A compact entry-level 3D CAD workstation with excellent build quality

  • Intel Xeon E3-1230 V2 3.3 GHz (Quad Core) (Ivy Bridge) CPU
  • 8GB (2 x 4GB) PC3-12800 1600MHz DDR3 memory
  • Nvidia Quadro 600 (1GB DDR3) graphics
  • 1TB 7,200RPM 6Gb/s SATA drive
  • Lenovo motherboard (Intel C216 chipset)
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  • 3 year on-site warranty


They say the best things come in small packages. And Lenovo obviously thinks so. Its new ThinkStation E31 SFF (Small Form Factor) is a great little machine, perfectly proportioned for cramped design offices, but still kitted out with workstation-class components.

This is encapsulated by the Xeon E3-1230 V2, a quad core Ivy Bridge CPU. At 3.3GHz it’s slightly slower at core tasks than the popular CAD chip, the 3.4GHz Core i5-3570K, but with support for HyperThreading it gives a welcome boost when rendering. Its Xeon credentials also mean support for Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory, which can be important for CAD users who put a premium on stability.

ECC does come at a price so to keep costs down our test machine was kitted out with 8GB of more prosaic non-ECC memory. This is a good amount for entry level CAD and BIM, though there are still two slots free for future upgrades.

Storage is nothing fancy — a 1TB 7,200RPM 6Gb/s SATA. To boost capacity, 2TB and 3TB drives are available and there is also space for a second drive. Those looking for more performance can opt for SSDs or 10K SATAs.

One area where there is no flexibility is with graphics. The low-profile Nvidia Quadro 600 is the only real option for CAD confirming the ThinkStation E31 SFF’s standing of an entry-level 3D workstation.

Despite its slimline 337 x 369 x 100mm chassis, the E31 SFF has retained Lenovo’s trademark serviceability. A lever at the back unlocks the solid case and the hinged side panel flips open. Everything is pretty cramped inside but upgrades are straightforward. The hard drive caddy, mounted on plastic clips, comes out with ease, giving unobstructed access to the memory.

The ThinkStation E31 SFF is not for everyone, which is why Lenovo also produces a larger ThinkStation E31 Tower, which offers more expandability and higher-end graphics options. But for those in the market for a compact entry-level workstation for CAD or BIM with excellent build quality the E31 SFF is one of the best we have seen.