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Best workstations of 2021: Powerful PCs for professionals

best workstation 2020
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Welcome to our list of the best workstations. These are the very best, most powerful, workstation machines that can power your business.

These days, the best workstations are around the same size as normal PCs, and offer high quality designs, without sacrificing pure power and performance. Some, such as the iMac Pro and the Surface Studio, are slimline all-in-one PCs that offer brilliant performance whilst not taking up loads of room in your office.

The best workstations can handle any application you throw at it, and they are useful tools for designers, engineers, financial analysts and researchers running more demanding applications, like rendering complex graphics, financial analysis and computations and digital content creation

From small form factor models to powerhouses, from the best all-in-one computers to one for all, there's bound to be one for you if you're in the market. At the bottom of this page you'll also find our list of the best online shops for buying workstations - so purchasing the perfect workstation for your business has never been easier!

Apple Mac Pro (2019)

Apple made the Apple Mac Pro (2019) one of its most modular computers yet. (Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple Mac Pro (2019)

Apple’s most powerful computer just got even better

Specifications
CPU: up to 28-Core Intel Xeon W
Graphics: up to AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo
RAM: up to 1.5TB
Storage: up to 8TB SSD
Communications: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, 2x 10Gb Ethernet,
Dimensions (W x D x H): 21.8 x 45.0 x 52.9 cm
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly modular+More than enough power
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Not a very attractive design

One of the biggest complaints about the previous Mac Pro model was that it was tricky to upgrade. Thankfully, Apple listened, making the Apple Mac Pro (2019) one of its most modular computers yet – and highly so. This workstation – one of the best workstations currently on offer – isn’t just extremely powerful. It’s also future-proof, which is only right since you’re spending good money for it. Gone too is that revolutionary cylindrical design, with Apple ushering in that cheese grater look that we’ve come to love since its unveiling, especially since it’s fitted with a unique cooling system to maximize airflow and keep the noise down. That’s not all; one look at its specs, and you’ll see that this is a creative professional’s ultimate tool. Just be prepared to feel broke after that trip to the Apple Store.

iMac Pro

iMac Pro's all-in-one form factor gives you plenty of space on your desk

2. Apple iMac Pro

A fantastic all-in-one workstation

Specifications
CPU: Intel Xeon W
Graphics: AMD Vega 64 (16GB HBM2 RAM)
RAM: 128GB
Communications: Gigabit Ethernet
Dimensions (W x D x H): 65 x 20.3 x 51.6cm
Reasons to buy
+Most powerful Mac ever+Excellent design
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Non user-upgradable

The Apple iMac Pro is the most powerful PC that Apple has ever made, so if you love the design of Apple's devices, while using its software, then the iMac Pro is an excellent workstation. Its all-in-one form factor gives you plenty of space on your desk, but it is very expensive, which turn some people off.

Lenovo Yoga A940

Lenovo Yoga A940 is plenty powerful to meet the needs of creative professionals. (Image credit: Future)

3. Lenovo Yoga A940

A great iMac alternative

Specifications
CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8700
Graphics: AMD Radeon RX 560 4 GB
RAM: 32 GB DDR4 2666 MHz
Storage: 1 TB 5400 RPM + 256 GB PCIe SSD
Display: 27" 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS Multi-touch
Reasons to buy
+Good price+Stylus included
Reasons to avoid
-Older components-Screen not great in direct light

Lenovo’s latest all-in-one offering isn’t as powerful as Apple’s premium AIO, the iMac Pro, or even the recently updated iMac, which now offers a 9th-generation Intel Core configuration. After all, at this point, the 8th-generation chips and Radeon RX 560 graphics are beginning to show their age. However, it is still plenty powerful to meet the needs of professionals who can't afford Apple's more pricey machines.

Intel Ghost Canyon NUC

(Image credit: Intel)

4. Intel Ghost Canyon NUC

Small, but powerful

Specifications
CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i5 – i9
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 630
RAM: 8GB – 64B DDR4
Storage: 128GB SSD – 2TB + 2TB
Reasons to buy
+Affordable at its low configurations+Highly upgradeable+Great performance
Reasons to avoid
-Can get pretty pricey at the highest configurations

Intel’s NUC has come a long way from its humble beginnings. For example, while the previous Hades Canyon didn’t come with a RAM or storage, the newer Ghost Canyon has both. In fact, not only does it have more offerings now in terms of specs, but it’s also highly configurable so you can personalize it to your liking before hitting that buy button. With 9th-generation Intel Core chips, up to 64GB of memory and up to 4TB dual storage, we’re all for it. The only catch is that it's pricier now as well. The lower configurations are still quite affordable, and a terrific option for the budget-conscious. The highest configurations are perfect workstations in compact form factors.

Surface Studio 2

The Surface Studio 2 ups the power significantly, making it a much more future-proof device. (Image credit: TechRadar)

5. Microsoft Surface Studio 2

An artist’s dream come true

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 - GTX 1070
RAM: 16GB – 32GB
Storage: 1TB - 2TB SSD
Display: 28-inch 4,500 x 3,000 PixelSense display
Reasons to buy
+Powerful+Nothing like it
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive

Microsoft has produced a brilliant all-in-one workstation that rival's Apple's iMacs for power and desirability. If you're wedded to the Windows 10 ecosystem, then this is a great alternative to the iMac Pro. Versatile and forward-thinking, Microsoft’s all-in-one puts the iMac to shame by introducing an all-in-one that can not only replace your lingering desktop tower, but your Cintiq as well.

