hhschools workstations

Your Computer Hardware Matters

The Workstations in Your Studio

There are three aspects of workstations that are important to the performance of the system. If you are using multiple workstations and/or network storage, there is a fourth.

1:   The processor or CPU

Think of the CPU as a person working at a desk doing work. The faster the person can work, the more they can get done in a given time period. The speed of the processors today are measured in Giga-hertz (aka Ghz). This speed is typically in the 2 to 3 range (like 2.2Ghz or 3.1Ghz). Another more important aspect of your CPU is the ‘number of cores’. Now let’s adjust the analogy a little; think of the cores as clones of the person. So, if you have a 2.5Ghz CPU with dual (2) cores, you now have 2 people at the desk each working at the 2.5Ghz speed. If you have a quad (4) core CPU, then you have 4 people at the desk each working on 2.5Ghz. If you have a single (1) core CPU, then there is just the one person. With this understanding, you can compare a dual-core CPU at 1.8Ghz to a single-core CPU at 2.8Ghz, and which is faster? The dual-core is like 2 people each working at 1.8Ghz, so let’s call that 3.6 total Ghz (2 times 1.8) vs one person working at 2.8Ghz. So the slower speed, but with more cores is actually more performant.

General recommendation: 6 or more core processor
Minimum recommended: quad-core processor

2:   The amount or memory or RAM

Think of the RAM in the computer as representing the top of the desk that is being worked at. The more RAM, the larger the amount of room on the desk top. So, when you have more room to spread out your work in front of you, it is easier (aka faster) to find a particular page of notes or information. You can generally work faster when you don’t have to rummage through some piles of paperwork to keep finding what you are looking for. Your workstation should have at least 8GB of RAM in order to have sufficient room for your computer to organize its work. Generally, the more RAM the better your workstation will perform.

General recommendation: 16GB or more
Minimum recommended: 8 GB

3:   The performance of its storage device or Hard Drive

Think of the Hard Drive as filing drawers in the desk being worked at. You have lots of files and documents on the top of the desk that you are working on, but there is a very limited amount of space there compared to what you can fit in the drawers. How fast you can get files out of the drawers and how fast you can put them back into the drawers will have a big impact on how fast you can get your work done. The size of the drawers is important so that you have enough room for all the files you have, but much more importantly is how fast you can actually get files in and out of the drawers. The speed of your hard drive is much more important versus the capacity. It is possible for larger capacity drives to perform slower than smaller capacity drives based upon their transfer rates, usually specified in units of MB/s (Megabytes per second). These transfer rates are also known as the read and write speed of the drive. These are the two most important speeds to look at when comparing hard drives for performance. You can compare any two drives of any kind (SATA, SAS, SSD, SSHD, etc.) in an apples-to-apples way by looking at just the read and write speed specifications. From a general standpoint, in lack of read and write specifications, the kinds of drives from slowest to fastest are SATA, SSHD, SAS, and then SSD. It is important that you do not get the interface speed confused with the read and write speed of the hard drive when performing these comparisons.

General recommendation: SAS drives
Minimum recommended: 7200 RPM SATA
Best: SSD

Here are some more details about different kinds of Hard Drives for the not-so-faint-at-tech… There are two kinds of hard drives that you would typically find in workstations you buy at retail outlets. They are called SATA and SSD drives. SATA stands for Serial AT Attachment, and drives of this type are usually only referred to by the acronym. SSD stands for Solid State Drive, and drives of this type will be listed as either SSD or Solid State. In higher-end small business class and enterprise class servers and networked storage devices, another type of drive, SAS, is common. SAS stands for Serial Attached SCSI, and they are typically only referred to by the SAS acronym. There is a newer 4th kind of drive starting to show up in workstations that is called SSHD, which stands for Solid State Hybrid Drive. A SSHD is a hybrid between SATA and SSD. SSD has typically faster transfer rates than SATA, so these SSHD drives use a combination of a mini Solid State drive and a SATA drive inside one drive. The SSD portion acts as a buffer that caches data as it comes in and out of the drive before it reads/writes to the SATA portion. These drives will give SSD-like small bursts of performance over the SATA performance.

If you have multiple workstations that need to copy files between them and/or you are using a network storage device, then this fourth aspect is very important.

