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09-07-2016

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Help me buy my first ThinkStation (20-yr ThinkPad user confused about specs)

2021-07-22, 14:51 PM

I started fully-remote job last month, so I want to upgrade to a desktop and not wear out my ThinkPad T460s.  I work in scientific computing, and also do light video editing (on DaVinci Resolve) for my friend's small business.  I want a desktop that is powerful and no-nonsense, with a dedicated GPU and ample RAM and storage.  I'm not necessarily committed to Lenovo, but it's the first place I'm looking since I'm used ThinkPads since way back when IBM owned them.

 

I have a lot of questions about specs.  I have done a lot of research, but it's hard to find anything outside gamers reviewing systems and I know these have specific biases.  I want a machine that will last a long time and be reliable because it's primarily for my job.  I don't mind upgrading parts myself, but I don't want to constantly tinker with my work machine.  I expect to invest in this system, but I don't want to throw money at stuff I won't use.  I'm not of the opinion that "bigger is always better" - but my T460s (Intel Core i5-6200U CPU @ 2.30GHz, 8 GB RAM, integrated GPU) struggles with video editing and won't be able to accommodate all the scientific computing I need to do.  I need maybe 2-3 steps up from this?  I use AWS for a lot of my work, but the more computing I can do on my own machine, the more money that saves the young startup I work for.  I plan to run the desktop with a 27" 4K Acer CB282K monitor (one for now...will upgrade to two of these).  I also use Windows AND WSL2 for work.

 

Here are some of my questions:

1. Very simple - where can I find the actual dimensions of the ThinkStations (I guess I'm primarily looking at the P340, P340 SFF, and the P520)?

 

2. Can someone comment on the performance of these GPUs available with these machines?  From what I read, they're all laptop GPUs, but they're very expensive.  In particular, the Quadro P1000 is several years old and adds like $640 to the cost.  What's the performance difference between this and the (newer, but with half as much RAM, P620)?  What about between these and the RTX 4000 8GB available with the P520 (that adds $1,130...so I'm hoping that's overkill for my needs).

 

3. Graphic Card MiniDP Dongle - what is this for?

 

4. Optional third video port - what is this for, and why would I need it (and what about the second video port??)?

 

5. USB-C rear adapter - what is this for?  Is that the only USB-C port the machine would have?  If I want to run an external drive, I'd want to use USB-C I assume.

 

6. Storage options.  We have "PCIe SSD" available with the 340s and "M.2 PCIe" available with the 520.  I'm pretty certain in this day-and-age I'd want M.2 at the very least for boot-up and running my programs.  Maybe SATA for faster I/O storage for files I work with every day (especially my larger genomics files), for cost savings.  I could use an HDD for long-term storage of photos and videos, but this could be external.  The question is what actually ARE these different storage options?  Are they both NVMe?

 

7. Is there any reason to add a second PCIe drive if you're not using RAID configuration?

 

8. PS2 port cable - what is this for?

 

9. Ethernet adapters.  Integrated vs. BN8E88 1000M PCIe vs. Intel I210-T1.  I don't think I need any of these if I permanently WFH, right?  Integrated would be fine?

 

10. Lots of parts here in general cost WAY more than they do off-the-shelf (like, adding 4 or 8GB RAM costs hundreds of dollars...this one I really don't understand?)  Given this and the fact that a 1-2 gen-old processor would probably be amply powerful, I've also considered buying a used ThinkStation and upgrading it myself.  If I get a new 340, for instance, with the base 4GB RAM (I'm sorry to Lenovo, really...but $175 to add 4GB extra RAM is ludicrous), I'll need to immediately upgrade this RAM.  I assume opening the box voids the warranty.  And honestly, 8GB RAM is not enough for me to utilize the other stuff I'm adding, but I'm not willing to pay $350 for 16GB RAM (or $405, if I go with the P520).  But I'm also not willing to use the computer as-is for 3 yrs until the warranty expires.  So I guess the question here is just what are others' thoughts on buying a used or refurbished ThinkStation with whatever GPU I can find in it and upgrading RAM and storage myself?  (I know...good luck finding them...it's difficult).

 

I'm hoping folks in this forum are more business- and productivity-oriented and thus can help me find a good match for my needs.

 

That said, I don't expect any one person to sit down and answer all 10 questions. I know this is a lot!  But I'm really lost. I'm hoping that by posting here, I can take advantage of the "collective brains" of a lot of people answering one or two questions each.

 

Thank you in advance!

