzie

      If the last 12 months had left cash in my wallet...

      I'd be buying one of these workstations, especially for the dedicated serial ports.

      I often have a number of VM's running in a test lab setup and I'd say 40% of what I interface too is RS232 based. Very reliable and no issues when hooking up to dev boards where I've built stuff myself. I get a fair chunk of relatively modern equipment to work on that just works straight off when connected RS232 whereas with USB there's almost always some kind of driver issue, proprietary lockout or OS incompatibility.

      USB-to-serial dongles in my affordability range are also flakier than a box of Kelloggs and the last professional one I bought costing a few hundred quid lost driver support 14 months after I bought it.

    6. big_D Silver badge

      Lots of things still use serial.

      We have a lot of lab equipment, specialist printers (legacy kit from the early 90s, a replacement costs upwards of 80,000€), production line equipment.

      In the meat processing industry, things like the Fat-O-Meter (yes, a real thing) are often still serial based.

      Simple, secure, reliable. If the cable breaks or there is a dodgy connection, the electrician can patch it quickly or rewire a new cable.

    7. chuBb. Silver badge

      Pos, building management, hvac control, cnc, scientific kit, legacy hardware, networking kit or just about anything with a terminal port on its chassis would love a real serial port sometimes over a USB dongle, it's the ps2 I'm scratching my head over other than its lenovo so IBM hardware legacy I guess

    8. Eeep !

      Motherboard capability only, thought this was a computer savey place ?

      Does anyone actually check the capabilities of their motherboards these days? Don't most (all) have COM 1/2 pins even now, just not connected to the case? It's a legacy thing.

      Standard motherboard support with pins, but no actual connectors on back - if you need to use it, get a cheap motherboard pin connector to 9-pin D back plate thing - or whatever connecer yor device needs.

      Article hack has just regurgitated the listed of possible ports on the spec sheet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Motherboard capability only, thought this was a computer savey place ?

        > Article hack has just regurgitated the listed of possible ports on the spec sheet.

        There are three different models, and the spec sheets are linked from here:

        https://news.lenovo.com/pressroom/press-releases/new-family-thinkstation-p350-desktop-workstations-entry-level-space/

        The "Tiny" model doesn't have serial ports on the case. The "SFF" and "Tower" versions apparently have two (although it's the same spec sheet for both models so it's not entirely clear)

        Incidentally, the "SFF" model is over 5kg and 92.5 x 309.7 x 339.5mm, which I think is stretching the "small form factor" definition a bit. It's not far off the dimensions of a 2U rackmount server, albeit a shallow one.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Motherboard capability only, thought this was a computer savey place ?

          >Incidentally, the "SFF" model is over 5kg and 92.5 x 309.7 x 339.5mm, which I think is stretching the "small form factor" definition a bit.

          The long-established HP Compaq 6200 Pro SFF is 7.6 Kg and 100 x 338 x 379 mm.

    9. HarryBl

      Petrol pumps...

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Potemkine! Silver badge

    the obligatory RJ45

    Could someone tell that to HP, which delivers laptops without it?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      re: the obligatory RJ45

      And not forgetting crapple.

      with them, it is either a dongle or in the power supply brick.

    2. Lazlo Woodbine

      And Lenovo, who also ship laptops sans-RJ45, which means adding the school image and managing during exams was a major ball-ache

    3. Captain Scarlet
      Mushroom

      Ah yes the newer Ultrabooks come with a USB-C to ethernet adapter (Except due to the chip shortage they are likely to not arrive for a few months), hopefully that will be reversed like the ethernet being on a stupid £50 dongle with VGA every user always loses

      I hope they don't do that to the ProBook and also revert things like ease of changing the battery and getting the bottom panel off with no screwdrivers required.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "a stupid £50 dongle with VGA every user always loses"

        We took on a refurb contract for a customer. They sent us all the old laptops from leavers and we checked them over, re-imaged and cleaned ready for re-deployment. Over half had the ethernet dongles missing. The dongles are getting hard to source now.

