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Lenovo ThinkStation S10 Packs High-Performance Computing in a Petite Package

By David Cohn

The Lenovo ThinkStation S10 looks modest, but packs a lot of performance in an affordable package.
The Lenovo ThinkStation S10 looks modest, but packs a lot of performance in an affordable package. The ThinkVision L220X 22-in. LCD monitor is a perfect complement.

IBM introduced its first personal computer, the IBM PC, in 1981, and for years the IBM name was synonymous with the PC revolution. But today, you won’t find the IBM name or logo on a single PC. In 2004, Lenovo acquired IBM’s Personal Computer Division. Since then, the company has continued the much-vaunted ThinkPad line of notebook computers while replacing the IBM IntelliStation workstation line (which we last reviewed in 2003) with the Lenovo ThinkStation.

Launched in November 2007, the ThinkStation brand includes two models, the dual processor D10 and the single processor S10. For this, our first review of a Lenovo workstation, the company sent us a ThinkStation S10 workstation based on an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 processor.

Outside the Package
The ThinkStation S10 comes housed in a simple black case measuring 6.87 in. x 18.75 in. x 16.5 in. tall, with a removable handle adding two more inches to its height. According to Lenovo, the handle is designed to make it easy to carry, move, and manage the system. Weighing just 31 pounds, the system is certainly light enough to move around. The top portion of the front panel houses two 5.25-in. drive bays, one of which contains a 16X DVD +/- RW dual-layer optical drive.

Below these bays is a smaller bay containing a 9-in-1 media card reader as well as a panel containing the power button, two USB ports, a FireWire (1394) port, and headphone and microphone jacks. Icons above these ports are illuminated, making them easier to locate in low-light conditions.

The rear panel provides eight additional USB ports as well as PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, a 9-pin serial port, two RJ45 LAN ports, and five audio jacks and an S/PDIF connection for the built-in SoundMAX high-definition audio. Add-in boards provide two more FireWire connections and Lenovo also included a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi sound card that included five more audio jacks and two more S/PDIF connections.

Lifting a small level on the tool-less chassis is all that it takes to remove the side panel to access the interior. There we found an ATX motherboard manufactured by Lenovo and based on the Intel X38 Express Chipset. This chipset supports up to 8GB of dual-channel DDR3 memory, dual PCI Express x16 graphics, and multi-core CPUs.

Lenovo ThinkStation S10 Packs High-Performance Computing in a Petite Package

The single CPU socket contained an Intel Core 2 Quad processor with a large heat sink and cooling fan. Although Lenovo offers a range of processors, we were quick to note that the Q6700 is an older CPU based on a 65-nanometer (nm) process, rather than a newer 45nm design. Although it provides the same 8MB of L2 cache, its front side bus speed is a more sedate 1066MHz. The motherboard provides four DIMM sockets for up to 8GB of memory. Our evaluation unit came with 2GB installed as a pair of 1GB ECC SDRAM modules.

There are also a total of five expansion slots: two PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slots, a PCI-Express x4 slot, and a pair of standard PCI slots. One of the x16 graphics slots was filled with a NVIDIA Quadro FX4600 graphics board and — in a nod to the fact that higher-end graphics boards are often twice as thick as entry-level boards — Lenovo left a gap between the two x16 slots so the NVIDIA board didn’t block access to the adjacent slot because there was no slot to block. The two PCI slots were filled with the aforementioned FireWire and Sound Blaster boards.

The system drive cage provides three 3.5-in. drive bays with quick-release acoustic dampening rails. Our system came equipped with a pair of 250GB Seagate Barracuda 7200rpm drives configured in a RAID 1 array; they appeared as a single 250GB drive with full-time redundant backup. The BIOS also supports RAID 0 and RAID 5 support and the motherboard supports up to six SATA drives.

The 650-watt power supply provides ample energy, and the system was virtually silent after its initial startup, in spite of the fans on the CPU, rear panel, power supply, and graphics card.

