Monday, 26 December 2016

Lenovo ThinkCentre M700

My HP Pavillion desktop (4Gb, dual Athlon 2200) was getting a bit long in the tooth, and I decided to treat myself to a new rig.

In the past I've been rather impressed with the robustness of high-end PCs - I had a dual Pentium II HP Kayak XM600 for many years before I passed it on my mother for an extended tour of duty. Apart from the RD-RAM which never came down in price while the cost of DDR tumbled. Add to that the fact that running the X Window system, I wasn't going to see a lot of benefit from a fancy graphics card, I really wanted to get the fastest CPU I could. I did consider getting a retired server - but they are typically horrendously noisy. Then I thought about a used HP Z400. But looking at the behaviour of my current system, while the CPU was frequently maxed out,  it was usually with just one or 2 processes causing all the pain. Having 8-16 CPUs wasn't going to help unless they were a lot faster than what I already had.

Looking at the single-core benchmarks, the 3.7GHz i3 6100 seemed to hit a sweet spot for budget/performance profile. So I started shopping for such a device. Form factor was a consideration - I have a small desk which my computer sits underneath - so a tower case was important. I ended up choosing a Lenovo ThinkCentre M700 from eBuyer.
The device itself is not as substantial as the PCs I've owned before - and despite the tower case, there is limited scope for expansion. Adding a couple of hard disks is about the limit. There are 2 DDR4 slots (one occuppied with a 4GB module), 3 PCI Express connectors (2 very small, and one small - I'm not familiar with the technology). The blanking plate behid one of PCIe connectors is filled with an external SATA connector (which could be moved elsewhere to make the slot usable). But apart from an SSD and possibly more RAM later I'm not looking at add a lot more hardware to this machine.

The handle at the front/top is not particularly sturdy, but adequate for occassionally lugging the device about.

Powered up, it seems remarkably quiet compared both to the HP Pavillion its replacing and the HP i5 generic corporate device I use at work.

Accessing the BIOS (sorry UEFI setup) was easy - just F1 at boot. The default configuration came with Windows 7 and Secure boot disabled. As I'm doing a lot more MSWindows dev and admin stuff these days, I decided to keep it as dual boot. Shrinking the C drive in MSWindows proved to be a complete PITA - even after disabling swap, updates and rollbacks, it still wouldn't release more than around 10Gb due to "unmoveable" files. And having to use the horrible tools with MSWindows was just too painful - so I booted up with a Mint install disk and had no problem shrinking the drive down to 100Gb.

Installing Mint 18.1 from a DVD I had prepared earlier was a no-brainer. I created the same users on the new machine as existed on the old, rsynched /home and everything worked - but a lot faster!

The onboard ethernet works with the RTL8168g driver. Its a 500Gb Western Digital HD. This feels a little slower than the 2 x Seagate 250Gb disks in the old machine (configured as OS+Backup and home+var+data+swap rather than in any RAID setup). But the planned SSD upgrade should fix that.

If only the laptop had been this easy! (details coming in a later post).

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