Workstations are the cream of the personal computer crop. These are tools specifically designed for the engineers who use them. Unlike most systems used in business, workstations are largely selected by the people who will use them and while the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend suggests more users are selecting their equipment, the workstation is formally vetted and tied back to the tasks it will be used for. Last week's release of Dell's new Precision line is a case in point: It reflects a tight coupling between the engineers who will use the product and the design team that created it.
In a way this product may point to the direction that successful PC, tablet and smartphone vendors should already be heading: Design with a purpose tied to the specific needs of the user, not the whims of the designer or product manager.
Dell's 2012 Precision Line
Recently, I've gotten back into my old car hobby. Years ago, I used to be addicted to Jaguars and spent much of my free time working on them. I'm back doing that again and spending far more time looking at the changes made over the last few decades from when I started in the 1960s until now. Over that time cars have evolved from the do-it-yourself projects and marginally reliable beasts to appliances with shrouds covering up most of the engine vitals, designed to increasingly be nearly untouched for up to a 100K miles, rather than what was a far more regular maintenance schedule.
So, too, have workstations changed. Dell showcased this new Precision line next to its prior offering on a display table and visibly demonstrated that the kind of change that has taken decades in cars has taken a few years in workstations. The old product was a mass of wires and components easier to work on than its predecessor I'm sure, but nowhere near as clean as the current line. You now have to visibly hunt for the wiring, which is mostly concealed inside the case much as when you now open up a hood you see a clean shroud where there used to be engine, wiring, plumbing and complexity. As a result, adding memory or just keeping dust build-up down is a snap and it is far less likely someone doing the work will break something else.
One notable little change is that, on a dual processor configuration where only one processor is installed, it shrouded the memory slots for the second processor until the socket was populated. This is to make sure that if memory is added it isn't added to the wrong slots. Power supplies have a tendency to fail, given workstations are often used 24/7, to render slide out from the outside and are tool-less. Drives (and they have up to 8 hard drives in a workstation) are externally removable and tool-less as well (many sites have a practice of putting these drives in a safe at night given the value of what is on them).