Introduction and Packaging
Over the past few months we have looked at a few Lenovo workstations, starting with the entry-level P300 and moving on to the mid-range P500. Overall, we found both of these to be powerful workstations that can get the job done.
Now we have the high-performance P900 in the lab, and we are ready to put it to the test. The P900 offers extreme power and performance built around Lenovo's modular tool-less design. We have seen this modular design in the other workstations, but this time it is built to handle the demanding dual-processor configuration.
Lenovo has built fully customizable storage, memory, graphics, power, and I/O configurations into the P900. The P900 also includes advanced deployment services, which makes it easy to load custom images, and has basic tagging for enterprise business class support.
Dual-processor based workstations offer a great deal of processing power, and with that power you need higher-end video cards; the P9000 can pack in three high-end GPUs or Tesla cards to meet this need. To handle large files that a system like this would be working with, the P900 can max out at 24TB of storage and run the OS on a SSD boot drive to make this system very responsive.
Now, let's unbox the new P900 from Lenovo.
The shipping box is well packed with large foam inserts to protect the workstation, and it has plenty of clearance to protect the workstation from anything that might puncture the box. One accessory insert contains the power cord, mouse, documentation, and DVDs. You will find a keyboard tucked in the side of the shipping box.
The keyboard and mouse are as follows:
- Lenovo USB Slim Keyboard (New F5) Win8.1 English
- Lenovo USB Optical Wheel Mouse
We used these peripheral devices in our tests, and we found they worked very well. They aren't particularly fancy, but they work just fine.
The disks that come with the P900 allow for upgrading to Windows 8.1, and they include recovery disks; this is standard for all workstations we have reviewed from Lenovo.
Specifications and Layout
The P900 we received for review came equipped with two E5-2687w v3, 128GB of DDR4, and a NVIDIA Quadro K5200 for graphics support. We would expect this as a starting workstation configuration for a 2P workstation. Depending on graphics needs, there is room for up to three video cards, and these can be upgraded to Quadro K6000s or NVIDIA Tesla GPUs.
The P900 can hold a large amount of hard drives with bays to support up to 14. This means a maximum amount of 24TB of raw storage can be installed in this system.
To back all of the accessories and video cards, the P900 comes with a 1300-watt power supply, which should handle anything that can be installed with no issues. There is also a rail kit for the P900, just in case you want to mount the system in a rack.
Here we get a look at the front of the P900; it looks very much like the P500, but the P900 is larger so it can support the dual-processor based system. This workstation has very clean lines, and we like the black honeycomb mesh that covers the front of the case. This mesh helps to provide good airflow.
The front media bay includes a DVD RW drive, a media card reader, a headphone/microphone combo jack, and four USB 3.0 ports. There is also space for two more expansion drives in this area.
The side of the P900 has a locking level to prevent unauthorized access to the insides of the case. This portion of the case is very simple, and the surface has a nice matt finish to it, so it does not get fingerprints all over it when handled.
At the top of the case, on ether end, there are two knockouts that provide handles for lifting the P900. We found these to be useful because the P900 in not a light machine; these handles make moving the P900 around very easy. We have worked with many other workstations of this type and weight, and so far, the P900 is the only one that has this feature.
On the back of the P900, we see the same black honeycomb mesh that we saw on the front. There are two slots to hold the locking keys for the side panel located here. Here we can clearly see the split arrangement of the PCIe bays with space for one video card at the top and two on the bottom.
On the rear I/O panel of the P900, we find the following ports:
- 1x audio line in
- 1x audio line out
- 1x mic in
- PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports
- 1x serial port
- 2x stacks with 1x LAN and 2x USB 2.0 ports.
- 4x USB 3.0 ports
Here we have taken the side panel off to get a look at the inner workings of the P900. As we have seen with other Lenovo workstations, an air-cooling shroud goes right down the middle of the case and separates the accessory card bays. This arrangement gives us space for one PCIe video card at the top and two at the bottom.
The 1,300-watt power supply is located at the top of the case, and on the far right are the hard drive bays.
