February 14th, 2020 by Adam Armstrong
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT Review
The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 IoT is an incredibly small form factor workstation purpose-built for IoT workloads. Though tiny, the M90n-1 packs in 4GB of DDR4 RAM, up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i3, up to two 512GB M.2 SSDs, and lots of connectivity. Aside from wired network connectivity the M90n IoT supports WiFi, Bluetooth, LPWAN, and 4G/LTE WWAN wireless connections to make sure that it can stay connected even in places where running network cables can be challenging.
A big feature of this device is its tiny design. As stated, the M90n-1 is very small but doesn’t skimp on good components. It can be placed in any place where space is valuable and even mounted easily if need be, behind a monitor, under a desk, on a well, or wherever users need it. Though it has a fanless design to run quietly, the M90n-1 can efficiently dissipate heat to keep performance high. The M90n-1 has a thermal ran of 0-50 °C and is designed for higher vibration and thermal environments like manufacturing.
The M90n-1 Is covered in connectivity which allows it to several IoT devices and peripherals (such as sensors and cameras). This connectivity gives customers increased responsiveness and reliability through their ability to rapidly relay information even in environments that are harsh such as manufacturing. Lenovo sells an expansion I/O box to add even more connectivity to the device if need be.
We also have a video review for those that are interested:
The device starts as low as $359 but is customizable so the price can vary depending on need.
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT Specifications
|CPU||8th Gen Intel Core i3-8145U (2.10GHz, up to 3.90GHz, 2 cores, 4MB Cache)|
|Memory||Up to 4GB DDR4 (Onboard)|
|Storage||Samsung PM981 a 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD|
|Front||2 x USB 3.1 (Gen 2)
USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2)
2 x Serial Port
Headphone / mic combo
USB 3.1 (Gen 2) (Core i3 models)
USB 2.0 (Celeron models)
USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2)
2 x RJ45
|Expansion||M.2 for WiFi|
|Connectivity||802.11AC (2x2) & Bluetooth 4.0|
|Cloud Certification||Microsoft Azure IoT Edge|
|Dimension (WxDxH)||179mm x 88mm x 22mm / 7.05" x 3.46" x 0.87"|
|Weight||Starting from 720g / 1.6lbs|
|Power Supply||65W Adapter|
Design and build
The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT is a tiny desktop computer falling in between the size of a Raspberry Pi and a Mac Mini. The M90n is fanless so there are some heat dissipating fins along the top of the device (and they can get fairly hot to the touch, so keep the plastic shroud on). While this thing can generate some heat, there isn’t going to be much need to move it or touch it while it is running.
The front of the M90n, going from left to right, has the power button, two serial ports, a USB-C (3.1 Gen 2) port, two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, and a headphone/microphone combo port.
Flipping the device over, again from left to right, we see the DC-in port, a DisplayPort, a USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, to RJ45 network ports, and a Kensington lock slot.
Taking off the bottom cover, one can easily see the M.2 SSD for storage, another to the left of it, a slot above that for WiFi, and the upper right corner for the 4G card.
Flipping the device back to its side with the cover off, we can see that the heat spreader runs across the top of all the components to keep them running right even when the M90n-1 gets hot.
Testing Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT raises a few issues. Our typical workstation benchmarks are designed around higher end GPUs as most workstations sold are aimed toward the engineering market. The M90n-1 is not designed to be a graphic powerhouse. In order to find a test that may lend itself better to the use cases of the M90n-1 we went with PCMark 10 and a slightly modified IOMeter.
While the M90n-1 had very strong results in essentials (7,140) and Productivity (5,756), the two categories that are germane to the M90n-1 use case and abilities, digital content (1,843) brought the overall average down some. Still the M90n-1 was able to hit 3,033.
With IOMeter we ran single thread and 16 thread count. For the single thread the M90n-1 was able to hit 2MB sequential of 2.2GB/s read and 1.9GB/s write. 2MB random saw 1.7GB/s read and 433.8MB/s write. For 4K random throughput we saw 10,035 IOPS read and 28,063 IOPS write
With 16 thread, 2MB sequential gave us 3.2GB/s read and 2.1GB/s write. 2MB random saw 2.7GB/s read and 434.5MB/s write. For 4K random throughput we saw 78,974 IOPS read and 84,263 IOPS write.
The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT is a tiny workstation designed for IoT use cases. The overall design took some fancy engineering to get lots of capable hardware in such a tiny footprint while along the M90n-1 to dissipate heat without a fan. On top of that, the device is covered in connectivity and supports most wireless ways of connecting to make sure it can reach out to IoT devices and give users the ability to process them as soon as possible. The device can survive in environments typically not suited for workstations and users can get started for a very low price.
As stated, coming up with a test to reflect its use cases took some head scratching. However, we found that PCMark 10 would give potential users a good idea of what to expect when leveraging the M90n-1. While its overall score was a bit low, 3,033, it did score higher on essentials and productivity. In other words, the M90n-1 shows good performance in the areas it is most likely to be utilized in.
We also ran IOMeter in single and 16 thread. The results were impressive with single thread showing highs of 2.2GB/s read and 1.9GB/s write in 2MB sequential and throughput of 10K IOPS read and 28K IOPS write in random 4K. 16 Thread showed highs of 2.7GB/s read in 2MB random read and 2.1GB/s in 2MB sequential write. We also saw 4K throughput of 79K IOPS read and 84K IOPS write.
The tiny Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT can be picked up for under $400 and can be put in harsh environments where IoT devices are monitoring what is going on. Given this target use, Lenovo has done really well with the design of the system, while refusing to skimp on key components.
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