        1. Captain Scarlet

          Only good thing for HP is because it uses the docking port, the docking station which has now been replaced with USB-C are cheap as chips

    4. My-Handle Silver badge

      Yep. All in the name of shaving off an extra 3mm that no-one really cares about.

      Call me daft, but when a manufacturer actually starts moving essential bits of a machine outside of the machine in order to make it thinner, it strikes me as cutting one's nose off to spite one's face.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Before USB-C it was worse, as the laptops got thinner the PSU brick got bigger.

        Dell had these 80W power bricks the size of desktops - and it gave you a snotty BIOS message if you tried to use a smaller one.

  6. Dwarf Silver badge

    When specifying a workstation, size is probably the last thing on a lot of people’s minds.

    I can’t think of any cases where people have a powerful machine and the first thing they talk about when discussing it with colleagues is look at its tiny size’. Most would probably want space for cooling and expansion space to fit some fancy IO card

    Larger boxes allows for larger fans and that in turn makes quieter machines.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When specifying a workstation, size is probably the last thing on a lot of people’s minds.

      In my case, I have just enough vertical space on my mini rack for a 3.5cm machine - the old style thinkcentre tiny fit it really well, but these new ones don't :/

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Might get a little warm in there

      Cosmetics seem critically important to much of humanity, so maybe there's a substantial market amongst those who believe that you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too compact a workstation.

      But what worries me about great capability in very little space is heat. Even in 2021, great capability tends to come with a certain amount of toastiness. Can this thing really shed all that heat effectively in worst case conditions?

      1. knarf

        Re: Might get a little warm in there

        Yes the thermals will be terrible so will get a i5/i7 as it throttles

  7. Mr Dogshit

    Fugly

    Looks like it was designed by Škoda circa 1986. And I want AMD, not Intel.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slightly smaller than a Mac Mini (3.6 x 19.7 x 19.7cm), then.

    Starts at around the same prize, too.

    And having (hopefully standard) memory and M.2 slots means even the entry level models are usable in the long run.

    Looks like there is a 3 year on site warranty, even.

    Quite nice.

    The thing is, Thinkstation P340 Tiny already seems to have the same dimensions and expandability. So this is not exactly a new development, just a new generation of CPUs.

  9. mmonroe

    a pair of PS/2s

    I can still use my ancient (15yr old) Logitech trackball and my even older Compaq keyboard. I really like the keyboad - no useless Windows key and it clicks when you press a key.

    1. John Sturdy
      Thumb Up

      Re: a pair of PS/2s

      I was a bit surprised to see those (I still use PS/2 via an adaptor, for some old footswitches, so it does make some difference to me) but a quick search revealed an advantage: in a particularly security-sensitive application, you can block off all the USB ports to stop anyone connecting storage devices, and connect the keyboard and mouse via PS/2.

  10. mihares

    Small RAM

    Aside from the fact that I want AMD, not Intel, 32 GiB of RAM are too less if you plan to use your 16 threads to do something that involves, you know, processing data…

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Small RAM

      That's not the way I understood it. I read it as a pair of SODIMM slots which can each handle 32GB.

      So you can slot in 2 32GB DIMMs and get 64GB of DDRx RAM.

      That's how I read it, in any case.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Small RAM

        Yes, at least the Thinkstation P340 Tiny configurator allows you to select 2x32 GB memory configuration, at an extra cost of 380€ compared to the entry level single 4 GB stick.

      2. mihares

        Re: Small RAM

        That would be a lot better.

  11. veti Silver badge

    The most important question

    What kind of "beer" are we talking about here, where it takes three cans to make a litre?

