ThinkStation S20

Introduction

Recently i added a ThinkStation S20 to my bulging desktop collection, which currently consists of several Lenovo branded machines, such as the ThinkStation S10, ThinkCentre M55, ThinkCentre A62 and Lenovo 3000 J series. I also have two Dell Workstation machines (Dell Precision 390 and 490), which i use as servers at home. The reason why i got the ThinkStation S20 was not because that my ThinkStation S10 had become too slow for my needs, but rather the ThinkStation S20 was offered at a price that no reasonably minded Techno-geek could resist.

Clever design.

Comparison pictures of different ThinkStation (taken from Lenovo website)

The ThinkStation S20 that i got has the following specification/configuration:

– 3 years Onsite Warranty

– No Optical Drive (Can take a maximum of 2 optical drive)

– No Floppy drive (the slot is occupied by a multicard reader)

– 20 in 1 multi-card reader

– Single stick of 2 gigs 1333 mhz DDR3 ECC ram (6 ram slots free, 3 channels for a maximum of 24 gigs of RAM)

– 3.5 inch 250 gigs SATA hdd (can have a total of 3 SATA hdd drives in the hdd bays)

– Intel Xeon E5620 2.40 ghz (4 Cores 8 Threads, 12 MB of L3 cache)

– Single Nvidia Quadro 600 (1 gigs of DDR3 VRAM) <- this is an entry spec Workstation graphics card.

– 2 PCIe x16 2.0 slot (one already occupied by the Quadro 600), but doesn’t support SLI or CrossFire.

– There was no OS installed on this machine, but Lenovo did provide me with a driver DVD, which is somewhat of a surprise.

If you want MORE information on the different configuration options of ThinkStation S20, have a look at the comprehensive tsbook guide. www.lenovo.com/psref/pdf/tsbook.pdf

Upgradability and Accessories

Obviously, my ThinkStation S20 configuration is quite basic (which is fine for my use at the moment), those people whom use it for CAD/CAM or Digital Content Creation may need better specification for their work. Thankfully as it is a desktop machine, it does offer a myriad of upgrade options for customising your ideal ThinkStation S20, from CPU to the number of hdd you want to be shipped with these machine (you can even choose which RAID mode you want the desktop to be shipped in). Obviously these custom options from Lenovo doesn’t come cheap, if you want the best of everything, expect to pay more than $6000 dollars, which is slightly steep compared to build-it-yourself desktop machines, but perfectly reasonable for an ISV certified workstation machine. If you are interested in the different available upgrade options available for the ThinkStation S20, please refer to the Lenovo website or the tsbook (i have pasted couple of pages for your viewing pleasure.

ThinkStation S20 may not suit everyone’s taste and budget, for people whom wants more power they can always get the ThinkStation D20, which is the monster of a machine and have a RRP to match. While, the C20/C20x  are nearly as powerful as the ThinkStation D20 when fully spec’ed, they are only about half of the physcial dimension of the D20 (as illustrated in picture 1).

 ThinkStation machines currently offered by Lenovo (taken from Lenovo’s website).

For those people whom wants a slightly cheaper Workstation grade machines, Lenovo does have the E30 series machines on offer, but due to the 280 Watts PSU you will be limited in your future upgrade options. Also, at the moment the price difference between the ThinkStation E30 and S20 are not that great in Australia, which makes the ThinkStation S20 a better purchase proposition (ThinkStation C20 is another alternative).

If you are tempted by ThinkStation S20 machines and decide to go and get one yourself, please do remember that the ThinkStation range are workstation grade machines, they are built for stability and not outright speed. This means that it will not run many latest desktop gaming graphics card from ATI and Nvidia, which are not ISV certified and therefore are not something that Lenovo wants you to use in your ThinkStation machines. The ThinkStation have internal RAID feature built in (specifically it can handle RAID 0, 1, 5 mode), and for people whom may want to use SAS, it can also handle that with an add on card (which maybe optioned during the initial on line ordering process).

Design and Aesthetics

If you have used previous versions of ThinkStation and ThinkCentre machines, then you will be right at home with this machine. Since the design have changed very little for these ThinkStation products, the ThinkStation S20 has remained exactly the same as the ThinkStation S10, you can physically interchange all of the case parts from these two machine generations without any problem or modifications. I guess this is useful for large corporations or businesses that may concurrently run several generations of ThinkStation products, where having parts that can be interchanged between different machines, would lower their equipment maintenance costs and life-cycle costs.

Front end comparison of ThinkStation S10 (on the left) and ThinkStation S20 (on the right).

The machine on the left is the ThinkStation S10 and the machine on the right is the ThinkStation S20. As you can see from picture 2 there are not many major differences between these two machines, apart from minor logo changes. When these two machines sit next to each other, they read Lenovo ThinkStation (the large silver brand badge) loud and proud.

