Lenovo ThinkStation S20 Workstation Review - HotHardware

Lenovo ThinkStation S20 Workstation Review

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IBM has been a name synonymous with computers and technology for nearly 30 years. That point alone leaves little doubt as to why Lenovo moved to acquire IBM’s Personal Computing Division in 2004. When the acquisition was finalized in 2005, Lenovo instantly became a global PC leader. Over the past four years, Lenovo has worked hard to become a household name. With slick product lines, like the IdeaPad, ThinkPad and the IdeaCentre, that goal is gradually becoming a reality.

One place where Lenovo probably hasn’t had to work quite as hard at making inroads, is the corporate environment. As IBM began phasing out its products, its business customers found a natural replacement in Lenovo, especially since Lenovo basically just took over IBM’s product lines. Now, Lenovo is trying to innovate and take things further. IBM’s notebooks were known for being durable, solid performers, and from what we’ve seen, Lenovo has maintained that legacy. Additionally, IBM’s workstations were known for being excellent, no-frills powerhouses. In this product spotlight, we'll see if Lenovo is successfully carrying on that tradition as well.

To that end, we have a Lenovo workstation – the ThinkStation S20 - on our bench for some testing. Some of you may be wondering what a “workstation” really is. Well, it’s a term more commonly used in a business environment, especially one in which CAD/CAM design, 3D rendering or high performance computing occurs, and it basically just refers to a higher-end desktop or laptop. In the environments we’ve worked in, we’ve heard workstations referred as high-end desktops or laptops, tech PCs, and technical workstations. In this context, workstations (at least the desktop variety) are frequently comprised of components you typically see in servers. In particular, the motherboards, memory and processors are often server class. It is also not uncommon to find workstations sporting high-end storage controllers and hard drives. The ThinkStation S20 we are evaluating today sports a 2.93GHz Intel Xeon W3540 processor, 4GB ECC DDR3 memory, a 500GB SATA hard drive, and an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 video card. This Lenovo workstation is definitely packing some serious horsepower. Keep reading to see just how well this powerhouse performs.

Lenovo ThinkStation S20
Specifications and Features
Intel Xeon W3540 Processor (2.93GHz 1066MHz 8MB L2) - 130W
Nehalem-EN Architecture

Operating System
Windows Vista Business 64-bit


Graphics Card
NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 192-core (1.5GB DVI + DP + ST)

Motherboard / Chipset
Intel 36S Motherboard / X58 - ICH10R

Integrated Gigabit Ethernet LAN


Integrated Audio

Hard Drive
500GB 7,200RPM SATA Hard Drive

Optical Drive
Lenovo 16x DVD +/- RW Dual Layer

Expansion Slots
2 x PCIe x16 slot
1 x PCIe x4 slot
1 x PCIe x1 slot
1 x PCI slot

Rear Panel I/O
1 eSATA port
8 USB 2.0
1 serial port
1 optical S/PDIF-out port
1 optical S/PDIF-in port
1 RJ45 LAN port
Center/subwoofer, rear R/L and side R/L jacks
Line-in, line-out (front R/L) and mic-in jacks
3 x 3.5" Internal Bays
2 x 5.25" External Bays
1 x 3.5" External Bay

Power Supply

625W Power Supply


  • Ergonomic removable top handle
  • Front-access media ports with illuminated icons and a recessed power button
  • Superior cable management
  • Premium side cover latch for easy access to internal components
  • Innovative thermal design with optimized fan placement, for a cooler, quieter, more reliable PC
  • All ThinkStation models are rack-mountable
  • ISV certified
  • More environmentally friendly: now EPEAT Gold qualified, with up to 26% post-consumer recycled plastics
  • GREENGUARD certified
  • Included Accessories and Extras
    Driver CD
    Power cord
    ThinkStation Safety and Warranty Guide
    Quick Setup Guide
    Lenovo Preferred Pro USB Full Size Keyboard
    Lenovo Optical Wheel Mouse - USB Primax 400 DPI

    Warranty And Support
    3 Year Limited Onsite Warranty

    Price: $3,645 USD (as configured here)

    Smooth Creations Logo

    If you took the time to scan through the specs and features above, you may have noticed that hefty $3,645 price tag on our test S20. First off, it's important to realize that the S20 workstation starts at around $1,000, which means our evaluation unit has some big-time upgrades. And secondly, workstations typically carry higher price tags when compared to standard business desktops. Just looking at a couple of the individual components will shed some light on the matter. The Intel Xeon W3540 CPU (Intel Xeon Nehalem-EN "Bloomfield" core) carries a $550 street price, while the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 video card costs about $1500.  Whether or not components like these are worth their premium prices will have to be something you determine for yourself and will no doubt be dependent upon your budget, scope of work you do and your overall usage model.