    1. edjimf

      Re: The most important question

      Craft IPA and the like, think Brewdog, Tiny Rebel etc

      330ml cans, 3 of them = 990ml ~ 1l

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: The most important question

        About 1.09 Reg Grapefruit or a little less than 2 pints (Imperial)

        1. alain williams Silver badge

          Re: The most important question

          So about 1/2,777,777 of an Olympic swimming pool or 1,277 of a Tun (beer barrel).

  12. Dutman
    Pint

    To me(UK), a can of beer is 440ml, not 330ml....

    1. The Pi Man
      Pint

      Going to have to down vote you on that one. Anything less than a pint can isn’t worth opening. So 2 cans at 568ml. Even the icon is a pint glass.

      Aussies like the author, Simon never could handle their drink. ;-)

    2. Chris Harries

      yes, I too am rather surprised. 440ml if not 500 or a pint can. 330ml are not as common

      1. Ozumo

        Clearly the "can of beer" leaves a lot to be desired as a standardised unit of volume.

        How many of these things would fit inside a London Bus?

        1. ChrisC Silver badge

          Single or double decker?

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Simple or bendy?

            1. ChrisC Silver badge

              You're still using an old copy of the standard, "London Bus, Bendy" was withdrawn as an approved volumetric measurement unit in the 2011 revision.

              1. veti Silver badge

                Deprecated, maybe, but measures are never truly "withdrawn". Just forgotten.

                q.v. "hogshead", "cable".

    3. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Depends on your preferred tipple. Some are 500ml, others the full-on 568ml.

      Either way it's not a reliable standard for a unit of volume. El Reg authors should stick to approved El Reg units.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Approved El Reg units?

        So how many can fit on a football pitch?

        1. mrfill

          As many as, when piled up, are as high as Nelson's Column

    4. Someone Else Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Depends on where you get it.

      Here on the left side of the pond, if you get it at the grocery store, it's 12oz. (335ml). On the golf course, however, you can get a full pint (16oz, 473ml).

      Moral: take your Lenovo Mini to the golf course!

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: Depends on where you get it.

        But that's a child size pint, 20oz or 568¼ ml is a proper grown up pint :-)

      2. KarMann Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Depends on where you get it.

        It comes in pints?

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. jzl

    There's no such thing as a workstation

    There's no such thing as a workstation. There are just computers. Some are more powerful, some are less powerful.

    The idea that there's some magic spec level where a computer suddenly becomes "a workstation" is just silly. Desktop computers exist on a continuous spectrum of performance.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

      I dunno, I've used plenty of PCs in the past where their spec level was barely sufficient to even get a useable Windows desktop up and running, let alone then permitting anything of interest to be run on top of it, so if "workstation" implies a PC that's capable of being used to do useful work, then there clearly is some magic spec level below which this can't occur (although at least one of my former employers had other ideas on this point - not sure how they thought I'd be able to run all of my engineering development software properly/effectively when the PC they'd given me was hitting the swap file as soon as the desktop was loaded, but that's another story).

      That said, I do get the general gist of your point here, so I wonder if "workstation" ought to now be used, not to try and indicate any particular performance level, but more to indicate that the hardware is intended for use in a professional (work) environment vs a home environment. Maybe PCs that aren't intended for this could then be referred to as playsta... or maybe not.

      1. Anonymous Codger

        Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

        Linux with a text editor and a command line compiler can get useful work done on a Raspberry Pi. Back in the day CAD and 2D image manipulation worked on an 8MHz XT running DOS. Throughout my career as a software developer my home gaming machines were significantly more powerful than any of the "workstations" I had access to at the office.

        "Workstation" has become a marketing term that has lost any useful meaning.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

          "Workstation" has become a marketing term that has lost any useful meaning.

          Yes, this. To me, a "workstation" is something akin to server grade hardware but intended for a user, eg highspecced components (down to the board level), high quality PSU, a beefy case with high specced mountings for the drives etc., all mechanically engineered to high standards. Consider the difference between closing the door on a really cheap, clunk! car compared to the lovely soft sound a high end car door makes.

