Why Workstation Ergonomics Matter

28 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.

Tool-less Access

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.

Easier Serviceability

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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About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

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