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Lenovo ThinkStation E20: A Quiet Entry-level Workstation

Lenovo ThinkStation E20: A Quiet Entry-Level Workstation

April 18, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product Lenovo ThinkStation E20
Manufacturer Lenovo
Street Price US$599 (base model)

US$1224 (sample configuration)

Workstations have historically been big, high-end machines with heavy duty
processing power, professional grade graphics cards, plenty of memory and hard
drive options. While there will always be a place for such juggernaughts, for
simpler tasks and smaller workloads, an entry-level workstation like Lenovo's
ThinkStation E20 may be better suited. To make a more affordable workstation,
Lenovo decided against the more expensive LGA1366 socket, settling for LGA1156
instead. It's not a bad compromise considering the bevy of affordable, high
performance Core i3 and i5 CPUs available. These processors are also very energy
efficient, so cooling them is easy, opening up a real possibility for silence.
The E20 is surprisingly affordable with the base model starting at only $599,
$449 if you don't need a copy of Windows.

The E20 uses the microATX form factor, making it more compact, but less expandable
than most workstations which use ATX or larger form factor. It has just a pair
of internal hard drive bays, no SAS option, lacks RAID 5/10 support and has
only 4 memory slots for a maximum 8GB of RAM. These constraints can be overcome
by upgrading to the larger ThinkStation S20 or D20 LGA1366 workstations which
can also be configured with much more powerful processors and video cards.

Lenovo touts that the E20 is "ISV certified" like its larger brethren:
"rigorously tested and certified by leading independent software vendors
(ISVs)", which ensures the workstation can power through professional applications,
with assistance available from ISVs for a supported application, if necessary.
Like many Lenovo products, the E20 is EPEAT Gold certified, the highest rank
given by the widely accepted US Electronic Product Environmental Assessment
Tool program.



The ThinkStation E20.



Included mouse and keyboard.

The E20 isn't much to look at. Like many of Lenovo's "Think" branded
products, its design is mostly functional, unless you consider the enormous
ugly handle at the front a subjective stlye choice. Lenovo touts the E20's small
size, environmentally friendliness, ease of service thanks to a tool-less chassis
design, and near-silent operation. All configurations ship with decent keyboard
with soft but responsive keys and a large optical wheel mouse with a generic
but comfortable shape.

Lenovo ThinkStation E20: Specifications
Part Number
Base Model Configuration
Sample Configuration
Dimensions

[H x W x D]
425.2 x 175 x 430.8 mm

(16.7 x 6.9 x 17.0 in)
Processor
Pentium G6950 2.8GHz

(3MB L3, 73W)
Core i5-650 3.2GHz

(4MB L3, HT, TB, VT-d)
Chipset
Intel 3450
Memory
2GB DDR3-1333

(non-ECC)
4GB DDR3-1333

(non-ECC)
Graphics
Intel GMA HD (integrated)
NVIDIA Quadro FX 580 512MB
Hard Drive
250GB 7200rpm
500GB 7200rpm
Optical Drive
No
16x DVD +/- RW DL
Networking
10/100/1000 ethernet
Card Reader
No
25-in-1
Speakers
Integrated
Keyboard & Mouse
Yes
Operating System
Windows 7 Professional x64
Eco-friendly
EPEAT
Gold qualified, with up to 26% post-consumer recycled plastics
Retail Price
$599, $449 without Windows
$1224
Warranty
3 Year Limited Onsite Warranty

Add $49 for 2Yr Onsite Warranty Next Business Day

Add $89 3Yr Priority Support Onsite Warranty

The sample we received has notable upgrades over the base model, including
a faster dual core i5-650 processor with TurboBoost, Hyper-threading, and better
virtualization support compared to the stock configuration's Pentium G6950.
It also sports a Quadro FX 580 graphics card, 500GB hard drive, DVD burner,
card reader, and 4GB of unbuffered non-ECC RAM. This last point is interesting
because on paper, aside from ECC memory support provided by the Intel 3450 chipset,
there is little to distinguish the E20 from a desktop you could easily have
built to spec. If you order the E20 with this configuration on their website,
the total comes to US$1224. This is pricier than simply assembling all the components
yourself, but there are benefits in the form of support, which could be much
more important than the couple hundred dollars a business might save.



Our E20 sample's device listing. The system shipped with a Seagate Barracuda
7200.12 hard drive.

EXTERIOR

The ThinkStation E20 comes in fairly sturdy black case with a large handle
at the front. It's a microATX tower measuring about 17" tall (2" for
the handle) and 7" wide.



The front of the case acts as the system's only intake, with heavy ventilation
at the bottom half of the case and surrounding all the drive bays.



The graphics card has one DVI and two DisplayPort connectors. You can
also use the VGA and HDMI ports on the motherboard back panel if the E20
is configured without a discrete graphics, as long as it's paired with
a Clarkdale processor with integrated GMA HD graphics.



The rear 92 mm fan is secured using rubber fan isolators — a surprising
thing to see on any brand name PC.



Case feet.



The identification symbols on the front panel ports light up yellow when
the system is turned on, making it easy to differentiate between them.


INTERIOR

Accessing the internals is a simple matter of removing two thumbscrews and
pressing down on the release mechanism on the side panel. The layout inside
is typical for a microATX tower with a standard ATX power supply at the top,
2 x 5.25" and 1 x 3.5" external drive bays, 2 hard drive caddies,
and 2 x 92 mm case fans.



The E20 is very easy to work in due to its tool-less design with plastic
quick-release latches on the drives and expansion slots. The only components
that require a screwdriver to remove are the heatsink, power supply, and
motherboard.



The intake fan has a plastic shroud over it that diverts some of the air
upward and downward toward the hard drives.