4:   The network interface (NIC = Network Interface Card)

This one is a little more difficult to explain with the office analogy. Maybe think of it as the phone in your office. When you need to get information that is not in your office, you need to call somewhere to get it. If you phone is a cell-phone (i.e. a wireless network card), then you may have some call quality issues (dropped calls, interference and such) compared to a land-line phone (i.e. a wired network card). There is also the aspect of speed/capacity of your network. This is kind of like having more than one phone, so the more phones, the more simultaneous calls you can make so you can get or send more information faster. For wired interface cards, typical speeds are 100 and 1000 megabits per second. These are sometimes referred to as 100 megabit and 1 gigabit (aka 1 gig) respectively. With wireless, there are lots of different speeds and technologies. Generally a 1 gig wired connection will always beat any kind of wireless speed or technology by a long way. There are some recent bleeding-edge wireless speeds starting to hit the market that can compete with 1 gig wired, but they are not typically mature enough to beat 1 gig wired yet. Additionally, there is a 10 gig wired option available, but is very expensive and more typically used in large enterprise environments.

So, a 1 gig wired connection is what we suggest you look for. If you have a computer that does not have a built-in wired Ethernet connector, then we recommend you get a USB 3.0 or for Mac’s a Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter. If you only have wireless and USB 2.0 in your computer, then a USB 2.0 to Ethernet adapter is still probably better than using the wireless. USB 2.0 maxes out at 480 megabits (aka one-half of 1 gig).

General recommendation: 1 gig, wired
Minimum recommended: 1 gig, wired
Recommended against: wireless

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Network Storage

Getting back to the desk/office analogy, you can think of Network Storage as filing cabinets. You have the file drawers in your desk (your workstation’s hard drives), but when you have a lot of files that you need to share with other people/desks, you need a different place to put them so other people don’t have to come over to your desk and get in your way. This efficient way to solve this need is to have a filing cabinet in the office that everyone can share. There are three kinds of ‘file cabinets’ when it comes to shared storage; Workstation Shares, File Servers, and Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. Workstation shares are when you set up a folder on your workstation and allow other workstations to access the files in that folder across the network. File Servers are dedicated workstations that have folders shared over the network. NAS devices, Network Attached Storage, are purpose-build hardware that only share folders and files over a network. Of these 3 types, we would recommend either a File Server or NAS device.

A Workstation share means that others would be using the resources of your computer (items 1 through 3 above) to get and save files while you are trying to accomplish work on your computer. So, others’ activity will slow down your work. A File Server is similar to a NAS device, but probably overkill for the needs of an average studio. If you have more than 10 workstations using your network storage, then maybe a File Server becomes something to consider. For an office with 2 to 10 workstations, a NAS device would be most appropriate. A NAS is basically a File Server squished down into a single small unit.

General recommendation: Please CLICK HERE to see our page on NAS devices.

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Network Bandwidth and Topology

So lets consider we have multiple workstations and a NAS device. The next important thing to consider is how they are all connected together (their Topology). Let’s use the analogy of roads when discussing network bandwidth. There are a bunch of cars (packets of data or files) that need to get to different places (workstations, NASes, websites, etc) and to do so, they need roads. Since we’ve decided to use 1 gig Ethernet wires, all our roads now happen to be freeways, so we have a good speed limit. What else do we need to consider that can affect how fast we can get to different places?

Network Traffic

Right. Traffic. So where are the places in our Topology that can affect traffic? We addressed the speed limit by choosing 1 gig wired Ethernet, so we’re avoiding residential (100 megabit Ethernet) and construction (wireless) zones. So, what we have left are our switch(es) and our Cable/DSL Modem/Router.

The following is our recommended topology:


It is important to note that we are not using multiple ‘switch’ ports on our Modem/router. Most Cable/DSL Modems and routers come with integrated switches. Even though we could plug into those, we want to avoid that in order to reduce merging. Instead, you should get a separate dedicated network switch. Network switches act kind of like old-fashioned phone switchboard operators where you see them plugging in cables to a big panel in front of them. What they are doing is creating a connection straight from one end of the conversation to the other end. In the diagram, if Wired Client #2 was sending data to the Internet and Wired Client #1 was sending a file to the NAS, client #1 would be able to send a full 1 gig of traffic to the NAS and the traffic from #2 to the Internet would not interfere. For factors in selecting a switch, please see our page on NAS devices (http://www.hhcolorlab.com/Software/hhschools/Networking).

Key factors: Standalone switch and no wireless

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