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2202 Posts

07-22-2010

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Re:Help me buy my first ThinkStation (20-yr ThinkPad user confused about specs)

2021-07-22, 14:57 PM

Welcome to the forums.

 

You can start with the PSREF(product specification reference) site for at least one of your questions.  Below is the link for the P340 tower model.  It will provide specifications.  Maybe other members can chime in on your other questions.

 

https://psref.lenovo.com/Product/ThinkStation/ThinkStation_P340_Tower

 


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7 Posts

09-07-2016

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Re:Help me buy my first ThinkStation (20-yr ThinkPad user confused about specs)

2021-07-23, 16:33 PM

Thanks.  That kind of halfway answers a couple of my questions.  But I appreciate the link because I had not come across it before.  In the end I think I will look outside of Lenovo.  I realize my use case is kind of atypical: I'm not a business, but I need a high-powered desktop for work and my company is not providing it.  But I hope I will find a helpful community within some brand/service somewhere who can assist me in getting the right machine.

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5193 Posts

02-22-2010

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Re:Help me buy my first ThinkStation (20-yr ThinkPad user confused about specs)

2021-07-24, 4:07 AM

I'll try to respond to each question.  But as you mentioned...it's a lot :).

 

@ jaero wrote:

1. Very simple - where can I find the actual dimensions of the ThinkStations (I guess I'm primarily looking at the P340, P340 SFF, and the P520)?

 

The PSREF is a decent place to start, but I think the Lenovo Workstation Tech Specs site probably has a LOT more detail you might find helpful.  Note that this site is also listed in the pinned thread toward the top of the ThinkStation forum.

 

@ jaero wrote:

2. Can someone comment on the performance of these GPUs available with these machines?  From what I read, they're all laptop GPUs, but they're very expensive.  In particular, the Quadro P1000 is several years old and adds like $640 to the cost.  What's the performance difference between this and the (newer, but with half as much RAM, P620)?  What about between these and the RTX 4000 8GB available with the P520 (that adds $1,130...so I'm hoping that's overkill for my needs).

 

Not sure where you're getting your info, but the GPUs used in desktop ThinkStation systems are certainly NOT all laptop GPUs.  We tend to qualify the Quadro (well now formerly Quadro) GPU lineup from Nvidia.  There is also limited support for some GeForce cards and AMD GPUs.  GPU performance is really going to depend on what type of workloads you're using.  The RTX4000 is a Turing class GPU, so it's a generation newer than the Pascal based P620.  In most cases, the newer the GPU architecture, the better the performance will be.  But that comes at an added cost obviously.  So the trick would be to find the right balance of performance for your workloads that fits within your budget.  Also for reference, Ampere is Nvidia's latest architecture.  So Turing cards are essentially N-1 now, and Pascal cards are N-2.  That's not to say those cards are bad, but putting it in some perspective.

 

@ jaero wrote:

3. Graphic Card MiniDP Dongle - what is this for?

 

 

Some GPUs only come with miniDP (mini Display Port) outputs.  Most monitors lack a miniDP connection, so the miniDP dongle is a short dongle that converts the miniDP connection to full DP.  It's a very common dongle.

 

@ jaero wrote:

4. Optional third video port - what is this for, and why would I need it (and what about the second video port??)?

 

P340 comes with two standard onboard graphics ports...both full size Display Port (DP).  A 3rd onboard graphics port (DP or HDMI) is optional.  Note that the functionality of these ports can be CPU dependent, so check the CPU specs for your config if you need this.  These ports allow you to connect multiple displays and control them with the onboard Intel graphics controller.

 

@ jaero wrote:

5. USB-C rear adapter - what is this for?  Is that the only USB-C port the machine would have?  If I want to run an external drive, I'd want to use USB-C I assume.

 

P340 has a single USB-C port standard on the front panel, along with 4 x type A ports.  The rear IO consists of 4 x type A ports.  If you need a rear USB-C port, you'd want to use this adapter.  If you're OK running off the front panel port, you likely wouldn't need it.

 

@ jaero wrote:

6. Storage options.  We have "PCIe SSD" available with the 340s and "M.2 PCIe" available with the 520.  I'm pretty certain in this day-and-age I'd want M.2 at the very least for boot-up and running my programs.  Maybe SATA for faster I/O storage for files I work with every day (especially my larger genomics files), for cost savings.  I could use an HDD for long-term storage of photos and videos, but this could be external.  The question is what actually ARE these different storage options?  Are they both NVMe?

