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Lenovo ThinkStation C20 review

£2,306 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Lenovo

Our Rating: We rate this 4 out of 5

The Lenovo ThinkStation C20 is a workstation PC that could serve as a number-crunching powerhouse with a small footprint, a graphic artist's tool for 3D and video, or as a software development platform.

The Lenovo ThinkStation C20 was designed to have a substantially small footprint without sacrificing performance. Having the ability to attach up to eight displays also makes it ideal for tracking several trading boards at the same time - as well as making its transition into a 3D graphics computer a natural.

Lenovo claims that the Lenovo ThinkStation C20 is the smallest dual-processor workstation currently available. Given its 130x444x427mm dimensions, I tend to believe them.

The system is available with a variety of memory, graphics, hard, and optical drive options. The base unit comes with a single 2GHz Xeon E5503 processor, 1GB RAM, an NVIDIA Quadro NVS290 (with 256MB) and a 250GB hard drive, usable as a low-end workstation.

The review unit (£2,306) is powered by dual Intel Xeon 5640 processors. Each CPU has four cores delivering 8 virtual threads; it operates at 2.66GHz with a maximum turbo frequency of 3.06GHz. (Intel's TurboBoost technology allows the processor to scale between base and maximum clock speeds, depending on how many cores are in use and how heavy the workload is on each core.)

The Lenovo motherboard uses an Intel 5520 chipset. The system also includes 6GB DDR3 RAM, a 500GB hard drive and a DVD R/W optical drive.

See also: Group test: what's the best desktop PC?

What turns the ThinkStation C20 from a simply powerful system to a graphics workstation is the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1800 graphics card, a high-end solution that contains 192 CUDA parallel processing cores and 768MB of memory. It's not part of NVIDIA's latest line-up of professional graphics cards, but is just one generation behind.

Even though the ThinkStation C20 is compact, it does offer some expansion possibilities. There are two PCI slots and two available 3.5-inch bays for additional internal hard drives. However, because the second processor is tucked in under the DVD R/W drive there are no additional externally accessible 5.25 options.

The front of the case offers two USB 2.0 ports plus microphone and headphone jacks. Around back you'll find eight more USB 2.0 ports, two S/PDIF digital audio ports and the usual six analog audio outputs.

Lenovo ThinkStation C20: tested

To test the Lenovo ThinkStation C20's 3D graphics rendering talent, I used a benchmark called SPECviewperf 11, which measures the 3D rendering performance of systems running under OpenGL. The test was developed and distributed by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC). I used a resolution of 1920x 1200 pixels.

The benchmark's test files, called viewsets, are developed by tracing graphics content from actual applications. Current viewsets represent graphics functionality in Autodesk Maya 2009, CATIA V5 and V6, EnSight 8.2, LightWave 3D 9.6, Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 5.0, Siemens NX 7, SolidWorks 2009 and Siemens Teamcenter Visualization Mockup.

In order to provide a comparison, I also ran that benchmark on a high-end gaming PC from Digital Storm called Black OPS Assassin. The Assassin is equipped with an Intel Core i7 930 2.8GHz (3.2GHz/3.9Ghz overclock) and 6GB of DDR3 RAM, and it carries a pair of NVIDIA GTX 480 graphics cards in SLI configuration.

I wanted to know whether a less-expensive gaming platform that had been optimized for graphics could be an alternative for a powerful, but very pricey, business graphics system such as the ThinkStation C20. However, the Assassin beat the ThinkStation C20 only when using the EnSight 8.2 viewset -- which deals primarily with wireframes, 2D polygons and textures. Otherwise, the ThinkStation C20 trounced the Assassin across the board.

Lenovo ThinkStation C20 Expert Verdict »

Intel Xeon E5640/2.66GHz
Intel 5520 mainboard
6GB DDR3 SDRAM (24GB max)
RAID - Serial ATA-300 500GB, 7200rpm hard drive
NVIDIA Quadro FX 1800, 768MB
Integrated sound card (High Definition Audio)
Mouse, keyboard
Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet
10x Hi-Speed USB - 4 PIN USB Type A (2 front, 8 rear) microphone - input - mini-phone 3.5mm (1 in front) headphones - output - mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm (1 in front) storage - eSATA - 7 pin external Serial ATA network - Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000Base-T - RJ-45 audio - line-In microphone - input audio - line-out (front surround) audio - line-out (rear) audio - line-out (centre/subwoofer) audio - line-out (side surround) audio - SPDIF input audio - SPDIF output 2x audio / video - DisplayPort - 20 pin DisplayPort display / video - DVI-Analog/Digital (dual link) - 29 pin combined DVI
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition
  • Overall: We give this item 8 of 10 overall

The Lenovo ThinkStation C20 obviously demands a premium price - but, as its performance numbers prove, it's a premium computer. For graphics professionals, the Lenovo ThinkStation C20 could represent a real increase in productivity. You just can't get that kind of outrageous performance level on the cheap.

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