          Unlike the trend for thinner, lighter laptops, "workstation" to me implies something you can drive a tank over and it still keeps on truckin' :-)

        2. BOFH in Training

          Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

          Agreed.

          Most of the workstations I have seen or used are usually way less powered then my own home machine.

          Maybe at one time, looooong ago, they had a specific meaning.

          Nowadays, pretty much anything can be a workstation, depending on the work being performed.

        3. Smirnov

          Re: "Workstation" has become a marketing term that has lost any useful meaning.

          ""Workstation" has become a marketing term that has lost any useful meaning."

          No, it hasn't, it's just that many people never understood what makes a workstation a workstation in the first place.

          Because raw performance has never really been a differentiator.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: "Workstation" has become a marketing term that has lost any useful meaning.

            "No, it hasn't, it's just that many people never understood what makes a workstation a workstation in the first place."

            Does that mean that workstation never was a meaningful term or that nobody understands what its meaning is but it has one? If you think that there is a definitive difference between a workstation and a normal desktop, what do you think it is? This could be as big as the great "what hacker really means" debate.

    2. DrBobK

      Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

      My good old Sun 3/60 was definitly a workstation.

      1. jzl

        Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

        And powerful as it was for a mid-80's machine, it is still comfortably outclassed in every performance metric by a 2021 smartwatch. This is kind of my point really. That Sun 3/60 isn't a workstation now - it's just an old, slow vintage computer with some collector value.

        If "workstation" was a meaningful label, it would be intrinsic to the hardware. A workstation would be as much a workstation twenty years after being made as it was when it was new.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

      This used to annoy the crap out me where I used to work when people talked about ‘Developer spec’ laptops. Spec the kit for the job. Don’t put a crappy label on it.

      1. jzl

        Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

        Indeed. Not to mention that people almost always emphasise the wrong parts when specifying computers in the first place.

        The number of times I've seen someone worrying about whether their machine has an "i5" or "i7" processor, without even thinking about how much RAM it has....

    4. jollyboyspecial

      Silly Marketing Bollocks

      The idea of a "workstation" in terms of PC seemed to start back in the eighties when I first started working in IT. Go back a bit further and there were Mainframes and Minis and of course pathetic little desktop PCs. There were also those mythical beasts Workstations. Bigger and clunkier than a desktop PC but more powerful. Probably something like a mini but being used by a single user. Then some marketing drone decided to start calling their high end PCs Workstations to make them sound more impressive. You know the sort of thing, it was a PC with a bigger and more impressive case and rather than the normal cream case that every PC had in those days it was probably black maybe with a faux brushed titanium front plate and some dimly glowing purple LEDs rather than the usual jolly bright green and red LEDs to be found on plain vanilla machines. Oh and of course they came with a really big monitor to prove how important the user really was. And this being the days of CRT monitors such a beast required a bigger desk just to that the back of the monitor didn't overhang by a couple of feet.

      I really thought that sort of nonsense had died out around about the time people started referring to their desk as a workstation. Unfortunately it seems not.

      1. Smirnov

        Re: Silly Marketing Bollocks

        Wrong on all accounts.

        PC workstations only became a thing when x86 hardware and especially PC graphics cards overtook the much more expensive proprietary workstations from vendors such as SGI, Sun, HP or IBM, and that was in well in second half of the '90s after Windows NT 4 Workstation (ever wondered by it was named this way?) came out. As a result, many ISVs ported their UNIX applications to Windows and certified them on PC workstations, same as they did for the older UNIX machines before.

        So no, PC workstations aren't "silly marketing bollocks" but were simply an evolution of the existing workstation mantra (which is a desktop computer dedicated to specific critical applications).

    5. Smirnov

      Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

      "There's no such thing as a workstation. There are just computers. Some are more powerful, some are less powerful."

      That's nonsense, and no, raw performance isn't really a criteria (in fact, many workstations aren't particularly powerful).

