Over the past decade, advances in CPU and GPU architectures have combined extremely well with the relentless advance of Moore’s Law on the silicon front. Together, these have led to portable devices that have more computing power than huge and power-hungry machines from the turn of the century. In the desktop field, SFF (Small Form Factor) machines are now becoming a viable option for demanding professional use cases. CAD, modeling and simulation capabilities that a few years ago required large iron servers or huge tower workstations can now be served by compact systems.
Workstation notebooks that integrate high-performance mobile CPUs and professional graphics solutions from AMD (FirePro) or NVIDIA (Quadro Mobile/RTX Professional) have been around since the mid-2000s. The advent of UCFF and SFF PCs has made these notebook platforms have been slowly brought to the desktop. Zotac was one of the first players in this market and continues to introduce new products in the Zotac ZBOX Q series. The company has two different lines: one with a notebook CPU and a professional mobile GPU (with a volume of 2.65L), and another with a workstation CPU (Xeons up to 80W) and a professional mobile GPU (with a volume of of 5.85L).
Today, Lenovo is also entering the SFF workstation PC market with its ThinkStation P360 Ultra models. The company already has small workstations that don’t support discrete GPUs, and that has been resolved in the new Ultra systems. Featuring desktop Alder Lake with an Intel W680 chipset (allowing for ECC RAM option), these systems also optionally support discrete graphics cards – up to NVIDIA RTX A5000 Mobile. Four SODIMM slots allow for up to 128 GB of ECC or non-ECC DDR5-4000 memory. Two PCIe Gen 4 x4 M.2 slots and a SATA III port behind a 2.5-inch drive slot are also available, with RAID capability for the M.2 SSDs. Depending on the choice of CPU and GPU, Lenovo plans to equip the system with one of three external power adapters with 89% efficiency – 170W, 230W or 300W.
The front panel has a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A and two Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, as well as a combo audio jack. The vanilla iGPU version has four USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports, three DisplayPort 1.4 ports, and two RJ-45 LAN ports (1x 2.5 GbE and 1x 1 GbE). On the WLAN front, the non-vPro option is the Wi-Fi 6 AX201, while the vPro option is the Wi-Fi 6E AX211. In addition to the PCIe 4.0 x16 expansion slot for the discrete GPU, the system also supports a PCIe 3.0 x4 card, such as the Intel I350-T2 dual-port Gigabit Ethernet adapter.
Measuring 87mm x 223mm x 202mm, the whole package comes in at 3.92L. To cram functionality into such a chassis, Lenovo used a custom double-sided motherboard with a unique cooling solution, as shown in the teardown image above. A fan is placed above the two M.2 slots to ensure the PCIe Gen 4 M.2 SSDs can run without thermal issues.
As usual for Lenovo’s business/professional oriented PCs, these systems are military-grade tested and come with ISV certifications from companies such as Autodesk, ANSYS, Dassault, PTC, Siemens, etc. The price starts at $1299 for the base model without a discrete GPU.
The ThinkStation P360 Ultra joins Lenovo’s already announced P360 Tiny and P360 Tower models. The P360 Tiny doesn’t support discrete GPUs, while the P360 Tower goes overboard with support for 3.5-inch drives and up to four PCIe expansion cards, along with a 750W PSU. Most workstation usage scenarios can do without all those bells and extras for the end user are always welcome and that’s where the P360 Ultra comes in.