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Believe it or not, there was once a time when the corporate worker felt special or justly rewarded for receiving the latest PC, but nowadays the desktop PC has become just another tool to get the day’s work done. While high-end PCs can no longer be considered a special prize for the loyal worker, PC manufactures still need to generate some type of excitement to move their products. Some have turned to targeting the needs of the corporate IT department to move their products, while others have focused on lower costs to make corporate finance departments happy.

Click here to read about Lenovo’s first workstations.

Take for example Lenovo, whose latest iteration of its ThinkCentre series of PCs includes the M57p, a model that offers a small footprint, energy efficiency, high performance and enhanced management capabilities. Add to that upgradability and a tool-less design, and the M57p may very well become the “feel good” PC that will win over IT departments and still keep the bean counters happy.

To see if those claims hold water, eWEEK Channel Labs evaluated a top-of-the-line M57p, model number 6073-A2U, a unit that retails for around $1,100.

The M57p 6073-A2U is equipped with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6750 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, 160GB SATA hard disk drive, DVD+/-RW SATA Optical drive and onboard graphics using an Intel GMA 3100 chip set.

Lenovo’s intention with the unit is to balance performance with serviceability. Performance could be greatly enhanced by switching to discrete graphics and adding another gigabyte of RAM (for Windows Vista Users), but costs would probably increase by 20 percent or more.

The M57p does offer an open low-profile PCI Express X16 slot, along with four 240-pin DIMM sockets for solution providers looking to add discrete graphics and additional RAM. The PCI Express Slot has a maximum rating of 35 watts, so add-on video cards should be selected with care. The M57p can be configured with a maximum of 8 GB of RAM, which should meet the needs of any desktop operating systems for quite a while (32-bit versions of Vista support a maximum of 4GB RAM).

Construction quality of the system is excellent, Lenovo designed the system with a steel chassis that can support 100 pounds and eschews fragile plastics wherever possible. That proves to be an engineering feat, considering the diminutive size (12.5 inches wide, 13.4 inches deep and 3.9 inches high) and weight (16.4 pounds) of the unit. Those servicing the M57p will like the “tool-less” design. The unit employs a “hood”—simply push two buttons and the top of the case swings up to reveal the innards. All internal bays share a similar arrangement, using a tool-less design, and swinging up and out of the way by just manipulating the appropriate buttons, latches or levers. The design makes serviceability a top feature and the units are backed by a three-year warranty.

Another element that drastically improves support and serviceability is the inclusion of Intel’s vPro processor technology, which adds out-of-band management. vPro allows technicians to remotely boot and control workstations, all that is needed is an Ethernet connection and the appropriate management software. Intel provides some of the management software for free, but most administrators will want to use a higher-end management application to control the PCs and the many other elements that make up a network. Either way, Lenovo has laid out the groundwork with vPro to bring a manageable desktop PC into the enterprise with very little fuss. Solution providers looking to build up managed services will want to pay close attention to what vPro can do for them and their customers.

Performance was tested using PassMark Performance Test 2.0. To normalize test results, 2GB of RAM was installed into the system, which netted an overall PassMark rating of 703.2. While most of the subsystems performed quite well, it was evident that the onboard graphics held the system back. Power usage peaked at 98 watts during testing and fell to 54 watts when the system was idle.

The system offered a Windows base experience index of 2.8. Once again the score was hampered by the integrated graphics, which was the lowest scoring component on the Windows experience index.

Although the unit’s onboard graphics did not achieve scores on par with discrete graphics, the system does offer enough performance to run the Windows Aero enhancements and should prove more than adequate for typical PC tasks, such as running office suites, Web browsing or e-mail. Those looking to run CAD or video-editing applications should seriously consider selecting a system with discrete graphics and avoid any systems that offer only onboard graphics.