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Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT Review - Silent desktop with crippled performance

Fins, not fans. The ThinkCentre M90n Nano IoT is a fanless variant of Lenovo's newest mini PC. While the rugged build is solid and the device is completely silent, performance leaves something to be desired, especially given the price.

We recently reviewed Lenovo's ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano desktop and found it to be a decent, though expensive, choice for mini PC enthusiasts. But what if you want a small desktop computer that makes no noise? The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT may pique your interest.

The small desktop features a completely fanless design. The case is designed with massive metal fins along the top to dissipate heat without the need for moving air. The result is a completely silent machine intended for use in commercial settings like Point-of-Sale or IT deployments. We'll take a look at the overall experience in this review.

Our configuration under review is equipped with an Intel Core i3-8145U, 4 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB PCIe SSD. This package costs US $584 direct from Lenovo.

The M90n Nano IoT's compact size makes it one of the smallest desktops to cross our review bench. We will compare the Nano IoT to other small form factor (SFF) desktops, including the Intel NUC8i7BEH, Intel NUC8i3CYSM, Lenovo's ThinkCentre M90n Nano, and the Zotac ZBOC-CI660 Nano.

Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Graphics adapter
Intel UHD Graphics 620 - 1024 MB, Core: 1196 MHz, Integrated, Intel UHD Graphics 620 25.20.100.6617
Memory
4096 MB 
, DDR4-2666
Mainboard
Intel Cannon Lake-U PCH-LP Premium
Storage
Samsung SSD PM981a MZVLB256HBHQ, 256 GB 
Soundcard
Intel Cannon Lake-LP - cAVS
Connections
5 USB 3.1 Gen2, 1 DisplayPort, 1 Kensington Lock, 2 Serial Port, Audio Connections: Combo headphone/mic
Networking
Realtek RTL8168/8111 Gigabit-LAN (10/100/1000/2500/5000MBit/s), Intel Wireless-AC 9560 (a/b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4/ac = Wi-Fi 5), Bluetooth 5.0
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 22 x 179 x 88 ( = 0.87 x 7.05 x 3.46 in)
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64 Bit
Additional features
12 Months Warranty, ruggedized
Weight
720 g ( = 25.4 oz / 1.59 pounds), Power Supply: 374 g ( = 13.19 oz / 0.82 pounds)
Price
584 USD
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.

 

Rating
Date
Model
Weight
Height
Size
Resolution
Best Price
01/2020
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
i3-8145U, UHD Graphics 620
720 g22 mmx
12/2019
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
i5-8265U, UHD Graphics 620
499 g22 mmx
09/2018
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
i5-8550U, UHD Graphics 620
1.1 kg68 mmx
06/2019
Intel NUC8i7BEH Asura NVMe SSD
i7-8559U, Iris Plus Graphics 655
683 g51 mmx
05/2019
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
i3-8121U, Radeon RX 540
660 g52 mmx

Case and Connectivity

The ThinkCentre M90n Nano IoT looks quite unique amidst the typical rectangular boxes into which most desktop PCs are packed. This is primarily because of the large fins needed to dissipate heat; the fins are necessary because the Nano IoT is fanless. The matte black finish across the metal fins along the top looks good and resists fingerprints, but that probably won't matter to end users; the Nano IoT will likely be tucked away under a desk, behind a monitor, or in a rack. The metal case feels solid and likely won't suffer much damage from unexpected falls. This robust structure grants the Nano IoT a MIL-STD-810G rating.

Port selection is geared toward enterprise users for use in retail or IoT deployments. As such, legacy connections such as two serial ports are present. However, the Nano IoT also has modern connections. The three USB-A and two USB-C ports are all USB 3.1 Gen 2. The USB-C port on the back can also be used to connect to a display and deliver power to the device. Rounding out the I/O are two Gigabit Ethernet ports (RJ45) and a full-sized DisplayPort.

