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A workstation is a special computer designed for technical or scientific applications. Intended primarily to be used by a single user, they are commonly connected to a local area network and run multi-user operating systems. The term workstation has been used loosely to refer to everything from a mainframe computer terminal to a PC connected to a network, but the most common form refers to the class of hardware offered by several current and defunct companies such as Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Apollo Computer, DEC, HP, NeXT, and IBM which powered the 3D computer graphics revolution of the late 1990s.
Workstations formerly offered higher performance than mainstream personal computers, especially in CPU, graphics, memory, and multitasking. Workstations are optimized for the visualization and manipulation of different types of complex data such as 3D mechanical design, engineering simulations like computational fluid dynamics, animation, medical imaging, image rendering, and mathematical plots. Typically, the form factor is that of a desktop computer, which consists of a high-resolution display, a keyboard, and a mouse at a minimum, but also offers multiple displays, graphics tablets, and 3D mice for manipulating objects and navigating scenes. Workstations were the first segment of the computer market to present advanced accessories, and collaboration tools like videoconferencing.
The increasing capabilities of mainstream PCs since the late 1990s have reduced distinction between the PCs and workstations. Typical 1980s workstations have expensive proprietary hardware and operating systems to categorically distinguish from standardized PCs. From the 1990s and 2000s, IBM's RS/6000 and IntelliStation have RISC-based POWER CPUs running AIX, and its IBM PC Series and Aptiva corporate and consumer PCs have Intel x86 CPUs. However, by the early 2000s, this difference largely disappeared, since workstations use highly commoditized hardware dominated by large PC vendors, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Fujitsu, selling x86-64 systems running Windows or Linux.