Brief History

The term workstation was initially used to refer to small scientific computers such as the IBM 1620 (1959) and the IBM 1130 (1965). Its current concept, however, as a single-user computer with a high-resolution bitmap display, came into prominence with the Xerox Alto (1973). The Alto was in many ways a pioneer : it used a mouse invented by Douglas Engelbart and the world's first bitmap display and it connected to the world's first Ethernet and the world's first laser printer. The Alto had a 16-bit CPU, an instruction set similar to that of the Data General Nova minicomputer, and writable control memory in addition to ROM.

Other early workstations included Apollo Computer's Apollo/Domain workstation in 1980 (Hewlett-Packard later acquired Apollo Computer in 1989) and Sun Microsystems' Sun-1, announced in 1982. The Sun-2, announced in 1983, used the 16-bit MC 68010 microprocessor, and the Sun-3, a 32-bit workstation announced in 1985, ran on the MC 68020. Later, more powerful workstations were developed around RISC microprocessors.

Some of the first 32-bit workstations in Japan were Hitachi's 2050 and 2020 workstations for office automation applications announced in 1985, NEC's EWS4800 with full media support in 1986, Mitsubishi Electric's ME1000 series of multimedia/engineering workstations, and Sony's NWS-800, which used BSD. In 1987, Fujitsu announced three models its G series of business workstations.

At this time, systems that made extensive use of graphics were created by connecting graphic displays to mainframe computers. This solution, however, was expensive and response speeds dropped off when multiple displays were connected to one computer. But as workstations' performance levels improved, workstations were increasingly used for graphics processing, which expanded the market for engineering workstations. A high-water mark was reached with NEC's announcement of the EWS 4800/260 in 1990, an engineering workstation that paired a 68030 processor exclusively for graphics processing with an R 3000 RISC processor to set the world's fastest X-Window rendering speed.

Sun Microsystems, in 1990, announced the SPARCstation 2 equipped with a RISC SPARC processor. In the same year, Toshiba rolled out the SPARC LT AS1000, the world's first UNIX workstation laptop, which ran on a SPARC processor.

1991 was a busy year for workstations, with the release of Hitachi's 3050 and 3050R workstations running on either a 68040 processor or a PA-RISC processor, Fujitsu's DS/90 7000 workstation running on SPARC processors, Mitsubishi Electric's MELCOM ME RISC series of UNIX RISC workstations, and Oki Electric's OKI station 7300 high-performance desktop workstation. Toshiba sold OEM workstations equipped with SPARC processors. Fujitsu also later announced OEM machines from Sun Microsystems: the S-4/10 in 1992 and the S-7/300U series in 1995. Hitachi announced the 3050RX workstation series with 12 models equipped with PA-7100 processors in 1993 and the 9000V series with PA-7200 processors in 1995.