Why Workstation Ergonomics Matter28 Jul, 2015 By: Alex Herrera
Herrera on Hardware: Modern machine design involves more than just speeds and feeds.
Combining aesthetics, touchscreen capability, and a variety of working angles in a compact package, HP's Z1 model represents another take on ergonomics, with a form factor and usage model that departs from the workstation norm. The Z1 is the first true all-in-one workstation, with display and components integrated into one package, a la the iMac. With the Z1, HP managed to combine the features workstation buyers expect — ISV certification, workstation-caliber components, reliability, and serviceability — in a shape with a small footprint and appeal for those not typically enamored with the "corporate box" look. In addition, the Z1's ability to lay out flat for interactive collaboration on a construction or architectural firm's conference room table is a unique feature with particular appeal in CAD applications.
HP's Z1 fits a true-blue workstation into an all-in-one package, with support for touch and multiple orientations. Image courtesy of HP.
Getting a Handle on Mobility
When chassis-integrated handles were first introduced by HP (in 2009, in that same Z line launch), I must admit I was underwhelmed. In such a tech-centric product, it seemed odd for a simple thing like a handle to be one of more highly touted features. My opinion has since changed. Now handles are something that I end up thinking about often — not when handling a machine that has one, but rather when getting frustrated by handling one that doesn't. When I receive a workstation to review, the handle-less machines that prove more clumsy to carry now stand out from the rest — and not in a good way.
Frankly, however, whether a handle will matter depends on who's doing the handling — and how often. A single user deploying a machine deskside, where it will likely remain for its entire life, probably won't care. But an IT professional or CAD manager managing a sea of workstations may have good reason to opt for handles.
The ability to easily access some or all system components is now a checklist item for workstations, and many vendors are making it a priority. Tool-less design starts on the outside of the chassis, with finger-triggered panel removal, and continues inside with color-coded tabs that guide fingers looking to release and remove add-in cards, fans, power supply, or storage bays. Like integrated handles, the value of a tool-less design will vary with the eye of the beholder. Tool-less access is more likely to be a must-have for someone charged with managing a bunch of machines than for a single end user.
The tidy interior of Dell's Precision T7610, which can be accessed without tools. Image courtesy of Jon Peddie Research.
Hand in hand with the trend in tool-less design is the trend in user-serviceable components. Now, some components have always been intended to be end-user serviceable — their removal and replacement is, if not trivial to do, at least reasonable. For example, workstation vendors know that add-in graphics cards and drives will often be configured on-site rather than shipped from the OEM. But the more recent trend is to design previously difficult-to-access components — most notably, PSUs — for simple removal and replacement, either for repair or upgrade. (For more on modern PSU design for workstations, check out this previous Herrera on Hardware column.)
Dell's taken swappable, user-serviceable drive bays (top) and PSUs (bottom) up a notch by making both externally accessible. Images courtesy of Dell.
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