Mac Mini 2018

The Mac mini 2018 brings Apple’s tiniest Mac into the modern age.

6. Mac Mini 2018

Same size, way more power

Specifications
CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i3 – Core i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 630
Storage: 128GB – 2TB PCIe Flash
Dimensions (W x D x H): 19.7 x 19.7 x 3.6cm
Reasons to buy
+Hugely improved specs+Tiny, aesthetic design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

The Mac mini 2018 has finally been refreshed with modern hardware, bring Apple’s tiniest Mac into the modern age. This thing is filled to the brim with 8th-generation desktop processors, a ton of RAM and some of the fastest SSDs we’ve seen – all while keeping the same beloved form factor. OK, while it's not as powerful as the other workstations on this list, it has a few tricks up its sleeve which makes this worth considering. First, you can add an external graphics card to the Mac mini for added graphical prowess. You can also chain several Mac minis together and offload tasks onto each machine, making it an expandable – and incredibly versatile – workstation.

HP Z240

This is HP's entry level workstation and one which is very keenly priced with a very compact form factor.

7. HP Z240 SFF

Pint-sized power

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-6700
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 530
RAM: 8GB
:
Communications: Gigabit Ethernet
Dimensions (W x D x H): 34 x 38 x 10cm
Reasons to buy
+Surprisingly compact and powerful+A plethora of connectors
Reasons to avoid
-Card reader is optional

This is HP's entry level workstation and one which is very keenly priced with a very compact form factor (about 11L). It's hard to believe that the Z240 has an Intel Core i7-6700 CPU with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard disk drive. There's even an optical drive. The company's engineers have managed to deliver a system that weighs less than 6Kg and somehow has 20 (yes, 20) connectors and expansion slots (not all of them empty of course).

It even has four DIMM slots to take full advantage of dual-channel technology. As for the rest of the HP workstation family, this one comes with the Remote Graphics Software as well as a three-year onsite warranty bundled. The only major compromise is the fact that it will only take low profile graphics cards. HP also offers the option to buy the workstation for as little as £16 per month excluding VAT.

Fujitsu Celsius J550

Fujitsu Celsius J550 offers a Xeon E3 CPU, a full-size professional graphics card, 64GB of RAM, offering up to 13.5TB storage and nearly 20 ports and expansion slots including quite a few legacy ones.

8. Fujitsu Celsius J550

Quintessentially powerful

Specifications
CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1275 v5
Graphics: Nvidia Quadro K2200
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Communications: Gigabit Ethernet
Dimensions (W x D x H): 33 x 34 x 8.9cm
Reasons to buy
+Very compact+Can take a full-size GPU
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive than the traditional equivalent form factor-Limited configurability

The small form factor market is attracting more manufacturers as they are vying to shed the bulky and wieldy image of the traditional workstation. Few, if any, however, can pride themselves on designing and manufacturing their products in the same area. Fujitsu can – take the J550.

It can take a Xeon E3 CPU, a full-size professional graphics card, 64GB of RAM, offering up to 13.5TB storage and nearly 20 ports and expansion slots including quite a few legacy ones. Fujitsu is also the only company to offer a three-year warranty (either onsite or bring-in) across the EMEIA region, which spans across the whole of Europe, into Africa and stretches as far as India.


What is a workstation? 

  • TechRadarPro Q&A with Anu Herranen, Director of New Product Introduction, Advanced Compute and Solutions at HP Inc.

A workstation is a high-performance computing device that has been purpose built for demanding professional workflows. It is not a single form factor in the same way that a desktop or notebook is – it can take almost any form factor. If mobility and agility are the most important factors for the device you need, you might choose a notebook, but if you need performance tuned to a specific workflow, a workstation will always be the best option.

Workstations are designed for professional workflows and are more powerful than a general PC. For example, a data scientist, visual effects professional, engineer or software developer all have different needs in terms of data processing, performance, operating systems, keyboard shortcuts, storage, display and connectivity. They are built for managing those high intensity but diverse workflows.

The technology that makes that possible is not always immediately obvious when looking at devices. Some vendors use copper and other software in their products to completely redesign the efficiency of the thermals in mobile workstations. That includes giving users complete control over the type of performance and acoustics for specific workflows, with artificial intelligence often called in to intelligently manage behavior based on the type of work being done. 

That means generation on generation, CPU and GPU performance improvements on devices mean they are smaller and run cooler, which is important in terms of comfort and reliability on high performance workstations.

Another important factor is certification. Certified ISV (Independent Software Vendors) application is crucial, as it ensures the hardware and software work better together. Workstations are the only PCs that offer certified professional applications. Having certification is critical, as it isn't enough to just know that your software applications will run on your workstation: you need a hardware solution that has been tested, proven and certified by ISVs to deliver peak performance for your key applications. This ensures a wholly compatible experience between hardware and software that is stable and designed to perform, allowing you to work with confidence.