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Lenovo ThinkStation E31

By Brian Benton, April 19, 2013

Lenovo's ThinkStation E31 is a desktop workstation priced at the entry level, yet holds a lot of power that will fit the needs of most CAD users. In the time I spent with this workstation, I found it was built well, easy to use, and very powerful (see figure 1).

Figure 1: ThinkStation E31 from Lenovo

The ThinkStation E31 comes in a number of standard configurations, and here are the main specifications for the unit I reviewed (see figure 2):

Processor  3.3GHz Xeon E3-1230V2
Memory 8GB PC3-12800 DDR3 – 16000MHz ECC (two 4GB chips in two slots)
Hard drive 1TB SATA 3.5” @ 7200 RPM
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro 2000D, Intel HD Graphics P4000
Slots/ports Four USB 2.0, four USB 3.0, 29-in-1 media card reader, one DisplayPort connector, one VGA port (Intel), one VGA passthrough port, two DVI ports (NVIDIA), audio in and out, front and back
Networking  Intel 82579 Gigabit Ethernet
Optical drive DVD Multiburner
Power supply 280 Watt (max)
Operating system Windows 7 Pro SP1
Case Tower 175mm x 430mm x 425mm (WxDxH)
Figure 2: A look at the rear ports on the E31
In-Depth Look at the Hardware

The hardware in the Lenovo ThinkStation E31 is solid. The case is of a size I would expect. If I need a more compact housing, then Lenovo has a smaller version called the E31 SFF, short for “small form factor,” with essentially the same hardware but in a compact size with fewer configuration possibilities.

The Tower E31 is very versatile with three 3.5” bays for SATA hard disk drives, another bay for an optical drive, and fifth bay for a 2.5” SATA drive or SSD. This allows me to install multiple drive configurations and even a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) setup. The tower measures 6.9” wide x 6.9” deep x 16.7” high (175mm x 430mm x 425mm) and weighs 24.7 lbs (11.2 kg).

The E31 I tested came with 8GB of ECC 1600MHz DDR3 RAM consisting of two 4GB cards. The motherboard has four slots for RAM, and each can be maxed out with 8GB for a possible 32GB of RAM.

The motherboard comes with integrated HD Graphics P4000 from Intel, and the unit I tested also had the Quadro 2000D graphics board from NVIDIA. This video card performed beautifully, not surprising as it is a higher end GPU. It's what really gives the E31 its rendering, modeling, and simulation power. The 2000D has 192 CUDA cores, is of a single slot form factor (4.376” H x 7” L), has a 128-bit memory interface, 1GB frame buffer, and a memory bandwidth that can handle 41.6GB/s. It has two DVI-I ports and can handle two digital outputs at once. The maximum display resolution is 2560 x 2048 pixels per DVI connector, and it supports 3D Vision.

The tower has many ports, as listed above in the specifications table. The ThinkStation E31 I tested came with a Xeon 3.3GHz E3-1230V2 processor, but it could be configured with regular i3, i5, or i7 Core processors. It supports 1600MHz DDR3 memory, either ECC or non-ECC (error correcting). It can handle storage space of up to 3TB, either HDD or SSD (maximum SSD is 256GB.) The configuration I tested came with a DVD-RW but Lenovo does have DVD-ROM and Blu-Ray burners available.

This tower has a 92% power efficiency rating and has BO Plus Platinum certification. Being high-energy efficient, it received an Energy Star 5.2 compliance rating. There are also Greenguard and EPEAT Gold certifications.

It is ISV certified for many design programs, such as from Autodesk, Adobe, Dassault Systemes, PTC, and Siemens PLM.

Pricing and Configuration

As reviewed, my workstation retailed for $1,952 in the USA. This configuration is at the higher end of the spectrum in performance for what is essentially an economical workstation. The configuration Lenovo sent me provided a good balance of what many users would want.

I could reconfigure it to lower and higher specs through Lenovo's Web site. There, I found it easy to customize another workstation to order by changing the specifications I desired to meet the price point I wanted. The starting price at the time of writing this review is $669 but for far less performance. When I maxed out the specs, I ran the price up to $6,045 – 32GBRAM, two 250GB solid state RAID drives, and more. The ThinkStation E31 is very configurable at a broad price range.

