- Solid build quality
- Lots of expandability
- Low power draw
- Not enough front-facing ports
- No USB 3.0
Quiet, capable and offering excellent build quality, the ThinkStation E20 is a good option for those in need of a workstation's benefits in a slimmer, more efficient package.
In recent months, computer companies have started to turn their aim from the biggest and baddest workstations possible to providing end users with what the industry calls a “workstation-class solution” at desktop prices. Enter the ThinkStation E20. Billed as the little workstation that could, does this slimmer workstation still pack a punch worthy of the name? Read on for our full review.
- Processor: Intel Core i6-650 @ 3.20GHz (Dual-core with HyperThreading)
- Memory: 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 2 1333MHz (2 x 2GB)
- Hard drive: 500GB SATA @ 7200RPM
- Optical drive: DVD+/-RW SuperMulti
- Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX580 with 512MB graphics memory
- Operating system: Windows Professional 64-bit
- Networking: Gigabit Ethernet
- Power supply: 280W internal, 80% efficient
- Warranty: 3-year limited onsite
The Lenovo ThinkStation E20 workstation desktop computer starts as low as $449.00 when purchased without an operating system. As configured, our review unit carries a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1,224.00.
Build and Design
Honestly, the build and design section of a Lenovo review is almost superfluous. We’ve yet to see a desktop come out of their factories without excellent build quality. On the business side, it’s really one of the things that sets Lenovo apart from the rest of the pack. You want find lots of glossy cheap plastic here; instead, almost the entire case is constructed of a reasonably thick aluminum. As usual, the guard on the front of the machine is constructed of a matching black plastic, as is the sturdy handle on top. This is mentioned in almost every Lenovo review, but that handle is such an iconic and useful part of Lenovo’s ThinkStation design that it would be a shame if they ever got rid of it.
On the bottom are four chunky rubber legs which serve to protect any work surfaces upon which the E20 might be set. Additionally, the legs are thick enough and constructed of such a material that they serve to protect the machine from stray vibrations as well transmitting internal case noise to the external environment. The sides of the machine are sparse, with little in the way of design features and a surprising lack of vent holes for the fans. The left side of the machine shows the Lenovo logo inset into the upper left and a depression in the center right. This depression is actually the means of entry into the ThinkStation E20’s internals; pressing a thumb into the circle disengages an internal lock and allows the side panel to pulled free of the machine.
Just behind the front of the grate on the machine’s face lies a small speaker setup. It’s not great for listening to any kind of music, but it’s perfectly suited to alarms and test results. The “hidden” speaker is a useful addition that many other manufacturers have started including in some of their business and workstation PCs.
Obviously, given that Lenovo is selling the ThinkStation E20 as a smaller workstation capable of competing with the big boys, parallels must be drawn between it and another recent effort, HP’s X200 Ultra-small From Factor workstation. The HP is certainly thinner than the E20 at about 60% of its width, though the HP is roughly the same size when it comes to the other two dimensions. The E20 may be thicker, but that thickness allows for the use of standard sized optical drives and expansion cards the slim versions of which are often significantly more expensive if they’re available at all.
Inputs and Expansion
Workstations are designed to input lots of information, process it and spit it back out in a reasonable amount of time. It’s therefore helpful when manufacturers include sufficient numbers of inputs like USB and FireWire ports as well as open card slots so that end users can take advantage of the desktop’s processing capability without being hindered in getting their data on and off of the machine. In addition to the optical drive and 25-in-1 card reader, Lenovo added two USB2.0 ports as well as audio in and out jacks to the front of the machine. More USB ports would be useful; two can be filled more quickly than one might think. One 5.25-inch drive bay remains open.
As with most desktops, the lion’s share of the port selection lies in the rear. The offerings are surprisingly sparse, with Lenovo cutting out almost all legacy ports. That’s a rare move for a business-oriented PC; it means there are no PS/2 ports (useful if a company decides to lock down its USB ports) or parallel ports. Lenovo did add a serial port, which still enjoys use in some sectors that employ very specific equipment.
There are also six more USB2.0 ports – no USB3.0 to be found on this machine – as well as Gigabit Ethernet and line in, line out and microphone jacks. If the ThinkStation is configured with integrated graphics, there are both VGA and DisplayPort options built into the motherboard. This review unit was configured with a discrete graphics card solution, which means there were an additional two DisplayPort outputs as well as a DVI-I port. When discrete graphics are present, the integrated video outputs are covered in a proactive attempt to prevent customer confusion.
Sliding the previously mentioned door off of the machine reveals a sparsely-populated and surprisingly neat interior. Wires are tied up and largely kept out of the way should customers need to get in and add or remove components. Lenovo designed the interior to be mostly tool free – that means that items like optical drives or hard drives can be slid in and out of their respective racks without needing to hunt down a screwdriver.
There are two drive bays open – one 5.25-inch externally-facing one as well as one 3.5-inch internal. The second 3.5-inch bay sits on the floor of the machine, and like its mate holding the system’s single hard drive, it uses a handy pull system to add and remove drives. Push in the tab, pull out the handle, and the tray can be populated or emptied without additional tools.
Four DIMM slots for memory sit to the right of the processor and offer a maximum configuration of 16GB with filled with 4GB sticks. Two are empty in this review unit. Similarly, there are four expansion card slots on the bottom of the motherboard; one, the PCI-Express x16 slot, is taken up by the discrete graphics card. The other three, one PCI-Express x1 slot and two PCI slots, remain empty.