Server vs Desktop : Key Differences between Server and Desktop


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If you are from an IT background, desktops and servers are common terms for you as IT organizations often use these. But do you know the differences between a server and a desktop? In this article, I will talk about a server and a desktop and their key differences.

What is a Server?

A server is a piece of infrastructure or a piece of hardware very similar to your standard desktop or laptop computer but a lot more powerful, which will have a lot more RAM, a lot more CPU, a lot more capacity. It is a powerful computer that receives requests from the client computers, processes, and sends back the output. A web server responds to related web requests. There can be other servers, like, application servers, mail servers, FTP servers, etc. You can add additional cards that are not necessarily available on a standard desktop or laptop computer. It will be used primarily in a business environment to serve the customers out in a business. There are different types of physical servers of different brands like Dell, Lenovo, Cisco, they all have multiple servers.

So, why do we need servers? Servers typically handle the high-end processing work such as hosting databases or centralized file keeping for data sharing. They are used for equipment or resource sharing, such as printers and copiers. The servers also run wireless scanners to detect and remove viruses introduced by any user on any computer. They also backup all user’s work frequently to recover in case of emergency. To do all this work, servers are very different from desktop computers that we use. They require a large amount of RAM to work efficiently, they also need huge and fast hard disk servers, like application servers have more processing power with multiple strong CPUs. Most servers also have inbuilt high capacity backup drives to protect against data loss. Servers are also designed to be expandable as network rules on demand.

What is a Desktop?

A Desktop is a personal computer that an individual uses for personal or office work. It typically stays on your office desk at the workplace. It has a combination of physical hardware attached, which makes a desktop computer run. You have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse as input devices. Desktop computers are not only bought and used by an individual, they are also used in enterprise organizations where the desktops are assigned to the employees. Multiple employees cannot work on one Desktop, but one employee can have multiple desktops assigned to him/her depending on the work.

The processor is the most crucial part of a Desktop. It includes the motherboard and the circuit board for the computer to run. A desktop computer processor can be a microtower or a minitower, which can be placed over the work desk or under it. Hewlett Packard 9100A was the first desktop computer that was introduced in 1968. And since then, many desktop computers have been produced. Even kids have a desktop computer of their own today, which is often used for playing games.

Now let me tell you the key differences between a server and a desktop.

Server vs Desktop. Key Differences

Operating System

An operating system has multiple programs running in parallel on a computer system to manage various services and hardware resources for executing various applications. It is one of the most essential software present on a desktop or a server. Without an operating system, server or a desktop computer cannot run. Linux, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, BSD are few popular operating systems used on servers and desktops.

The operating system of a server and a desktop computer is very different. The operating system of a server can handle multiple processes and connections at the same time (depending on the hardware). There are certain features that a server-oriented operating system has, but desktop computers do not. The graphical user interface is not there in the server operating system, or it is optional. A server operating system has the ability to update software and hardware without even restarting, whereas in a desktop operating system, you need to restart it for the changes to take effect. The operating system of servers has backup facilities to take regular online backups of critical data. The security of a server operating system is far better than a desktop computer operating system. The server also has advance and flexible network capabilities as compared to desktop computers. 


Over the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion of server and desktop hardware. The cost of server hardware is a lot more than desktop hardware. The hardware cost of the servers used in enterprise-grade equipment has twice the lifetime of a desktop computer. The core technologies used by servers and desktops are similar, but a server’s performance is much higher than a desktop. 

The processors used by a desktop computer are majorly Intel Core series, whereas the processors used by a server is Intel Xeon. The Xeon processors are designed to work with multiple other processers because they need to communicate with many other processers in the server stack. So, the motherboard of a server can have multiple processors, but the motherboard of a desktop computer will have only one processor. A server processor is capable of running far more applications simultaneously than a desktop. Xeon processors support Error Code Correcting (ECC) RAM because the servers need to be up and running all the time, and if there is a memory error, ECC ram detects the issue and prevents the server from shutting down. The Intel Core processor used in desktop computers does not support ECC RAM, but they support AMD processors.


Desktop support often happens for office computers. These are very limited support with some technical documentation and guidance. The support offered for desktop computers happens remotely. This support is offered for a software related issue on a company’s computer or individual user computer. It can also be hardware repair support, which will be done physically.

The server support is far more proactive than desktop support. In server support, the service provider helps in running, maintaining, and monitoring the servers remotely. They provide 24/7 support, and you also have a dedicated team and a telephone number to reach out for help faster. In the case of a server, you also get support for virus attacks, hacking, malware, etc., from the vendor.


