The Lenovo ThinkCentre M71e is a mini tower PC with a classy design that's not at all boring for an office. Indeed, it has a little more flair than a typical business-class machine (although some may argue this) and, most importantly, it possesses good speed and adequate connectivity.
A quad-core Intel Core i5-2500 CPU runs the show, and it features a speed of 3.3GHz. It's joined by 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM (one module), a 7200rpm, 500GB SATA hard drive and an AMD Radeon HD 5450 graphics adapter with 512MB of its own memory. It's a pretty good configuration for a business PC and it will handle office tasks and even more taxing tasks such as video conversions and editing without any trouble at all. This was shown in our tests where the ThinkCentre M71e took only 23sec to complete the Blender3D rendering workload and 40sec to complete the iTunes MP3 encoding test.
Its hard drive also proved to be more than decent, recording a rate of 43.2 megabytes per second (MBps) in our file copying tests, and read and write rates of 134MBps and 133MBps, respectively, in CrystalDiskMark. The Radeon graphics card in this machine isn't a fast one, and this was shown in 3DMark06, where it recorded a score of 3804. You could get away with using the CPU's integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics on this system, unless you need the DisplayPort capability that the discrete adapter offers.
During everyday use, the machine felt responsive and it performed our typical office jobs (heavy Web browsing sessions, always-open email, photo editing, document creation) without any problems. It wasn't an annoyingly loud machine, despite having three fans installed (including the 280W power supply fan, CPU fan and rear case fan) and an open air vent on the front panel. This vent has another purpose, too: it's there to make sure you can hear sound from the built-in speaker. We haven't come across too many desktop PCs that have a speaker built in to them, and it's a pretty good idea, especially if you don't have any headphones to hand and you're not using a multimedia monitor. Its quality is decent enough for monitoring videos and any other audio you need to work with on an everyday basis.
Setting up the machine took a good few minutes all up and we also had to contend with screens asking if we wanted to buy a Microsoft Office product key and enable Norton Internet Security (it comes with a 30-day trial). Lenovo ships the PC with its ThinkVantage Toolbox, which is basically a central point for running diagnostics, and finding out what backup and anti-virus solutions are installed and enabled (if any). Lenovo also supplies its own multi-monitor management utility (called View Management).
As far as small tower PCs go, this one is very stylish and won't take up too much space on a desk. It's 39cm tall and 41cm deep and it's not too heavy. It feels solidly constructed and it has a front panel that incorporates a handle so that you can carry it conveniently when you need to set up a new station or pull a machine out for repair. The side panel can be easily removed thanks to the use of thumbscrews. The case itself isn't tool-less though; you'll have to bust out the screwdriver if you ever need to replace the hard drive.
There is one hard drive installed in a drive cage that can only be described as 'vertical'. The drive is screwed in to the side of the cage vertically, with four screws attached to the underside of the drive, which faces the open side of the case. This design makes it a little easier to manoeuvre the drive out of the case; you won't have to dodge the graphics card and any other motherboard connectors. There is room in the cage for two drives to be installed.
A DVD burner is installed in the 5.25in bay at the top of the case and it has one of the strongest motors we have ever seen. The tray ejects and closes almost as soon as you hit the button — there is very little lag. Just under the DVD burner is an SD card reader some easy-access ports: two USB 2.0 ports and headphone and microphone ports.
The assembly of the machine is basic. Some cables have been lazily tied and the system just looks a little messy overall — even a screw was missing from the DVD burner mount. That said, you probably don't want too much neatness in a system like this in case you need to quickly service it. As it stands, all you have to do re-arrange the cables is cut off the cable ties holding them together. The motherboard has two memory slots and two unoccupied PCI Express x1 slots for expansion.
All up, this is a simple machine with a decent configuration that's well suited for business use. It doesn't have fancy features such as USB 3.0, and it even holds on to some relics from the past, such as PS/2. You get four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, DVI, DisplayPort, and analogue audio ports, as well as a corded keyboard and mouse.