The new Lenovo systems are designed to be hands-on and reduce the work required to do upgrades. Each of the red touch points that you see here are locations that can be removed. No tools are required to remove these components. The only items that would require a screwdriver to remove are the CPU heat sinks.
Here is a nice video Lenovo created that shows how all of these components work:
The air-shroud, or as Lenovo calls it, the Direct Cooling Air Baffle, can be removed to access the CPU and RAM area. This new thermal design by Lenovo reduces the number of fans required, and helps to lower noise.
Here we have removed the Direct Cooling Air Baffle so you can see the CPU and RAM area. There is a removable fan at the back of the case that pulls air through the system and exhausts it out of the back to provide cooling in this area. Each CPU has its own heat sink that has an additional fan for cooling.
Looking at the CPU heat sinks here, we can see that each heat sink has its own fan to provide cooling. These heat sinks are comparable to many we have seen in our other reviews, and they provide ample cooling for the CPUs on their own. These heat sinks work in combination with the Direct Cooling Air Baffle and the large fan at the back of the case to provide all the cooling the CPUs and RAM need.
BIOS and Bundled Software
The BIOS for this workstation is typical, so we will only show key BIOS screens.
This is the main BIOS screen that you see when you first enter the BIOS.
This is the Devices Setup menu. This menu allows you to set different audio, network, USB, and SATA properties.
This is the Advanced Setup menu, and here we can see the options that the P900 allows users to change.
The software bundle that comes installed on the P900 is typical of Lenovo workstations.
The first thing that many people do while setting up their computer is take a look at the software bundle that comes pre-installed on the computer and begin uninstalling the bulk of it. On many of the machines we have used in the past, there is a fair amount of junk stuff; much of that is trial-based software that we are not interested in using.
In the case of the P900, we did not find any junk apps, but we did find apps that you should explore and consider before deleting. This is a typical software bundle for many Lenovo products we have reviewed.
You will find the software that we had pre-installed on this P900 listed below. The system we received came with Windows 7 installed; pre-loaded software for Windows 7 includes:
- Adobe Acrobat Reader
- CyberLink Power DVD (on systems with optical drives)
- CyberLink Create(on systems with optical drives)
- Microsoft Office 2013 Trial
- Norton Internet Security 2014 (30-day trial)
- ThinkVantage System Update
- Rescue and Recovery (Ready-to-Install)
- Lenovo Reach (only in US and Canada)
- Lenovo Solution Center
- PC Device Experience
Additional disks included with the package allow for upgrading to Windows 8.1, which includes the following pre-loaded software:
- CyberLink Power DVD (on systems with optical drives)
- CyberLink Create (on systems with optical drives)
- Lenovo Companion
- Lenovo Support
- Lenovo Solution Center
- Norton Internet Security 2014 (30-day trial)
- Password Manager (web install)
- PC Device Experience
- Lenovo Reach (only in US and Canada)
- Norton Studio
The programs we have chosen to remove reflect our personal preferences; these are fine products, and you can decide whether or not you keep them installed. PowerDVD is necessary to have on the P900, so it will stay. We found the Lenovo software very useful, so let's look at what Lenovo has done to make managing the P900 easier for us.
At the bottom-right side of the task bar you will find a red icon with a white cross like the red logo at the top of this picture. Click on this icon to bring up the Lenovo Solution Center, which will be your home for controlling the P900.
Here we see the home screen for the Lenovo Solution Center. At first startup, your screen should look something like this. This tells you that you need to get an anti-virus program, do a hardware scan, register your P900, and complete a backup. We advise you to do a complete backup at this time.
Our backup took maybe 20 minutes and used four DVDs to complete, but we are all set in case something goes wrong.
This is the home screen you will see after you select the first option from the previous step. On the left-hand side you can see all the steps you will need to go through to complete this procedure.
Next we have the System menu. This shows all of the information about the P900. Simply click on each icon to bring up status windows.