Size Comparison

204 mm / 8.03 inch 129 mm / 5.08 inch 68 mm / 2.68 inch 1.1 kg2.52 lbs179 mm / 7.05 inch 88 mm / 3.46 inch 22 mm / 0.866 inch 720 g1.587 lbs179 mm / 7.05 inch 88 mm / 3.46 inch 22 mm / 0.866 inch 499 g1.1 lbs117 mm / 4.61 inch 112 mm / 4.41 inch 52 mm / 2.05 inch 660 g1.455 lbs115 mm / 4.53 inch 111 mm / 4.37 inch 51 mm / 2.01 inch 683 g1.506 lbs

Connectivity

Front: power button, 2x serial, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A, mic/headphone jack
Front: power button, 2x serial, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A, mic/headphone jack
Rear: DC in, DisplayPoty, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C (w/ display support and power in), 2x Ethernet, Kensington lock
Rear: DC in, DisplayPoty, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C (w/ display support and power in), 2x Ethernet, Kensington lock
Networking
iperf3 Client (receive) TCP 1 m 4M x10
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
Intel Wireless-AC 9560
643 MBit/s ∼100% +8%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Intel Wireless-AC 9560
598 MBit/s ∼93%
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
301 MBit/s ∼47% -50%
iperf3 Client (transmit) TCP 1 m 4M x10
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
Intel Wireless-AC 9560
604 MBit/s ∼100% +14%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Intel Wireless-AC 9560
531 MBit/s ∼88%
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
218 MBit/s ∼36% -59%

Input Devices

Lenovo includes a wireless keyboard and mouse with the Nano IoT. The keyboard features the same "smile"-shaped keys as many other Lenovo laptops. However, the keyboard is rather cheap. The key caps feel loose when typing, and feedback is rather mushy. Key travel is good, and clatter is reasonable, if a bit on the noisier side. The mouse is similarly hewn from cheap plastic and comes across as thin and hollow. All said, these accessories get the job done but are not pleasant to use.

Performance

Because of The Nano IoT's fanless design, configuration options are limited. Users can choose between either an Intel Celeron or Core i3 CPU and up to two 512 GB M.2 SSDs. All models are configured with 4 GB of RAM, which is soldered to the mainboard and non-upgradeable. 

Overall performance is sub-par considering the US $360+ price tag. This is partly due to the low-specced internals but is also due to some thermal throttling. While the fanless design is nice for noise control, it does no favors for performance.

Processor

Lenovo offers two CPU options for the Nano IoT: the Intel Celeron 4205U or Intel Core i3-8145U. Our review unit is powered by the Core i3-8145U. Built on the Whiskey Lake architecture (14 nm++), the 8145U is a dual-core hyperthreaded CPU often used for budget or low-powered machines. With its 2.1 GHz base clock and 3.9 GHz single-core boost (3.7 GHz on both cores), the 8145U is well-suited for lighter scenarios like office work or web browsing.

The Core i3-8145U proves to be too much for the Nano IoT's fanless design. Other laptops that run on the chip easily outpace the Nano IoT in Cinebench R15. Extended workloads magnify the mini PC's shortcomings. In our Cinebench R15 loop test (30 runs), the Nano IoT starts out well but heavily throttles soon into the test. Even the Pentium Gold 4417U (seen in a model of the Acer Swift 3) outperforms the Nano IoT over long workloads despite its lower class and cost. Potential buyers should pause before spending the extra $90 on the Core i3 model.

