Lenovo thinkstation/nice server/workstation

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UhClem

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I had started looking for a Xeon W-21xx workstation ~3 months ago and was seriously attracted to the P520. The seller (in OP) had a barebones item (same as OP config but no cpu/ram) for $87 shipped. Was selling well, and month later they raised price to $102; then $112. Then stopped offering it bare, only offering various (non-bare) configs. I got "scared off" by the weight; Lenovo specs state 52 lbs. for "max config" with no "minimum" or "typical" mentioned anywhere. I'm an old fart and can't wrangle like I used to. (Went with HP Z4 G4 instead; 22/25/38 lbs, min/std/max)

For the P520, both the "quantity" sellers (OP one & a Texas one) have 900w PSU for ~$45, and motherboard for ~$50. Many other parts also reasonable on ebay ... [except the one you need! :)]
 
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Samir

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I have a Z600 and Z620 and while I really like the design I don't like the custom PSUs. I never had a problem with them but in case they fail I'm left with getting the custom unit from HP on the used market. The trays are custom as well but that's the price one pays for higher-tier workstation-class PCs. One day the trays will fail since they're plastic.

I received a barebones P920 several weeks ago and am allocating the time to complete setting it up.
To me, that used market supply for these older systems is gold since everything ends up being very cheap for still quality stuff. By the time the power supply (or anything else fails), you will have already wanted to upgrade anyways.

Will be interested to hear your thoughts on the P920 since you have the z600 and z620. I love my z600 as well--nice quite desk side server.
 

Samir

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Dude i own Z420 so i know its thermal design is terrible(didnt held up to TDP increases of GPU) and no amount faith in big brand proprietary workstations is going to convince me othervise.

Best design is rack-like cooling:
Push fan-wall and exhaust-pull is best design everything else is just compromise or cost saving so you decide go with proprietary skimped design or get modern "gaming" case or put your rack case with fan wall.
Modern gaming cases have similar fan cooling arragement as servers why would that be?

But this is about P520 for 180USD with just 2 fans should be ok....
If would choose i would go for better cooling/silence anytime.. let viewers decide...
lulz--okay dude. I have a 3 slot old school monster gpu in mine along with all that ram that I completely forgot about because it 'just works'. And did I mention it's 80F+ in that room?

Of course rack cooling is the best--but you were whining about 'fan noise', so pick 2--performance, quiet, cost because you're only getting 2 of the three.

Gaming cases are for looks or workstation builders would use them. Lian Li is one of few companies that make good cases and not many gamerzzz are going to be spending money on them, hence why they're not the mainstream in that market.

Yes, the buyers of this P520 will decide--not you or me. But the fact that 189 are already sold as of this post means something...
 

Samir

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Oh, no. I put an RTX 3060 with RGB in my P520. I have the RGB set to white to match the look of the stock lighting on the front panel labels. I think it adds a nice bit of ambiance. Do I have to delete my STH account now? ;-)
If you were putting that in a co-lo, then yes. :p For your own niceties, sure why not! But most people here with bigger labs wouldn't be doing that.
 

rtech

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Jun 2, 2021
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lulz--okay dude. I have a 3 slot old school monster gpu in mine along with all that ram that I completely forgot about because it 'just works'. And did I mention it's 80F+ in that room?

Of course rack cooling is the best--but you were whining about 'fan noise', so pick 2--performance, quiet, cost because you're only getting 2 of the three.

Gaming cases are for looks or workstation builders would use them. Lian Li is one of few companies that make good cases and not many gamerzzz are going to be spending money on them, hence why they're not the mainstream in that market.
- If your fine with 120mm/80mm 2010-like arrangement thats okay but even you have to admit that:
Intake fanwall140mm/120mm + 120mm exhaust is better in performance/quietness metric than lenovos 2010s era design for slim looks.
This might come as suprise to you but lenovos120/80 arragement is there for looks.
Thin looks good and its secretary approved can be put under monitor.
The gamers have more room to play with and LED fanwall in front looks good(i dont like it) and it performs better.

I was writing about cooling layout which new gaming cases use. Which is similar to server cooling layout why do you think this convergent evolution happened? 12900 is like 200w tdp and rtx 3090 350w ish
 

klui

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Feb 3, 2019
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Will be interested to hear your thoughts on the P920 since you have the z600 and z620. I love my z600 as well--nice quite desk side server.
EDIT: Lenovo Performance Tuner
EDIT: typos/wording, and lack of block diagram.

Sure.

I never thought about getting a Lenovo workstation as I've been using HP's Z series for so long. The Z600 and Z620 were acquired new and they have been on practically 24x7 without any significant issue. Although I once purchased a 2nd CPU for the Z620 on eBay but it didn't work. So I'm unsure if it's because of the motherboard or the CPU. My Z620 never came with the special back plate that slotted into the 2nd CPU carrier. I am disappointed the Z620 doesn't have a physical second socket while the Z600 does. I thought about getting the Z640 but HP reduced the internal 3.5" drive bays back to two, the same as the Z600 so lost interest in the Z series at that time.

