Lenovo ThinkStation P Series: Two Processors, No Waiting

ThinkStation P-Series

Lenovo today added three high-end workstations to its ThinkStation P Series, joining the entry-level P300 system that introduced the line in May. The dual-Xeon systems are no bigger than a standard mini-tower, and after seeing their innovative design firsthand, the CRN Test Center believes they could be the easiest and most versatile to configure, service and maintain they've come across. The new systems were unveiled at Siggraph 2014, which is taking place in Vancouver, B.C., all this week.

Test Center editors got a sneak peek at Lenovo's latest high-performance workstations at a confidential briefing in late July. Here's a look at them inside and out.

Small Yet Powerful

"These are the smallest dual-processor systems in the industry," claimed Rob Herman, Lenovo's director of workstation product management and vertical solutions, at ABC's The Chew studios in New York. Despite their diminutive stature, the company's workstations can, at the highest end, cram a terabyte of RAM, 14 SSDs, four discrete GPUs along with the usual array of ports, including USB 3.0 and dual gigabit Ethernet.

"When redesigning the P-series machines, our engineers were all about reliability," Herman said. To that end, Lenovo employs an innovative three-path cooling system with a honeycombed grill that maximizes airflow through the cabinet while minimizing the comingling of hotter and cooler air from different internal components.

No Tools Required

Lenovo had working systems at the event, and Herman was demonstrating the incredibly high degree of serviceability inherent in the new cabinets. Components such as fans, drives and expansion cards are easily serviced; most major vendors are doing that these days. But Lenovo takes it a few steps further. With the press of its red release button(s), service techs also have quick access to the power supply and even the motherboard, all without tools of any kind.

Of course, this required a good amount of re-engineering and a deviation from off-the-shelf parts. But the upshot is quick, tools-free turnaround and a component compartment that's almost completely devoid of cabling, as shown next. Most components are labeled with QR codes for easy identification with a smartphone or tablet.

Cable-Free Zone

The lowest-end of the three new systems is the ThinkStation P500, a one-socket system that supports as much as 512 GB DDR4 RAM in its eight DIMM slots, 11 storage devices (including one slot-based) at speeds up to 32 Gbps, seven expansion slots and up to two discrete GPUs.

There's also on-board support for RAID 0. 1, 5 and 10, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire and USB 3.0. All that in a cabinet that's just 17.3 inches high, 18.5 inches deep and 6.9 inches wide. Cables are routed to a dedicated storage bus or the underside of the motherboard. Lenovo said the P500 is intended for workers doing CAD/CAM, 3-D, and architecture and product design.

ThinkStation P700

Next up the line is the ThinkStation P700, which packs a second Xeon socket, second Gigabit Ethernet port and 12 DIMM slots into the same 17.3 inch-x-18.5 inch-x-6.9-inch cabinet. Its maximum capacities include 768 GB of DDR4 RAM, 12 storage devices (including two slot-based) at speeds up to 32 Gbps, seven expansion slots and up to three discrete GPUs.

The P500 and P700 models are available with a choice of 490-, 650- and 850-watt power supplies to best match the system's initial requirements or to scale along system expansion. According to Lenovo, the P700 is suited to media editing and production, animation and special effects, and financial and medical-imaging applications.

ThinkStation P900

The P-Series pinnacle is the dual-Xeon ThinkStation P900, which supports a maximum of 1,024 GB (one terabyte) of DDR4 RAM in 12 DIMM slots. Its cabinet is 2 feet deep and close to 8 inches wide, making room for 10 expansion slots and up to four discrete GPUs plus dual Gigabit Ethernet.

It can house 14 drives, of which eight are internal, two are accessible externally and another four are slot-based. The P900 comes only with a 1,300-watt power supply and is intended for companies involved with oil and gas exploration, pharmaceutical research, CAE/FEA/CFD, and image rendering and visualization.

'Inspired By Beer'

Innovations in ThinkStation P-Series models to help optimize service time include a diagnostics port readable by any Android app, a flexible external drive bay that can combine a slim-profile drive and a media-card reader or FireWire port, and a drive tray that accepts either a single 3.5-inch drive or two 2.5-inch drives. A mezzanine connector system permits card-based deployment of high-speed SATA, SAS or PCIe storage without using up any PCIe slots. All systems have integrated carrying handles that no longer protrude.

"That was inspired by beer," said Herman, which drew chuckles from reporters. "Prior models had handles that stuck out from the chassis, which not everyone liked." The new systems will be available to Lenovo resellers starting in late September.