Lenovo ThinkStation P520 WorkStation Review

March 9, 2021 0 By Lorena Mejia

We got the Lenovo P520c about a year and a half ago, but we never got a P520 workstation! Always knew we would get one, eventually. We thought it would be interesting to review because we recently got the P620 Threadripper Workstation and both have a single processor.

Lenovo P520 next to the P620 are not the same systems

Lenovo P520 vs P620

The Lenovo ThinkStation P520 supports Intel’s Xeon W-Series processors. The ThinkStation P620 is outfitted with AMD’s newest Threadripper Pro WX series processor. The P520, just like the P620 is for special effects, graphic design, 3D modeling, machine learning, and animation. 

Compared to our previous video of the P520c, which was posted in May of 2019, this Lenovo ThinkStation P520 was an “elusive beast” as David Attenborough might say. This unit has a single processor just like that new P620, but this one features a single Intel W processor. Both the P620 and the P520 use the exact same case, but the motherboards and the ports on the front and back are definitely different. From a performance standpoint, it sits above the P330 and the P520c. Then there’s the P620 just released in October of 2020 that offers much more performance, but still a single processor. 

Lenovo's ThinkStation lineup next to Doug Stuman

Front Panel

On the front of the chassis are two media bays, or flex bays as Lenovo calls them, and a small control panel to the right. One of the flex bays is outfitted with a full-width optical drive.

Flex bays on the front of Lenovo ThinkStation P520

The control panel features a power-on button, four USB 3.1 ports, and a mic and headphone jack combo port. The media bays support several options including a 15-in-1 card reader, slimline optical drive, additional storage, or an optional thunderbolt 3 type-C port for large but quick data transfers.

Front ports on the ThinkStation P520

That Lenovo logo you could previously pull out and rotate to change the orientation if you want to position the unit on its side, doesn’t do that anymore. Given aesthetics are not what you are purchasing this system for, it’s not a deal killer. 

Logo on the front of the P520 doesn't rotate

Rear Panel

On the back of the system are several ports including two PS2 ports for mouse and keyboard and a knockout just below that for an optional VGA port. Then there are 6x USB ports with four USB 3.1 and two USB 2.0, plus an RJ-45 gigabit Ethernet port, which doubles for remote management of the system. Then three ports for audio, line in, line out and a microphone port. Below those are the PCIe ports for optional components. To power the system, you can choose from a 690W, 900W, or 1000W PSU. If you plan on installing more than one high-performance GPU then opt for the 900W or 1000W versions. 

Intel Processor

Cracking open the case, you can see the active heat sink at the top of the system with an integrated fan. It sits on top of that single Intel Xeon W processor delivering 4 to 18 cores of delight. To provide the best performance with built-in security features, Intel Xeon W processors are designed specifically for workstation applications.

Our platform is running a single Intel Xeon W-2225 CPU with 4 cores running a base frequency of 4.1GHz with an 8TB cache. Compare that to the Intel Xeon W-2295, which offers the most cores of the W-series lineup at 18 cores with 24.75MB of Cache, a base frequency of 3.0GHz and a turbo boost frequency of 4.6GHz. In addition, both the Intel Xeon W2100 and 2200 series processors are supported on the P520. 

Intel Xeon W 2295 CPU for the P520 ThinkStation

Memory

To either side of the CPU are 8x memory module slots that can support up to 512GB with all memory module slots loaded with 64GB Registered memory modules. The Lenovo P520c only supports half the memory of the Lenovo ThinkStation P520 at 256GB with only four memory module slots. With only four memory channels, and 8x memory module slots, our system came with four 32GB modules for a total of 128GB. That would also be using only a single memory module in each memory channel for the best performance.

DIMM slots in Lenovo P520

You’ll also notice red bars or touch points within the chassis for easy tool-less component removal and upgrades. 

Storage

Thankfully, all those stupid apps you get along with your new system have been reduced in number. Lenovo Vantage is Lenovo’s new application to help manage your P-series system providing driver updates and diagnostics. Addressing the BIOS will also enable you to change the boot order. We did it so that we could run the system with Windows 10 using an external SATA SSD drive. We used the same drive to boot the P620 for our Cinebench and 3DMark tests.

Storage bays inside Lenovo ThinkStation P520

Storage on this system is listed at 36TB using 6x 3.5-inch HDD drives in each storage bay, and that includes the two standard drive bays inside plus the optional drive cage with two bays, plus one drive in each of the flex bays.

M.2

Apparently for SSDs the value is a little less at only 30.5TB and includes all the bays we just mentioned plus 6x M.2 SSDs and 1x PCIe add-in card. We’re not sure where all these M.2 drives are installed since they mention an AIC Card for that last one. Additionally, there are two integrated M.2 slots on the system board with a small heatsink. You can use the M.2s as your boot device and RAID them together for even greater performance. 

M.2 slots on Lenovo P520 motherboard

Virtual RAID on CPU, or VROC, is also supported using the VROC key and is designed for RAIDing SSDs like those M.2 drives. You can add a few more M.2 drives using the PCIe slots and there are options for 4, 2 or a single M.2. for a total of 9.

VROC key for P520 Lenovo workstation

SATA/SAS

SATA drives are supported natively and can be RAIDed using the integrated storage controller. For SAS drives offering 12Gb/s you will need a PCIe HD/RAID controller. There are a few options, including one offering 4GB cache. One of the differences on these newer platforms is the absence of a backplane which previously allowed for doubling up on those HD trays with two hot plug 2.5-inch drives in each tray. The tradeoff are drives with higher capacities. 

PCIe Slots

In all, there are 6x PCIe slots on this system with two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots to support two double-wide graphics cards with SLI or NVLink for greater performance. Of course, if you do add those double-wide cards you will have two x4 PCIe slots to work with and forget about that quad M.2 drive.

SLI and NVLINK are supported on P520

You can still install a single M.2 PCIe card in one of the remaining x4 PCIe slots because one of them may also be used for an optional WiFi adapter card. In general, you can install two GPUs some of which like the higher end Quadro cards support SLI or NVlink with two cards. But you will need two cards for that to work with NVLink or SLI. Our system came with a single RTX 8000.

We ran some benchmarks for this system using Cinebench for the CPU and 3D Mark for the GPU. Granted, the processor only has four cores so we did not get any crazy results there. CPU choice also depends on what you plan on doing with the system. You should determine if your favorite programs run better with a multi-core processor or just a few cores. You decide.

Intel Xeon W processors have great performance with built in security features

GPU performance is quite good, but not really surprising. This one holds an Nvidia RTX 8000, which features the latest ray tracing capabilities for developers and designers. Looks like it’s quite fun for gaming too which is where your GPU will show its true colors. 

cinebench gaming test on p520 Lenovo

Summary

So, there you have it! For a single socket system, it’s still more than many of us mere mortals need. Even with our 4-core processor it offers very good performance for a mid-range system and offers impressive expansion potential for memory, storage and additional assets through the expansion slots. 

PCIe slots on Lenovo Thinkstation p520 motherboard

Are you interested in one of these Lenovo ThinkStation P520 workstations, or perhaps a high-performance GPU? We have a huge selection of Lenovo ThinkStations to choose from and can custom-configure to your specifications.

If you’re looking for servers, professional workstations, custom integrated workstations, or just parts and components, try IT Creations. We can have your system ready and send it out for next day delivery. Custom configured, quickly delivered!

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