Home Lab Hosts – Could it have been leaner? ($$$)

I’ve had the lab running for a couple of weeks and I have made a few observations in relation to the configuration of each host.

As mentioned in my previous post Home Lab Hosts – Just in time for vSphere 5, I used server class motherboards, requiring ECC RAM, with iKVM, etc. Here are a couple things I noticed that stood out:

The CPUs
I chose the Intel Xeon E3-1230 processors because I wanted to be able to have quad cores with Hyperthreading, as well as support for VMDirectPath. In running 20 or so VMs my CPU utilization has been less than high. I haven’t had the opportunity to leverage VMDirectPath as of yet, but I am still happy I have the ability to.

If VMDirectPath support isn’t a big deal for you, an Intel i3-2100T (i3-2100 isn’t on the board HCL) should suffice to run most workloads. The i3-2100 series processors have dual cores and Hyperthreading. These processors retailed about $100 less each on NewEgg than the E3-1230 processors did. Alternatively if you aren’t nesting as many ESXi hosts (I have 8 right now), you could also look at the Intel Pentium G620 which is similar to the i3-2100 series, but without Hyperthreading. Those retail for about $77 each.

Choosing the i3-2100T would drop the total cost by $200, while choosing the Pentium 620 would drop the cost by around $315.

Update: Keep in mind that the G620 isn’t the only lower cost CPU compatible. The G840 and G850 are similar, and provide a higher clock speed. To be 100% sure the processor chosen is compatible, always check the motherboard manufacturer’s support site for compatibility.  (Tyan in this case)

The SSDs
I had heard rumors about the new ESXi 5 host cache feature, and that it required SSD drives to leverage it, but is it really necessary in a lab? I haven’t really stress tested the builds yet, so I’m not sure of the benefit as of yet.

Many people run their labs off of USB sticks with much success. Had I dropped the SSDs from the build, that would drop the price by another $200.

The Motherboard
I really like the board I chose. Even though it isn’t on the VMware HCL, it has been a very solid board thus far. I absolutely love the iKVM, and can’t imagine having 2 “headless” systems without having a remote console (iLO, DRAC, ASMA, etc).

The only ding, is the EPS12V power requirement, which I had a workaround for.


The Add-in NICs
I knew that the board had support for 3 NICs, but didn’t realize that the 3rd would work as a NIC for ESXi and work for the iKVM simultaneously. Big win there. I bought 2 additional NICs to ensure I had at least 4 network connections, provided I went with multiple switches for frontend and backend networks. To be honest, I only have 2 NICs (of 5) online right now.

Did I need the additional NICs? Today no, tomorrow likely. Had I scaled back to 1 additional NIC for each board, then that would have dropped $50 from the cost. Had I only went with the onboard NICs, that would have dropped the price by $100.

The bottom line
I’m pretty happy with the rigs as they are now, but I could have scaled them back and have been fine for a little while.

If I had gone with the i3-2100T/no SSD/no additional NICs config, I would have saved about $500, bringing the cost around $1,150, or $575 each.
Going with the Pentium G620/no SSD/no additional NICs config, I would have saved about $615, bringing the cost around $1,035, or $517.50 each

Keep in mind that both of those configs will run ESXi, and have 16GB, with iKVM. Still a win in my book.

6 Replies to “Home Lab Hosts – Could it have been leaner? ($$$)

    1. Actually, I have the E3-1230 processors, so I did not get the chance to try out the G620.

      To be honest, I have only enabled FT one time in the lab.

      If I hear of anyone with success using the G620+FT, I will post it here.

      Thank you,

  1. I built the server with g620 cpu . Found an issue with nested VM. Nested guest VM is not powering on. Vet is enabled in bios and edited the esx VM settings for powering on the nested VM. Any idea?

    1. The G620 has VT, and you enabled it in the BIOS. From my experience in the past, a full power down is required to enable VT. Not sure if you did that or not.

      Also, is your S5510 at the latest BIOS version? I’ll also take a look at some of my other settings for a comparison.

      I’ll see what my E3-1230 (v1) configs have as well as my i3-2100 config has, and report back.

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