Lenovo TS140, revisited

So, it has been 5 months since I originally purchased my Lenovo TS140 to serve as my home media server and honestly it has fulfilled it’s task relatively well. However I do believe nothing is perfect and using the server for a prolonged period has highlighted some quirks that if resolved would (in my opinion) improve the server for a home use scenario. So here is my opinion on the TS140 by Lenovo, 5 months later.

1. No S3/4 power states

So this has been my biggest issue with the server by far, recently I moved on from my CentOS setup with Plex to something that could centralise my entire media consumption needs (Distributed TV tuner, DVD player etc) so to test the idea out I installed Windows Server 2012 (Easiest platform to work with a cheap tuner I had) on the server and set out to build my vision of a centralised media distribution system. After setting up a VPN and the tuner I was thwarted when I turned of the server to find it would not turn on despite me sending numerous WOL magic packets from multiple devices. Naturally I turned to the internet with this un-explainable issue only to find the server did not support wake on LAN (WOL) when using Server 2012/2008 as it lacks S3/4 power states.

(For a quick explanation, S power states are the states the system can be in when powered on with S3/4 being the lowest power usage states before the system is fully powered down (G3) or has to perform a full boot up (S5). More information can be found here on power states.)

So this was a big problem for me as to conserve energy usage I regularly put the server into S2/1 using the shutdown command via SSH but this remote turn off/on was not possible with Windows meaning I could not test out my idea. This was a big disappointment as it is a feature that I do rely on and it is unlikely to be fixed by Lenovo who have acknowledged the servers lack of the ACPI states and have stated they are not going to add them. I can understand this though as many servers in corporate environments (Which this was designed to be used in) do not put their servers into hibernate/sleep would find the feature unnecessary. Despite this I still believe that Lenovo could have added the states without increasing the servers costs by a significant amount.

2. Divided 5.25″ bays

The TS140 contains two 5.25″ bays for DVD drives/HDD caddies with the server being fitted with a slimline optical drive and fan as standard. However if a user wanted to add more HDDs using a hot-swappable bay system such as those sold by ICYDock then they are out of luck unless they buy single bays as the servers bays are divided meaning you would have to get creative with a saw or dremmel to fit a device that takes up two bays.

This seemed unnecessary as I can’t see a reason for the division other than aesthetics which in a server environment are not a priority over functionality such as the expansion of the server which natively can only hold three 3.5″ drives which are not hot swappable and do require the purchase of an expansion kit to use the “Floppy drive bay” as a 3.5″ bay.

3. Weird power supply/proprietary connectors

This one is an issue experienced by many TS140 owners as the server power supply (Which I should commend as it is an 80Plus gold unit) uses a proprietary motherboard connector with no SATA cables. This means that to connect SATA power cables to your drives you have to connect them to the motherboard which does result in the motherboard being the center of power distribution which is fine in principle but after expansion/growth could lead to issues. This can’t be resolved by just upgrading the PSU either as due to the non-ATX motherboard power connector you have to buy a conversion kit as well so the motherboard can use a standard-ATX power supply. Again this seems just unnecessary which is why I find it to be an issue as if there were a logical reason to justify the connectors it would not bother me.

It’s not all bad though, here are some positives

1. The 5.25″ bays

I know this seems like I am ranting but I must commend the server on it’s positive aspects as well as highlighting the negatives. A note-able feature of the server (Which in my application for the server is invaluable) is the 5.25″ bays. Many servers such as the Dell T20/HP Microserver Gen8 eliminated the addition of full size ODD bays from their servers meaning those wanting to use the server as a media consumption/distributor had to purchase slim optical drives (Or for the HP a special 9.5mm unit which has an increased costs over standard 12mm drives). Thankfully the TS140 allowed me to use a standard BluRay drive that I had previously used in my gaming PC meaning it saved me around £30 which is a big positive for the TS140.

2. ESXi works OOTB

Another big plus for the TS140 is that VMWares ESXi 6 works out of the box with no need to purchase additional hardware such as NICs or RAID cards. This is a big benefit if you want to use the server for virtualisation but don’t want to use Microsoft’s Hyper-V. Competitors to the TS140 such as the Dell T20 do work with ESXi but require you to download optimised versions from the manufacturer website as opposed to direct from VMWare and even then you will need to invest in a PCI-E NIC as the on-board one is not supported by ESXi. Again although the TS140 is often more expensive than the T20 after the extra costs for these items it may be more cost effective just to purchase the TS140, also you have the ability to use the PCI-E slots for other uses such as more NICs/Tuners/WIFI cards.

3. AMT Management

This one is dependent on what servers you are comparing the TS140 to but all TS140 servers come with Intel’s AMT management which allows you to interface with the server even when you are not in the same building as long as you have configured the server via AMT in the motherboards BIOS. This is a benefit when compared to Dell as their T20 server only comes with AMT if you purchase the Xeon variant of the server and HP’s Microserver does not come with AMT at all (They opt for HP’s iLO management). This means the TS140 is easier to maintain as you can just login and sort out any issues as and when they occur without the need to go to the workstation and login, a major benefit if the server is not located in your home/at your workplace.

4. Whisper quiet

This was noticeable immediately after moving it around the house. During the period of configuring the server I had it positioned in the living room so I could work on the server without being confined to the dungeon that is upstairs. I accidently left the server on one night and despite everyone being in the living room no-one realised the server was turned on until it I checked on PC which was displaying the server on the network. This is impressive as for standard fans that are included in the server it will certainly save some capital that would normally be put towards reasonable fans such as Noctuas. I haven’t had any personal experience but I hear (No pun intended) that the fans on the Microserver are rather loud so this is a welcome positive to me.

Conclusion

So there have been some ups and downs with the server and it’s quirky features but overall I have to say I think it was still worth the price paid (After cashback anyway) as based on functionality when turned on I have not yet seen a scenario which it can’t tackle. Because it contains a Xeon and has whisper quiet fans it makes it an ideal media server and I suppose it could even be re-purposed as an all out home media center as it would certainly compete with previous systems I’ve seen used as HTPCs. Yes the WOL issue is irritating but again I must stress the server is not being used for it’s original intended purpose.

Personally, I’ll probably be salvaging the HDD, RAM and CPU and moving to another server such as the T20 or a custom unit built by myself as I could use Windows Server 2012 and the WOL functionality to test out some ideas but for now that is not necessary.

So this was a revisited review of the Lenovo TS140 server, let me know your opinion and what you think of the server and/or the review.

(Images from Lenovo)

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