Next up is the Memory icon. This shows you how many slots the P900 has, and which ones have a RAM stick installed. You can also see the current amount of memory installed, and the maximum capacity for the P900, and in this case it's 512 GB.
Optimizing performance will simply bring up a prompt telling you to close some programs. Clicking "get more memory" will bring up a Lenovo webpage where you can order additional memory. The Security menu will allow you to set passwords for the P900, turn on the firewall, check virus-protection, and adjust internet connection security settings.
Here we can see the firewall option in the Security menu. You can enable or disable the firewall with just a click of the button.
The check-up option allows you to do a hardware scan, check the device manager, and take backup snap shots. This is useful for diagnosing hardware issues or checking that you have the latest drivers installed.
This will enable you to run a full hardware scan to check for any issues with your hardware that need to be addressed.
The Support menu allows you to connect to online support and check your warranty status. Here you can also check your configuration history and register your P900. Now let's look at some of the other Lenovo apps.
Lenovo SHAREit allows you to share files without network charges or Wi-Fi connection. Lenovo SHAREit eliminates the need for cables, and allows you to wirelessly transfer information between devices at a rapid pace. You can either do this with friends, or you can do it to take your personal content on the go.
Lenovo Reach simplifies your digital life by enabling access to all of your favorite things from all of your devices, regardless of operating system.
Rescue and Recovery is very much like the one we saw in Lenovo Solution Center. It is very easy to do full backups or create a snap shot of the current system.
Here we are looking at the main screen for Rescue and Recovery, which provides a simple way to keep your P900 backed up and recover if needed.
CyberLink Power DVD (on systems with optical drives) and CyberLink Create(on systems with optical drives) are also included and they provide a great way to create DVDs on the P900.
Test System Setup
We used default BIOS settings for all of the tests we have run.
This is the CPUz screen showing the various stats of the Xeon E5-2687w v3 CPUs. These CPUs have a max of 160 watts TDP. These are 10 core CPUs with hyper-threading, giving us 20 cores/40 threads to work with. The CPUs have a stock speed of 3.1GHz, and they turbo up to 3.5GHz. The memory we used in our tests is 128GB of SKhynix DDR4 CL15 2133 MHz. The features of the E5-2687w v3 processors are as follows:
The Intel Xeon E5-2687w v3 processors are very powerful CPUs that are perfect for a workstation like the P900. They have good stock speeds, and they can turbo up to an impressive 3.5GHz.
Many features like VT-x and VT-d can come in handy if you plan to use VMs on the system. Virtualization (VT-x) features lower entry/exit latency, which reduces VMM overhead and increases overall virtualization performance. VM control structure (VMCS) shadowing enables efficient nested VMM usages such as manageability and VM protection.
Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) 2.0 has also been updated to AVX2, which uses 256-bit floating-point SIMD instructions. This will allow you to use up to twice the amount of packed data with a single instruction.
Turbo and AVX Improvements will automatically allow processor cores to run faster than the rated speed and AVX frequencies - if they are operating below power, current, and temperature specification limits.
The video card that came with our system is the NVIDIA Quadro K5200. The K5200 and other NVIDIA video cards available for the P900 make the workstation certified to run many key professional independent software vendor (ISV) applications, including Adobe, Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, SolidWorks, Avid, and Siemens.
The main specification list for the NVIDIA Quadro K5200 is shown here. The K5200 is a powerful workstation video card, and it is able to run demanding applications. The K5200 also provides users with the ability to use OpenCL and Cuba applications on the P900.
Here you can see the GPUz screenshot for the K5200, which gives us a detailed breakdown of the specifications. Now, let's move forward with testing the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 Tower Workstation.
We will show test results from actual workstations we have tested, and not just motherboards. Workstation load outs can affect scores, so workstation scores will be markedly different from the scores of motherboards that have fewer options installed. We will also keep this on same socket setups so we will not mix processor classes.
System and CPU Benchmarks
CINEBENCH R15 is a real-world, cross-platform test suite that evaluates your computer's performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation.