Benchmarking the E31

I ran some standard off-the-shelf benchmarks. I began with the Windows Experience Index, and here is what I found (see figure 3):

Figure 3: The Windows Experience Index is based on the lowest component score

My configuration of ThinkStation E31 scored 5.9. Microsoft scores each major component on a scale from 1.0 to 7.9, with 7.9 being the best possible score. The overall score is simply that of the slowest component.

As you can see, my configuration scored very well on the processor and memory categories, with the two graphics categories coming in slightly lower. The hard disk drive scored lowest because it is a standard mechanical hard disk drive that uses spinning platters to store data; a solid state drive (SSD) would score much higher on the scale. That does not, however, mean that the 7200RPM drive performed poorly or was slow by any means; it's just not as fast as a solid state drive.

Next, I ran benchmark tests using 3D Mark 11, PC Mark 7, Nova Bench and PassMark. Here are the scores from each one:

3D Mark 11 combined score = 1703
  graphic subscore = 1698
  physics subscore =8854
PC Mark 7 = 3597
Nova Bench total score = 1280
  RAM Score = 198
  CPU Score = 776
  graphics Score = 239
  hardware Score = 67
PassMark rating = 2597.2
  CPU = 9951.9
  2D Graphics = 408
  3D Graphics = 1178.8
  memory = 2461
  Disk = 1719.7
  CD drive = 256.9

Finally, I ran the SPECviewperf 11 benchmark to test how it should perform with CAD and design programs. Here are the results from that test (see figure 4):

Figure 4: The results from the SPECviewperf 11 benchmark test

These benchmarks, along with the Windows Experience Index, are a means to provide a quantifiable measurement of performance. I can take these scores to the appropriate Web site listed below, and then compare them with the scores of other machines and workstations:

3D Mark  www.3dmark.com/search
PC Mark    www.3dmark.com/hall-of-fame-2
Nova Bench    www.novabench.com
PassMark    www.cpubenchmark.net
SPECviewperf    www.spec.org/gwpg/publish/nonmember.html

Benchmarks are not a final word on real world performance; they are simply another form of indicator on the potential performance of a machine.

Real World Performance

I used the ThinkStation E31 in a real world setting for five days. Mostly, I ran Autodesk's Civil3D program in a networked environment, and I found it performed well.

I also ran AutoCAD 2013 on this workstation, and it handled it without an issue. The NVIDIA GPU handles 3D models smoothly. I was able to quickly run several photorealistic renderings without an issue.

During use, the system fans are extremely quiet. I had to silence my surroundings and get very close to the workstation to hear it. The prominent handle at the front of the tower makes it easy to move around.

As an IT professional and CAD manager I was happy to see the computer's case provided easy access to its internal boards and drives. Accessing the insides was easy with the slide-away cover. Changing drives is just as easy, because no tools are required: slide the drives in or out, and pop off the mounts (see figure 5).

Figure 5: A look inside the ThinkStation E31

The NVIDIA GPU is also easily removed. There is a clamp at the back of the tower holding it in place, and it releases easily by pressing a release button inside the case. Press a second release button on the motherboard, and the card comes right out. Again, no tools needed.

Swapping out the CPU, heat sink, or main fan does require a Phillips screwdriver. If I am changing these components, then I am prepared anyways and I definitely want those components locked in tight.

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkStation E31 tower workstation is a solid and versatile machine. Its low base cost makes it a good economical choice. It has many possible configurations that can fit most needs, even higher end processing needs. It is ideally suited for all 2D CAD needs as well as light to moderate 3D design, modeling, rendering and simulation needs. Getting three to five years of good use from this workstation is expected.

The E31 could easily become the standard workstation for many design firms. It ranks high for versatility and choice.

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Additional Information

Lenovo ThinkStation E31 workstation - Lenovo corporate product page.

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About the Author

Brian Benton is a Senior Engineering Technician, CAD Service Provider, trainer, technical writer and blogger. He has over 20 years of experience in various design fields (Mechanical, Structural, Civil, Survey, Marine, Environmental), has a degree in Design Drafting and is well versed in many design software packages (CAD, GIS, Graphics). He is Cadalyst Magazine’s Tip Patroller and writer, formerly the AUGI HotNews Production Manager, Sybex Mastering AutoCAD contributing author, and Infinite Skills AutoCAD training video author as well as a member of the Autodesk Expert Elite Program. You can find Brian at his website at cadablog.com.

 

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