Workstations and Gaming PCs are two sides of the same coin in the PC market. While both are available to the public, Workstations are responsible for making most designs, special effects, and high-resolution media in the business or entertainment industries. Custom gaming PCs are known for being able to consume and play video games or media for millions of people every year.
PCs containing CAD-oriented hardware can play games meant for gaming PCs and vice versa. The key is how efficiently they process information for the end-user. Depending on the configurations, PCs initially for gaming often have less storage than workstations. Workstations hosting the latest Ryzen Threadripper processors have a more challenging time processing lower effort workloads like video games due to single-core performance on a significant multi-core processor.
This article goes over the physical hardware limitations between CAD workstations and typical gaming PCs.
What is a workstation PC?
Workstations are for modeling and engineering programs like Fusion 360, Blender, Maya Autodesk, and Sketch-up, to name a few. These programs can depend on the CPU, RAM, GPU, or a combination of the three. Ryzen Threadrippers released for customers offer "relatively cheap" workhorse solutions like real-time rendering previews and faster render times. They are considered cheaper at around $5,000 for a 3995WX because the advantages of rendering at home instead of a server due to the cost to rent or many other reasons like internet connections.
What is a Gaming PC?
As the term describes, a gaming PC is optimized to run video games at varying amounts of detail, refresh speeds, and configurations. Gaming PCs market to include the low, mid, and high tier components offering anywhere from $1000 to 10,000$ depending on how many peripherals components become needed for a gaming setup.
Gaming PCs also cover “simulation rigs” or PCs meant to render a real time simulation of a given machine or experience like Digital Combat Simulator World, Microsoft Flight Simulator, or other Sci-fi based games that use Joysticks, tactile button interfaces, and or pedals to simulate movement inputs.
Differences Between Workstations & Gaming PCs
Workstations and gaming PCs have a lot of common ground in their components and layout However, the protocol and internal specs are entirely different.
Gaming Work Loads
CAD workstations have a more "brute force" protocol when it comes to a majority of games. While not being the most efficient at managing cores/memory in low workloads, CAD workstations containing components like Quadros and Ryzen Threadrippers will perform like a mid to low-tier CPU/GPU Combo meant for Gaming. Gaming oriented GPUs can account for this, like the RTX 3090 boosting performance in higher resolutions due to the CPU/GPU efficiency working at higher intervals. Here is a video explaining the performance gains seen in higher resolution tests.
CAD Work Loads
Gaming PCs components are capable of CAD software; some exceptions like the RTX 3090 are popular in CAD and Gaming systems with its new GDDR6X memory and 24GB of VRAM. Most gaming-oriented hardware will be able to match if not beat older generation workstation hardware like the first and second-generation AMD Threadripper lines from 2016.
Mid to high tier CPUs operate the same with load evenly distributed at a considerable interval with a higher boost core efficiency due to the number of cores being significantly less than a Threadripper. Like a systems PSU, AMD's Threadripper performs better at increased workload intervals pushing the system to perform under a specific clock. Anything below that amount would be considered a diminished return in performance.
The Break Down of Important Components
CPUs in a CAD workstation range from a conventional high-end gaming CPU like Intel's i9-12900K or AMDs 5950x with 16 cores marketed toward PC enthusiasts and CAD designers. AMD has you covered with their latest Thread Ripper "Pro" series, the 5995WX (which does not support overclocking despite the X) to the 5945WX. Depending on your workload as a gamer or CAD designer, you might want to opt for one component or the other depending on how much time you spend gaming vs running media software.
While GPUs prices are above 12-18% of MSRP (at time of writing), GPUs both gaming and workstations are starting to come full circle back to actual consumers like back before the shortages.
Overall the most popular card for both gamers and CAD artists is either the RTX 3080, 3080ti, or 3090 and 3090ti from Nvidia due to its 10GB and above VRAM for both shader options in video games and CAD programs requiring ample VRAM space for tools.
RAM for workstations vs. gaming PCs is not so different. The main distinction between the two is the amount fitted to a system. Conventional gaming motherboards can support up to 128GB on the high end. Threadrippers have upwards of 2TB capability in their Quad Channel dual CPU sockets for extreme work solution motherboards. While not always necessary, the RAM demands can reach that amount depending on the workload. Overall the starting amount for Gaming PCs RAM is 16GB minimally, 32GB for decent headroom, and 64GB for high-intensity games and programs. Workstation PCs that have thread rippers would have at least 64GB with expanded capability for 128GB, 256GB, and beyond.
RAM speed is also important as motherboards support specific frequencies and ranges in their manual. You should always double-check if your RAM is compatible and is running at the right speed in the BIOS.
Storage is a unique requirement that changes depending on the user. Some require as little as 240GB for their operating system and game of choice. Others invest in terabytes for an operating system, video games, media, and large CAD project files. The type of storage also depends on how much you are willing to spend. A popular option is to configure Hard Drives (the cheapest storage solutions) in the RAID (Rapid Array of Independent Discs) solutions.
There are different versions of RAID ranging from one through ten. You can find an article here about the different versions of RAID and their benefits and drawbacks.
Motherboards come in all types of configurations depending on the type of components that the board supports. Most gaming PCs follow the standard ITX, mATX, and ATX with some exceptions. E-ATX is for high-end Threadripper configurations and some highend conventional CPUs like the Z690 GODLIKE from MSI. Due to the size of these CPUs or boards, extra space becomes used to facilitate all necessary features for workstations
While cases might purely fall on being ascetic, airflow and component support also make up the capabilities of some cases. Having one option instead of another is a common practice in case design as there will always be a design oversight or weakness.
Case manufacturers will have the dimensions listed on their site regarding maximum components length and support for types of motherboards accepted in the chassis. There needs to be enough room for airflow and components to make their full benefit worthwhile. No one wants to have an unintentional convection oven.
Can You Use a Gaming PC as a Workstation?
Nothing stops you from using your gaming PC to work on a Unity, Blender, or Maya Autodesk project in your free time. The only notable difference is the real-time preview or render time when producing the final product, depending on your components.
If you are an avid blender user, a hardware search function is available here to see the median score of computer components and accurately see how effective they are under load. Most high-end, largely adopted 3D rendering programs offer a hardware report on the current systems using them. This report often overlaps with a lot of the most popular hardware running games on steam!
Final Thoughts for Workstations vs. Gaming PCs
People can achieve modeling and gaming in high and low-end on any modern desktop. Optimization of both storage, CPU, and GPU can determine the render time for a given project and the ability to process the latest triple-A games. Finding the best fit for your needs incurs some trial for how much you want to spend. However, there is always a configuration that can fit one's needs.
At Apex, we have our custom configurator that can fit your needs. We have most components offered on our site in the configurator and some special requests like Threadrippers and advanced storage solutions. What every workstation or gaming needs, we hope to support them at Apex!
Written By William Wilson
Photo Credits: Pavan Bhakta