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Lenovo Refines Professional Workstation Designs for Greater Reliability

23 Jun, 2019 Sponsored By: Lenovo

A workstation manufacturer discusses the company’s strategies to overcome workstation reliability challenges including heat, shock, and the rigors of daily use.

Designing a product reliable enough to assist with mapping the ocean floor, building the next airplane, or launching a medical application that could save someone’s life is a tremendous responsibility. At Lenovo, our workstation engineers meticulously and intentionally model our solutions, with the goal of providing our customers with the most reliable workstations in the industry. According to research group TBR’s latest PC Reliability Study, Lenovo was rated the most reliable workstation provider, in fact, 91% of customers said they are likely to buy again based on quality and reliability — an industry-leading response.

From detailed electrical and mechanical stress tests to our rigorous validation and deep understanding of the professionals using our workstations, our mission is to build a purpose-driven machine that meets and ultimately exceeds expectations of what a workstation can do.

Built to Endure

Lenovo has been working to prove the reliability of the ThinkPad line of laptop computers for more than a quarter-century. We’ve carried out ThinkPad “torture testing” for years, even before MIL-SPEC testing was part of the process. That’s why our systems passed the first MIL-SPEC tests the very first time. With 12 methods and 22 procedures — including everything from shock and altitude testing to exposure to explosive environments and fungus — our systems are proven to endure extreme environments. Not only that, but durability tests, such as 30,000 open-and-close hinge tests and 100,000 key presses, ensure the rigors of daily use are more than covered.

Lenovo's MIL-SPEC testing addresses a range of environmental conditions that can be hazardous to workstations, including high and low temperatures, humidity, vibration, dust, and more. 

This legacy of reliability continues today, with thoughtful design, consideration for individual components, and the same development teams seeing our products throughout the entire design and production processes.

Meeting the Most Extreme Demands

Our engineers’ process begins and ends with the mindset to design workstations that will conquer all the challenges they face — regardless of their environments. From the tiniest circuits to the full box, Lenovo designs for extreme cases — providing customers a considerable margin between what our systems can do and what their workloads demand. While we would never expect a customer to drop their workstation, our packaged desktop workstations can fall at any angle from up to 36" above ground without any components breaking. What’s more, Lenovo’s desktop workstations are put through fragility testing without packaging — ensuring the systems can endure up to a 45G shock without issue.

Similarly, while we always ensure our systems can operate in extreme thermal and environmental conditions, we are constantly rewriting those standards to meet the requirements of our most demanding customers. For instance, after a customer in the healthcare industry requested that we begin testing for 95% relative humidity, we listened, we tested our systems for it, and they passed. Now, this criterion is part of our overall testing standard to guarantee our systems work within each of our customers’ unique use environments.

Keeping Cool Under Pressure

To address the increasing component and performance needs of our professionals, our engineers looked to reduce the number one enemy for technology: heat.

When we developed the ThinkPad P series, we introduced a dual-fan solution, increasing the number of vents and adding graphite sheets to the bottom to better dissipate heat and decrease the skin-touch temperature. Customers soon told us that while our systems met their needs in terms of temperature and performance, there was still work to be done on the acoustics. This is when problem-solving gets tricky: Everything in a system is carefully balanced, and any slight tweak to one component could throw off another. For instance, we did not want to reduce the noise of the fans and end up increasing the heat within the system.

We heard our customers, so we adjusted our fan behavior within our mobiles and then reviewed the thermal design of our desktop workstations to determine how the current fans were allowing air to pass across components. By simulating the setup in FloTHERM thermal analysis software, we found that optimizations to some of the fans could reduce noise, while still regulating the system’s temperature — striking the right balance between cool and quiet. Similarly, when testing found the NVMe solid-state drives (SSDs) ran hotter than other SSDs and would throttle, we incorporated thermal pads to solve the problem. These pads are made of material that helps transfer heat away from the drives, reducing component wear and tear. 

As a result of this dedication, the majority of our customers believe we consistently invest in increasing the reliability of our workstations, according to the TBR report.

Power to Perform

If you’re a professional working in media and entertainment, healthcare, or oil and gas, your workflows demand that your computer systems run at optimal performance 24 hours a day. This is where electrical testing comes into play. Our electrical architects review the layout of every workstation, ensuring everything from core design and unique circuits to diagnostics, power, and sequencing are optimized. As a result, signal integrity for each bus and power to each controller is well within requirements. This attention to detail leads to peak performance and reliable uptime, along with environmental resilience and prevention of electromagnetic interference.

In addition, each new component and connection must undergo robust testing for product assurance and delivery requirements. If circuits fail or are designed incorrectly, users can find themselves in a situation where they are overstressing a component, such as the CPU, to the point of failure. To avoid this, our electrical engineers work to ensure our systems are adequately and purposefully designed.

Test — and Then Test Again

From electrical to mechanical to thermal testing, all design points are eventually brought together to go through our robust testing process. In each iteration of design, our team considers the rigorous validation the system must withstand when creating mechanical and electrical specifications. Built-in hardware diagnostics help evaluate electrical robustness across all the unique configurations our test team evaluates, helping us identify and improve weak points and ensuring our systems can withstand whatever our customers throw at them. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that our customers’ productivity is not hindered by downtime caused by repairs or malfunctions. The result? Once our systems go into production, we’re delivering a ThinkStation or ThinkPad that meets the reliability standards we have set for our workstation portfolio.

The bottom line is that customers are looking for systems designed for long-haul, professional, 24/7 use, and we understand that. We don’t just design to meet requirements; we go the extra step, run our workstations through extra tests, and implement the most powerful technology to truly power the work our professionals do across the globe. We know our customers cannot afford to invest in workstations that will fail.

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