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Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p USFF PC

Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p Ultra Small Form Factor PC

July 4, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p

USFF 3853
Manufacturer Lenovo
List Price US$993 (base configuration)

US$1,194 (sample configuration)

The ThinkCentre M90p is a high performance corporate PC from Lenovo that conforms
to what they call their ultra small form factor. In essence it is an updated
version of the M58p,
moving from Core 2 and DDR2 to Core i5 and DDR3. Like the M58p, a main marketing
point for M90p is its eco-friendliness; it has several environmental certifications
including EPEAT
Gold
, Energy Star 5.0,
and GreenGuard.
While a green machine is a nice bonus for an individual, for corporations that
often deploy fleets of identical PCs that may operate 24-7, this is no small
matter. Energy efficiency in particular is absolutely essential.



Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p sample bundle.

The M90p conforms to the same physical dimensions as the M58p with its innards
compacted into a 238 x 275 x 79 mm form. Of course with the tight confines comes
limited expansion — the case has but one hard drive bay and only a single
open PCI low-profile slot. The system is powered by a dual core Intel Core i5
processor, so it should be more energy efficient than its Core 2 driven predecessor,
and thus potentially quieter. Despite being as powerful as many desktop PCs,
it ships with only a 130W 87% efficient AC-DC power brick rather than a typical
internal power supply unit.



19.5V/6.66A 130W AC/DC adapter.


Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p USFF 3853: Specifications
Model
Base Configuration Sample Configuration (differences only)
Processor
Intel Core i5-650 (3.2GHz, 4MB cache) Intel Core i5-660 (3.33GHz, 4MB cache)
Chipset
Intel Q57  
Memory
2GB PC3-10600 1333MHz SoDIMM

(1 DIMM)
3GB PC3-10600 1333MHz SoDIMM

(2 DIMMs)
Graphics
Intel GMA HD (integrated)  
Hard Drive
160GB 7200RPM 500GB 7200RPM
Optical Drive
None DVD Recordable
Networking
Gigabit Ethernet  
Connectors
Front: 2 x USB, microphone, headphone



Rear: DisplayPort, VGA, 6 x USB, RJ45, audio in/out, microphone
 
Expansion 1 x PCI slot, low profile  
Speakers
Built-in  
Keyboard Preferred Pro Full Sized  
Mouse
USB Optical  
Operating System
Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
Dimensions

(D x L x H)
238 x 275 x 79 mm

9.4 x 10.8 x 3.1"
 
Warranty 3 Year Parts / 3 Year Labor (Limited On-site)  
Street Price
US$993 US$1,194

The sample configuration we received has a few upgrades over the base model
including a faster processor, more RAM, a higher capacity hard drive, an optical
drive, and Windows 7 Professional rather than Home Premium. These improvements
tack on an extra $200 to the price according to Lenovo's website.

On paper both configurations of the M90p seem heavily overpriced given the
hardware, but it isn't actually possible to build a comparable system as there
are no mini-ITX motherboards using the Q57
chipset
available in retail. Q57 has several management and security features
that may come in handy in corporate environments. For reference the slim OptiPlex
980
from Dell with more-or-less equivalent specifications to our M90p sample
configuration can be ordered for about $80 less, though Dell's enclosure is
a bit taller, 2 inches wider/deeper, and uses an internal power supply.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p features the same compact enclosure as the M58p,
measuring 238 x 275 x 79 mm (9.4 x 10.8 x 3.1").



Oriented vertically using the included stand.




The ports at the front are as follows: 2 x USB, microphone, headphone.
The large vent near the power button is also home to an integrated speaker.




The rear ports are as follows: 6 x USB, RJ45, audio in/out, microphone,
VGA, DisplayPort (a DisplayPort adapter is extra, not included). The system's
only fan is located on the left side. Releasing the plastic tab on the
right-hand side allows the case to be opened up like clam without any
tools.