Obviously, the cost of server-grade hardware is much higher than desktop-grade hardware. This is because the server-grade hardware is inter-compatible with other server-grade hardware. The networking capabilities required in the server’s case are much higher than a desktop, which eventually results in higher costs. For physical servers, you need to rent a place to keep them, whereas for desktop, there is no extra cost of keeping it, you just need a flat desk. Giant companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft pay fancy amounts for running, managing, and monitoring their servers.  

Learning Curve

System administrators, server administrators, network admins, IT administrators are those folks who work on their organization servers. They need to have a good background in hardware and software, which includes operating systems and networking. Working with servers is not easy. Once the number of servers increases, the complexity of managing it also increases. Whereas learning to work on a desktop is very easy. Even a newbie can learn how to work on a desktop in just a few days.

The below table helps in summarising the differences between a server and a desktop.


Server Desktop
It has multiple processes for faster access It has a single processor in most cases
The files are stored at a secure location The files are present at the individual’s desktop
It has mirrored hard drives which have the backup of the data on the servers It has a single hard drive, if it fails you lose the data
It requires more than one power supply It has only one power supply
It is more secure to viruses, malware and cyber threats It is vulnerable to viruses, malware and cyber threats
The hardware parts are costly The hardware parts are not costly
It offers higher processing power, memory and storage It has lower processing power, memory and storage


Design Quality

Consumers tend to choose the high-end and mainstream products of the major brands like Nvidia, Asus, Intel. These manufacturers offer excellent quality and additional customer support. Enterprise technology is a different breed in terms of design quality and features.

The design process is the most important difference. While consumer hardware is often built on a preexisting platform and can have manufacturing defects, server hardware is made from scratch. This allows for fewer manufacturing errors in the final product.

RAM Capacity

While desktop systems don’t require more than 8GB RAM, enterprise hardware typically requires 16GB or more to run. This explains why consumer-grade hardware has only four memory slots, while enterprise gear has eight. Enterprise-grade materials also provide RAM support and error-correcting codes, while consumer-grade products do not.

Differential Resource

Desktops can manage limited resources with its power as it facilitates for only one computer. It works on 32-bit processors, possibly single-core or dual-core. Servers, on the other side, have to host multiple computers. This makes them more powerful and has greater resources. Servers have a special system that allows them to host systems and data. It has powerful hard drives, quad-core processors and 64-bit power. RAID, which is a server-level feature that allows for the correction of failed drives without affecting the server’s operation, is also available.

Disk Subsystem

The server motherboard includes integrated RAID-controllers. This allows you to “merge” multiple physical disks into one volume. It also increases performance (speed of reading and writing is increased), fault tolerance (recorded information is automatically duplicated on other drives that are able to store data in the event of the death of one). Hot swapping is possible with servers. This allows you to replace your hard drive quickly, without having to shut down or stop working. It takes only three minutes, and the users don’t notice any change. Things continue to work quietly.

Although higher-priced motherboards have RAID-controllers built in, they are usually less functional and can only be used to configure two or three hard drives. You can add an additional RAID-controller to increase the power unit’s burden and create obstacles for air circulation.

Hot swapping is not allowed in conventional system like desktop. The death of one drive in a RAID array will, however, not cause data loss but it will stop the server and all its users for a while – to set up the new drive and rebuild RAID.

Power System

The server can be used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is equipped with redundant power supply, which is connected to each phase and with two blocks of uninterrupted power supply for each of them – this ensures that the server will be able to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The power supply power is 750 watts. This allows the power supply units of the server to reliably resist the internal components.

Conventional systems units only have one power supply. Power usually never exceeds 500 watts. On a regular PC, it is possible to observe inconsistencies in the operation of certain devices due to the lack of tension.

Can you use a desktop computer as a server?

The straightforward answer is yes. A desktop computer can run as a server because a server is also a computer with advanced hardware parts. A server has functionalities that can be shared over a network with many other computers called clients. For example, a desktop computer can act as a file server to share files with clients on the same network. So, capability wise a desktop computer can act as a server, but it is not suggested to do so because the desktop computer hardware is not designed to be server hardware that can run 24/7. A desktop computer is not as secure as a server. 

Final Thoughts

So that was all about the difference between a desktop and a server. In short, a desktop is used by an individual or by an organization for their employees. In contrast, big companies use servers to run several applications in parallel over the organization’s network. Although both are computers but still very different from each other. If you are an individual, you would be using a desktop at your office or for your personal use, but if you are an IT administrator professional in an organization, you would be working on servers. Go ahead and explore more about desktops and servers.


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