Plus the Monitor
Lenovo also sent us a ThinkVision L220X 22-in. LCD monitor with a native resolution of 1920×1200. The flat panel measures 13.62 in. x 20.0 in. x 3.0 in. (HxWxD) and ranges from 15.25 in. to 19.25 in. tall on its tilt/swivel/pivot base. Both digital and analog connections are provided as well as four USB ports.

The panel has a brightness of 325cd/m2 and an excellent 1200:1 contrast ratio. Five buttons in the lower-right corner of the bezel let you select between input ports, control brightness, and access the onscreen menu.

Sporting the same black color as the workstation and priced at only $499, the monitor makes an excellent addition to the Lenovo ThinkStation.

Lenovo ThinkStation S10
> Price: $2,589 as tested ($799 base price)
> Size: 6.87-in. x18.75-in. x18.50-in.
    (WxDxH) tower
> Weight: 31 pounds
> CPU: Intel Core 2 (Quad Core) Q6700
> Memory: 2GB DDR3 SDRAM at 1067MHz
> Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600
> Hard Disk: two Seagate Barracuda 250GB
    SATA 7,200rpm drives in a RAID 1 array
    (redundant 250GB drives)
> Floppy: none
> Optical: 16X DVD+/-RW Dual-Layer
> Audio: onboard integrated SoundMAX HD
    audio (microphone, line-in, front speaker,
    rear speaker, center/subwoofer, and
    S/PDIF) plus Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi
    Sound card (microphone, front speaker,
    rear speaker, center speaker, subwoofer,
    and 2 S/PDIF)
> Network: dual integrated Broadcom
    NetXtreme 5755 Gigabit LAN
> Modem: none
> Other: One 9-pin serial, ten USB 2.0,
    three IEEE 1394a FireWire, PS/2 keyboard,
    PS/2 mouse, 9-in-1 media card reader
> Keyboard: 104-key Lenovo USB keyboard
> Pointing device: Lenovo optical wheel   

Powerful Graphics Lead Performance Results
Since we had never tested a Lenovo workstation before, we were quite anxious to see what kind of performance the company’s engineers were able to achieve. We’re pleased to report that the Lenovo ThinkStation S10 turned in the fastest SPEC viewperf scores recorded to date on most of the datasets.

We initially chalked up the excellent graphics performance purely to the inclusion of an ultra high-end NVIDIA graphics accelerator. But when we compared the results to other systems we’ve recently tested, we noted that the Lenovo ThinkStation S10 actually outperformed the HP xw8600 workstation on nearly all of these tests in spite of the fact that the xw8600 used the same graphics card yet had a faster CPU.

When we turned our attention to the SPECapc SolidWorks benchmark, which is more of a real-world test (and breaks out graphics, CPU, and I/O performance separately from the overall score), the results were more in line with what we expected. The ThinkStation S10 performed well, but it lagged slightly behind the HP xw4600 on every aspect of the test.

The AutoCAD rendering results proved to be significantly better, however, with the Lenovo ThinkStation S10 completing the AutoCAD 2008 rendering in just over 2.5 minutes, the fastest time yet for a system with just four processor cores.

Lenovo rounds out the ThinkStation S10 with a very nice 104-key Lenovo keyboard (both USB and PS/2 versions are available) as well as a Lenovo optical wheel mouse. The system came preloaded with Windows XP Professional 32-bit, but based on the company’s website, that optional downgrade may no longer be available. The only operating systems now shown online are Windows Vista Business (32- or 64-bit) and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (64-bit). Lenovo backs the system with a three-year limited onsite warranty.

The high level of performance we experienced proved even more pleasurable after we checked the system price. Base systems start at just $799. As configured, our evaluation unit is currently selling online for $2,589 (not including the monitor). That makes the Lenovo ThinkStation S10 a price/performance leader — an absolutely perfect system for midrange CAD applications.

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Contributing Editor David Cohn is a computer consultant and technical writer based in Bellingham, WA, and has been benchmarking PCs since 1984. He’s an applications engineer with The PPI Group, and the author of more than a dozen books. Please send comments about this article to DE-Editors@deskeng.com. You can also contact David at david@dscohn.com.        

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Digital Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.