Introducing the Lenovo ThinkCentre M92 Tiny

It's hard not to notice the direction computing is going, both in the enterprise and at home. Notebooks are getting thinner and lighter, tablets are taking off, and on desktops Mini-ITX is becoming less of a niche form factor and more of a legitimate, mainstream option. As CPU and GPU power consumption is gradually brought in line and more features are integrated directly into the chipset, we simply have less of a need for big desktops capable of dissipating mountains of heat and supporting multiple expansion cards.

Part and parcel with this, we've had a chance to check out two small form factor systems from Puget Systems and a completely fanless kiosk-style system from Logic Supply, and today we have on hand from Lenovo their ThinkCentre M92 Tiny. Ours is the entry-level configuration, and Lenovo packs a healthy amount of flexibility into a small chassis along with a couple of wrinkles of their own. Did they get the balance right with the M92, though, or were the wrong compromises made?

Optical drives are becoming less and less relevant, and that's made abundantly clear just by the removable "cage" that ships mounted to the M92 Tiny. To actually use the DVD writer you need to connect a small external USB cable, but the entire brace is easy enough to remove. That said, the brace also adds VESA mounts to the M92, making it potentially ideal for kiosk duty (much like Logic Supply's LGX AG150), and the system runs below the noise floor of my sound meter even under load. There's a lot to like about the design, but I feel like there are some real omissions here, too.

Lenovo ThinkCentre M92 Tiny Specifications
Chassis Lenovo Custom
Processor Intel Core i5-3470T
(2x2.9GHz + HTT, 22nm, Turbo to 3.6GHz, 3MB L3, 35W)
Motherboard Custom Q77
Memory 1x4GB Samsung DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD 2500 Graphics (650-1100MHz, 6 EUs)
Hard Drive(s) Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB 5400-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) Removable DVD+/-RW Drive
Power Supply 65W External PSU
Networking Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC662
Headphone and mic jacks
Front Side 2x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side AC adaptor
DisplayPort
2x USB 3.0
VGA
Ethernet jack
USB 2.0
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
Extras Removable VESA/ODD cage
Warranty 3-year
Pricing Starting at $699

The M92 is a capable machine, but the Intel Core i5-3470T strikes me as being a very unusual choice. This is a dual core Ivy Bridge processor with a 35-watt TDP, and it's presently the only Ivy Bridge dual core desktop processor available. It's certainly capable enough, but it's basically an i7-3520M with a worse IGP and less L3 cache. I feel like Lenovo should've opted for a mobile CPU; the i5-3470T is definitely a money saver, but at a $699 starting price for what are really pretty skint system specs, I'd almost rather see an Intel Core i7-3612QM.

Those skint specs extend to just 4GB of DDR3, a slow 5400-RPM mechanical hard drive, and no wireless connectivity of any kind. These can all be upgraded, mind you, but you'll have to pay for each one. The system itself is next to impossible to actually dismantle, too, so you're stuck ordering these upgrades when you order the system. When we're starting at $699 we should have at least wireless ethernet and Bluetooth standard, especially given just how small and portable the M92 really is.

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  • NCM - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    Dustin Sklavos writes: "...it's for enterprise and kiosk usage. Those last two markets are places nobody in their right mind is going to buy a Mac for."

    Hmmm. I'd suggest that "nobody in their right mind" should make such absolute statements.

    Mac Minis have been used in kiosk systems since shortly after the product was first introduced. At that time the Mini was pretty much a unique design, one whose compact size lent itself to that kind of use.

    My wife's company has built interactive trade show displays for their enterprise customers that are designed to be powered by a Mac Mini, and I can't imagine that these are at all unique.

    While you can of course run Windows on Mac hardware (we have several such setups for various purposes), I'd need to be shown a very good reason to choose a Mac for dedicated Windows use. Swimming upstream tends to get tiring and unproductive. On the other hand a Mini lends itself very nicely to something like an HTML based interactive display system, or of course native Mac programs.

    As far as price comparisons between the Lenovo and a Mac Mini go, we shouldn't forget that the latter includes Bluetooth and WiFi, although the current version has dropped the internal optical drive. However for the specialized applications and enterprise market for which the Lenovo is intended I doubt that any of that matters one way or the other. Enterprise customers don't think about a few hundred bucks either way unless they're buying bulk quantities of something.
    Reply
  • Sbijman - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Err. not really. A Mac Mini with 4 GB RAM, 3 yr warranty and a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter costs $827,-

    Besides that, the rivets aren't much of a problem in an enterprise environment where you probably have a couple of units on the shelve in case one breaks. In that case, you just swap the computers and call Lenovo to come and fix it. If it's out of warranty, it's not worth my time to repair it myself.

    Even the bloatware doesn't matter, because the first thing I'd do when I'd get a shipment of these is simply add some drivers to the deployment system and re-image the lot. I'd probably do that anyway, with or without bloatware.
    Reply
  • colinstu - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Wrong.

    $899 for a Mac Mini that still doesn't have a processor as fast as the Lenovo for only $639. (2.7GHz vs 2.9), and the Lenovo is 3rd Gen Intel... not sure if the mac is 2nd or 3rd.

    Both have 4GB of ram, 5400rpm 500gb hard drive, no keyboard or mouse. Mini has no optical drive, Lenovo has a CD/DVD-rom drive. Not to mention the Lenovo is easier to open and service... something important for an IT staff.
    Reply
  • sphigel - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    I just bought a Mac Mini for a classroom environment and to my dismay it doesn't even come with a slot for a kensington lock anymore. I had to pay $60 for a lockable cage to put it in. It seemed like an odd thing to leave out. Also, a comparable Mac Mini with AppleCare (the lenovo comes with 3 yr warranty) is $798. So it doesn't cost less or do more. Reply
  • ender8282 - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Does more? The $599 mac mini doesn't come with an optical drive, and only comes with 2GB of ram. I would argue that its less of a machine, and costs less. Add an super drive, and an extra 2GB or ram and its close cost and feature wise. If you are a mac user its probably a better choice. If you are an Windows user its still missing, well, Windows. Reply
  • mrsmegz - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    I mean these things are laptops w/o Keyboards, Touchpads, or Displays. and just have to be fit into a square box w/o moving hinges or anything. Why is it they cost so much more than a similarly equipped laptop? Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Volume is a big park of it. Bottom grade laptops sell in much larger numbers winning economies of scale.

    Also in this case Lenovo includes a 3 year warranty. That covers a large portion of the price gap with an entry level laptop.
    Reply
  • Conficio - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    You can upgrade to a 7,200 RPM disk for $0 and eschew the keyboard and mouse for $20, but not the optical drive (only downgrade to a DVD reader).

    I think for the money you can get cheaper AllInOne machines for thin client or Kiosk duty. Only if you need a really large monitor for Kiosk duty this makes sense.
    Reply
  • rkhpedersen - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Why would I get this over a Mac Mini, which by the way is remarkable absent from the comparison? Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    As I mentioned to a previous poster, this serves different markets than the Mac Mini does. The Mac Mini is for Apple users; PC and enterprise need not apply. Reply

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