The workstation market is segmented into five major categories (entry, low-mid, high-mid, high-end, and mobile), plus virtualized workstations. The very expensive, very powerful high-end workstations have a very steady but low growth. These are mission-critical machines that have to be the most reliable, have the most memory, contain the highest-performance CPUs and workstation graphics boards, sport the largest screens, and ship with the most reliable power supplies.
The fastest-growing segment in the workstation market has been, and will continue to be, the entry-level, followed by mobile workstations. The new generation of mobile workstations with screens from 15½ inches to 17 inches also includes high-performance GPU’s large local memory arrays and, typically, high-capacity, high-speed SSDs.
As might be expected, the entry-level is the highest volume, which is traditional in any market segment. Entry-level workstations today are an extraordinary value but do have limitations with regard to CPU speed, GPU speed, and memory capacity.
The mid-range workstation market, which has typically been units with dual CPUs, has been declining as CPUs in general have become more powerful, thus eliminating the need for a second CPU. However, there are certain applications that do require a second CPU, and although some users who have bought mid-range machines in the past can now satisfy their needs with an entry-level machine, there are others who simply cannot give up the dual-CPU capability.
Workstations are used in mission-critical applications, and often by two or more shifts. The major applications for workstations have been manufacturing and design, with media and entertainment second. And although finance doesn’t need the same level of graphics performance as design, the financial analyst users want a rock-solid machine and, therefore, gravitate toward workstations.
Some users fail to differentiate between a workstation and a PC, but there are major differences. Workstations tend to be more fault-tolerant than PCs, often using ECC RAM as well as different classes of processors – for instance, CPU and GPU. Differences in terms of temperature range, clock speed, and cooling are all considerations in designing a reliable, stable machine like a workstation. Workstations also offer better and easier serviceability over a PC. Workstation CPUs have larger caches, more cores, and the ability to access very large arrays of RAM.
After a surprisingly painful first quarter, stakeholders in the markets for workstations and professional GPUs were looking for far healthier results in Q2 ’15, along with reassurance that the market’s fortunes were not following the downward path of the broader PC industry. Ultimately, they got both, as the industry breathed a collective sigh of relief over a significant rebound in shipment volume. All told, the industry shipped approximately 1.02 million workstations in the second quarter, equating to a gain of 11.5 percent over Q1 and bringing volume back to Q4 ’14 levels.
Jon Peddie Research (JPR) has been emphasizing that the workstation market is not subject to the same forces that have been decimating the broader market for PCs, and for several logical reasons. First, as a tool for professionals, the workstation won’t be replaced by an alternative device like a phone or tablet, as has been the case in the consumer space. And second, serving demanding customers in need of any and all increases in performance they can get, workstations shouldn’t see replacement cycles dragging out further, at least not nearly to the extent they are in the mainstream PC markets.
Of course, logical reasons don’t add to the corporate coffers nor satisfy management and shareholders. Volume and revenue do, and the industry was anxiously waiting to see if Q2 results would align with the logic, where Q1 certainly did not. Fortunately, the second quarter followed the script with a solid rebound, and the markets now appear set up for a healthy second half of the year, as OEMs and IHVs alike prepare for major product line refreshes in support of Intel’s imminent launch of its Skylake platform.
Market shares for the dominant workstation OEM trio of HP, Dell, and Lenovo don’t tend to fluctuate a great deal quarter-to-quarter. A couple of notable trends stand out over the past few years, however. One, Lenovo has seen the most growth, steadily driving up volume, mostly on the back of sales momentum in its home country of China. And two, after a long decline, Dell was able to first stabilize its share and then slowly and steadily gain back some lost ground.
Both trends continued in the second quarter of 2015, with Lenovo posting its highest yet share of 13.9 percent in Q2 ’15. Dell followed suit with its own small step forward to rise to 34.9 percent – its highest level since the close of 2010. Not surprisingly, the gains of number-two Dell and number-three Lenovo have come at the expense of number-one HP, whose share dropped to 38.4 percent, its lowest level in five years. Fujitsu and others (aggregating a host of smaller players) rounded out the shipment tally in Q2 ’15 with 2.9 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, the supporting IHV duopoly of Nvidia and AMD shipped approximately 1.15 million professional GPUs into the workstation space, with the former responsible again for the lion’s share of volume, with 80.4 percent of units shipped in the quarter.
Of course, users are taking notice. They need top-level equipment to do top-level work. During the past few weeks, a number of workstation vendors have rolled out new offerings. Dell has released a new lineup of Precision mobile workstations and has made significant updates to its line of Precision tower solutions.
Boxx Technologies, meanwhile, rolled out Apexx 1, a small workstation available with an overclocked Intel Core i7 or standard Intel Xeon E5 processor, or most recently, overclocked quad-core Skylake processors.
HP just announced new technology innovations for its Z Workstation portfolio. It also unveiled the HP ZBook Studio, the first quad-core workstation Ultrabook, along with the next-gen line of ZBook mobile workstations and Z displays.
Lenovo just announced the ThinkPad P40 Yoga multimode mobile workstation, which joins the newly released ThinkPad P50 and P70 mobile machines.
And this is just the start to vendors introducing their latest wares. Indeed, there is something for everyone!
Jon Peddie (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Jon Peddie Research and author of several books, including The History of Visual Magic in Computers.