NEW YORK -- PCs may be declining as the tablet and smartphone markets gain in popularity and sales, but the market for workstations and professional applications remains quite strong, according to market research firm Jon Peddie Research.
JPR recently completed its collection and analysis of third quarter data and found that, globally, 973,100 workstations have shipped in the third quarter of 2013. This constitutes 3.6% sequential growth for the quarter, in spite of the fact that this quarter is usually seasonally down. The record for shipments of workstations in a quarter stands at 1 million, which was set back in 2011. The firm says it is bullish on the long-term prospects for professional computing, including workstations.
Suffice to say, if JPR's analysis is correct, this quarter the market came rather close to breaking that record again. This is the second consecutive quarter of significant growth for workstations, which suggests that the market for workstations is much stronger than that of PCs.
"The workstation market, although not very large compared to the PC market and the tablet market, has a higher selling price, higher ASPs, somewhere between three and five times, compared to PCs," Jon Peddie said in an interview with EE Times. He cited a number of high-end industries which make up the customer base for workstations, including molecular modeling and pharmaceuticals. "They're willing to pay a lot of money for these machines. They are built more reliably is the best way to put it," he said.
Peddie described the difference between workstations and PCs from the perspective of the end user and the kind of experience he or she can expect from each type of machine. "PCs that you and I might buy for instance will be maxed out. Workstations use the same kind of chips as are found in a normal PC. But they are tested more and they run just a little bit slower than they potentially can -- because the faster you run on a chip, the hotter it gets and the more often it fails."
Compared to PCs, tablets, and smartphones, workstations have to be "bullet proof," he added. "The systems are built more ruggedly and with more testing and care. But they just won't stop." He cited the example of an HP workstation which the company uses as a server at JPR, which he described as highly reliable, having been in use for going on five to six years.
Asked about driving usage models for such workstations, Peddie mentioned the category of software called computer aided design (CAD), which is used by architects, automobile designers, and anyone interested in advanced design. He also mentioned 3D modeling software and its use in animation for television commercials and film.
As for individual vendors, the same three companies dominate with pretty much consistent sales figures. HP remains atop the workstation market at 41.9% of units sold. Dell won 32% of the market. Fujitsu accounted for 3.7% of the market. Only Lenovo, with its 13.7% of the market, seems on the move in an upward direction.
Finally, he spoke in excited terms of the GPU computing space and its potential for parallel processing. The firm said professional graphics have been growing steadily as well, achieving a year-over-year gain of 19.7%.
"The range of software available for exploiting GPU compute using GPUs is increasing every week," he said. "AMD is going to make an announcement in January. Kronos has announced Open CL 2.0 which is very robust. Now it is possible to get parallel processing of Open CL in Open VX. The acceleration of this space is extraordinary. There are new announcements every week. It's happening by orders of magnitude."
So while the wave of tablets and smartphones are sure to continue to disrupt the mobile PC market, nothing replaces a reliable, durable professional workstation. "Consumers are shifting en masse to tablets and smartphones, and either not replacing PCs as often, or deciding to go without altogether," said JPR senior analyst and JPR Workstation Report author Alex Herrera in a statement. "But that trend is virtually absent in professional applications, where a tablet or smartphone can't possibly substitute for a workstation."
— Zewde Yeraswork, Associate Editor, EE Times