The test scenario uses all of your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral "No Keyframes" animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various algorithms to stress all available processor cores.
The number of cores/threads and the base speed of the CPUs affect the scores in CINEBENCH R15. We can see good single-threaded scores on this benchmark, which shows the strength of the E5-2687w v3 processors.
wPrime is a leading multi-threaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance. This is a great test to use to rate the system speed; it also works as a stress test to see how well the system cooling is performing.
wPrime shows results that are similar to the CINEBENCH R15 results; in this test, more cores/threads will help to get lower scores.
AIDA64 memory bandwidth benchmarks (Memory Read, Memory Write, and Memory Copy) measure the maximum achievable memory data transfer bandwidth.
AIDA64 memory tests show the P900 using Quad-Channel memory has good memory bandwidth. The P900 is displaying very good memory bandwidth here.
The Intel optimized LINPACK benchmark is a generalization of the LINPACK 1000 benchmark. It solves a dense (real*8) system of linear equations (Ax=b), measures the amount of time it takes to factor and solve the system, converts that time into a performance rate, and tests the results for accuracy.
LINPACK is a measure of a computer's floating-point rate of execution ability and measured in GFLOPS (Floating-point Operations per Second); ten-billion FLOPS = ten GFLOPS.
LINPACK is a very heavy compute application that can take advantage of the new AVX2 instruction. As it puts a very high load on the system, it is also a good stress test program.
The E5-2687w v3 processors have very good bandwidth results that are relative to all Haswell v3 CPUs tested here. The peak score of slightly over 774 GFLOPS shows a very strong processor IMC and memory setup. We are very pleased with the results from LINPACK on the P900 Workstation, but CPUs with more cores/threads will show better results.
Geekbench 3 is a processor benchmark that uses single-core and multi-core performance simulating real-world scenarios.
In Geekbench, we see strong scores in both single-threaded and multi-threaded scores. This shows the P900 is a well-rounded system with powerful processors.
PCMark 8 is the latest version in a series of PC benchmarking tools by Futuremark. It is fully compatible with Windows 8, and it can be run in Windows 7.
We see very strong results in PCMark 8, which runs a test on the complete system. Different components like GPUs and storage can have a big effect on these scores.
We also see impressive results with SPECwpc. Some of these tests rely on storage devices to load files; the use of a SSD would boost these scores. You can see the tests on this benchmark that take advantage of extra cores, and you can also see ones that take full advantage of single-threaded speed.
We have had a number of video card in the lab over time, and we thought we would show how some of these cards perform. We no longer have access to many of these cards, so we cannot rerun them on different tests.
The Lenovo P900 workstation we received came equipped with an NVIDIA Quadro K5200 video card. For these tests, we will show AIDA64 GPGPU benchmark results. Let's start with GPGPU Memory benchmark. According to AIDA64:
"Memory Read: Measures the bandwidth between the GPU device and the CPU, effectively measuring the performance the GPU could copy data from its own device memory into the system memory. It is also called Device-to-Host Bandwidth.
Memory Write: Measures the bandwidth between the CPU and the GPU device, effectively measuring the performance the GPU could copy data from the system memory into its own device memory. It is also called Host-to-Device Bandwidth.
Memory Copy: Measures the performance of the GPU's own device memory, effectively measuring the performance the GPU could copy data from its own device memory to another place in the same device memory. It is also called Device-to-Device Bandwidth."
Each increase in video card version shows an increase in each result. Moving to two cards in SLI shows almost double the performance over using just one card. Also according to AIDA64:
"Single-Precision FLOPS: Measures the classic MAD (Multiply-Addition) performance of the GPU, otherwise known as FLOPS (Floating-Point Operations Per Second), with single-precision (32-bit, "float") floating-point data.
Double-Precision FLOPS: Measures the classic MAD (Multiply-Addition) performance of the GPU, otherwise known as FLOPS (Floating-Point Operations Per Second), with double-precision (64-bit, "double") floating-point data. Not all GPUs support double-precision floating-point operations. For example, all current Intel desktop and mobile graphics devices only support single-precision floating-point operations."