While browsing eBay I saw a Lenovo P720 for something like $500 and it piqued my interest. I still use dual optical drives and that is my primary requirement. My secondary requirement is at least three internal drive bays. I need at least PCIe gen 3 for networking; I'm not gaming anymore and only need an OK graphics card for video playback and occasional transcoding.

What's compelling about the P7x0 and P9x0 are each bay can accept two SATA/SAS drives--2.5" and 3.5"--using one carrier. I don't think the P520 has that capability. The backplane is typically attached to the motherboard's two mini-SAS HD (SFF-8613/SFF-8643) ports. But connecting the backplanes to the onboard mini-SAS HDs can only allow six drives to be used due to the Intel onboard controller. Using a PCIe controller will allow all eight ports to be used. Having one carrier mount two drives is a problem because configuring redundancy will require some planning. Many P920s do not come with a second backplane so I purchased another along with carriers. There are models meant for the P720/P920 for around $60 while there are ones for the P710/P910 for $20 with two carriers. The P720-/P920-specific backplanes do not come with carriers. I'm not sure of the difference so I purchased both.

The P920 permits mounting three 5.25" external drives. That is a plus because I can use the 3rd bay for whatever else I need. I have one of those 2x 2.5" drive chassis for 5.25" bays should I need to attach it. It's been sitting under my desk unused for 5 years. On the motherboard there are four additional SATA ports. Three are designated for the 5.25" bays (with only three power connectors) with one more for eSATA. The eSATA port can be reconfigured as a normal SATA (disable hot-plug) in the BIOS.

Talking about the BIOS, I am not a fan of graphical BIOSes so was pleasantly surprised to find I could change the interface to old school text. When I got the system the BIOS showed Intel AMT was enabled but no way to disable--those options were dimmed. The BIOS was dated 2020 and when I upgraded it to the latest released this year, AMT could be unconfigured. I typically PXE boot and run some Linux live distro on systems I acquire for testing. Lenovo's Linux BIOS updater doesn't work with the BIOS originally programmed so I had to install Windows.

I have WinPE set up and after I PXE booted it through the onboard i219LM (AMT-capable) ethernet controller (bottom one) it wouldn't see a connected cable. The other interface (i219) was able to see a cable and connect to my network to complete installation. Installing Windows was uneventful. The P920 allows one to distinctly control legacy/UEFI for each class of components to boot (network, storage, USB, etc.). I still use legacy PXE. There is another setting in the BIOS to control overall legacy/UEFI boot preference.

Back at the hardware level, the P920 has five PCIe x16 slots, three PCIe x4 open-ended slots. Three x16 slots are tied to CPU2. It's unusual the reference and user guides don't have a block diagram, especially for an engineering workstation. Each CPU provides 48 PCIe lanes and three x16 use all available lanes. There are only four remaining lanes when counting the other slots. Perhaps the onboard SATA controller uses those four lanes and the USB and optical SATA, eSATA ports are tied to the C621 chipset. Lenovo has a program that monitors performance and I think it's similar to HP's Performance Advisor. HP's program shows a block diagram. I'll update this post if I find out anything. Lenovo's Performance Tuner only allows application affinity. It shows a dashboard-like for system capacity but no diagram. I'll need to use Linux's lspci to see more details.

There is the ability to mount two M.2 drives but my barebones did not come with the carrier/heatsink so I had to get that, too.

I use the serial port on my Z620 in my lab and I found some USB-to-serial adapters don't work well with cygwin on my Z620 so I require the physical port. The P920's port does not have a standard header so I had to get that as well. The part description is not obvious but I found the part number on Lenovo's forums. The secret is using the part description "P920 com2".

Overall the system is quite heavy and maybe 4-6" longer than the Z600/Z620. The seller packed it very well with what appears to be original corner foam material.

Finally Lenovo touts a bunch of stuff you can connect to it such as Thunderbolt and the like. Thunderbolt requires an addon card that requires a passthrough cable between the card and the GPU. The motherboard has a dedicated header for the card. HP's Z8 Gen 4 has similar requirements. The motherboard has connectors for two more USB 3 connectors. Interestingly the motherboard has two fan headers for optical drives. I've never seen that before.

While I'm waiting for parts, I just installed two sticks of 32GB memory, two Xeon 6152s, Nvidia Quadro 2000, and a Samsung 850 Pro 1TB drive. The UPS and other powered-off systems used ~25W. After the system booted up to Windows it idles at ~110W which includes the 25W used by the UPS and other systems' PSUs/IPMI.
 
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ghost792

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Jun 19, 2023
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What's compelling about the P7x0 and P9x0 are each bay can accept two SATA/SAS drives--2.5" and 3.5"--using one carrier. I don't think the P520 has that capability.

Interestingly the motherboard has two fan headers for optical drives. I've never seen that before.
The P520 uses different drive carriers than the P720/920. The P520 carriers are nice in that they accept either 2.5" or 3.5" drives without an adapter.

Lenovo has a 5.25" bay accessory that combines a slimline optical drive with a mount for a storage drive (maybe two 2.5" in some cases). Those add-ons have fans for cooling the storage drives.
 
