The Lenovo P300 SFF Workstation Review
October 28, 2014 12:57 am
“We engineered the P Series with new levels of innovation based on extensive customer feedback. The result for users is optimum performance, outstanding reliability and unparalleled usability”
-Victor Rios, vice president and general manager, Workstation, Lenovo
Lenovo and the Workstation Computer
Lenovo is a international computer technology company with operations in over 60 countries, although its primary offices are in Beijing, China, and Morrisville, North Carolina, U.S.. Founded in 1984, the company grew rapidly. In 2005, Lenovo acquired IBM’s personal computer business. By acquiring IBM, in addition to the ThinkPad brand and IBM’s advanced personal computer technology, Lenovo also “accelerated its access to foreign markets,” in particular, the United States. At this point, Lenovo had zero market share in the workstation market around the world which was (and still is) dominated by Dell and HewlettPackard.
Fast forward 9 years later and Lenovo has an amazing 14% of the workstation market as of the 2nd quarter, 2014. How did Lenovo accomplish this remarkable growth? After spending a month with Lenovo’s new P300 workstations, I believe they accomplished this through committing the company to producing high quality workstations that get the job done. Lenovo’s workstations are also competitively priced and can function as effectively as other workstations that are much more expensive.
After meeting with Lenovo at Siggraph 2014 in Vancouver, B.C., and getting a hands-on look at their new P-series workstations (you can read the P-series press release here), I found myself wanting to review one of them. Lenovo contacted me and eventually I was sent their entry level P300 SFF (small form factor) to review.
I wanted to work with an entry-level workstation because this is where someone who is looking to buy their first workstation will most likely start. Plus, I wanted to see for myself how Lenovo’s P300 series would stack up to my own home-built media workstation.
The Lenovo P300 SFF Series Workstation
I was delighted to discover that setting up the P300 SFF took about 10 minutes. All component input/outputs on the rear of the PC are easily understood and are fairly standard. I had the computer powered up and at the Windows 7, 64-bit desktop in less than 30 seconds. The unit is essentially soundless, even at peak computing, which is a blessing.
Lenovo has packed a lot of power and innovation in a small package. Measuring only 13.3” by 15.5” by 4”, the P300 SFF is less than half the size of my own full tower workstation. And yet there are just as many USB ports (2 USB 2.0 on the front of the computer and 2 USB 2.0 & 4 USB 3.0 on the rear) along with the standard ports like VGA, RJ-45 and Mic/Rec line and line out. There’s a nice single-slot 9 in 1 card reader just above the single DVD drive which is optional.
I really like the aesthetics of the P300 SFF ThinkStation design. It’s a dark, metallic black with a honeycomb screen on the front. The case is simple, but has a reasonable amount of space to work in despite its small form factor, and it’s entirely toolless, so it’s easy to add/remove components. The interior of the case is well designed with 1 3.5 disk drive bay and 3 2.5 disk drive bays. The smaller 2.5 bays are perfect for the increasingly popular SSD (solid state) disk drives.
My P300 SFF review unit came with 8GB’s of DDR3 system memory (can be expanded up to 32GBs) and a 1TB 7,200 SATA hard drive, both of which are slightly above average for an entry-level workstation and should work fine for most digital media tasks. You can easily upgrade if you need to, although the PCI cards are smaller, which might limit your expansion card choices a bit. This is where the P300, which is a standard form factor, might be a better choice.
The workhorses of the P300 SFF workstation are the 3.5GHz Intel Xeon E3-1241 v3 processor and Nvidia Quadro K600 graphics card. These cards are entry-level in their classes, but are still quite powerful and will easily serve the needs of most basic media creation and rendering tasks.
While testing can quantify a workstation's performance compared to other models with similar hardware configurations, I don’t think it’s the best way to evaluate how well a particular workstation performs. You really have to actually work with the workstation on a daily basis to get a real feel for how it performs in all kinds of tasks.
I did do some basic testing using my own home-built workstation (now 3 years old) as a baseline (see notes below for configuration). I knew that the P300 SFF would most likely outperform my 3 year old workstation, especially in testing the CPU, as mine is an overclocked Intel i-7 3.0GHz and the P300 SFF is the faster Xeon 3.5 GHz, but I wasn’t sure by how much.
As you can see from the chart above, the P300 SFF outperformed my baseline workstation overall by approximately 10% - 15%. The only real advantage my workstation had was in the Cinebench scores, which are interesting, but not that important if you are using the P300 SFF or the P300 for mostly 2D or Media/Video work. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti on my workstation will generally outperform the P300 SFF’s NVIDIA Quadro K600, but in actual practice the difference wasn’t that significant.
What began as a day or two working solely with the Lenovo P300 SFF turned into a week. And then that week turned into a month. I nearly forgot I was using a new workstation hooked up to my monitor. And I did everything I normally do with my workstation: edit video, mix audio, create 2D art, video conference with collaborators, work with 3D applications like Cinema 4D R16 and Blender and produce/edit photos/media in Adobe Photoshop CC and After Effects CC. I even got in some game footage capture for a machinima project I’m working on.
Not once did the P300 SFF crash or blink. Even during testing, the Lenovo workstation outperformed my own computer by a good 10% in practically every area. The only real difference was that my own workstation has a mid-level GPU that processes game graphics much better than the P300’s NVIDIA K600, which is primarily geared towards rendering and 3D media production. Still, even the K600 produced decent frame rates in games like Second Life, Half Life 2 and Diablo 3.
I am very impressed with Lenovo’s new P-series workstation line. Lenovo rebuilt their entire workstation design with the P-series. They re-imagined the idea of the workstation based on customer feedback and smart use of current technology/engineering. If the P300 SFF is any example, the more advanced P700 and P900 (their top of the line models) are racehorse workstations indeed. I was perfectly happy to keep the P300 SFF and send Lenovo back my old workstation. But, sadly, I couldn’t do that. ;-)
What I can do is tell you that if you are looking for an entry-level workstation, look no further than the P300 SFF, or the straight up P300 Tower, where you can add a faster processor, higher-grade GPU and standard height PCI cards. Both workstations are very well produced and perform like champs. And the P300 and P300 SFF are competitively priced, considering the value you get with these excellent workstations.
The Lenovo P300 SFF workstation computer has my highest recommendation. The workstation is a perfect balance between power and value. Based on my experience with this workstation, my next computer will be a Lenovo workstation.
Lenovo P300 SFF starts as low as $729, but the version the company sent me is priced at $1,125.99. The key additions on this review unit were the NVIDIA Quadro K600 GPU and the Intel Xeon E3-1241 v3 (3.5Ghz) CPU, which I believe are essential for this workstation to be effective. I recommend this configuration. Full info on both the P300 SFF and the P300 are available at the Lenovo website.
My baseline workstation consists of: The Asus P6T Deluxe V2 Mobo, an Intel Core I7 920 CPU overclocked to 3.0Ghz, 8 Gb of high performance ram memory, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti GPU and a 600Gb Western Digital Sata harddrive.
My source on Lenovo’s workstation market share is the Jon Peddie’s Workstation Report Q2, 2014.
I’d like to thank Lenovo for sending me this excellent workstation to review. Special thanks to Cassidy Lammers for her support.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
October 26, 2014
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