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Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT Intel Core i3-8145U, Intel Core i3-8145U: Ø206 (162.74-294.84)
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano Intel Core i5-8265U, Intel Core i5-8265U: Ø513 (491.14-523.79)
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano Intel Core i7-8550U, Intel Core i7-8550U: Ø571 (537.26-702.3)
Intel NUC8i3CYSM Intel Core i3-8121U, Intel Core i3-8121U: Ø316 (304.79-319.39)
Dell Latitude 3400 Intel Core i3-8145U, Intel Core i3-8145U: Ø313 (269.14-350.09)
Acer Swift 3 SF314-54-P2RK Intel Pentium Gold 4417U, Intel Pentium Gold 4417U: Ø227 (224.21-228.14)
Cinebench R15
CPU Single 64Bit
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
Intel Core i7-8550U
156 Points ∼70% +12%
Dell Latitude 3400
Intel Core i3-8145U
154 Points ∼69% +11%
Average of class Desktop
  (68 - 218, n=31)
151 Points ∼67% +9%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
Intel Core i5-8265U
148 Points ∼66% +6%
Average Intel Core i3-8145U
  (139 - 154, n=4)
148 Points ∼66% +6%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Intel Core i3-8145U
139 Points ∼62%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
Intel Core i3-8121U
133 Points ∼59% -4%
Acer Swift 3 SF314-54-P2RK
Intel Pentium Gold 4417U
89 Points ∼40% -36%
CPU Multi 64Bit
Average of class Desktop
  (176 - 2021, n=33)
739 Points ∼17% +109%
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
Intel Core i7-8550U
678 Points ∼15% +92%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
Intel Core i5-8265U
508 Points ∼12% +44%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Intel Core i3-8145U
353 Points ∼8%
Dell Latitude 3400
Intel Core i3-8145U
350 Points ∼8% -1%
Average Intel Core i3-8145U
  (318 - 361, n=4)
346 Points ∼8% -2%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
Intel Core i3-8121U
317.56 (min: 304.79, max: 319.39) Points ∼7% -10%
Acer Swift 3 SF314-54-P2RK
Intel Pentium Gold 4417U
228 Points ∼5% -35%
Cinebench R15 CPU Single 64Bit
139 Points
Cinebench R15 CPU Multi 64Bit
353 Points
Cinebench R15 OpenGL 64Bit
38.02 fps
Cinebench R15 Ref. Match 64Bit
97.8 %
Help

System Performance

Overall system performance is decent, mainly because of the snappy PCIe SSD. Some users will find the soldered 4 GB of RAM limiting, especially with several programs or browser tabs open. During our review period, we noticed the desktop consistently reloading web pages once 5 or more tabs were open in both Edge and Firefox. Lenovo should consider offering a variant with more RAM.

LatencyMon shows that the Nano IoT cannot adequately process real-time audio in conjunction with other tasks over long periods of time. In short bursts, LatencyMon shows favorable results. After about 30 seconds, latency begins to spike at regular 10-second intervals.

PCMark 10
Digital Content Creation
Average of class Desktop
  (972 - 11987, n=21)
4169 Points ∼32% +137%
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8550U, OCZ Vertex OCZSSD2-1VTX120G
2939 Points ∼23% +67%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8265U, Samsung SSD PM981 MZVLB512HAJQ
2917 Points ∼23% +66%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
Radeon RX 540, i3-8121U, Seagate ST1000VT001
2902 Points ∼22% +65%
Average Intel Core i3-8145U, Intel UHD Graphics 620
  (1762 - 2433, n=3)
2196 Points ∼17% +25%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
UHD Graphics 620, i3-8145U, Samsung SSD PM981a MZVLB256HBHQ
1762 Points ∼14%
Productivity
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8550U, OCZ Vertex OCZSSD2-1VTX120G
6481 Points ∼62% +14%
Average of class Desktop
  (2883 - 8515, n=21)
6390 Points ∼61% +12%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8265U, Samsung SSD PM981 MZVLB512HAJQ
6337 Points ∼61% +11%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
UHD Graphics 620, i3-8145U, Samsung SSD PM981a MZVLB256HBHQ
5689 Points ∼55%
Average Intel Core i3-8145U, Intel UHD Graphics 620
  (5274 - 6096, n=3)
5686 Points ∼55% 0%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
Radeon RX 540, i3-8121U, Seagate ST1000VT001
5302 Points ∼51% -7%
Essentials
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8265U, Samsung SSD PM981 MZVLB512HAJQ
8551 Points ∼75% +12%
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8550U, OCZ Vertex OCZSSD2-1VTX120G
8051 Points ∼70% +6%
Average of class Desktop
  (4418 - 10598, n=21)
7799 Points ∼68% +2%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
UHD Graphics 620, i3-8145U, Samsung SSD PM981a MZVLB256HBHQ
7625 Points ∼67%
Average Intel Core i3-8145U, Intel UHD Graphics 620
  (6911 - 7625, n=3)
7240 Points ∼63% -5%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
Radeon RX 540, i3-8121U, Seagate ST1000VT001
5576 Points ∼49% -27%
Score
Average of class Desktop
  (1658 - 7329, n=21)
4166 Points ∼51% +37%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8265U, Samsung SSD PM981 MZVLB512HAJQ
3876 Points ∼48% +27%
Zotac ZBOX-CI660 Nano
UHD Graphics 620, i5-8550U, OCZ Vertex OCZSSD2-1VTX120G
3837 Points ∼47% +26%
Average Intel Core i3-8145U, Intel UHD Graphics 620
  (3042 - 3399, n=3)
3207 Points ∼40% +5%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
Radeon RX 540, i3-8121U, Seagate ST1000VT001
3161 Points ∼39% +4%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
UHD Graphics 620, i3-8145U, Samsung SSD PM981a MZVLB256HBHQ
3042 Points ∼38%

