Back in March of 2012 I posted the build components for my ESXi 5.0 home lab server. Since we’re coming up on 2 years from that point, and there’s all sorts of crazy holiday shopping deals going on, I figured it was time for a refresh. Without further ado, here is a look at the new build components for an ESXi 5.5 home lab server.
Many folks have had an eyeball on the new 4th gen Haswell chips, which is the latest Tock release for Intel in the 22nm fabrication process (Broadwell, the next Tick, is coming shortly). Haswell requires a motherboard with the LGA 1150 socket (also referred to as Socket H3) and offers a decent number of performance bumps over the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge chips.
There are two quad core options available for your home lab server – with Hyper Threading or without. The Xeon E3-1220v3 runs a straight 4 cores and 4 threads, while the Xeon E3-v1230v3 runs 4 cores and 8 threads. Both are similar in almost all other respects (the 1230 has a slightly faster clock) and include support for the entire range of advanced technologies – vPro, VT-x, VT-d, EPT, TET, etc.
I’d personally go with the 1230 or better, but I realize that many folks do not need Hyper Threading and want to save a few bucks with the 1220 option.
- Intel Xeon E3-1220V3 Haswell Proc
Intel Xeon E3-1230V3 Haswell ProcOutdated
- Intel Xeon E3-1231V3 Haswell Proc
Because the Haswell requires the LGA 1150 socket, the older SuperMicro MBD-X9SCM-F-O board won’t do – it has an LGA 1155 socket (called the Socket H2 for those playing at home). LGA 1150 is the replacement for LGA 1155.
I have no desire to deviate from SuperMicro server boards, mainly due to the superb IPMI and remote KVM / media features. These are “must haves” on my home lab list, mainly because I hate crash carts, and IP KVMs for a small environment rarely have remote media at a good price. As such, I would go with the SuperMicro MBD-X10SLH-F-O. This micro ATX board has all the bells and whistles of the previous board – including IPMI 2.0 with KVM – with an Intel C226 chipset.
If the C226 has too many features for your price point, you can drop down to the Intel C222 chipset with the MBD-X10SLL-F-O board.
If you are upgrading the guts of an older server running Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge, chances are you can re-use your heat sink assembly. The LGA 1150 screw placements are identical to the LGA 1155 screw placements.
- SuperMicro MBD-X10SLH-F-O (C226)
- SuperMicro MBD-X10SLL-F-O (C222)
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Both boards use the Intel I210-AT LAN chipset, which is supported by VMware. If the hypervisor does not recognize your NICs during installation, create a custom ESXi ISO with the Intel I210 driver package. I suggest using the ESXi-Customizer – it’s awesome!
The processor maxes out at 32 GB of ECC Unregistered DIMMs (UDIMMs). The memory type is critical – I saw a ton of comments in my last build post where people bought the wrong memory, so make sure it is Unregistered / Unbuffered (these mean the same thing) and has ECC. Most vendors will call this an ECC UDIMM.
Earlier in 2013 I posted an article about upgrading the SuperMicro box to the max amount of memory. A full set of 4 sticks of 8 GB memory cost about $250 US. Unfortunately, the price of memory has skyrocketed (at the time of this writing) due to disasters at fabrication plants. My advice is to shop around for a great deal on 4 sticks of 8 GB memory (commonly just called 4×8) of ECC UDIMM at 1600 MHz.
Here’s the list of filters I used on Newegg for memory:
- 32 GB (4×8) of Kingston Technology ValueRAM box KVR16E11K4/32
- 16 GB (2×8) of Crucial box CT2KIT102472BA160B
- 8 Gb (1×8) of Crucial Memory CT102472BA160B
I still like to run a diskless setup for my ESXi 5.5 hosts. I use a small profile USB stick. Here’s a few of the other odds and ends necessary to complete the build:
- USB Stick Option 1 – 8 GB SanDisk Cruzer model SDCZ33-008G-B35
- USB Stick Option 2 – 16 GB SanDisk Cruzer model SDCZ33-016G-B35
- Case Option 1 – Lian Li model PC-V351B
- Case Option 2 – Lian Li model PC-V354B
- Fans – 2x Scythe 120mm Slipstream model SY1225SL12L
- Power – SeaSonic Platinum model SS-400FL2
If you plan on working with VMware VSAN, HP StorVirtual, or any other “disk + flash” storage using local disk, make sure to budget in for some hard drives and SSDs. Also, if you want to play with PernixData FVP or VMware’s vFlash Read Cache (vFRC), you’ll need at least one SSD.
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Go deeper into home lab storage design with my “Three Example Home Lab Storage Designs using SSDs and Spinning Disk” post
I’m a fan of the Kingston HyperX series for a home lab – these are cheap and easy to find online. If you want higher performance flash, such as PCIe cards from Fusion-io, you obviously have a well placed friend or a fountain of cash. 🙂
- SSD Option 1 – 128 GB SanDisk Ultra Plus model SDSSDHP-128G-G25
- SSD Option 2 – 120 GB Kingston HyperX 3K SATA III SSD model SH103S3/120G
- SSD Option 3 – 240 GB Kingston HyperX 3K SATA III SSD model SH103S3/240G
I’ve provided links to the two major vendors I purchase from – Amazon and Newegg – along with prices as of December 2013. Keep in mind that these vendors will often choose to change prices for deals at various times, and that rarely can you snag all of the items from a single vendor for the best price. I usually end up grabbing some components from both (or occasionally from a 3rd party).
[symple_box color=”yellow” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”]Note: For those using Google Chrome or FireFox, just download the Hover Hound extension. It adds a new button to Newegg that checks prices on Amazon and Tiger Direct. It also shows a trend of prices.
The total price for all components: anywhere from $1000 US and up, depending on if you buy all the entire list or shave off a few things. The price of memory is really hurting the server build, so if you can find a good deal on memory – pounce on it!