About a year ago, William had our Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n Nano IoT Review. In the interim twelve months, a few notable developments occurred. Specifically, we managed to purchase a unit with slightly lower specs from Lenovo at a greatly reduced price, and we started Project TinyMiniMicro. These Nano PCs are an even smaller form factor but certainly come with both some benefits and trade-offs. As a result, we wanted to give a bit more about the system in light of what we have learned in this segment as we have reviewed dozens of competitive systems.
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-IoT Background
We wanted to take a look at this system from a different perspective given the drastically changed pricing. We also have a video on this unit on the STH YouTube channel here:
As always, we suggest opening the video in a larger browser if you want to check out the video as that usually has a better viewing experience.
The reason we had the opportunity to look at this system (again) this was posted in the STH forums and was available from Lenovo.com directly and from Lenovo on ebay for only $200 new.
The configuration included an Intel Core i3-8145U dual-core processor, 4GB of memory, and a 128GB SSD. We were a bit surprised that we also got a keyboard, mouse, and a USB-C to HDMI 2.0b adapter in the box.
As a result, we wanted to take a look at the system as an alternative to our Project TinyMiniMicro series and just do a quick hardware/ application overview.
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-IoT Overview
The Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-IoT is a very compact chassis.
Just for some sense on size, it is considerably smaller than a Project TinyMiniMicro node such as the Lenovo ThinkCentre M920x. There are certainly trade-offs being made to achieve this small size.
One of the high points of this system is the connectivity. On the front, we get three USB 3.1 Gen2 10Gbps ports. Two are Type-A and one is a Type-C port.
While that port layout, and including the power and headset jack may seem very similar to the M90n-1 Nano, the IoT version adds two serial COM ports. These are important since there are many IoT devices that utilize serial interfaces. Another major benefit of the legacy interface is that one can screw the serial cable in to secure it which is more resistant to inadvertently coming loose. Modern USB ports are designed to disconnect mush more easily.
The rear of the unit has a fairly standard power input (via a 65W power adapter) a display port and two additional USB 3.1 Gen2 10Gbps ports. One is a Type-A and one is a Type-C port. Lenovo includes a Type-C to HDMI 2.0b adapter to use with this Type-C port in order to get a second monitor output.
Perhaps the big feature here comes down to networking. There are two 1GbE network ports on the rear of this unit. One of the big asks we get around Project TinyMiniMicro nodes is around adding a second wired NIC. We even have a Guide to Turning a Project TinyMiniMicro Node into a pfSense Firewall due to requests around that solution. Here, we get two NICs. Since these are Realtek RTL8111-based NICs, for FreeBSD, we generally recommend updating drivers as sometimes the included drivers are dated and can cause performance issues. OSes such as Windows have more updated drivers.
This is a contrast to the non-IoT version which instead of this second NIC has a USB 3.1 Gen2 10Gbps Type-A port. Both of these units have 802.11ac WiFi so we get an antenna header.
We are going to get into the reason for this in our internal overview, but the side of the system has two additional antenna ports that are populated with blanks in our system.
You may have noticed a plastic cover in some of the photos, but not in others. This plastic cover is designed to add some protection from the top of the M90n-IoT’s heatsink. This is a passively cooled unit, so the system can get potentially warm. Under that plastic cover we get a warning label. This is a nice little touch.
Next, let us look inside the system and discuss applications.