      One of the main criteria for a workstation is stability under continuous high workload scenarios. Workstations are designed to endure constant high workloads while a standard desktop PCs may or may not survive for an extended amount of time under the same conditions (they are mostly designed around average workloads with only occasional high workloads).

      On top of that, workstations are workstations because they come with ISV certification for specific applications which often makes the difference wether you're getting support for your $10k+ software application from the software manufacturer if something goes wrong. If you use your computer to make money then these certifications are important because it means you can spend your time on work that earns you a living than working around the incompatibilities and issues of standard PC hardware and generic drivers.

      The basic idea of a workstation is that it is a system which is guranteed to run a specific application, and does so reliably and with full support by the ISV. That's what it always has been even in the days of Sun/SGI/HP/DEC and other proprietary systems, and what it is now. Compared to a standard PC which is a general purpose system, a workstation has always been aimed at executing specialist software programs for a specific task.

      And that is no different today.

      1. jzl

        Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

        There is still a continuous spectrum, even for these criteria. There is no magical spec which suddenly makes a computer a workstation.

        "Workstation" is defined by context, so a computer can be a workstation in one context, but not if transplanted to another.

        Which is what I was pointing out. The idea that a company can say "this is the smallest / biggest / cheapest / quietest / whatever workstation" is meaningless. The word is defined by the context that the machine is being used in, rather than being an intrinsic property of the machine itself.

        As to your comment about certifications, well it's certainly *possible* to get a computer certified to various standards, but there's no indication that the machine in this article has any of those certifications and I've never seen anyone say that certification is a requirement to call a computer a workstation on a sales website.

        The term "workstation" is so broad and so ill-defined as to be meaningless.

        The various qualifications that you're talking about, well they're not meaningless, but they're not the word "workstation" are they?

        1. jzl

          Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

          These days, "workstation" seems to mostly be slang for "has a Xeon CPU" and even that doesn't seem to be a guarantee.

          I've certainly seen no indication that most workstations sold by the likes of Dell, Lenovo or whatever, routinely carry certification for particular software. That's not to say that such machines aren't important, of course, but it certainly doesn't seem to be a requirement to have the workstation moniker applied.

    6. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: There's no such thing as a workstation

      LOL... no.

  14. teknopaul Silver badge

    pictures or it didn't happen

    with three cans of Punk IPA (for scale, natch).

  15. Spanners Silver badge
    Linux

    Perhaps not

    I would not run Windows on it so If I want this sort of power and size, I will get a Raspberry Pi 4. That would save me a LOT of money.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps not

      Obviously that's not a serious statement, but I don't have a humorous rejoinder so I'll just tell you that you can run Linux on it, even buying it preinstalled.

  16. ChrisC Silver badge

    Maybe 4 cans...

    I'm assuming their volumetric calculations are based on something other than the quoted dimensions here, because (for the plain rectangular box this thing appears to be in the photos I've seen elsewhere) they give it a volume of 1.2 litres.

  17. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Smallest PC ???

    I am very surprised that the article did not include a photo of the PC, but surely it is not the smallest PC? This one is smaller, measuring 140 X 140 X 48 mm and there are plenty more of a similar size. Not bad specs either.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/stores/page/982BE259-AE49-474D-AF17-596F6B11CE1C

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Smallest PC ???

      "This one is smaller, measuring 140 X 140 X 48 mm and there are plenty more of a similar size. Not bad specs either."

      Intel Compute Stick was way smaller than that.

      This ACEPC (never heard of before) looks like ripping off all other companies (including Acer) and that AK2 model is a carbon copy of HP Z2 Mini. Support forum is also an interesting read.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Can a Core i9 machine be a workstation?"

    If the term "workstation" has any meaning, then no. A machine that can provide only a few cores, almost no cache, and 64 GiB of non-ECC DRAM is just an ordinary PC, at best.