Storage Devices

The saving grace of the Nano IoT is its Samsung PM981 PCIe SSD. The drive allows apps to open quickly and makes the overall experience feel snappier than the other specifications would imply. However, the drive is a fair bit slower than we normally see. Again, the primary culprit is likely thermal management. The Samsung PM981 is known for getting hot when strained. As such, the lack of active cooling in the machine may be the cause of its limited performance here.

Interestingly, CrystalDiskMark paints a noticeably different picture than AS SSD. This may be due to differences in the structures of the benchmarks.

Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Samsung SSD PM981a MZVLB256HBHQ
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
Samsung SSD PM981 MZVLB512HAJQ
Intel NUC8i7BEH Asura NVMe SSD
Asura Genesis Xtreme NVMe M.2 SSD 1 TB
Average Samsung SSD PM981a MZVLB256HBHQ
 
Average of class Desktop
 
AS SSD
48%
108%
44%
-4%
Score Total
1853
2716
47%
4454
140%
2603 (1853 - 3685, n=5)
40%
2006 (395 - 4454, n=17)
8%
Score Write
665
1305
96%
2193
230%
1159 (665 - 1902, n=5)
74%
733 (113 - 2193, n=17)
10%
Score Read
782
942
20%
1502
92%
957 (733 - 1184, n=5)
22%
850 (184 - 1524, n=17)
9%
Access Time Write *
0.047
0.032
32%
0.083
-77%
0.047 (0.027 - 0.085, n=5)
-0%
0.0891 (0.025 - 0.31, n=16)
-90%
Access Time Read *
0.06
0.039
35%
0.031
48%
0.059 (0.046 - 0.075, n=5)
2%
0.0935 (0.025 - 0.26, n=17)
-56%
4K-64 Write
499.12
1073.77
115%
1828.9
266%
883 (483 - 1565, n=5)
77%
551 (38.2 - 1829, n=17)
10%
4K-64 Read
642.98
726.4
13%
1221.61
90%
707 (508 - 903, n=5)
10%
672 (122 - 1258, n=17)
5%
4K Write
78.04
116.47
49%
173.28
122%
108 (78 - 131, n=5)
38%
87.4 (14.1 - 173, n=17)
12%
4K Read
40.25
48.46
20%
51.94
29%
49.9 (40.3 - 60.3, n=5)
24%
39.7 (14.6 - 128, n=17)
-1%
Seq Write
877.58
1150.28
31%
1908.19
117%
1677 (878 - 2133, n=5)
91%
942 (213 - 2315, n=17)
7%
Seq Read
992.04
1668.47
68%
2288.13
131%
2007 (992 - 2591, n=5)
102%
1384 (452 - 2640, n=17)
40%

* ... smaller is better

GPU Performance

3DMark
1920x1080 Fire Strike Graphics
Average of class Desktop
  (603 - 34697, n=24)
7301 Points ∼100% +746%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
AMD Radeon RX 540, Intel Core i3-8121U
3242 Points ∼44% +276%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
Intel UHD Graphics 620, Intel Core i5-8265U
1183 Points ∼16% +37%
Average Intel UHD Graphics 620
  (557 - 1418, n=170)
1140 Points ∼16% +32%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Intel UHD Graphics 620, Intel Core i3-8145U
863 Points ∼12%
1280x720 Cloud Gate Standard Graphics
Average of class Desktop
  (3863 - 182888, n=21)
31947 Points ∼100% +358%
Intel NUC8i3CYSM
AMD Radeon RX 540, Intel Core i3-8121U
18704 Points ∼59% +168%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano
Intel UHD Graphics 620, Intel Core i5-8265U
9590 Points ∼30% +38%
Average Intel UHD Graphics 620
  (6910 - 11436, n=184)
9155 Points ∼29% +31%
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT
Intel UHD Graphics 620, Intel Core i3-8145U
6971 Points ∼22%
3DMark Cloud Gate Standard Score
6043 points
3DMark Fire Strike Score
811 points
Help
low med. high ultra
BioShock Infinite (2013) 26 19 16 5 fps