Just as we saw in the memory tests, here each increase in video card version shows an increase in each result. Also, moving to two cards in SLI shows almost double the performance over using just one card.
According to AIDA64:
"24-bit Integer IOPS: Measures the classic MAD (Multiply-Addition) performance of the GPU, otherwise known as IOPS (Integer Operations Per Second), with 24-bit integer ("int24") data. This special data type are defined in OpenCL on the basis that many GPUs are capable of executing int24 operations via their floating-point units, effectively increasing the integer performance by a factor of 3 to 5, as compared to using 32-bit integer operations.
32-bit Integer IOPS: Measures the classic MAD (Multiply-Addition) performance of the GPU, otherwise known as IOPS (Integer Operations Per Second), with 32-bit integer ("int") data.
64-bit Integer IOPS: Measures the classic MAD (Multiply-Addition) performance of the GPU, otherwise known as IOPS (Integer Operations Per Second), with 64-bit integer ("long") data. Most GPUs do not have dedicated execution resources for 64-bit integer operations, so instead they emulate the 64-bit integer operations via existing 32-bit integer execution units. In such case 64-bit integer performance could be very low."
Once again, just like in the other tests, each increase in video card version shows an increase in each result. Moving to two cards in SLI shows almost double the performance over using just one card.
UnixBench 5.1.3 and SPEC CPU2006v1.2
UnixBench has been around for a long time now, and it is a good general-purpose bench to test on Linux-based systems.
This is a system benchmark, and it shows the performance of single-threaded and multi-threaded tasks.
This shows the system indexes after a complete UnixBench run. Here we get an idea of how much performance gain we get using multi-threaded applications. However, many applications use single-threaded, so this number is really the base, and a higher clock speed will increase both indexes.
SPEC CPU2006v1.2 measures compute intensive performance across the system using realistic benchmarks to rate real performance.
In our testing with SPEC CPU2006, we use the following basic commands to run these tests:
Runspec --tune=base --config=tweaktown.cfg then int or fp
To do multi-threaded, we add in --rate=40 on the P900.
When SPEC CPU first came out, these tests could take up to a week to run, but since computers have become faster, our tests now take up to four days for a full run.
The user can do many things to effect the results of CPU2006 runs, including compiler optimizations, add-ons like Smartheap, and different commands used to start the tests.
Here, you can see the SPEC scores after full runs for Integer (int) and Floating Point (fp) tests.
Single-core runs show how fast (speed) a CPU can perform a given task. In the multi-core runs, we set SPEC CPU2006v1.2 to use all threads, and this is a measure of the throughput of the system.
The additional core/threads of this system have a huge impact on performance in these tests and really show the amount of horsepower that a dual-socket system has over a single-socket board
Single-threaded results are still very important, but when you need to run lots of those, moving to a dual-socket setup is the way to go.
By looking at the results of single-threaded integer runs, we can get an idea of the speed at which the Intel Xeon E5-2687w v3 can crunch through the different integer tests. Not all CPUs are equal here, and ones that have a higher speed will perform these tests faster. In this case, this is the stock speed of the Intel Xeon E5-2687w v3. Naturally, using an overclocked system or CPUs with a higher stock speed will generate higher results.
Now we run the test using all 40 threads of the Intel Xeon E5-2687w v3 to measure the throughput of the system. In this test, more cores/threads will have a greater effect on the outcome.
Just like the integer tests, we now run the floating-point tests in single (speed) mode. We do see a strong advantage to using the Intel Xeon E5-2687w v3 processors in this test.
Here, we see the results of the multi-threaded, floating-point run that uses all 40 threads of the Intel Xeon E5-2687w v3 processors. Like the multi-threaded integer test, more cores/threads will have a greater impact on the test.
In the single-threaded FP runs we see a strong advantage to using Intel Xeon E5-2687w v3 processors in this test.