    "If you think not, Lenovo also has tiny Xeons"

    Yeah that's not helping any. Intel aren't making competitive products these days. If you want a quiet small form factor machine, you want something like a Raspberry Pi 4 or if you insist on x86 you're going to be looking at specialty low-power parts (see FitPC for examples). If you want something beefier than that, an AMD 5600X on a mini-ITX board, which can be fanless if you're not picky about it fitting into a litre. That can be a very usable general-purpose desktop but it's not a workstation. If you want something powerful, it's going to have some kind of AMD SP3/sTRX4/sWRX8 in it and it's not going to be small, though there is a mini-ITX board on the market that can still handle 256 GiB of DRAM albeit at greatly reduced performance. These days my minimum threshold for "workstation" is 16 cores, 64 MiB of cache, 256 GiB of ECC DDR4, and 3x 4K60 DisplayPorts. You're not going to get that from anything in this line. Also, "workstations" don't have SATA, a protocol that was obsolete 15 years ago and is embarrassingly inadequate for today's solid-state storage. Why would I give up >90% of my storage performance by slapping an ancient front-end on it? Workstations are built for performance; these days performance means PCIe gen-4 NVMe, exclusively. SAS is acceptable for rotating media in data centre based cold storage arrays. SATA has no place anywhere but the bottom of entry-level, and then only for rotating media.

    At least until Sapphire Rapids is available, Intel aren't even worth looking at. If you're building machines around Intel processors, I won't be your customer regardless of form factor. I'd have said the same about AMD prior to Zen. If you're an OEM you need to be flexible and build with the current leader, not whoever gives you the biggest rebates out of a marketing slush fund.

    1. BOFH in Training

      The specs you mentioned for a workstation are fairly decent for some heavy workloads.

      But the same machine may be worst then a average home user's laptop in 5 years time.

      Maybe we need to add the year for when a machine was designed as a workstation.

      So your specs could be a 2021 Workstation.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      "A machine that can provide only a few cores, almost no cache, and 64 GiB of non-ECC DRAM is just an ordinary PC, at best."

      No, it's not. I don't know where you think PC ends, but that's not ordinary for the range. You don't normally get 64 GB RAM in a PC, either a business-oriented or home-oriented one. Eight cores at 5.2 GHz likewise is not an ordinary spec. Compared to a server, of course, it's very different. Also compared to the top of AMD's range with their superiority in multicore chips. Still, that's well above average for a machine a single person is using.

      "Yeah that's not helping any. Intel aren't making competitive products these days. If you want a quiet small form factor machine, you want something like a Raspberry Pi 4 or if you insist on x86 you're going to be looking at specialty low-power parts (see FitPC for examples)."

      This is getting ridiculous. Intel's competitiveness versus AMD is less than it's been for a long time, but they have plenty of low-power chips. Especially if you're considering the Raspberry Pi 4 as a comparison. The BCM2711 isn't slow compared to those that came before, but many low-end Intel chips easily outclass it. In addition, if you're buying a low-end computer, the ones using Intel's chips are likely to have better thermal performance than a Pi, which needs assistance with cooling due to the size constraints and power of the new cores. AMD is getting some interesting chips in this range too, but this is an area where Intel has been competitive with it while the high end has gone to AMD; in the past few years, AMD has had few chips that could operate in the low power limit and still work well.

      "These days my minimum threshold for "workstation" is 16 cores, 64 MiB of cache, 256 GiB of ECC DDR4, and 3x 4K60 DisplayPorts. You're not going to get that from anything in this line."

      You're right that this line won't do it, but mostly I have to ask why you need that. Most of the time, "workstation" means single user. What are you doing that requires 256 GB of memory, and whatever it is, you know that few other people are doing that and many who are are using a server to help with the heavy lifting.

  19. davebarnes

    3 cans > 1 L

    A "can" of beer is 12 US liquid oz.

    3 cans are more than a litre.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. ecofeco Silver badge

    Well damn!

    This is EXACTLY what I've been looking for!

    Nice.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021