Building a new ESXi whitebox
Unfortunately the whitebox ESXi server I build in June 2011 died on me when testing a Nvidia Quadro K5000 graphics card. So I needed a new ESXi server for my home lab.
I looked at some HP and Dell mini servers but I decided to build a new VMware ESXi whitebox. Power supply, hard disks and SSD were still fine so I only needed a new motherboard, processor and memory.
In the past I’ve used websites like, ‘Ultimate VMware ESX Whitebox‘ and ‘VM-help.com‘ to find compatible parts but because one no longer exists and the other is pretty outdated I picked the components myself.
Because the Intel i5 processor does not support hyper-threading and comes with less cache I chose a 4 core, 8 threaded, 3,4GHz Intel i7-4770 processor with a LGA1150 socket. It’s not the cheapest processor but this one was available right away, the other Intel i7 processors were out of stock and this could take up to two weeks.
As the basis I needed a LGA1150 socket motherboard and my selection criteria where very simple, 32GB memory, onboard video and as much expansion slots as possible with a mix of PCI and PCIe (x16, x4, x1). As an ASUS fan I chose the ASUS H87-PLUS. It has four DDR3 DIMM-slots which can support up to 32GB of memory, it has onboard video VGA or HMDI and one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, one PCIe 2.0 x16 slot (x4 mode), two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots and three PCI slots.
I topped it of with 32GB DDR3 1600MHz Corsair VengeanceLP memory in four 8GB modules (CML32GX3M4A1600C10).
The total kit list is as follows:
- Intel i7-4770 processor (8 x 3.4GHz with HT);
- ASUS H87-PLUS motherboard;
- Corsair 32GB DDR3-1600 memory (4 x 32GB);
- Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX 1TB, SATA-600 hard disk;
- 256 GB SanDisk Ultra Plus SSD;
- Intel 82572EI Gigabit Ethernet adapter;
- Broadcom NetXtreme BCM5705 Gigabit Ethernet adapter;
- Nvidia Quadro K5000 graphics card;
- HP midi tower with 750W power supply.
After bolting, screwing and plugging everything together, it was time to install ESXi 5.5, this finished with no issues, so within 1 hour my VMware ESXi whitebox was up and running and I could import my existing lab infrastructure.
But the most important of all, is it any good? It’s great to build an ESXi whitebox but when the performance of all those ‘desktop components’ suck, it’s maybe better to spend a bit more $$. In short, it’s great, performance is comparable to that of enterprise servers with the exception of disk related tasks. The disk performance is good but it’s not great. You just cant compare disk I/O of simple desktop despite the fact it’s a fast, 6Gbps SATA disk.
At the moment I’m running VMware ESXi 5.5 with:
- vCenter Server Appliance 5.5;
- vCenter Update Manager 5.5;
- vCenter Mobile Access appliance;
- VMware vCenter Operations Manager 5.7
- Horizon View 5.3 Connection Server;
- Horizon View 5.3 Composer;
- Windows Server 2012 R2 Domain Controller;
- SQL Server;
- Veeam Backup & Replication Server 7;
- Windows 7 desktop.
CPU load is as expected very low, 4968MHz on average. The total memory load when running all those virtual machine is 23.8GB.
All things considered I’m very pleased with my ESXi whitebox, performance is good, 32GB of memory gives me enough space to deploy lab VM’s and the money I spend on it is well within my budget (€650,-).
Hint and tips for those of you who want to build their own ESXi whitebox:
- Research, research, research.
I still hear people buy incompatible hardware despite the available online resources. Check if your desired configuration has already been build. If not Google is your friend;
- Do not save on your harddisk.
If you save on your harddisk you will be sorry very soon so find a fast disk or even add a SSD if your budget allows it.
If your budget is a problem, save on the processor. As you can see, the load on my processor for instance is very low. Buy a cheaper processor and spend that on a good harddisk.
- Go for a motherboard which can hold 32GB of memory or more.
Even if you do not need 32GB right now, shortage of memory probably the first bottleneck you will encounter.
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