Lenovo ThinkStation E32 SFF review

The Lenovo ThinkStation E32 SFF is something that used to be unheard of: a professional ISV-certified workstation that goes for under $1,200.
Photo of Lenovo ThinkStation E32 SFF

The Lenovo ThinkStation E32 SFF is something that used to be unheard of: a professional ISV-certified workstation that goes for under $1,200. It used to cost over $2,500 for a system like this, with a multi-core Intel Xeon processor, mid-level Nvidia Quadro K600 graphics card, 8GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive. It’s well suited for the mid-level manager that needs to check scientific or engineering work, or for the creative professional in the graphics arts. The ThinkStation E32 SFF is well positioned, powerful, and our new Editors’ Choice for entry-level (budget) workstations.

Design and Features
The ThinkStation E32 SFF looks very similar to a high-end desktop, so it wouldn’t look out of place next to co-workers with Lenovo ThinkCentre M91p ($729) or even Lenovo ThinkCentre M93p Tiny ($729) desktops. That’s the point, since the last thing you’d want as an IT manager are jealous users griping in envy of a new shiny PC on the next desk. The ThinkStation E32 SFF is a 12.9-liter chassis, which will fit into tighter spaces than the 30-50 liter full sized desktop chassis usually found in workstations. The ThinkStation E32 SFF has an easy to open tool-less chassis and expansion, so you or your IT folk can upgrade internal components like hard drives, PCIe card slots, and system memory without having to turn a screwdriver. Like on other business systems like the Dell Precision T3610 ($2,129), serviceable points are marked in light blue. As a result, swapping out a hard drive or installing a PCIe card should take seconds instead of minutes.

The ThinkStation E32 SFF has a decent number of I/O ports and internal expansion. The system has six USB 3.0 ports (two in the front), a full media card reader with support for older formats like CompactFlash in addition to SD and Memory Stick, two USB 2.0 ports in the back (for peripherals that have problems with USB 3.0 ports), Ethernet, and a serial port.

The system’s Nvidia Quadro K600 graphics card has a Displayport and a DVI port on it. The K600 is a half-height card, since the ThinkStation E32 SFF’s compact chassis necessitates the smaller cards. Thus, you can’t put a full-height Quadro K4000 card in, like on the Dell Precision T3610. Other compact chassis systems are limited to half-height cards, like the former Editors’ Choice for single-processor workstations, the Dell Precision T1700 SFF ($994).

The workstation has a single 1TB 7,200 rpm 3.5-inch desktop hard drive, along with a tray-loading DVD burner. Lenovo has built space into the system for an additional 2.5-inch notebook class drive like a SSD. The system has a trio of internal expansion slots: a PCI slot, a PCIe x1 slot, and a PCIe x4 slot which is physically the same size as a PCIe x16 slot for compatibility. A 240W internal power supply powers the whole shebang.

The ThinkStation E32 SFF comes with a few pre-loaded software packages like Intel AppUp and Norton Internet Security (30-day trial), but on the whole the system is bloatware free, which is a good thing as workstation performance users don’t like having unneeded software on the C: drive. The ThinkStation E32 SFF also comes with a selection of Lenovo utilities, including Rescue and Recovery. We tested the ThinkStation E32 SFF with Windows 7 Professional, though the system also comes with recovery discs for Windows 8 Pro. The Windows 8 Pro license covers both OSes. The ThinkStation E32 SFF comes with a standard three-year warranty.

Performance

Performance and ISV certification are the reasons why you’d buy a workstation over a regular business PC. The ThinkStation E32 SFF we reviewed came with an Intel Xeon E3-1240 v3 processor, 8GB of DDR3 memory, a 1TB 7,200rpm SATA hard drive, and a 1GB Nvidia Quadro K600 mid-level graphics card. The combination is ISV certified for programs like Autodesk AutoCAD, though the system will work equally well with applications like Adobe Creative Suite CS6 and Creative Cloud.

The ThinkStation E32 SFF made quick work of our Handbrake video encoder test (1 minute 45 seconds) and our Photoshop CS6 test (3:08), which was within seconds of the numbers put up by the Dell Precision T3610 (1:42 Handbrake, 3:16 CS6), which costs twice as much. The Dell Precision T1700 SFF was a bit faster at Handbrake (0:32), but in line with the others at Photoshop (3:20). The ThinkStation E32 SFF turned in an almost identical showing on our 3D benchmark tests compared with the Dell T1700, but the Dell T3610 showed why it costs much more with its Quadro K4000′s much higher performance. Suffice to say that the ThinkStation E32 SFF and Dell Precision T1700 SFF are fine for moderate 3D work like AutoCAD, but the Precision T3610 is better for tasks like 3D animation and game development.

The Lenovo ThinkStation E32 SFF slots in as our new Editors’ Choice for entry-level (budget) workstation desktops. It takes over as the recommended system at the $1,000-1,200 price point from the Dell Precision T1700, but is in a different class than our single-processor EC, the Dell Precision T3610, which stays on as EC as well. We anticipate that this space will continue to grow as prices continue to drop and performance continues to improve. But for now, the Lenovo ThinkStation E32 SFF is the top dog.

Specifications
Primary Optical Drive Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW
Processor Family Intel Xeon
Storage Type HDD
Graphics Card Nvidia Quadro K600
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Professional, Microsoft Windows 8 Professional
RAM 8 GB
Type Workstation, Business, Small Business
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 1000 GB

Verdict
The Lenovo ThinkStation E32 SFF is something that used to be unheard of: a professional ISV-certified workstation that goes for under $1,200. It's well positioned, powerful, and our new Editors' Choice for entry-level (budget) workstations.
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