Review: The Lenovo ThinkServer TS140
One of my computers was having problems. I might try replacing the disk drive and see if that helps. However, it is an older computer, so I decided that I needed a replacement.
I looked at several sites, including Dell and HP. I also looked at Amazon. One of the computers that showed up in the Amazon listing of desktops, was the Lenovo ThinkServer TS140. And it looked interesting, and reasonably priced. The Amazon reviews were mostly quite good. After a few days to think about it, I decided to go with the ThinkServer.
The price given at Amazon is perhaps a tad deceptive. This came as a barebones computer. It came without an operating system, and without any disk drive. So I ordered disk drives at the same time. Overall, the price was still pretty good. I would have paid more at Dell, though I would have a machine with more memory. For my needs, the ThinkServer looked about right.
Why choose the ThinkServer?
Several things contributed to my decision. One of those was that I really did not need another Windows box. A machine without a preloaded operating system looked like a better fit for my needs. That way, I could avoid the problem or resizing partitions to find space for linux. Instead, I could make linux the first install.
A second reason for going with this, rather than a Dell, is that I wanted to be able to look at a UEFI implementation other than Dell’s.
On the down side, the CD/DVD device was described as being only a reader. I rarely write CDs or DVDs, and mostly use USB flash drives for that. So this did not seem a particular concern. If I really need to write a DVD, I can still use my Windows 8.1 system (a Dell box), or my Dell laptop.
The system comes with an Intel core 3i processor, and 4G of ECC memory. I’m not sure how to test if it is really ECC. I’m not heavily into graphics, so 4G is more than enough for my needs. There are expansion slots, should I need to add more. The machine, as delivered, is using one of 4 slots.
The ThinkServer came without disk drives. It has a total of 5 SATA ports. One of those is used for the CD/DVD. The others can be used for disk drives. There are two standard slots for 3.5 inch disks, one for 5.25 inch disk, and one that looks as if intended for a smaller device. The documentation (on a DVD) explains how to mount 4 drives if that is desired.
The graphics is Intel. The Amazon ad and some of the reviews did warn that if you want a high level graphics processor, such as with a Nvidia card, you will probably need to replace the power supply with a larger one. For me, the Intel graphics will do just fine. The older computer that I am replacing used Nvidia, and that caused headaches with driver issues, though it worked well once the Nvidia drivers were in place.
The ads and reviews said very little about the audio. I purchased this, uncertain whether there was audio. There is. Right now, I can hear it playing a youtube presentation of Beethoven’s 6th symphony. So the audio looks fine. As far as I know, both the graphics and audio are part of the Intel processor chip(s) used.
There are two USB 2.0 connectors, which I have used for keyboard and mouse. The front USB connectors, and the rest of the rear connectors were all USB 3.
One of the first things that I did was get into the BIOS settings.
To be honest, I was not sure how. After a few false tries, I loaded the documentation DVD on another computer, and looked at the instructions. It turns out that hitting F1 while the logo is displaying well get you into the BIOS settings.
With that done, I looked at the various settings. The defaults were fine for most items. But I wanted to look at the boot sequence.
By default, it tries the USB floppy drive first (if there is one). Then it tries a USB drive next. Then it tries the hard drives. And, finally, it tries to boot from the network.
Among the boot options, there is one for CSM, which was enabled. CSM stands for “compatibility support module”, and is used for legacy booting via the MBR. There was a suggestion to disable this for Window 8 use. I left that enabled, though at present I have it disabled.
Next there was a setting on whether to give priority to Legacy booting (via the MBR), or to UEFI booting, or to allow only one of those. It was set to give priority to legacy booting. I switched that to give priority to UEFI booting. The test was then to boot from a live USB, and see if that booted in UEFI mode. It did.
Opening up the box
I found it quite easy to look inside the box. There were two thumb screws on the back. I removed those. I could then slide the side panel. That required depressing a small “button”. Then the panel was easily removed.
I could see the 3.5 inch disk drive bays. I removed the plastic carriers from those bays, and put my purchased disk drives into the carriers. Then I slid them back into place, feeling the click as they locked in. Next, I attached the power cables to each disk. And I attached the SATA cable to one of the disks. I had also purchased SATA cables at the same time, expecting to need them. I only needed one, for the second disk. The SATA cables that I purchased were 18 inch, with an offset (or angle) connector at the disk end. That offset connector is needed. The 18 inches is long enough. So I connected the second drive, replaced the side panel and thumb screws.
Booting up the computer into the BIOS settings, it showed my two disks as SATA devices 0 and 3. Being a perfectionist, I shut it down, and went back inside the box to move the SATA connector on the separately purchased cable. I seem to have guessed right, for on the next boot the devices shows as SATA 0 and 1.
My next move was to boot live media, and partition the disks to my liking. I initially use “gdisk” booting from a live opensuse 3.2 Milestone 0 USB (this is pre-beta level software). That worked reasonably well, except that I had trouble setting up an encrypted LVM. I later booted the 3.1 live rescue system to handle that.
And then I was ready to install. I booted to the 13.1 DVD image (on a USB). It booted into UEFI mode. The install was not completely trouble free. But the problems seemed to be with the opensuse installer, rather than with the ThinkServer. For details, see my bug report:
I knew what I was doing, and knew how to proceed. Apart from some bogus warnings, the install went well. And I now had a system with a bootable OS.
Some of the Amazon reviewers were unsure about linux. Based on my experience, I would say that linux should be fine on this box.
Thus far, I am quite happy with this box. I have only had it for two days, so perhaps this is premature. UEFI support is imperfect, though good enough. I might discuss that in a future post. The hardware is as expected, and uncertainties (such as about audio) have been resolved positively.