 

 

P340 supports M.2 NVMe.  There are two onboard slots capable of supporting 2280 spec drives (22mm x 80mm).  There are also 4 available SATA ports that are capable of supporting SATA SSD or SATA HDD.  What you choose is up to your performance requirements, capacity needs, and budget.  But in terms of performance, a good rule of thumb is NVMe > SATA SSD > SATA HDD.  Note that if needed, you can also add another M.2 NVMe drive to an open x4 PCIe slot (typically slot 3) via an adapter.

 

@ jaero wrote:

7. Is there any reason to add a second PCIe drive if you're not using RAID configuration?

 

Sure...if you need more space or something as NVMe capacity points can be kind of low.  RAID would require 2 drives, but the inverse is not true (i.e. 2 drives doesn't always mean RAID is used).

 

@ jaero wrote:

8. PS2 port cable - what is this for?

 

This is a cable that connects to the motherboard and then attaches to the rear wall of the chassis in order to provide standard legacy PS2 mouse and keyboard ports.  These are the old school round purple and green connectors you used to see on all PCs.  

 

@ jaero wrote:

9. Ethernet adapters.  Integrated vs. BN8E88 1000M PCIe vs. Intel I210-T1.  I don't think I need any of these if I permanently WFH, right?  Integrated would be fine?

 

There will be a standard integrated gigabit Intel adapter that provides a RJ-45 (ethernet) port for network.  This is fine for most applications.  If  you want to use wifi, you shoul be able to select that option in the configurator.  We offer the Intel and Bitland PCIe based NICs as a means of adding a second ethernet port to the system for customers that need that.

 

@ jaero wrote:

 

10. Lots of parts here in general cost WAY more than they do off-the-shelf (like, adding 4 or 8GB RAM costs hundreds of dollars...this one I really don't understand?)  Given this and the fact that a 1-2 gen-old processor would probably be amply powerful, I've also considered buying a used ThinkStation and upgrading it myself.  If I get a new 340, for instance, with the base 4GB RAM (I'm sorry to Lenovo, really...but $175 to add 4GB extra RAM is ludicrous), I'll need to immediately upgrade this RAM.  I assume opening the box voids the warranty.  And honestly, 8GB RAM is not enough for me to utilize the other stuff I'm adding, but I'm not willing to pay $350 for 16GB RAM (or $405, if I go with the P520).  But I'm also not willing to use the computer as-is for 3 yrs until the warranty expires.  So I guess the question here is just what are others' thoughts on buying a used or refurbished ThinkStation with whatever GPU I can find in it and upgrading RAM and storage myself?  (I know...good luck finding them...it's difficult).

 

There's a lot that goes into determining the cost of a system and components, and I'm purposely not going to go into a lot of detail on that.  But part of what you're paying for when buying a fully configured system from an OEM (such as Lenovo) is the guarantee that the parts used will be fully qualified and supported.  If something breaks or there's a HW problem, the service team will engage to help resolve it.  You're very likely not going to get that level of service from a 3rd party vendor if you're simply buying components off the shelf.  Do you have to purchase components such as memory from Lenovo?  Certainly not.  You can add your own and it won't necessarily violate the warranty (opening the system doesn't invalidate the warranty).  But if something goes wrong with that memory, Lenovo service is not necessarily going to be on the hook to debug that problem for you as it's a non-qualified part (most likely).  For some components, there is little risk in doing this.  For others, and I'd put memory at the top of that list, there can be a lot of risk taken on by somebody doing their own upgrades.  It all comes down to your risk tolerance and doing your homework when purchasing the HW.  Also note that field upgrading systems with qualified Lenovo Option parts or Lenovo FRUs would essentially keep you in that same category of support as if you had purchased the parts originally in the system in Lenovo.  This can sometimes end up being a more expensive path though.

 

 

Hope that helps.  I think that might be a record for the largest number of in-line quotes I've ever put in a response :).




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7 Posts

09-07-2016

United States of America

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Re:Help me buy my first ThinkStation (20-yr ThinkPad user confused about specs)

2021-07-26, 1:56 AM

Thank you so much.  This explanation is enormously helpful.  Indeed, the Lenovo warranty is part of the reason I am looking at ThinkStations in the first place.  My ThinkPads have always performed flawlessly...I think I still have an R model (from back in the IBM days) and both of my parents were part of the PS/2 launch so I was actually wondering if that PS/2 port referred to the same one originally launched with the PS/2.

 

Thank you again!  I really appreciate all your time.

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