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Desktop Computer vs. Network Server

written by: Karishma Sundaram•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 4/30/2010

Although desktop computers and network computers have different definitions, they can both be used as servers. This article looks at the difference in desktop computer vs. network servers; exploring the pros and cons of both options.

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    Desktops Desktop computers, better known as personal computers or PCs, are systems that are used in a single place for a sustained period of time; as compared to the more portable laptops. They usually comprise of a monitor, a separate central processing unit (CPU), and peripheral devices. Technological advancements have slowly shrunk the size of desktops over time - there is a form-factor technology that allows the CPU to be embedded within the monitor.

    Network servers, on the other hand, can be almost anything. They are the central hub on a network, which services all client requests from other computers. Servers, as previously stated, are not restricted to one particular kind of device. They can be a single computer, or a mammoth made of multiple processors.

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    Desktop Computers vs. Network Servers

    Based on their definitions, the functions desktops and servers seem too different to be comparable. However, with the proliferation of the Internet, many people use their desktop computers as servers. There are many points to consider when deciding which option to go for:

    1. In the case of servers in the traditional sense, they are usually powerfully-built, with lots of hard disk space and a huge memory capacity. As a result, network servers tend to be big investments, and not casual purchases. Desktops are significantly less expensive, with an appropriately lower computing capacity.
    2. A traditional server is also geared to stay online for a long period of time, without turning off at all. Maintenance is done periodically, as turning off the server tends to become a major event. Clients are informed well in advance in the server is turned off, for even an hour. Desktops, however, must be turned off from time to time for a number of reasons, such as driver or operating system updates.
    3. Network servers are geared to handle multiple incoming connections at a time, without capsizing. On the other hand, an average desktop computer, running the right server software, can handle about ten to fifteen incoming service requests at a stretch. Any more service requests would put a serious strain on the available resources, and the machine would not run optimally.

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    Conclusion – Which to Choose?

    Network servers are usually required to handle a huge number of client requests. When setting up a large network which is then expected to grow in time, investing in powerful hardware in the beginning may be a sensible course of action. It certainly makes more sense than continuously updating hardware to be able to cope with increasing requests. However, the decision to invest is not a casual one and must be based on realistic speculation.

    A desktop server, on the other hand, is a good place to start for a small network – like a bootstrapping enterprise for example. Once the funds start coming in, and expansion becomes a distinct possibility, that is the time to invest in a bigger server.