    Intel Nehalem-base Xeon W3540 Quad-Core Processor
    The heart of the Lenovo ThinkStation S20

    Another fact we want you to be aware of is that Lenovo also sells two-socket workstations under the D20 name (the "S" in S20 is for single, and the "D" in D20 is for dual, as in dual socket). If you are making use of applications that can take advantage of multiple cores, then it may be worth stepping up to a D20. Keep in mind, though, that the Xeon W3540 in our evaluation S20 is a quad-core CPU with Hyper-Threading, which means it has 8 effective cores.  Xeon 5500 series chips support multi-socket installations and as such can scale to an even higher number of physical and logical cores for intensively multithreaded applications.

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    The Quadro FX 4800 is a mainstream equivalent of a GeForce GTX 260. Yes, that is some serious horsepower in a workstation. Still kinda confused what a workstation, but know enough to see that I don't want to use this as a gaming rig, lol.

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    And just about any serious workstation provider will allow you to employ dual FX 4800 cards (or even two FX 5800), as well a two Xeon 5500 series cards, and require the appropriate memory configurations.

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    Why didn't you include other workstations for your comparisons? Is this your deliberate choice or ignorance?

    Xi, Colfax, Polywell, Puget -- and Dell, HP.

    Please do a serious workstation review!

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    hko45 - we didn't have other workstations available, but that's a good idea for the future.

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    Your article gives the impression that Lenovo is a major (significant) workstation player and the box you're reviewing is a good representation of the workstation offerings. At the very least, you might have put your review in a proper context by listing some other workstation builders as places your readers can do their own research.

    BTW: a good review might be to compare configurators at different sites. As far as workstations are concerned, the HDD selection section at Dell is a real weak spot. For example: This is what I want (dream) my HDD setup to look like: HD1 - two SSD (SLC) in Raid 0 for OS & programs, HD2 is a moderately fast drive (scratch disk) and HD3 - (4) 1-1.5 TB SATAs in Raid 10 for storage. (Yes, this is optimozed for PhotoShop)  You can't do that on Dell's site, while the Colfax site lets you do that (close, anyway). Money wise, I think Xi, Colfax, & Polywell have the best value for workstations.


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    I believe Dell and HP are the biggest workstation providers by far, but Lenovo is one of the bigger names after that (thanks in large part to its IBM heritage). I had intended to mention at least Dell and HP as other workstation vendors, but I forgot to do so. I saw one of the new HP Z workstations in person several months ago, and it was one of the coolest machines I've ever seen. The design is incredible...the tool-less features are awesome.

    I have heard of most of the other vendors you mentioned. I'm not sure how other companies work, but I work for a pretty big company and I'd have a hard time selling lesser known (unknown to most people) names to my management. I work for a company with 2,000-3,000 workstations for engineers, and I'm 99.9% sure I'd get a few raised eyebrows for suggesting Xi, Colfax, Polywell or Puget workstations over Lenovo, Dell or HP (we use Dell's by the way for workstations and Lenovo for portable workstations). We have to consider price, support processes and ISV certifications before many other factors.

    Good feedback on the configurators. That is an important thing for buyers to be aware of. But, another thing to keep in mind is that Dell may work wih you to configure your workstation as you mentioned.

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    While Dell & HP may be the largest (units or $$) (in the tradition of the super gaming machine), you might ask which vendors are providing really top-end workstations for video, photo, & design houses. I.e., who are the elite workstation vendors? I still like Xi or Colfax here.

    As for configurators, yes I expect Dell to tell me that they can configure my HD setup the way I want once I start talking to a sales person. But I want a tool that helps me compare comparable systems without having to get to the sales pitch. And lest you think I was wholly enamored of Colfax's configurator, it falls down in the area of memory selection. It's tool allows you to choose just about any combination of modules, so much so that you can really mess up your system. (Give me my memory options in matched increments of 3GB; double if using dual CPUs -- enough versatility without letting you screw up too much).

    As for Lenovo, once I heard the rumors about the possibility of planting hardware malware, I swore off having anything to do with a mainland China vendor.




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