Oddly the drives are located at the bottom of the enclosure with the board
and processor hanging off the ceiling. The hard drive is mounted
using snap-on plastic rails. While the machine is easily serviced, there
is no room for expansion except for a single low profile card that installs
sideways via a PCI riser slot.




The motherboard appears to be mini-ITX, takes DDR3 SODIMMs and is powered
by the Intel Q57 chipset. The CPU cooler is bolted down and connected
to the exhaust fan with a duct.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Systems Compared:

Lenovo ThinkStation E20:

Lenovo ThinkCentre M58p:

Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p:



Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p: device listing.



Measurement and Analysis Tools

Real-world Benchmark Test Details

  • Eset NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of
    varying size, several of which are archives with many files within them.
  • WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC (48KHz, 256kbps).
  • TMPGEnc Xpress: Encoding a 1-minute long XVID AVI file to VC-1 (1280x720,
    30fps, 20mbps).

Our first test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress
CPUs we use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which
produces higher system power consumption. To stress the GPU, we use ATITool
or FurMark, which ever application is more power demanding.

Then we run a short series of performance benchmarks — a few real-world
applications as well as synthetic tests.

All nonessential pre-installed software is removed prior to testing, and certain
services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled to prevent
them from affecting our results. Aero glass is left enabled if supported. All
tests are conducted with WiFi disabled (as well as other wireless connectivity
features) unless necessary. We also make note if energy saving features like
Cool'n'Quiet and SpeedStep do not function properly.

TEST RESULTS

AC Power Draw

System Power
Test State
ThinkCentre M90p
ThinkCentre M58p
ThinkStation E20
Off
1W
2W
1W
Sleep
3W
8W
1W
Idle
27W
41W
40W
x264 Playback
44W
56W
CPU Load
92W
97W
95W
CPU + GPU

Load
96W
115W

The M90p is a big improvement over the M58p when it comes to idle power, beating
it by 14W, a 34% improvement. It also is more frugal on load, when asleep and
turned off altogether. Given how much performance it packs, its energy efficiency
is superb.

The ThinkStation E20 tower which has a similar processor to the M90p actually
runs neck and neck with the older M58p despite because its power consumption
is hampered by a Nvidia Quadro graphics card.

Performance

Performance Benchmarks
Model
Lenovo

M58p†
Lenovo

M90p
Lenovo

E20
CPU
C2D E8400
Core i5-660
Core i5-650
GPU
GMA X4500
GMA HD
Quadro FX 580
RAM
2 x 1GB DDR2
2 + 1GB DDR3
2 x 2GB DDR3
Boot-up*
0:45
1:01
NOD32
4:28
59W
4:43
68W
WinRAR
2:56
67W
3:33
51W
3:36
64W
iTunes
4:22
67W
2:51
60W
3:07
69W
TMPGEnc
5:10
78W
3:17
71W
3:24
84W
PCMark05
6428
7623
9352
3DMark05
2986
10635
3DMark06
1164
1483
5189
†running Vista

*start button to when the desktop loads fully

While the M58p has fairly fast processor in the Core 2 Duo E8400, it is no
match for a Core i5. The M90p and ThinkStation
E20
both hand the M58p a resounding defeat in every test except file
archiving with WinRAR. The M90p also used less power during the tests than both
of the other machines.

Thermals & Acoustics

Thermals & Acoustics
Activity
CPU Temp
HDD Temp
SPL @1m
SPL @0.6m
Idle
23°C
33°C
20 dBA
24 dBA
x264 Playback
32°C
33°C
22 dBA
26 dBA
CPU Load
78°C
35°C
25~26 dBA
30~31 dBA
CPU + GPU Load
85°C
34°C
25~26 dBA
30~31 dBA
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

The system ran fairly cool when idle and during video playback, but the CPU
temperature skyrocketed 55~62°C on load. The processor runs fairly hot when
pressed into service, an unavoidable consequence of being cooled by a small
fan in a compact case.