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klui

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Huh, that's interesting. I wonder why Lenovo used different trays. The way the P720/P920s are designed the drives are mounted in opposing positions, meaning the drive connectors are always at the outer corners (drive bottom face outwards). The drive has designated places for 3.5 and 2.5 drives. I would imagine one could rotate the tray 180° if necessary to get it to insert.
 
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ghost792

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Huh, that's interesting. I wonder why Lenovo used different trays. The way the P720/P920s are designed the drives are mounted in opposing positions, meaning the drive connectors are always at the outer corners (drive bottom face outwards). The drive has designated places for 3.5 and 2.5 drives. I would imagine one could rotate the tray 180° if necessary to get it to insert.
It looks like the P720 and P920 drive trays are carryovers from the earlier P500/510/700/710/900/910 ThinkStations.

The P520 and P620 use the same trays and they have a fancy folding feature that lets you use 2.5" and 3.5" drives with the same tray. Not sure why Lenovo changed the trays for the P520/620, though.
 
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Navy_BOFH

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lulz--okay dude. I have a 3 slot old school monster gpu in mine along with all that ram that I completely forgot about because it 'just works'. And did I mention it's 80F+ in that room?
My company only uses HP gear for our customer environments - to the point they build some custom equipment for us as well. I have been pulling Z420s out of service in 2022/2023 that customers are MAD we are migrating them to newer hardware because "the current stuff works just fine". Z440s were in the phase-out as well but got pushed back slightly as they run Win10 still - but 420s were becoming "way overdue" considering the decision to not perform in-place Win10 upgrades on live 911 centers.

I am just surprised someone would mention thermals/longevity since these are found in hot, cold, dry, humid, and overall neglected/abused conditions by the time I get to them. Seriously impressive pieces of hardware considering.
 
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Samir

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- If your fine with 120mm/80mm 2010-like arrangement thats okay but even you have to admit that:
Intake fanwall140mm/120mm + 120mm exhaust is better in performance/quietness metric than lenovos 2010s era design for slim looks.
This might come as suprise to you but lenovos120/80 arragement is there for looks.
Thin looks good and its secretary approved can be put under monitor.
The gamers have more room to play with and LED fanwall in front looks good(i dont like it) and it performs better.

I was writing about cooling layout which new gaming cases use. Which is similar to server cooling layout why do you think this convergent evolution happened? 12900 is like 200w tdp and rtx 3090 350w ish
This is the typical 'foolish youth' ideology shining through--like what difference does it make if a fan is arranged like from 1950 if it does the job? Does it have to be the newest made in china crap for you to buy into it? Why do all the kids today think this way?

Some news for you that you'll learn later in life--size isn't everything. ;) Different fans have different performance characteristics based on their blade design, rpm, mounting, and more. So say that 140>120mm as a blanket statement is not correct. Also, you have to keep in mind that Lenovo will be looking to get the most bang for buck, which is going to be different than the companies trying to trick consumers into buying pretty stuff not based on pure price/performance value. And even with the value slant, a workstation that's seen 24x7 usage for 3yrs+ and is still ready for more just proves that it's a good design.
 
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klui

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Updated my notes on Lenovo Performance Tuner. No block diagram, will have to use lspci to make heads/tails out of architecture.
 
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unmesh

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I bought 2 of these barebones with xeon w-2135 for use as AI servers. ...
Were any HDD sleds included?

And does the power supply have support for any SATA power?

P.S.: I'm looking to migrate my ESXi VMs from an old Haswell minitower to something that runs ESXi8
 
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Auggie

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The units I received each had one hdd cage with two sleds that can take either 3.5 or 2.5 hdd. SATA data and power cables are in place for 2 drives, coming from the motherboard. The power supplies for these only plug directly into a motherboard slot, all power cables for gpu and drives, fans, etc come from motherboard connectors.
 
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EasyRhino

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out of curiosity, the original listing said no gpu, but the picture shows some sort of gpu in the back. Did anyone who bought one get a gpu?
 
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richard.dzavoronok

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I finally found it for reasonable price in EU.
I saw that it supports Intel VROC, but I'm not paying 200 bucks for that key.
How will it behave if I put 4 nvmes into the Asus Hyper M.2 Card without VROC key installed?
 
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Markess

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I finally found it for reasonable price in EU.
I saw that it supports Intel VROC, but I'm not paying 200 bucks for that key.
How will it behave if I put 4 nvmes into the Asus Hyper M.2 Card without VROC key installed?
In case you don't need VROC but don't know if the Asus Hyper M.2 will work without a VROC key...yes it will. Assuming you have bifurcation support on the motherboard and its set correctly, the Operating System should show you four separate drives...at least WIndows & Linux will. The usual caveat that they (probably) won't appear in BIOS anywhere, but you should still be able to boot from them if your system supports it.
 
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Markess

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With the Hyper M.2 the four drives will appear to the operating system as four separate drives. From there, you should be able to do any software based RAID you want that will work with four drives. I have a Hyper M.2 with four drives in my NAS. I have an additional 5 drives in other M.2 cards/motherboard M.2. I've got all nine of them together in a ZFS RAIDZ2. In the past, I've used the same card for a striped mirror. If you stick to software based RAID like ZFS/MDADM, there's really no limitations.