Lenovo ThinkStation S30 Desktop Review

The Lenovo ThinkStation S30 is a workstation that combines powerful graphics processing with the number-crunching capability of the Intel Xeon processor. The S30 caters to 2D- and 3D-content creators, mid-range CAD applications, and professions that require a blend of performance and graphics computing capabilities.  To facilitate the latter, the S30 offers a comprehensive range of discrete graphics solutions and support for large amounts of system RAM.

So how does it fare, and how easy would it be to deploy it in your small and mid-sized business?

ThinkStation S30 Hardware Specifications

The ThinkStation S30 comes with a single Intel Xeon EP processor and a configurable range of graphics processing units (GPU). Discrete graphics options range from the Nvidia Quadro 400, Quadro 5000 or even the Tesla C2075.

The review unit that Lenovo sent over came with an Intel Xeon E5-1620 (3.6GHz) processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, a 1TB 7,200rpm hard disk drive (HDD), a 16x DVD RW DL drive, and an Nvidia Quadro 2000D graphics card. Unlike the Quadro 2000, the Quadro 2000D offers two Dual-link DVI ports with no DisplayPort. This lets you connect the workstation directly to monitors with DVI ports – still the far more commonly available option, without the need to fiddle with adapters.

The system runs on Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. The review configuration as outlined above costs $1,840.

Lenovo ThinkStation S30

Figure 1: The ThinkStation S30 offers a compelling blend of performance and graphics computing capabilities.

In terms of external connectivity, the ThinkStation S30’s rear panel sports a whopping 10 USB ports eight of which are USB 2.0 – the other two are USB 3.0; you’ll also find two USB 2.0 ports on the front panel. I would have expected more USB 3.0 ports as default, though the option exists to add an USB 3.0 adapter. An integrated Gigabit Ethernet port offers network connectivity.

The S30 we tested also came with an optional 25-in-1 media card reader that fits into its sole 3.5-inch bay. The card reader supports practically every memory card format that we can think of, including the Memory Stick, CompactFlash and various SD formats. Needless to say, this $20 option should be a prerequisite for professionals who deal with multimedia.

ThinkStation S30 Exterior and Internal Layout

A stout top-handle that’s flush with the front panel makes the ThinkStation S30 easy to move around without hurting yourself on metal protrusions. For security, a cover-latch mechanism holds the removable side panel in place, and you can lock it during transport or to prevent unauthorized access.

An integrated key holder on the back helps ensure that you don’t misplace the keys, and, for more security in high-risk locations such as retail outlets, there’s a keyhole for an external padlock to further secure the side panel in place. There’s also a Kensington lock slot just above this keyhole to make no one walks off with the system.

We opened the ThinkStation S30 to its potential in terms of upgrading and maintenance. This can be important to harried small business IT professionals tasked with all matters relating to computers — including upgrading existing machines to prolong their usable lifespan.

The S30’s internal layout is well designed with cables tucked neatly away and memory slots and drive bays easily accessible. True to its claim as a design workstation, there are a total of eight DIMM slots with six free to accommodate up to 128GB of RAM. A total of three internal HDD bays use plastic trays that hold the hard drives in place without screws, and RAID options are available when customizing a new machine.

Finally, you can install new expansion cards by simply lifting up a plastic holder to access the second (free) PCIe x16 slot, two PCIe x4 slot and legacy PCI slot. Moreover, a detailed diagram on the inside of the side panel clearly highlights all the important components.  

Lenovo touts the ThinkStation S30 workstation’s ease of maintenance and upgradability as a differentiator, and we have to concur on this front. Overall, we were impressed by the clean layout and tool-less access to its interior, which allows for easy maintenance and upgrades of key components.

ThinkStation S30 Support and Services

Beyond standard priority support options and warranty upgrades, you can ask to have the ThinkStation S30 tagged with a flexible asset tag based on your specifications prior to delivery. While asset tagging isn’t usually an issue with smaller businesses, mid-sized businesses will certainly appreciate having machines properly tagged right out of the box.

Finally, Lenovo offers a KYD (Keep Your Drive) service for greater peace of mind should your storage drive fail while the system is under warranty. This gives businesses the assurance that their data stays secure and not subject to potential data leakage if it is returned to the manufacturer.

Real-life Experience with the ThinkStation S30

Booting up the system took a snappy 30 seconds, and the system was whisper-quiet during normal operation. The volume of the fan did become noticeable during benchmarking tests, though it is not something most people are likely to notice.

Being familiar with the speedier performance of solid-state drive (SSD)-based systems, we did notice a brief lag resulting from the S30’s traditional HDD when we launched certain heavy duty applications. Indeed, the system scored well in practically every category of the Windows Experience Index, garnering scores of 7.7 for Processor and Memory, as well as 7.0 for Graphics, but a comparatively paltry 5.9 for the HDD.

Lenovo offers an SSD option for people who require faster disk performance, though that will set you back by an additional $480 for a 128GB SSD. Given the steady decline in the prices of SSD, this is somewhat overpriced, and SMBs are better off acquiring an SSD for the S30 through retail channels. Overall, the system clocked a respectable 3231 in the Futuremark PCMark benchmark.

Bottom Line

With a starting price as low as $899, the ThinkStation S30 offers great starting value with easy maintenance and good upgradability potential to extend its usable lifespan. For jobs that require big processing/graphics power and can’t be done on a laptop or Ultrabook, the S30 fulfills a needed niche as a mid-range workstation for graphic designers and professionals.  

While the ThinkStation S30 offers a large range of customization options, it’s worth noting that certain selections, such as upgrading to an SSD, may cost more than some SMBs are willing to pay.

Paul Mah covers technology for SMBs for Small Business Computing and for IT Business Edge. He also shares his passion for and knowledge of everything from networking to operating systems as an instructor at Republic Polytechnic in Singapore, and is a contributor to a number of tech sites, including Ars Technica and TechRepublic.

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