When idle the system's noise level was audible but fairly inconspicuous at
a distance of one meter. At 0.6m, the ISO 7779 seated user position distance,
it was noticeably louder as the SPL increased by 4 dBA. The hollow-sounding
idle whirl of the Seagate 500GB
7200.12
combined with the system fan produced some tonality, but it
was not as irritating as the M58p. On load, the noise level increased dramatically
with the system taking on more tonal elements, evidenced by spikes in the spectrum
at 270~280 KHz and 500~600 KHz. When operating at higher speeds, the fan emits
an annoying whine.



The M90p idles at 20 [email protected]



The M90p on load measured 25~26 [email protected] Note the tonal spikes at 270~280
KHz and 500~600 KHz.


Comparison: SPL @ 1m / 0.6m (dBA)
Activity
ThinkStation E20
ThinkCentre M90p
ThinkCentre M58p
Idle
19~20 / N/A
20 / 24
21 / 27
CPU Load
20~21 / N/A
25~26 / 30~31
27 / 32
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

When idle, the M90p is quieter than its predecessor, especially at 0.6m and
closer where it sounds smoother and slightly less tonal. The M90p isn't as prone
to vibration as the M58p (putting pressure against the top of the M58p actually
altered the quality of the acoustics). On load, the acoustic profiles of the
two machines are more difficult to differentiate and figuring out which system
sounds worse is an effort in futility. Both generated unacceptable levels of
noise at 0.6m; at 1m they were bearable but intrusive.

The ThinkStation E20 is a much quieter PC, thanks to its tower case. With the
extra breathing room inside and room for three 92 mm fans, the acoustic advantage
is undeniable.

INTANGIBLES

Keyboard & Mouse:

The M90p ships with a full-sized keyboard and optical mouse. The keyboard is
very responsive and quiet, but it has an odd filmy/gritty surface that takes
some getting used to. The mouse has a generic, inoffensive shape and is fairly
comfortable. Our only complaint is it produces very sharp clicks when you use
the rickety scroll wheel.

Speakers:

Not much thought was put into the built-in speakers which produce hollow, tinny,
and just generally low quality mono sound. It's actually perfect for a workplace
environment as quality speakers would only encourage recreational use.

Pre-installed Software:

The amount of pre-installed software was about average for a machine of this
type. There were plenty of Microsoft programs/updates including a trial version
of Office, SQL Server, Visual C++, and MSXML. The only nonessential, non-Lenovo
applications present were Adobe Flash and Reader, and DVD creation/burning programs
from Corel.

Audio Recordings

Comparable System sound files:

  • Lenovo
    ThinkStation E20 at 1m


    — idle/load, GPU fan tweaked to minimum speed (19~20 dBA)

    — idle/load (20~21 dBA)

    — idle/load, hard drive seeking (23~25 dBA)

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90p is definitely an improvement over the M58p,
not just in terms of performance. The switch to the faster Clarkdale processor
with Intel GMA HD graphics boasted energy efficiency by more than 30% when idle.
The overall noise level is still subpar, but it is quieter than its predecessor
when idle or under light load. The M90p doesn't seem to suffer from the same
vibration issues as the M58p but whether this is due to an improved hard drive
caddy or simply from using a different hard drive is difficult to assess.

Lenovo's USFF enclosure limits both expansion and the potential for quiet cooling
despite the M90p's more power efficient processor and chipset. The case is compact
with a very small foot print when mounted vertically on the included stand and
is easy to open and service, but these advantages come at a great acoustic cost.
On full load, the system is unbearably noisy, yet the CPU still gets toasty,
heating up to a temperature about 60°C higher than when the system is sitting
idle.

In a perfect world, PCs in the workplace would all be small, fast, energy efficient,
and quiet, but in real life, they inevitably fall short in one area — for
the M90p that area is noise. To operate inconspicuously in a quiet office, it
has to be a meter or more away from the user or tucked underneath a desk. It
is better suited for a busy, louder corporate environment, where the noise generated
would likely be drowned out.

Our thanks to Lenovo
for ThinkCentre M90p sample.

* * *

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* * *

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