Lenovo P920 Workstation Delivers Plenty of Power for Its High Price

REVIEW: From the front the P920 Workstation looks a lot like a standard tower PC configuration. But a closer examination reveals that it’s wider and longer than the typical desktop and weighs more than 70 pounds.

Lenovo ThinkStation 920 Professional Workstation

Lenovo’s P920 dual-processor professional workstation is designed for the kind of workloads that most computers simply cannot do. Outfit it properly, and it’s the perfect solution for research, artificial intelligence development, engineering or serious graphics rendering. 

The P920 is expensive, but it’s designed to be a computer that will last for a long time, and just about everything inside can be upgraded to ensure that it does. 

For mundane tasks, this workstation is over-engineered. It can manage more memory—up to 2 terabytes—than anything else in its class. It can run more storage drives and up to three Nvidia P6000 graphics cards. But for intensive computing, this is a computer that probably do anything you can imagine. 

To accomplish this level of performance, Lenovo has built a beast. From the front it looks a lot like a standard tower configuration, but look again and you’ll see that it’s wider and longer. It weighs more than 70 pounds. The case is designed so that controls on the front and connectors on the rear are protected from damage. There are hand-holds for lifting on every corner of the case.   

What you get for all of this heft is a computer that’s designed for complete serviceability. Like the Hewlett Packard Inc. workstation we examined in eWEEK’s series on upgrading your old workstation, this computer is designed for tool-free servicing. 

Inside, you’ll see handles and levers marked in red, indicating touchpoints that can be used to access and remove the components. In fact, even the main system board of the P920 can be removed and replaced without tools. 

Much of the interior space is taken up by air channels and baffles that ensure that cool air is directed at the powerful Intel Xeon processors as well as the other heat-generating components. Lenovo says that it uses fewer fans than other workstations in its class. But like other workstations, those fans are individually controlled so that they can move the right amount of air to exactly the right place. 

All of this air cooling means that the P920 makes some noise. While the fan noise is rarely objectionable, it is noticeable. This is especially the case when the computer is in sleep mode, and apparently detects a high temperature, whereupon it briefly wakes up. You can hear the fans spool up to a slight whine before everything quiets down again. 

The workstation that Lenovo sent eWEEK for review was equipped with 32 GB of memory, a 1 TB SSD, a 12-core Intel Xeon Gold 5118 processor that runs at 2.3 GHz and an Nvidia P6000 graphics card. 

The price for this configuration is slightly more than $8000. However, as workstations go, this was a fairly modest set-up. The P920 workstation could have been outfitted with dual Xeon Gold 6136 processors, three Nvidia P6000 graphics cards and several terabytes of disk space. You can easily spend $30,000 on a fully-configured P920, which you could presumably use for mining cryptocurrency quickly enough to pay for it in a matter of minutes. 

When I tested the performance of the P920 using Geekbench 4 from Primate Labs the results were 3956 for the single-core tests and 25931 for the multi-core tests. This is faster than the updated HP Z620 that was the subject of the update series last month, but not by a huge amount. The old HP cranked out a single core score of 2845 and a multi-core score of 23430. 

But where the difference really appeared was in the compute benchmark score of 212082. This is a very high compute benchmark score for an off-the-shelf workstation. The GPU of the Nvidia P6000 graphics card gets the credit here. When combined with the P920’s architecture, delivers a powerful punch. I don’t know how much faster adding two more graphics cards would be, but I suspect there would be an improvement. 

I also tested the P920 under more real-world conditions by loading Adobe’s image processing software, including Photoshop and Lightroom as well as Adobe Premier Pro. I used the software to manipulate a series of large image and video files. I found that the P920 was indeed faster than the old Z620 workstation we’d updated, but not vastly so. A faster Xeon would have sped things up, as would more memory. 

What’s important to know about using workstations with most applications is that most applications don’t use more than one processor core to perform much of the work, so having 12 cores doesn’t help as much as you might think. Adobe’s Premier Pro, for example, makes more use of multiple cores, so you would see a performance improvement over another system with a processor with fewer cores. 

But for most uses, the best performance lies with having the fastest processor, provided you have enough memory and a storage subsystem with sufficient performance. But if you need the ability to leverage several processor cores, or you need a lot of GPU horsepower, then a high-end workstation such as the P920 is a good bet. 

Lenovo certainly produced a computer that will provide the computing horsepower you need, and while it’s expensive, you get a lot for your money. Even better, this machine will last far longer than your mass-market desktop computer because it can be upgraded 

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...