Lenovo ThinkStation P720 Workstation ReviewNovember 22, 2019
We’ve already seen both Dell’s top-of-the-line Precision workstations and HP’s top of the line Z-Series G4 product line of performance workstations. Lenovo has a performance lineup too, including the Lenovo ThinkStation P720 Workstation (SHOP HERE). The P720 is the middle-child of the three Lenovo performance models, which also includes the single-socket ThinkStation P520, and dual-socket, top-of-the-line ThinkStation P920. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
“Plus, with only 384GB of Registered memory supported, you don’t need to purchase one of those crazy-expensive CPUs that can support 1.5TB each.”
Lenovo’s Dual-socket ThinkStation P720 is designed to compete against Dell’s Dual-Socket Precision 7820 workstation and HP’s dual-socket Z6 G4 workstation. If you’ve seen our videos covering the Z6 G4 and the Precision 7820 workstations, then you would know that all three of these support top-of-the-line Intel Xeon Scalable processors, 384GB of memory, massive storage, plus support for M.2 storage, and a maximum of two high-performance GPUs. This same pattern of design similarity plays out for the next level down with the P520, and at the other end of the spectrum, with the P920. Although, to be fair the P920 supports slightly less memory at 2TB instead of the 3TB on the Z8 and Precision 7920 because it only has 16 memory slots instead of 24. Other than that, pretty much same, same.
With the P720 there’s no need to purchase that extra CPU mezzanine tray like on the Precision 7820 and Z6 G4 because both CPU sockets are on the same board right next to each other. Besides, if that configuration is so special why didn’t they do that for the Z8 G4 and Precision 7920? Usually that comes down to an upsell, but let’s not dwell on that. You can install one or two intel Xeon Scalable processors from the Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum families. Each processor also supports 6 memory channels for significantly improved memory performance over the previous generation Intel Xeon E5-2600 v4 processors with only 4 memory channels per processor. Scalable processors also provide more PCIe lanes.
Alongside each CPU socket are two sets of 3 memory module slots, for a total of 6 module slots per processor, and 12 memory slots for the whole system board. This ensures optimal memory performance as each memory module occupies its very own memory channel. Plus, with only 384GB of Registered memory supported, you don’t need to purchase one of those crazy-expensive CPUs that can support 1.5TB each. Memory speed tops out at 2666MHz, depending on your choice of processors and memory.
Management of the system is provided by Intel Active Management Technology and ThinkStation Diagnostics for Windows. You can also get an optional 4-digit diagnostic display for one of the FlexBays on the front for more tell-tale LEDs. Lenovo’s Performance Adviser, which is free to download, provides an alternate launch window for any ISV certified applications on your system. It evaluates your current configuration, and optimizes the performance for that specific application.
” You can also get an optional 4-digit diagnostic display for one of the FlexBays on the front for more tell-tale LEDs.”
There is one area where Lenovo definitely wins and that’s storage. You can install up to 12 drives on the Lenovo ThinkStation P720 Workstation. There are 4 internal drive bays plus two 5.25-inch media bays on the front of the chassis, both of which can be converted to support additional storage. There are two different ways to add storage in the 5.25-inch media bays. One uses the Front Access Storage Enclosure supporting a single drive, and the other is an optional multi-drive conversion kit that can support both a slimline optical device and a 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch storage device.
For a standard configuration, the system will support 6 drives, with 4 internal and 2 drives in the 5.25-inch media bays. Optional configurations can support 4 internal 3.5-inch dual drive bays with one 3.5-inch drive and one 2.5-inch drive, or two 2.5-inch drives for a total of 10 internal drives when you include converting both of the 5.25-inch media bays for storage. Add in two M.2 drives on the dedicated onboard slots and there you have it, 12 drives. That said, Lenovo does not account for the additional storage from up to 7 more M.2 NVMe drives that can be installed.
Two M.2 storage devices can be mounted in 2 internal x4 PCIe slots located adjacent to the internal storage bays. One or two M.2 drives are supported in a solid-state drive holder with an aluminum heatsink for the two drives. The front fan assembly locks the M.2 holder in place and is also used to secure double-width graphics cards. If two M.2 drives are not enough, then you can install up to 7 more! Four M.2 drives can be installed using a full-height, full-length x16 PCIe adapter card. The other 3 supported M.2 drives are installed in separate PCIe cards with one drive each and cannot be RAIDed together. All these drive configurations and the fact that higher capacity drives are becoming the norm make a maximum internal storage value useless and the storage values Lenovo provided didn’t mention everything all together. The two onboard M.2 drives and the M.2 PCIe quad drive can all be RAIDed but require a NVMe RAID upgrade in the form of VROC or a discrete HD Controller.
Intel Virtual RAID on CPU or VROC allows you to connect NVMe-based SSDs, like M.2, directly to the PCIe lanes supported by the Scalable processors−no HD Controller required. Although, you will need an optional VROC activation key available in a Basic or Premium version. Basic will provide RAID configurations of 0, 1, and 10. With a Premium version you get all those, and RAID 5 too. RAID by VROC is not hardware or software RAID, but a hybrid RAID technology. It uses Intel’s silicon-based Volume Management Device, which is part of the Xeon Scalable processor architecture and requires a few processors cores to calculate the RAID logic.
Five PCIe 3.0 slots, and a single PCI slot on the system board, provide even more functionality with support for high-performance SAS drives using an optional Broadcom PCIe adapter card. The Broadcom 9460-16i will support up to 16 drives, or you can go with the 9440-8i, which supports 8 drives. Using a discrete HD controller will provide RAID configurations for SAS, SATA, and NVMe devices.
Other supported PCIe options include high-end GPUs from both Nvidia and AMD. The P720 will support a single Nvidia P6000 or a max of two Quadro P5000 cards with SLI, or you can install up to three GPUs rated at under 75W of power. Several other options are supported including a WiFi card, Network interface cards, and Thunderbolt for superfast data transfers. With a single processor only four PCIe slots are active, but with both processors you get all six.
Lenovo’s high-performance ThinkStation lineup offers very comparable performance compared to similarly configured systems from both Dell and HP. In fact, they feature nearly the same breakdown of CPU, memory, and M.2 support. The P720 definitely offers more storage at up to 60TB compared to both Dell and HP. Although to be honest, all three offer a ton of storage in general. Again, I will say Dell has a very nice feature with up-front hot-swap support for M.2 drives in specially designed HD trays, but still the P720 offers the same support for M.2 in general, just not hot-swap. Dell most likely has a patent on their hot-swap M.2 drive trays, but there’s still room for a hot-swap quad drive in the media bays.
” The P720 definitely offers more storage at up to 60TB compared to both Dell and HP.”