All computers have the same basic components: a processor, working memory, storage, and much more. We often hear the terms “server” and “desktop” used interchangeably, but these devices do have their differences. If your only reference to server technology stems from Tron, Jurassic Park, The Terminator, The Matrix, or even 2001: a Space Odyssey, you’re not far from having a basic understanding. Desktops, on the other hand, are much more prevalent and used in everyday life. In this guide, we’ll explore the differences between servers and desktops, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.

What is a Computer Server?

Some businesses try to save money by simply running a server operating system on a desktop computer, but a setup such as this isn’t a replacement for real server hardware. Servers are computers that are made to process requests and deliver data to other computers over the internet or a local network. Most people understand servers as devices where web pages can be accessed through a web browser, but there are several kinds of servers. Though you might technically call any computer that runs special software a server, the most common use of the word refers to very big machines that push and pull data from the internet. All that data is sent to or received from other devices or “clients.”

Application programs are designed to host web applications, so users can run and use them without needing to install them on their own computers. Catalog programs maintain indexes of information that can be accessed across large, distributed networks. Game servers allow several computers or consoles to play multiplayer games. Media programs share digital video or audio over a network through streaming. Web servers make the World Wide Web possible.

What is a Desktop Computer?

Unlike server-class hardware, desktop computers are designed to handle the everyday computing tasks of the typical consumer. Desktops are personal computers (PCs) that can fit on or beneath desks. Most desktop computers consist of monitors, keyboards, mice, and form factors. Laptops might be designed to be portable, but desktops are designed to stay in one place. Consumers use desktops to perform desktop-oriented tasks, such as word processing, emailing, or searching the web. Furthermore, desktops are not designed for 24/7 operation.

Servers vs. Desktops

Unlike desktops, servers are dedicated and designed to perform no other tasks. For both businesses and consumers, server equipment is much more expensive than desktop equipment. The processors found in a desktop computer are not as powerful as those found in servers, which support multiple processors, cores, and threads at one time. Servers also support advanced random-access memory (RAM), more cache memories, and storage interconnect technology.

When you’re deciding between a desktop and a server for home computing use or your business, it’s important to ask how important your data is to you. Server technology is the best way to secure your data. Before you rush off, it’s also important to consider applications, storage, processor, form factor, and other components.