The machine on the left is the ThinkStation S20 and on the right is the ThinkStation S10. There are not much differences on the back either.

The ThinkStation S10 (on the left) and ThinkStation S20 (on the right) with the plastic face plate removed.

If you don’t like the grab handle on the ThinkStation S series machines, you can remove them and put a filler plate (included in the shipping box or can be installed from factory) in place of the grab handle.

 

 

Internal Layout

Since not many sites have shown internal layouts of the new ThinkStation S20, so i thought it would be in the public interest that i post some pictures on relating to the internal layout for public enjoyment (or boredom).

Ram slots on the ThinkStation S20.

Quadro 600 in the second PCI-e 16x 2.0 slot. 

Bay with the Quadro 600 graphics card removed.

The motherboard layout diagram of the ThinkStation S20.

Quadro 600 card that came with the ThinkStation S20 machine. 

The ThinkStation S20 is rated by Lenovo to accommodate two Quadro 5000 graphics card (http://www.nvidia.com/object/product-quadro-5000-us.html), but no SLI mode. I only ordered a basic Quadro 600 card with the ThinkStation S20 as seen in pictures 8, which is a half height workstation graphics card with 1 gigs of GDDR3 ram (http://www.nvidia.com/object/product-quadro-600-us.html). Obviously, if you want to do lot of complex CAD/CAM or Modelling software, then you may want to get the Quadro 4000 or 5000 graphics card (but they are costly).

The HDD bay can accommodate three hard drives in RAID 0, 1, 5 mode.

The internal cable management system in the ThinkStation S20 (on the left), compared to the cable management of the S10 (on the right).

As you can see the ThinkStation S20 has a much better internal cable management system than the ThinkStation S10 machines.

The area where the SATA connectors are located on the S20 motherboard (left) and S10 motherboard (right).

There are 5 SATA connectors on the ThinkStation S20 machine, two for optical drives and three for hard drive, which is one less than the ThinkStation S10. I think the SATA connectors on the ThinkStation S20 are much better placed in the S10 machine, as two of the SATA connectors on the S10 can be blocked off when using a full length PCI-e x16 graphics card, which is not the case with the new ThinkStation S20. The floppy drive connector on the ThinkStation S10 remains in the ThinkStation S20 machine.

The internal layout of the motherboard also showing the three fans.

Lenovo engineers had to make a careful balance between adequate airflow and fan noise level. Lenovo engineers clustered the fans of the ThinkStation near the PSU of the machine, which meant the noisy fans are placed further away from the users of the Workstation, whilst they also chose to use large diameter fans as they require lower RPM to move the same volume of air as the smaller diameter fast spinning fans. Having less fans would also ensure that the workstation would use less power, thus allowing many companies to save on power and operate more efficiently for the same performance level.

The connectivity on the rear of the ThinkStation (S10 on the left and S20 on the right).

The ThinkStation S20 loses one integrated gigabit ethernet connector and PS/2 connectors when compared to the ThinkStation (as seen in pictures 13), but it gains the spdif/toslink input and a native eSATA connector, the integrated audio card now supports 7.1 channel analogue audio connection, while the old ThinkStation S10 had the 5.1 channel capability. If you want PS/2 connection, then there is a native PS/2 connector on the motherboard, where you can order a PS/2 breakout extension cable, which can be ordered with machine from factory (only couple of dollars extra).

Conclusion

Personally, i like the ThinkStation S20 for three reasons:

1. I like the black box design, after all i love all the classic Think products.

2. I know the ThinkStation format pretty well. Just yesterday it took me nearly 30 minutes to take out the optical drive on the Dell Precision 390 machine, because i couldn’t work out that the front face plate on the Dell Precision had to be removed along with this plastic holding plate prior to taking out the drive. So i guess i am use to the whole Think branded product, since they change fairly slowly and there is a swallow learning curve between the different model of these machines.

3. Because i got it extremely cheap (probably due to a pricing glitch on Lenovo’s part, their loss is my gain… haha).

There are constant sales event going on with these ThinkStation machines on Lenovo Australia’s website, which makes them a good investment if you are in a business or environment that requires ISV certified workstation machines with great onsite warranty suport. Obviously, there are also downsides to the ThinkStation S20 machines, such as lack of SLI and latest gaming card support. But then again they are not intended to be used as a gaming machine, but rather as a Workstation doing more productive things.

Finally, due to the lack of time available, i did not run many benchmark on the performance of this system, which i intend to do when i have more time available, so this review will be updated in the future (just follow my twitter account on @Lead_org). Obviously, if there are questions that you have about the ThinkStation S20, i will endeavour to answer them to the best of my ability.