ESXi 6.5 Home Lab / Whitebox Options

I’ve had several people ask if it’s possible to put together a low cost option to build up a VMware ESXi 6.5 white box. I’ve been a long time promoter of the Intel NUCs and the small form factor Shuttle units. Now, the Intel NUCs will run ESXi 6 out of the box, but others have just wondered if there are any other options available. Those boxes still run vSphere 6 perfectly but tend to be a slightly higher price point per dollar. It is possible to put together a cheaper host and I figure I’d look through some various hardware and build out 3 different setups.

As always, if you have other hardware, please share your home lab setups in the comments section!

Goals:

  • Maintain control of costs, build a capable ESXi 6.x host for practice/lab use.
  • 32GB memory.
  • 8 Cores
  • At least 2 network cards.
  • Be able to install ESXi 6.x, right out of the box. No need to inject .vibs or make a custom ESXi image.
  • All builds will install ESXi to the USB stick. No other storage or vSAN used. For a good all around NAS, a Synology DS1515+ is a great unit. Everyone wants to run different types of storage. Build up an NFS target out of an old server if you want! Add a 1TB local disk for approximately $50. There’s just too many options!

Build #1 – Intel Core i7 ASRock Build

A quick note about this build. You could also swap out the i7 for an Intel Xeon E3-1231 V3. Just note that you’ll also have to add an additional graphics adapter because the Xeon does not have integrated graphics. The EVGA GeForce 210 Passive 1024 MB DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 DVI/HDMI/VGA Graphics Card is a good value choice adapter. As of this writing, it’s a price difference of about $30, the i7 being the more expensive option.

Subtotal with HP Quad Port (As of 12.5.2016): $683.97

Subtotal with HP Dual Port (As of 12.5.2016): $669.02

Build #2 – ASRock C2750 Intel Avoton C2750 8 Core Build

This is a unique build because the CPU, storage and network adapters are built into the motherboard and all work out of the box with ESXi 6.x. It’s a low power build as well (approx. 20 watts), so similar to a Shuttle or NUC but has IPMI AND supports up to 64GB memory! The only caveat was that this board needed good airflow, so we’ll be using a larger case.

Subtotal (As of 12.5.2016): $742.76

Build #3 – ASRock AMD AM3+ 8 Core Build

It’s generally known that AMD whitebox builds will use more electricity over an Intel build. You just have to determine how important that is to you. You also typically run into problems with onboard network adapters and drivers out of the box with ESXi. With this build we will add an HP Quad Port gigabit network adapter that will work out of the box to give you a total of 4 network adapter with no driver modifications, however this board uses the Realtek 8111E, and you can follow this guide to add that driver to your ESXi install media. The AMD CPUs will need a graphics adapter as well, so we’ll use a common GeForce 210.

Subtotal (As of 12.5.2016): $469.87

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5 Responses to ESXi 6.5 Home Lab / Whitebox Options

  1. Alex says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Could you please explain how you install HP NC364T Dual Port Adapter OR HP NC364T Quad Port Adapter on workstation motherboard. I can’t see any ports on ASRock H97M PRO4 Micro ATX LGA1150 Motherboard that previously mentioned NICs would fit.

    Thank you.

  2. Pingback: The Perfect vSphere 6 Home Lab | Ryan Birk – Virtual Insanity

  3. Abdurrahman Alkan says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Firstly I thank to you for these wonderful blog articles. They are very helpful. I want to build my home lab but I am very confused. I am security consultant and every day I tested lots of things on may Mac book pro. But As you know that running virtual machine on Mac or laptop is not enough. Because I can’t run the virtual machine all the time, I can run only when I need. I read your article but in my country I couldn’t find Asrock motherboard. So can I choose other vendors like Asus, MSI. What is the key point choosing the motherboard. What should I pay attention to ?

    Second think I want to run 20 virtual machines on my lab. What is the optimal capacity for choosing memory and the disks ? I think 64GB memory is enough but What about disk part ?

    What about the 10G ports ? What do you think about it ? Do I need 10G ports or its not necessary ?

    Thanks.

    • Ryan Birk says:

      It’s really hard to say exactly what you’ll need. You have to find a motherboard that has driver support. Many of them won’t just work out of the box. That’s one of the reason I try to list a few every once in awhile that do.

      As far as 64GB of memory goes, that’s probably a good place to start. 10gigabit isn’t needed for a small lab but nobody will ever say to not get the faster equipment. 🙂

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