GCN LAB REVIEWS
ThinkCentre desktop comes in a nice little package
One of the trickier aspects of administrating a computer network is staggering users' hardware upgrades. But try as you might, occasionally the planets align and the biorhythms of the office converge, and you need to get a new general-use computer for practically everyone at the same time.
Fortunately, most of your users perform regular tasks that are not very taxing on a machine, such as check e-mail, research in databases or the Internet, and create documents and presentations. For these users, you need to find a system that is as inexpensive as possible and quick to hook up but still strong enough to get the job done.
Lenovo ThinkCentre M91p
Pros: Good internal space management; good speed.
Cons: Not much room for upgrades; integrated graphics performance is low.
Price: $999 ($799 government)
Enter the ThinkCentre M91p from Lenovo. The M91p is an ultra-small form factor (USFF) desktop computer that measures 10.9 inches high by 3.2 inches wide by 9.5 inches deep. In this position, it takes up less area on a user’s desktop than a typical mouse pad. And because it weighs 8.5 pounds, a technician could hold it with one hand while plugging in cables with the other, thus considerably speeding most installation times.
We were pleased to find so may ports on such a small computer. In the front, there were the bare minimum of headphones/microphone ports and two USB 2.0 ports. But in back, there were ports for both VGA and DisplayPort, a Gigabit Ethernet port, standard in/out/mic sound ports, and another six USB 2.0 ports. Even with two of the USB ports taken up by a keyboard and mouse, that is still a respectable number.
When we opened the M91p, we were impressed at the way all of the components were nestled in with one another. It opened up like a book, with the motherboard on one side and the drives on the other. In this configuration, everything is remarkably accessible, which isn’t always the case with computers designed in this form factor. Also a USFF rarity, we were able to get at everything without the use of tools. Even the motherboard came free in its own little metal tray, though a screwdriver would be needed to get it completely separated from the tray.
The true shortcoming of the USFF lies in its highly limited capacity for upgrades. The box is simply too small to allow for much more than is already inside. There are only two slots for memory in the form of small outline DIMMs, and one of those is taken by the 4G module. There is space for one half-height expansion card that can be either PCI or a pass-through for the eSATA port. And that is it. Of course, the one internal 3.5-inch and one external 5.25-inch drive bays are taken up by the 500G hard drive and the DVD multirecorder drive, respectively. This is probably just as well, because it has only the two Serial Advanced Technology Attachment controllers on the motherboard anyway. So the M91p has about as much expansion room as could be expected from something this small.
We used the Performance Test benchmark suite from PassMark Software to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the M91p’s various components. Overall, the Lenovo got a score of 1,193, which is respectable for a computer its size. Its Intel Core i5-2500 2.7 GHz processor did an admirable job, and the 500G hard drive also held up its end. The major weakness is in an area we expected: the graphics tests. The integrated graphics had a little trouble with transparent 2-D vectors and was very slow in performing the DirectX 10 3-D rendering test. But it managed to run the test to completion, which not all integrated graphics adapters are able to do. So, all in all, the M91p performed pretty well.
Lenovo is selling the ThinkCentre M91p USFF for $999. That is not a bad price, but we would have liked to have seen it a hair lower. Fortunately, the government price is $799, and this is definitely a good deal. It would do well performing any general office-oriented tasks, and its price will allow a network administrator to buy as many as needed.