Emissions and Power

System Noise

One of the (few) benefits of the Nano IoT is its fanless design. As such, the desktop is completely silent. There is no coil whine either.

Temperature

Herein lies the Achilles Heel of the Nano IoT. Despite its large fins, the desktop is crippled by heat. The chassis gets extremely hot under load, even to the point of discomfort.

Stressing the machine with an hour-long run of Prime95 shows its struggles with thermal management in full. The CPU constantly jumps between 400 and 2600 MHz with no in-between. The Nano IoT similarly struggles with graphical stress (via FurMark); the iGPU settles in at about 600 MHz over the hour-long test with frequent dips down to 300 MHz. All said, the machine will feel sluggish if pushed in extended workloads. Short bursts are well-handled, but anything longer than about 10 minutes cripples the device.

Prime95
Prime95
FurMark
FurMark
Prime95 + FurMark
Prime95 + FurMark
Idle
Idle
Load
Load

Speakers

The Nano IoT has a single small speaker that is good enough to get the machine set up, but users should opt for external speakers or headphones for media consumption. The mono speaker crackles at high volumes and is overall too thin.

Power Consumption

The Nano IoT does not draw much power. When Idle, it pulls about 3.5 Watts. Even under load, power consumption stays below 40 Watts and averages off at about 25 Watts. This desktop is a good low-energy option for IT or point-of-sale settings.

Full Load
Full Load
3DMark
3DMark
Prime95
Prime95
Power Consumption
Off / Standbydarklight 0.53 / 1.7 Watt
Idledarkmidlight 3.3 / 3.7 / 3.8 Watt
Load midlight 25.4 / 38.8 Watt
 color bar
Key: min: dark, med: mid, max: light        Metrahit Energy

Pros

+ noiseless operation
+ good selection of I/O, esp. for IT professionals
+ compact size
+ solid build quality

Cons

- performance throttling under load
- chassis gets warm under load
- pricey for the specs

Verdict

In review: Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT. Review unit provided by Lenovo.
In review: Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT. Review unit provided by Lenovo.

The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n Nano IoT is an interesting device. This is certainly not meant to be a consumer desktop. Those interested in purchasing a Lenovo mini PC for home or business use should look at the non-IoT model, the ThinkCentre M90n Nano. Potential buyers can also look at the various NUCs offered by Intel.

Rather, the IoT is meant for large-scale enterprise deployment where silent operation, a compact footprint, and low power consumption are mandatory. In these areas, the Nano IoT succeeds. The device is tiny, draws little power, has a bevy of ports selected for enterprise users, and is completely silent.

As the name implies, the Nano IoT is best used as an "Internet of Things" device. Under normal use cases, the Nano IoT crashes and burns. The device runs hot, and thermal throttling plagues performance.

In specific use cases where a computer is needed for short transactional computations (like at a point-of-sale or as part of a server array), the Nano IoY makes sense. Otherwise, the Nano IoT is not worth its relatively high asking price. Consumers should definitely look elsewhere.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano IoT Review - Silent desktop with crippled performance
Sam Medley, 2020-01-13 (Update: 2020-01-25)
Sam Medley
Sam Medley - Review Editor - @samuel_medley
I've been a "tech-head" my entire life. After graduating college with a degree in Mathematics, I worked in finance and banking a few years before taking a job as a Systems Analyst for my local school district. I started working with Notebookcheck in October of 2016 and have enjoyed writing news articles and notebook reviews. My areas of interest include the business side of technology, retro gaming, Linux, and innovative gadgets. When I'm not hunched over an electronic device or writing code for a new database, I'm either outside with my family, playing a decade-old video game, or sitting behind a drum set.