The E20 also has an integrated speaker below the front fan. It is a bit
underpowered and sounds a little hollow compared to desktop speakers,
but fairly good compared to those found in laptops and all-in-one desktops.
This is a nice touch as most companies don't equip their systems with
external speakers to encourage productivity.



The CPU is cooled with a aluminum heatsink bolted down to the board and
a 92 mm fan. The E20 has four memory slots total, two of which were populated
in our 4GB configuration.



The graphics card has a small, single-slot cooling solution with a tiny
fan.



The power supply is an 80 PLUS Bronze unit with a total output of 280W.
It is manufactured by AcBel Polytech, a well-known OEM.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Lenovo ThinkStation E20:



CPU-Z screenshot taken at full load.



GPU-Z screenshot.

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).

First we determine the overall system power consumption at various states (measured
using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress CPUs we use Prime95 (large FFTs setting)
and to stress the GPU, we use FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability
testing utility. 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 Indexing, 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 and screen brightness set to a reasonable level, unless otherwise
noted. We also make note if energy saving features like Cool'n'Quiet and
SpeedStep do not function properly.

TEST RESULTS

System Measurements
Activity
Idle (GPU fan @30%)
Idle
x264 Playback
CPU Load
CPU + GPU Load
Avg. CPU Core Temp
21°C
22°C
25°C
61°C
63°C
HDD Temp
27°C
GPU Temp
41°C
39°C
46°C
41°C
68°C
GPU Fan Speed
2210 RPM
2810 RPM
System Power (AC)
40W
56W
95W
115W
19~20 dBA
20~21 dBA (23~25 dBA with HDD seeking)
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

Idle/Sleep power consumption: 1W.

With a Clarksdale chip and an 80 PLUS Bronze power supply, the E20's power
consumption was excellent as expected. The system pulled only 40W measured from
the wall when idle, and 95W on a full CPU load. This is particularly impressive
as the system also has a discrete graphics card. Stressing the GPU with FurMark
drew an additional 20W. The CPU and GPU temperatures were at safe levels throughout
testing, and the hard drive was very well cooled. The internal temperatures
were so good that at no point did any of the fans speed up (as far as we could
tell).

The noise level measured only 20~21 [email protected] and was fairly benign in nature,
though slight vibrations passed by the hard drive to the case producing a faint
electrical buzzing type of sound at close proximity. Using MSI's Afterburner
utility, we were able to reduce the GPU fan speed by 600 RPM resulting in a
small acoustic improvement. Without performing any tweaks, hard drive seeking
was the only thing that made the system louder than 21 dBA. The Seagate drive
inside the E20 produced loud thumps when seeking, pumping up the noise level
to between 23 and 25 [email protected]



The system noise level was 20~21 dBA both idle and on load.



The system noise level peaked at 25 [email protected] when the hard drive was seeking.

Performance

Performance Benchmarks
Model
ThinkStation E20
ThinkCentre A70Z
CPU
Core i5-650 3.2GHz
C2D E7500 2.93GHz
GPU
Quadro FX 580
GMA X4500
RAM
2x2GB
1x2GB
NOD32
4:43
68W
5:24
49W†
WinRAR
3:36
64W
3:56
48W†
iTunes
3:07
69W
3:37
50W†
TMPGEnc
3:24
84W
5:11
57W†
Boot-up*
1:01
0:38
PCMark05
9352
5557
3DMark05
10635
1597
3DMark06
5189
851
*start button to when the desktop loads fully

†after adjusting for screen power consumption

The ThinkStation E20 is one of the speedier complete systems we've reviewed,
but in our timed benchmarks, the Core i5-650 wasn't much faster than the Core
2 Duo E7500 found in the ThinkCentre A70Z all-in-one PC. It really only shone
in our TMPGEnc encoding test, where the i5's Hyper-threading ability gave it
a substantial edge. Most workstation applications should benefit from this as
well and CAD programs should run much faster with the Quadro FX 580 than integrated
graphics. The FX 580 isn't a gaming card though, despite its $160 price-tag,
as it is based on the same chip as the GeForce 9500 GT. It doesn't perform nearly
as well in 3DMark as comparably priced gaming-class cards. For comparison, the
$70 HD 4670 scored 6341 in 3DMark06 on our VGA test system.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR's
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 second segments of room ambiance, then the system
at various activity states. For the most realistic results, set the volume
so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change
the volume setting again.

Audio Recordings

  • 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

Overall we enjoyed our experience with the ThinkStation E20. It is plenty
fast, thrifty in power consumption, and runs cool. It's also surprisingly quiet,
though this might not hold as true if a hotter processor and/or video card is
specified. We're not sure exactly how important noise is for a workstation —
unless it's placed in a fairly quiet room on a desktop rather than on the floor,
the ambient noise in a typical office will probably drown it out even if it
was a few decibels louder.

The case aesthetics won't win any awards, but the interior has an admirable
design. It is well-cooled thanks to a pair of quiet 92 mm fans, and the large
portion of the front bezel dedicated to providing the system with fresh air.
Removing drives and expansion cards is a trivial matter thanks to the tool-less
release mechanisms, so it can be quickly and easily serviced should the need
arise. If Lenovo packaged a similar system in a more attractive case and a desktop
graphics card, it would serve well as a home PC.

Past experience with Lenovo products, and the general business-oriented approach
inherited from IBM's PC division suggests that backup on the E20 will be excellent.
The price might be a bit steep compared to assembling a similar system of components
yourself, but for many businesses, an assembled PC is considered the only viable
choice, and the E20 fits the bill for low noise, energy efficiency, serviceability
and relative eco-friendliness.

Our thanks to Lenovo
for ThinkStation E20 sample.

* * *

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USFF: Green Corporate SFF PC

* * *

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