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Dec
7

Lenovo ThinkStation S20 Workstation

by John Brandon

For those new to Linux, or for the hardcore enthusiast who needs a morale boost, there’s nothing quite like installing a powerful, latest-gen distro onto a powerful workstation computer. The Lenovo ThinkStation S20 runs an Intel Xeon W3503 processor at 2.97GHz, has 4GB of DDR-3 PC3-10600 RAM and an Nvidia Quadro NVS290 256MB video card…

S20_01Price: £650
Tech Spec:

OS: Novell SUSE 11
CPU: Intel Xeon 2.97GHz
RAM:  4GB
Dimensions: 426  x 175 x 484mm
Weight: 5kg
www.lenovo.com

Pros:
Seriously powerful with 2.97GHz CPU, 4GB RAM and Nvidia Quadro video card. Four PCI slots, easy-to-open case, carry grip and locking side panel

Cons:
Low-key, no-frills design will not appeal to users wanting a stylish computer on their desktop.  Otherwise there’s nothing to fault

For those new to Linux, or for the hardcore enthusiast who needs a morale boost, there’s nothing quite like installing a powerful, latest-gen distro onto a powerful workstation computer. The Lenovo ThinkStation S20 runs an Intel Xeon W3503 processor at 2.97GHz, has 4GB of DDR-3 PC3-10600 RAM and an Nvidia Quadro NVS290 256MB video card. It is an amazingly powerful business rig meant for serious developers, modelers, video production artists and designers who are not impressed by stylish accoutrements but just need the most bang for the buck. Yet, the real thrill is when you install a business-class distro, such as Novel SUSE Enterprise Desktop 11, which supports 3D accelerated graphics, desktop search component and comes with pro-level apps such as F-Spot (a photo management tool), Banshee (for multimedia management), built-in VPN and even runs the Microsoft Silverlight app out of the box in the Firefox browser. What it means: the S20 is ready for the big leagues and, combined with SUSE 11, is a serious performance machine.

Many desktop computers are designed for the consumer with frilly design patterns and sleek retro case stylings that make your PC look like a spacecraft. The Lenovo S20 is all black and low-key; the only sign that it could work as consumer PC is that it has a memory card reader on the front panel. Otherwise, there’s a grip for grabbing the workstation and moving it across the room, positioning it on a rack or beneath your desk, and there’s a locking side panel to keep out curious admins.

Inside the S20, the features are also designed for professionals. The Quadro NVS graphics card, which SUSE 11 recognised easily, is a dual-DVI workhorse. Although it doesn’t compete with much more expensive cards such as the Quadro CX, which boosts Adobe Photoshop speed in Windows, the Quadro NVS is designed for stability and memory management, especially if you connect two monitors. In tests using GIMP and F-Spot, image editing and management just flew on the S20 without the typical drag and slow-downs caused by other desktops, especially those clogged with too many registry entries in Windows or that do not run DDR-3 memory. Even with the 32-bit version of SUSE 11 (the only one we had handy at the time), the S20 was able to use the 4GB of RAM for speedy operation.

Although Lenovo calls the workstation a system for “digital content creation” and multimedia, the S20 is actually suited to many tasks, including game development. The reason: in tests over several days, the S20 never crashed – not once – and ran applications including OpenOffice.org 3, Evolution, and Firefox without any problems. Yet, the system also worked well for running transcoding apps and using tools such as FFmpeg without any surprises as well. The Xeon processor can handle up to eight independent threads at once or boost a single thread on a single core. This means you can fire up FFmpeg and run a video conversion on an MPEG file while checking your email, playing a windowed version of Wolfenstein in the background without the usual hiccups.
The S20 is also easy to upgrade. There are plenty of PCI expansion slots (four that are easy, five if you replace the Quadro card), but more importantly the case is easy to open and access. We also liked that the S20 comes with a three-year warranty and, with Novell SUS running, you can also tap into the Novell tech support system, which is important in a business environment. Overall, the S20 is a rock solid system, one we heartily recommend, and costs about the same as those frilly desktops.

Verdict: 5/5
Underneath the low-key design, the S20 is one seriously powerful computer. In our tests, it flew through tasks, ran applications without any problems  and never crashed. A superb, ultra-reliable workstation.
John Brandon

S20 - Inside

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    • Jason

      You had me until you mentioned “pro-level apps such as F-Spot (a photo management tool), Banshee (for multimedia management)”. Why are GNOME fanboys always pushing their under powered software suit when users would be much better served with the much more powerful and robust KDE alternatives, like Digikam and Amarok? If people are choosing Linux over Windows it is because they are intelligent. Why push them to use dumbed down GNOME?

    • Paul

      John, where exactly is this available for £650? The Lenovo website lists the item as a minimum of £917 ex VAT and that’s with only a Xeon 1.86Ghz processor…

    • Saxophone

      We don’t know how, but Linux was installed using the next steps:

      1.- Put the default Bios configuration.
      2.- Install a fresh any distribution of linux (we try with fedora 15 and ubuntu 10.04, 64 bits both )
      3.- changed the Bios configuration ( activating the RAID )