Power Consumption and Final Thoughts
We have upgraded our power testing equipment, and we now use a Yokogawa WT310 power meter for testing. The Yokogawa WT310 feeds its data through a USB cable to another machine where we can capture the test results.
To test total system power use, we used AIDA64 Stability test to load the CPU, and then recorded the results. We also now add in the power use for a server from off state to hitting the power button to turn it on, and take it all the way to the desktop. This gives us data on power consumption during the boot up process.
The Lenovo ThinkStation P900 Tower Workstation tops out at close to 550 watts when put under full load; this wattage is about average for systems like this.
Idle power use is in the range of ~80 watts, which is good for a workstation of this type. Adding more drives and video cards will increase this number. Overall, power use and heating were not issues on the P900; the cooling system could maintain acceptable temperatures without a large amount of fan noise.
During the boot-up process the P900 tops out at ~220 watts, then quickly settles down to ~80 watts while sitting on the desktop. The P900 has a typical power-use profile while booting up.
After finishing the testing portion of our review, it is clear the Lenovo P900 is at the high-end of the spectrum for workstation machines.
Lenovo has clearly put a lot of work into creating systems that offer more than the competition. Lenovo created systems that offer real value to the end-user; Lenovo workstations feature creative designs that offer ease-of-use and flexibility that do not lock you into machines that you cannot grow into easily.
We found the tool-less designs were important to the purchase value of these systems. It is extremely easy to get into the guts of these systems to do upgrades and maintenance. Not only do these designs make it simple to access different components, but they also work very well in keeping the system cool and lowering the noise of the total system. The Direct Cooling Air Baffles on the Lenovo workstations may look somewhat unconventional at first, but we find that they do work very well, even with fewer fans than most systems. The fans that are used for cooling in these workstations are not screamers when running at full power; in fact, even with our heavy duty tests like LINPACK, the system stayed cool and made little noise.
We also liked that the P900 comes with a 1300 watt power supply. Many other systems we have seen come with different configurations that often have lesser PSUs installed. This can get you into trouble when you are upgrading with a PSU that cannot handle the loads of the new components. The equipped PSU in the P900 can handle anything that you could install in the system, so it is ready to meet any upgrades you might want to add later.
The P900 also has one of the largest storage options available for a workstation-class machine. The P900 offers built-in flexibility that allows you to customize a load out to meet your requirements, and not what some other company thinks you should run. If you wanted to, you can decided to run your operating system off of a M.2 SSD with a capacity of 1TB, and then use six 3.5" drives, or ten 2.5" drives. You can even mix those up if you want. Flexibility is the key here, and the P900 gives you the freedom to build a system based upon your needs.
Despite the value added by the flexible configuration, we do find the PCIe slot arrangement somewhat strange, and it can hamper some configurations. Today, many applications are more GPU aware, so there is less need for SLI or TRI-SLI bridges to connect the cards. If you do have special requirements for this, then be sure to contact Lenovo to get advice for configuring your machine.
Our experience with the P900 was very positive. We were getting into the machine without even thinking about how this or that might be configured. Graphics cards drop right in, and have power connectors that are easy to access. Accessing the RAM modules was easier with the P900 than with any other machine we have used; there are not a lot of components to block our hands when reaching inside to get at our modules. The end result was that we didn't get our hands and fingers scratched up on heat sinks when we reconfigured our RAM modules.
Just like we saw with the P300 and P500, the software load out is nice and useful without deleting too many bundle packages. We also liked that the P900 came with Windows 8.1 upgrade disks, so if and when you decide to upgrade, you have what you need and do not have to contact Lenovo again.
You can't really go wrong with the P900; it's one of the best built system we have run in the lab to this date, and it has performance to meet any applications you can use on it.
|Quality including Design and Build||97%|
|Bundle and Packaging||99%|
|Value for Money||99%|
The Bottom Line: Lenovo's ThinkStation P900 is designed on Lenovo's revolutionary tool-lees design and upgradeability options. Performance is also key to the P900 with flexible load out configurations to meet user needs. The P900 has all the right features and packs performance to boot.
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